Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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Uplanned

December 30, 2010

I started this post without a cake, cookie or muffin, lacking even a recipe or a workable kitchen in which to bake. I felt bereft.

A while ago I had the thought that it would be a good idea to get a loft conversion in my house. I’ve been in my little home for ten years and have accumulated a fair amount of ‘stuff’. My house is small and mostly perfectly formed; however the one thing that Edwardian architects of inner-city worker’s cottages did not plan for was storage space. How could they have possibly envisaged the boxes of Christmas decorations that need to be contained for 11 months of the year? Or have had any idea about the crate of camping equipment that has been packed away for, ooh about 36 months at last count; or the box of frog ornaments of my mother’s that I can’t bear to part with, nor have on display that needs a home out of the way somewhere. What about the roll of carpet remanet that must surely be useful for something, someday and the large DIY box filled with left over flat pack screws and allen keys, lightbulbs for fittings no longer installed? Not to mention the boxes and boxes of cables and leads from electrical items no longer owned? Well, you can’t just throw them away can you? I need a cable amnesty.

I imagine the families of the men who built the railways at the turn of the last century didn’t really need much of the above, so the-cupboard-under-the-stairs sufficed as the sum total of available storage. Of course having a loft to convert means I could have used that space – a cheaper and cleaner option no doubt. However I am not a fan of either ladders or dark spidery, wasp-nest-infested (as it turns out) places so anything consigned to that space would not be retrieved by me.

Plus I needed new carpets. Seriously, this was the deciding factor. Ridiculous. No point forking out for new carpeting if, at some point in even the mid-distant future there’s work planned in the house. So Project Loft was born. I won’t bore you with the details, nor inflict revisiting them on myself but it’s been a trial, one that’s not over yet, although the end is in sight. My poor home has been battered and bruised, my cat is seriously disturbed by the noise and new location and direction of the stairs (he’s not the brightest by a long shot, but watching him struggle, for over a week, with the new layout was priceless. There’s a door on the bottom of them now so he can’t see them, so they don’t exist. I wish I were a cat). I’ve been a little stressed.

The chaos in the house has led to chaos in my mind. The dust and dirt are necessary and despite what people who know me might think, I can cope with that. What I can’t cope with is that by extension I am unable to do any of the things that I find enjoyable and relaxing because of the dirt and the mess. I enjoy cleaning and pottering, I love to know there’s clean white linen on the beds and fresh towels in the bathroom. I relish the morning sun through clean windows and my naturally forgetful and chaotic nature is reassured by an ‘everything in it’s place…’ home. I know that none of these things are important in the grand scheme of things but they are points in my day and week that I enjoy.

But more than anything else I love to bake, and I haven’t been able to. In the past few weeks I have barely been able to get into my kitchen so full was it with the contents of the rest of the ground floor. Worst of all, Christmas was approaching and I couldn’t see a point at which I might be able to put up those decorations and fill my home with light and shiny things. My keys went missing on a daily basis and every evening I came home aghast at the rock-like crust on my kitchen work top caused by repeated spillages of sugar from the spoon on its way to the tea cups combined with a multitude of drips from t-bags en route to the bin.

However, there was a brief respite in the week before Christmas; flooring went down, walls were painted white, I cleaned like a daemon and with builders away for the festive period that which I dusted  and wiped remained smear free. The tree went up as did my lights old and new and sparkly things were dotted around. My Christmas cakes, were wrapped and given out and I even found time for a last-minute bake-fest for extra goodies to hand out.

So, the house was in as much order as was possible prior to all the work being completed (no date as yet, but the end is in sight), decorations were up, Christmas presents wrapped and ready to go and an early shift at work meant I had an an afternoon to myself – what else to do other than bake? I’d made another of the moorish Caramel Fruit Cakes from Dan Lepard to take into work but wanted to make something chocolatey and something a bit different. I’ve had the ‘Baked’ book for sometime and despite regularly reading rave reviews I’ve not managed to bake anything from it yet. There’s something about the recipes in the book that I find daunting, a lot of them seem time consuming with many steps, but their Brownie recipe is mentioned so much as the best out there that I had to give it a try. There was a tub of sour cream to be used also and the Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe seemed like a good one to bake to offer to colleagues not tempted by fruit or chocolate. As it turned out I took an extra day off work so neighbours, friends and family were the recipients of these treats rather than colleagues, however I will not only be making the brownies again soon (and this will have to become my go-to recipe, they really are divine) but I will sit down and choose further recipes to bake from this book.

