Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Mincemeat Wreath (Mince Pie Hater's Mince Pies).

Hellllooooo...Happy 20th December. Hoooooow many mince pies have you managed to eat yet? I haven’t had a single proper one yet. I KNOW, shaaameful. But maybe I’ll carry on my Christmas tradition of making them on Christmas eve; never making enough so that by boxing day Dad is telling me off for slacking on the mince pie making front.

But do you know....quite a lot of people don’t like them. Mentalists. Is it because they’re called mince pies? It can’t be that surely, because I’m a vegevege and I can, and do, eat mince pies for breakfast. I know quite a few people are not dried fruit fans so struggle with the big gooey blob of it in the middle (crazies). And someone said to me the other day that mince pies are just so much pastry, which I guess is true. For any individual sized pie the ratio of pastry to filling is swayed strongly in pastry’s favour...but again, what’s wrong with that. Pastry is the bees knees (or the dogs danglers, as Dad would say *heeeee*).

So here I have for you the non-mince pie lover’s mince pie; a mincemeat wreath....yup....WREATH. Isn’t it beauooooodiful. A pastry bow and eVERYthiiing. It solves the dried fruit problem by spreading out the mincemeat so it’s nice and layered between the pastry so at no point do you get a big mouthful of it. And although there’s lots of pastry involved, it’s puff; much lighter and flakier than it’s shortcrust cousin.

It looks spectacular but is actually a doddle, despite the long looking recipe, honest....peeeeerfect to bringing along to your next festive gathering. And hooonestly, even the mince pie haters will love it. So go forth and spread the mincemeat cheer. With Love and Cake.

Mincemeat Wreath
From Delicious Magazine

A few notes:
  • You don’t actually have to make a wreath out of the swirls. They are great dotted separately on your lined baking sheet and baked into little, golden mince pie bites. In fact depending on how big you want your wreath (I made mine small for transport reasons), you might very well be able to make your wreath and then have a number of swirls leftover, which can be baked at the same time.
  • To make this soooperdooooper easy, absolutely feel free to use shop bought puff pastry. As all the cheffychefs say, if you buy the ‘all butter’ kind, it’s one of the best ever kitchen cheats. I made my own, because I’m a glutton for punishment, so I’ll give you the recipe for it, but DO NOT feel bad for buying it in. Tis not the season for extra guilt.
  • I’m faaar too nervous of damage and the resulting kitchen tantrum to try and remove the wreath from the greaseproof paper, so I tear the excess from around the edges and serve it straight from that. It makes it easy to transfer from plate to plate and has a nice ‘brown paper vintagey’ look.

Makes 1 small wreath + leftover individual swirls
You will need

A large baking sheet lined, then grease the paper as an extra precaution

For the pastry (or a 425g pack of puff pasty)
cold water

For the wreath
25g flaked almonds
300g mincemeat (make sure it’s vege if you care, some of them aren’t)
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon and 1 unwaxed orange
1 beaten egg

For the icing
2 tbsp icing sugar
Around 2 tbsp water

  • Right, first job: pastry. It’s a quirky method but absolutely works so ‘bear with, bear with’. Weigh out the butter that you need, leaving it in one whole block as much as poss. Wrap it back up in its wrapper and pop it in the freezer for half an hour.
  • Meanwhile weigh out your flour into a large bowl.
  • When the half hour is up and the butter is chilled and firm, use a course grater to grate the butter into a big mound on top of the flour; dipping the end of the butter into the flour every now and again as it starts to stick to the grater and warm up.
  • When it’s all grated, use a metal spoon to toss it around in the flour so the butter gets a good coating of it. Then add 2 tablespoons of cold water to the mix and toss around.
  • Continue adding water until you can bring the dough together lightly with your hands. This is a Delia recipe and she says she only uses around 2 tbsp but I always seem to use much more than that so just keep going, a tablespoon at a time, until you get a pastry dough.
  • Wrap it up in clingfilm and chill in the fridge 30 minutes, while you assemble the other bits and bobs. Also, toast the almonds under the grill for just a few moments until golden- be careful, the burn in millisecond and preheat the oven to 180°c.
  • When your pastry’s nice and chilled, roll it out on a floured surface to a nice big square and a thickness of ½ a cm at most.
  • Trim the edges to neaten and save a sliver of pastry to make the bow later.
  • Spread the mincemeat evenly over the pastry and then scatter with the almonds and zest.
  • Roll up, like a swissroll (from the longest edge if it’s not quite a square), so you have a long pastry sausage. Brush the outside with the beaten egg and then slice, with a serrated  knife, into rounds of 2cm thickness.
  • Arrange the rounds, swirl side up/down, on your baking sheet, into a circle, just smaller than your severing plate (or transportation tin) with the edges nestling together.
  • Pop any leftover swirls around the wreath or onto another baking sheet. And finally make a bow out of the saved pastry. I like to do a deconstructed one, making one loop and dangly bit, laying another on top, and then tucking a little bit over the crossover where the knot should really be.  Press onto your wreath.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the mincemeat it bubbling around it. Transfer any individual swirls to a wire rack to cool but I would leave the wreath alone to firm up a bit.
  • When completely cool, it’s icing time. Simply stir water into the icing sugar, a teeny bit at a time, until you have a smooth and drizzly paste.
  • Drizzle and swizzle the icing backwards and forwards over the wreath and swirls and stand back and admire your handiwork. Doesn't it look brill.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Merry Christmas Cake Cupcakes.

IT'S CHRISTMAAAAAAS. Finally it feels appropriate to pull the party poppers, drink the mulled cider and deck the halls. It's time to celebrate with bells on. Although I'm the merriest of merry Christmas lovers, I still don't feel like I've reach the point where I need to go the whole hog and feed a cake, steam a pud and tinsel a tree.

I'll get there in not too many years I'm sure, but our micro-flat is not reeeeally Christmas hosting material, so a wreath and garland made after a good forage in the park takes the place of the tree. And instead of the soaking and steeping and religiously dolling out brandy to a big thirsty cake, it seems more appropriate to knock up a batch of these Cheerful Christmas Cupcakes. 

Another season...another vegetable cake, and they really do have a Christmas cake hat on. Fruit, spices, brandy- there's no omissions that could leave one craving more merriment. They're unashamedly festive, and perfect for sharing and parties, unlike a traditional Christmas cake which sometimes, I think, has an air of pompousness about him; all poshly jacketed and brandy fueled.  

Nothing 'brandy and cigar-y' about these lovelies, just cheeryness and sparkles. So whip up a batch and spread the joy (Cath Kidston Cupcake cases optional- but if you happen to be given some by a fabulous Secret Santa, even better). With Love and Cake.

Christmas Cupcakes
From Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood, my vegecake bible.

A few notes:
  • I tried and failed to make a lovely airy, shiny meringue icing. I 'stiff-upper-lipped' it and didn't have a kitchen-based meltdown (a not uncommon occurrence), but I wont tell you the recipe until I know how to make it work, so for now I'll give you a lovely traditional icing sugar drizzle.
  • If you don't fancy forking out for a bottle of brandy especially for this, you could use any sort of spirit really...I've used sloe gin before. Or just use some orange juice.
Makes 12
You will need 

a 12 hole fairycake tin, lined with cases

80g sultanas
120g candied peel
4 tbsp brandy
4 eggs
100g dark Muscovado sugar
1/4 tsp salt
200g carrot, veryvery finely grated
grated zest of 1 lemon
100g plain flour
50g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
a pinch nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
60g glace cherries, halved
60g pecans, roughly chopped

200g icing sugar
3 tbsp water

  • Preheat the oven to 180 °c.
  • Soak the sultanas and peel in the brandy while you get on with the rest of the recipe.
  • In a nice big bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together with an electric hand whisk for a good 3 minutes, until light coffee coloured and nice and voluminous.
  • Beat in the carrot and lemon zest, and then fold in the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and spices.
  • Finally stir in the brandy soaked fruit.
  • Divide the mixture equally between the cases and bake for around 25 minutes, until risen and golden.
  • Once cooked, remove the cakes from the tin and cool on a wire wrack.
  • While the cakes are cooling, mix the icing sugar and enough of the water together to make a drizzly paste.
  • When, and only when, the cupcakes are 100% cool, drizzle over the icing and adorn with anything edible and shiney. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Secret Santa Truffles.