Coffee Cake – not actually a cake containing or tasting of coffee but usually a cake to be taken with coffee often with a streusel or crumb topping, this is one of those.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate,  Cinnamon Swirl

Baked – New Frontiers in Baking

Crumb Topping

100g plain flour

130g dark brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt (use Maldon or similar)

75g toasted walnuts

84g cold unsalted butter cut into 1″ cubes

Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl

112g caster sugar

1tsp cocoa

1 tsp cinnamon

Sour Cream Cake

525g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp bicarb

1/2 tsp salt

225g unsalted butter, soft but cool cut into 1″ pieces

4 large eggs

500g caster sugar

160z / 545g sour cream (I only had 300g so made the rest up with buttermilk)

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180C butter and line a 9×13″ pan (although the cake won’t stick, if you line the tin with parchment and ensure an overhang then you can ‘lift’ the finished cake from the pan rather than turning it out and you won’t disturb the crumb topping).

To make the crumb topping pulse the flour, sugar and salt for 5 seconds in a processor, add the toasted nuts and pulse again until finely chopped. finally add the butter cubes and pulse again until a sand like texture is achieved. cover and place in the fridge.

To make the swirl, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt into a large bowl.

Cream the butter until ‘smooth and ribbon like’ . Scrape the sides, add the sugar and beat again until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides as necessary

Add sour cream and vanilla beating until incorporated then add the sifted dry ingredients in three stages – do not over mix.

Spoon 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan and spread evening with an offset spatula. sprinkle half the swirl mixture over the batter, cover with half the remaining batter spreading evenly once again then repeat with the remaining swirl mixture and final lot of batter.

sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the top.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 60 mins or until a toothpick comes out clean. Rotate the pan three times during baking.

Cool for 30 mins in the pan before lifting out and allowing to cool completely before slicing.

The brownie recipe, below, really is one to try. It’s nothing short of stunning and so quick an easy. It’s not exactly light on the chocolate, or butter, or sugar, but then a brownie shouldn’t be. I made the mistake of cutting the brownies into portions before it was completely cooled. Unfortunately this meant that a fair few pieces crumbled, and those crumbles had to be mopped up by me. Bloody lovely. Make these. Eat them, share them, hide them wrap them and keep them, freeze them if you must but make them soon.

The Baked Brownie

188g plain flour

1 tsp salt

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

310g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (60 – 72%)

225g unsalted butter cut into 1″ pieces

1 1/2 tsp instant coffee (the original recipe states 1 tsp instant espresso powder, if you can get it)

338g granulated sugar

88g light brown sugar

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven 180C, butter and line 9×13″ tin

Whisk or sift together the flour, salt and cocoa

In a bain marie melt the chocolate, butter and coffee until completely smooth.

Turn off the heat but leave over the pan of water and add the sugars, whisk until combined and then remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Add three eggs and whisk then the remaining two eggs and whisk. Add the vanilla and stir, do not over beat or the brownies will be cakey rather than fudgy.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the batter and fold in with a spatula until just traces of the flour remains visible.

Pour into the pan and smooth, bake for 25 – 30 mins (25 in my oven) turning the pan after 15 mins. When done a toothpick inserted into the centre should still be coated with a few crumbs – you don’t want these over cooked.

Leave to cool completely before cutting into 24 squares.

Apparently these will keep, well wrapped, for three days. Do let me know if you achieve this!

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Brand New Spatula at (pre) Dawn

December 10, 2010

Winter means that even a modestly early morning in the kitchen is spent facing darkened windows, although this last Saturday the freezing cold snap (might have to revise the use of the term snap as that implies brevity) meant that there was at least the sparkle of ice and snow in the pitch black of my garden at 5am. I was glad to wake early as I had a morning free from builders, a recipe and a brand new spatula (gifted to me on my birthday) to try out.

I really enjoy Dan Lepard’s ‘How to Bake’ series in the Saturday Guardian, it’s one of the first pages I turn to frequently one to cut out and add to the stack slipped into various notebooks and recipe books. I always hope for a cake rather than a bread or pudding recipe and the previous week I was rewarded with a festive fruit cake recipe that was immediately pinned up in the kitchen as ‘one to make soon’ rather than tucked away.

I made my Christmas cakes, in mini loaf form, some time ago to the same Mary Berry recipe as last year and have been tending to them ever since, feeding with Brandy and trying to resist picking at their fruit and nut studded tops,

So I really don’t need another fruit cake in my kitchen –  what a ridiculous statement!