Secret Santa. Always a tricky one. It's inevitably someone you've barely ever spoken to for more that 5 minutes. Or if it is someone you know and love and you know exactly what would be the best prezzy ever for them...you only have £10, and that barely even covers the fancy wrapping paper that you want so you can wrap all Kirstie Allsopp like.

So this year, for a worky Secret Santa, I thought I'd add the homemade touch. The perfect way to make an 'ok' gift, smile-worthy.

Truffles are the perfect answer. Not time consuming in the slightest and nice and bargainous, they are much more the sum of their parts when tied up in a ribbon and nestled under a twinkly tree.

But these don't have to be the reserve of the Secret Santa. Even if it's a gift which you will put your name to, a little homemade bag of lovelyness will make anyone thankful as the almost bitter chocolatey taste explodes in their mouth. (Ooooor everyone else can bugger off and you can just plain old make these for number one...I wont tell). With Love and Cake. xxxx

From the brilliant Nigel Slater and his brilliant book Real Food.

A few notes:
  • These are plain, super chocolatey truffles. You could add booze if you wanted, but I think the smack in the face chocolateyness is enough for me.
  • You're meant to be able use two warm spoons to shape a nice truffle from the mixture without getting messy hands. I always start out this way, with good intentions, but end up getting frustrated and just scooping out bits of mixture and rolling into balls with my hands. Eating the mixture off your hands is optional but highly recommended.
  • If you want to fancy up your truffles a bit, instead of rolling them in cocoa you could dip them in melted chocolate for a nice smooth coating. If that's still not fancy enough for you, how about dipping them in melted chocolate and then rolling them in something else...coconut, chopped nuts, white chocolate chopped super fine...

Makes around 250g; enough for 1 gift with a few treats left over for you
You will need

225g lovely proper dark chocolate
140ml whipping cream
cocoa powder for dusting

  • First lets chop the chocolate. you can either do this on a chopping board with a nice big knife; it's a messy job but a rather a delicious one, or you can pulse it in a food processor. Either way you're looking for rubble; sort of gravel sized chunks.
  • When that's done, pop it all in a nice big bowl, and put that next to the hob, which you're about to use, so the bowl looses any chill it might have.
  • Heat the cream slowly in a pan until just boiling and pour it on top of the chocolate.
  • Let everything sit and mingle for a moment or two and then turn everything over, slowly slowly, with a wooden spoon.
  • The chocolate should melt into a thick, glossy sauce but if you have lumps (I did), simmer some water in your dirty cream pan and sit the chocolate mixture over it for just a moment and stir around again.
  • Now stick the bowl of chocolate lovelyness into the fridge to set for around 1 hour.
  • It sound now be firm but not too solid, so you can scoop out blobs, shape into balls and roll them around in a saucer of cocoa to coat.
  • Tie with a ribbon and store them in a cool place.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Cinnamon Biscotti.

Hello. I have some Biscotti for you. If you've never had homemade Biscotti before you might be thinking, mmmm bit dull. If it's just that sandy stuff that sits next to the till in coffee shops for months before someone picks it up because they've been just so good at resisting the pastries and walking past the muffins, that really, they deserve a reward, then you're in for a treat.

You and me Sis', we've been spoilt; our Mum being a master Biscotti maker. The homemade variety is just in a different league to the 'bang on the table' hard coffee shop stuff. 

Homemade, it's firm and crisp on the outside yes- perfect for dunking, but has just a little give in the centre, enough to mean you chew rather than just shatter. And this cinnamon one, well, it is spiced just enough to be lovely and festive without being restricted solely to December consumption or requiring a red cup to accompany it.

I'm not expecting Dad to approve; him being the traditionalist that he is. But he is WRONG. This is beautiful. So make it, pop the kettle on and get dunking. With Love and Cake.

Cinnamon Biscotti
From Honey and Jam...a very lovely place.

A few notes:
  • If you like a bit of extra chew to your Biscotti, eat as soon as poss. Conversely, if you like extra crunch for extra dunking time, leave to dry out for a few days.
  • You could make mini Biscotti if you fancied; they'd make a lovely prezzie. Just divide the dough into 4 logs rather than 2 and reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes or so.
Makes a biscuit tin-full
You will need

A large baking sheet, lined

75g soft butter
250g granulated sugar
2 eggs, 1 separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

1 level tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

  • Preheat your oven to 170°c.
  • Cream your butter and sugar together with an electric hand whisk or wooden spoon until pale and fluffy looking (it won't be as smooth and voluminous looking as if you were using caster sugar but go with it), it'll take around 4 minutes.
  • Beat in 1 egg and then the yolk of the other with the vanilla.
  • Gently stir in the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt to form a stiff dough.
  • Divide the mixture into 2 and make a log out of each half; around 23cm long and 4cm wide.
  • Pop the logs onto your baking sheet.
  • Combine the tablespoon of sugar and teaspoon of cinnamon.
  • Brush the logs with the left over egg white and sprinkle over the cinnamon sugar.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the logs are puffed up and golden and leave until cool enough to handle.
  • Using a sharp serrated knife cut the the logs diagonally to form Biscotti.
  • Lay each biscuit back on the baking sheet on one of its cut sides, sprinkle with any remaining spiced sugar and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Leave to cool completely on a wire rack and get the coffee on.

Monday, 5 December 2011

My First Proper Pretzels.

Hello. This is kiiind of my first Christmas post. There's no glitter or baubles or Mariah Carey but making pretzels came as a result of my most festive experience of the year so far. Edinburgh has its Christmas on big time now, lights, music, Santa runs and everything, as well as my absolute favourite part; the German Market. Just before the market opened I was wandering past and saw a sign for 'Hot Spiced Scottish Honey Wine'....so I was keenkeenkeen to pay a visit as soon as poss. And hellllllooooo joy; "cinnamon swirl in mug" is the perfect description of what is basically mulled mead.

This early Christmas trip also included Gluhwein; rather heavy on the brandy, and my first ever proper pretzel, which was one of those 'where have you been all my life?' moments. Chewy pretzelyness on the outside and fluffy, steamy doughyness on the inside- heaven.

Now I'm not saying that the two steaming beverages consumed on an empty stomach prior to my pretzel experience had nothing to do with my gushing praise, but it was definitely too good not to get home and immediately start researching recipes and trust that making them at home was worth the time and effort. 

Please don't be put off making them by their shape, they're actually simplepimle and the recipe looks much harder in words than it is in practice. So boil up some mead, get these a'risin' and you too can have your merry Christmas on. With Love and Cake.


A few notes:
  • This is basically normal white bread dough, shaped, poached and brushed with bicarb. Think of it like that and the recipe won't seem so convoluted.
  • This is my first try at Pretzels, so I will keep you updated of any developments I make to the recipe...I've heard cinnamon sugar ones are the bee's knees. Mmm next time.
  • Definitely best eaten on the day of making, with sweet German mustard if you're a traditionalist.
Makes 6
You will need

a large baking sheet, well greased
a large sauce pan

150ml water
75ml milk
1 tbsp (or 1 sachet) dried yeast
400g white bread flour
1.5 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp flavourless oil

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
rock salt

  • First things first, heat the water and milk to around body temperature and stir in the yeast. Leave to mingle for a few minutes while you measure out the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
  • Combine the liquid with the flour and mix with your hands to a soft dough, adding a little extra water if you need.
  • Spread some oil on a clean surface to stop the dough sticking and knead for around 5 minutes until smooth and springy.
  • Pop the dough back in the bowl and leave in a cosy place for around 1 hour.
  • After that bash the dough around a bit to knock out the air, knead for a few more moments and return to the bowl again.
  • Leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
  • In the mean time preheat your oven to 190°c and bring a big pan of water to the boil.
  • When the dough's ready, cut into six equal sized pieces and shape into pretzel shapes. To do this first you need to roll a long sausage shape, around 50cm in length, with a fat middle, tapering to skinnier ends.
  • Next make a loop with the ends crossed over, as in the picture below.