I originally baked this as a gift to take to a family gathering that I’m going to this weekend, and once cooled I double wrapped it ready to be stored for the week. But I just couldn’t resist. The thought of the figs, prunes and walnuts contained in the caramel cake was just a little too much. Plus, I had to cut into it to get a photo so I could properly blog about it didn’t I? Then, of course, the tasting is all important to ensure the feedback I leave here is accurate. I’m not sure at what point photographing and tasting became munching, but my god, this is a tasty cake. So I had to bake two more on Sunday morning. Cake number one has been distributed and devoured by a couple of people, cakes two and three are wrapped and ready to be transported and cakes four and  five are in the planning! This will definitely be my stand by fruit cake from now on.

This has no booze in it (although you could feed afterwards) and no pre-soaking of the fruit so there’s not a huge amount of preparation. In fact with the figs being taken care of with kitchen shears rather than chopping (handy tip that) the prep was quick, especially as the cherries are left whole (although I did give them a rinse) and the walnuts remain in their halves. What you end up with is a cake rich with delicious fruit with wonderful texture from the nuts and whole cherries – I’d even go as far as to say that the addition of alcohol might detract from the soft, warm richness from the caramel.

Dan adds that the cake is ready to ice and decorate ‘as you please’ but I think the only things needed alongside a slice of this is a mug of tea, a slice of sharp cheddar and perhaps an open fire and to enjoy it by. Should you happen to have all, some, or none of the above to hand, the recipe on the Guardian’s site is definitely one to bookmark

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Much Christmas Baking was Done

December 28, 2009


There’s nothing quite like having a purpose and a plan, and Christmas provided ample opportunity for both. The lists I’ve made, the recipes I’ve collated and the baking that my kitchen has seen have filled many an hour.

Mary Berry’s Christmas Cakes were handed out amongst friends and family


Work colleagues were treated to the large Christmas cake which I sliced small and topped with icing stars along with a Ginger and Chocolate Bundt Cake from Martha from my new festive tin



There were also tins of Swiss Cinnamon Stars to nibble on with morning coffee



An evening of gin was had at mine where I served the mince pies with the gin mincemeat (the leftovers of which have also been making an appearance in my morning porridge)



Along with Panfote all’Inglese made with gluten free flour and an additional hint of cloves and orange zest



And some spiced, candied nuts, from the ever reliable Smitten Kitchen, to nibble on – these will be making an appearance as gifts next year, the mix and the nuts presented in a festive jar (top tip to be included along with the mix; use baking parchment rather than foil to line the pan)



The day itself was a lovely one, the timings of roasts scare me but a plan was drawn up



The timings adhered to, even through the warm glow of a festive G&T and the end result, on the table at 2pm sharp


I hope everyone had a lovely break, whatever they did, whatever they ate and whoever they shared it with.
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Gin in the AM (and another bundt)

December 6, 2009


Not hair of the dog but an ingredient in the mincemeat I made this morning in preparation for mince pies.

Another Sunday, another 4am start and another few hours spent in the kitchen. The idea for gin and the base recipe I used came from a friend who kindly gave me a taste of her batch earlier in the week. I am a little scared of mince pies as pastry is my baking nemesis. Last year, full of good intentions, with family coming to visit, my Christmas Eve baking session ended up in the bin. Luckily I had some shop bought ones in the cupboard and when people arrived the house at least smelled of fresh, home-baked mince pies (and no, I didn’t try and pass them off as my own!).

There was something very therapeutic about chopping the apples whilst listening to yet more torrential rain. The high point of the morning was adding a little of the cooling (pre-gin) mixture to my porridge. The finished product is sat, in jars, maturing and waiting for me to be brave enough to attempt the pastry.

This weekend I also put my Christmas decorations up, fed the Christmas cakes again and had a little slice of the test cake – delicious. I love this time of year.

As the mincemeat didn’t call for me to use the kitchenAid I of course had to bake something else too. I went with Dorie Greenspan’s ‘All-in-One Holiday Bundt’ crammed full of cranberries, pumpkin, apple, nuts and spices, it’s just delicious.

Mincemeat

Makes about 1 1/2 large kilner jars
200g muscavado sugar
175g butter
Juice and Zest of 3 oranges (approx 200ml)
Zest of 1 lemon
Heaped tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

750g Bramley Apples finely diced (approx 4)
340g currants
340g raisins
200g dried cranberries

Put butter, sugar, orange juice and spices in a pan, heat slowly until smooth, add apple, zests, dried fruits and bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer for 10 – 15 mins or until the apples are soft. Allow to cool then add the gin …. and a bit more … and go on just a bit more. I added a lot of gin … I will let you know how it turns out in a few days!



All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake
from Dorie Greespan’s ‘Baking, From my Home to Yours’

300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarb
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tps freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
135g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar (I reduced to 3/4’s)
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar (I used reduced this too, to about 1/3 cup, not packed)
2 large eggs at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1 large apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 cup cranberries, halved
1 cup pecans roughly chopped (I used walnuts).

Butter and flour your bundt tin and preheat the oven to 175C
Mix flour, spices and raisin agents in bowl
Mix butter and sugars until light and fluffy (approx 5 mins) at medium speed
Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 min after each addition
Add vanilla
Reduce speed and add pumpkin and apple – Dorie points out at this point not to worry if your mixture looks curdled – mine did!
On low speed add the dry ingredients but do not over mix
using a spatula stir in cranberries and nuts – spoon into pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 60 – 70 mins, leave to cool in tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack.





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Project Christmas Cake

October 26, 2009
The evenings are drawing in, leaves are collecting in the gutters and the magpies are doing a splendid, if noisy, job of clearing them; plus the first Christmas advert is on TV (Argos in case you hadn’t noticed) so it must be time to buy currants. Lots of things I bake over the year call for sultanas, raisins or other dried fruit, but none, other than Christmas cake, need currants.

I decided this year to go with Mary Berry’s recipe. Simply because I bought her latest book awhile ago and it was at the forefront of my mind. I have a wonderful rich fruit cake recipe that I use to take into work as it doesn’t contain nuts or need booze, but the alcohol content of this one (or my liberal interpretation of the recipe) means it can be made in advance. The downside is the forward planning needed in order to soak the fruit overnight, but Sunday mornings usually start early for me so a couple of Saturdays ago I checked the drinks cabinet for brandy, popped off to Waitrose to buy currants and got out the kitchen scales. Mary’s recipe has a great section where she scales the recipe to accommodate various tin sizes. I wanted to make an 8″ square and also some smaller ones as gifts. Good old Lakeland sell bakers moulds which are great if you’re making cakes to give as gifts so I doubled the recipe for the 8″ square tin and managed to make five of the medium sized moulds. The moulds took just over two two hours to cook through (with three in one oven and two in another) but the large one took over five! Good job I woke early and had no plans for the day.

This last Saturday I repeated the whole exercise all over again for another five small cakes. There’s not enough time to make more before Christmas but I plan to make the rich fruit cake nearer the time to take into work. I have no photos at the moment due to ongoing laptop issues, but hope to add some soon.

Other than the pre-soaking of the fruit the recipe comes together really quickly. I left out the candied peel (nasty stuff) and just increased each of the other dried fruits. I’ve also decided not to ice the cakes* so have put nuts and cherries on the top and will glaze them nearer the time, they do need some kind of adornment as these are not pretty cakes when plain. However the smell as they’re baking is just divine. There really is no other smell like it, better even than fresh bread I think and with the aroma of Christmas in the air I could even forgive Argos for starting their campaign in October.
Mary Berry’s Classic Rich Christmas Cake
Ingredients for 23 cm (9″) round or 23 (8″) square tin
  • Glace Cherries 150g
  • Ready to eat dried apricots 150g
  • Currents 400g
  • Sultanas 225g
  • Raisins 225g
  • Candied Peel 65g (I added extra of each of the other dried fruits)
  • Brandy 4 tbsp (and then some!)
  • Plain Flour 275g
  • Grated Nutmeg scant 1/2 tsp
  • Ground mixed spice 3/4 tsp
  • Softened butter 275g
  • Dark muscavado sugar 275g
  • Large eggs 5
  • Chopped almonds (I used flaked) 65g
  • Black treacle 1tbsp
  • Rind lemon 1 1/2
  • Rind orange 1 1/2
  • Baking times (aprox) 4 3/4 hrs
140C (Fan) 120 Gas Mark 1
  • The night before you want to make the cake, rinse the cherries in water, drain, dry and cut into quaters. Cut/chop apricots and put all fruits in large bowl, add brandy, cover and leave.
  • Preheat oven, grease and double line tin.
  • Measure flour, spices, butter, sugar, eggs, almonds, treacle and rinds into large bowl, beat well (good workout for the upper arms) and then fold in the fruits.
  • Spoon in to tin and spread out evenly with back of spoon (if decorating with whole blanched almonds or brazil nuts and cherries now is the time to add them). Cover loosely with a double layer of baking parchment.
  • Bake until firm and skewer comes out clean. Leave cake to cool in tin.
  • When cool, pierce at intervals with a fine skewer and feed with a little brandy. Wrap completely cold cake in double layer of parchment and then again with foil.
  • If you’re icing etc do so a week before serving (like you won’t have enough to do on the 18th December)

*I really don’t like marzipan or icing so even though these are for others I decided not to bother, plus I’m a little bit scared of the process, plus I really couldn’t be bothered!