  • Then swap the ends around to make a twist, as below.

  • And finally fold the ends up to attach on to the chunky middle with a dab of water.

  • Boil each pretzel in the water for around 1 minute, then pat dry with a clean tea towel or kitchen paper and set aside while you combine the bicarb with 100ml of the water from the pan.
  • Dip each pretzel (they're sturdier than you think) in the bicarb solution and pop onto your greased baking sheet.
  • Sprinkle with a good few grains of rock salt and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until deep bronze.
  • Cool for a while and then transfer to a wire rack ooor sip Gluwein and eat immediately.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Autumn Fruit and Marzipan Crumble and a Few Mistakes

Hello. Happy December. I hope you're wearing your Christmas jumper and have located some socks that sing jingle bells. Today I have a crumble for you...the perfectly simple, perfectly delicious British pud. Yet I'm afraid this particular one isn't perfect, in fact I wasn't going to tell you about it at all. I was rather disappointed about how it turned out.

But the more of it I ate (because however disappointing disappointing baking is, throwing away baking is a squillion times worse), the more I realised that really, the reason it was not as scrumptious as I was hoping it would be was just that I had made a few little mistakes in my method, and nothing to do with the actual concept.  

Mistake #1. Too much ginger- and I like ginger. Mistake #2. Too much marzipan- and I like marzipan. Mistake #3. Not enough body and bite to the crumble mixture- because I like crumble. Rather nonsensical I'm afraid, but with every mouthful I lamented these errors, and have done enough musing and reconsidering to be sure that my mistake of a crumble has left me equipped with enough insight to be able to tweak the recipe for you so that your crumble can be a greeeat success. Hurrah.

So I hope my silly mistakes don't put you off having a go; I know marzipan in a crumble sounds a bit zany and won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're a fan, go for it...and let me know how it goes, maybe you can give me some tips. With Love and Cake.

Autumn Fruits and Marzipan Crumble.
A few notes:
  • Of course you absolutely do not have to include the marzipan, by all means leave it out and you'll have a lovely basic crumble.
  • You could also leave out the spices if your fruit is particularly lovely tasting and you want a fresher taste.
  • As usual I whizzed my crumble ingredients together in a food processor but you could just as easily rub the fat in with your fingertips.
  • I've left the measurements for the fruits fairly vague because I think it should be the sort of crumble that you adapt to what's best, or even just what you have on hand, so feel free to experiment.
Makes a family sized crumble
You will need

a medium oven-proof dish

1 handful blackberries
2 small eating apple, roughly chopped to bite size pieces
1 small cooking apple, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pear, roughly chopped to bite size pieces
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
juice 1 lemon
1 pinch ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
100g marzipan

100g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
50g butter
3 tbsp demerara sugar
3 tbsp rolled oats

  • Preheat you oven to 200°c.
  • Mix your fruit together in a bowl and gently stir through the sugar, lemon juice and spices.
  • Transfer the mixture to your oven-proof dish and dot over bite sized pieces of your marzipan.
  • Now time to get the crumble topping together by first pulsing the flour and baking powder together in your processor.
  • Then whiz in the butter until it has the texture of coarse breadcrumbs, then tip it into a clean bowl and stir through the sugar and oats.
  • Spoon the lovely crumble mixture over the fruit, it might look like a bit too much but you can't have too much crumble in my book, so pile high.
  • Bake, with the dish on a baking sheet in case of any messy bubbling over of fruity juices, for 25-30minutes when the crumble should be golden and crunchy looking.
  • I ate mine with a dollop of sharp creme fraiche but vanilla ice cream would also be wonderful, oooo or clotted cream. mmmmmmmmm