Friday 31 December 2010

Best of 2010

Happy New Year!

I had a hard time deciding which recipes to put into this post. In the end I decided to go for things that I really loved but are fairly low-key. I have some of my more attention-grabbing cakes on my sidebar and  my recipes page details every recipe I've posted.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Brown Sugar Waffles

On Christmas morning, as I explained in my festive post, we had waffles for breakfast. These waffles were not any waffles. They were Joy the Baker's insanely delicious waffles with brown sugar (oh how I love thee), crispy Swiss bacon (oh my) and lots of maple syrup. 

We tried them a few days before and couldn't resist having them again for Christmas. This recipe is a winner. 

Before our waffle breakfast, we opened out presents. Arthur was incredibly careful as he neatly ripped the wrapping off his new ball-on-a-rope. I think the best part of Christmas for him was the wrapping paper. You should have seen the state of our living room once he'd shredded all of it.  

On boxing day we went for a sunny walk in the 50cm of snow that had fallen the previous days. It was up to Arthur's chest as he searched for his new toy and came bounding back with it. 

Brown Sugar Waffles

(Edit: I've had a few troubles with this recipe recently. I'm working on a new one for you.)

Tuesday 28 December 2010


This month's challenge is not the most daring I've ever done. Despite that it's the first time that I've been 100% certain that the recipe will be one I make again and again. This has already become part of the fabric of our Christmas. I really can't thank Penny enough for this truly delicious recipe. 

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

A few days before I made the stollen, I made the candied orange peels to go into it. I'm very glad I did - they added a really lovely touch and were so superior to the usual peel. I made the marzipan to go in the middle too but I haven't given the marzipan recipe because it didn't come out exactly how I wanted it to. My main changes were to substitute in brown sugar and to use whole almonds, which gave it a pretty speckle. 

I didn't make any massive changes to the stollen recipe. The vanilla paste worked really well and I'm glad I used brown sugar. Otherwise it was just adding some golden sultanas, skipping the cherries and citrus extracts and using whole almonds.  I used the fresh yeast suggested because I adore working with it. 

When I pulled stollen after stollen out of the oven I wondered if we would ever manage to eat it all. It turns out that it's incredibly addictive and mum and I polished off three of them very quickly. We found we liked it fresh the best, then very lightly toasted in the next few days and finally toasted with some salted butter. One of the stollen is still sitting in the freezer as mum is saving it for new year.

All in all, a really wonderful challenge.

Finally, make sure you have a big bowl and don't put it at the top of the fridge like I did or this will happen within a few hours... (whoops!)


juice of 3 clementines
1 tbsp rum
150g raisins
90g golden sultanas
26g fresh yeast
60ml lukewarm water
240ml milk
140g unsalted butter
770g plain flour
115g soft brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 large eggs
zest of an orange and a lemon
2 tsp vanilla paste
115g candied orange peel*
100g whole almonds, chopped
50g butter, melted
icing sugar to coat

On the first day (of christmas, my true love gave to me...), mix the clementine juice and rum together in a small saucepan. Add the raisins and sultanas and heat on a very low heat for 15 minutes. Leave to soak overnight. 

On the second day, break up the yeast into the lukewarm water. Let sit for a few minutes then stir to dissolve. Put the milk and butter into a small saucepan and heat until the butter has melted.  Beat the eggs and vanilla paste together in another small bowl. Measure the flour, sugar, salt, zests and spices into the mixer bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the yeast mixture, the milk mixture and then the egg mixture. Beat until it comes together - about 2 mins. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Tip in the soaked fruit, candied peel and chopped almonds and mix to combine. Transfer your beater to a dough hook (or move to the counter to hand knead) and knead for 6 minutes (8 by hand). The dough should be soft and smooth, not sticky and the dried fruit might start coming away on the surface. Transfer to a very big oiled bowl, cover, and put in the fridge. Leave to rise overnight. 

On the third day, take the dough out of the fridge and leave on the side for two hours to warm up a bit.   Line two oven trays with parchment paper. Tip the dough out onto the surface and punch down. Knead for a minute or two. Divide the dough into four. Take each piece of dough in turn and roll out into a rectangle (think mine were vaguely 30cm by 20cm). Place a sausage of marzipan along one of the long edges (like this), then roll up tightly around the marzipan into a rope. Curl round into a circle and join the two ends,  pinching the dough together. Use scissors to cut incisions around the edge of the wreath. Place on the baking tray. Repeat for the other three pieces, placing two on each tray. Cover the trays with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours or until they have nearly doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C. Bake the stollen for 15 minutes, then turn the tray and bake for another 15-20 minutes. They should be a deep brown and sound fairly hollow when knocked on the bottom.  Brush with plenty of melted butter while still hot, then dredge with icing sugar. Leave for a few minutes then add more sugar. Be generous. Leave to cool.  

(Makes 4 medium stollen wreaths)

* I make my own candied peel - the recipe I use is here.

Saturday 25 December 2010


Merry Christmas!

We're about to open presents and then eat brown sugar waffles with maple syrup and swiss bacon. Mum just spilt clementine juice all over the white sofa. Arthur can't wait to open his present and is incredibly bouncy.

May the holiday bring you joy and lots of delicious food.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Mince Pies with Brandy Butter

After making mincemeat, the first thing to master is a great mince pie.

This recipe is the product of several years of tweaking with a lot of help from Delia and my mum. My main addition is the clementine juice in the pastry, which adds a very subtle flavour but most of all just seems to make the pastry particularly crisp, slightly flaky and generally delicious.

I used to top my mince pies with stars. These days I go for a flurry of snowflakes - they look so pretty. I like my mince pies open-topped because then the top of the mincemeat caramelizes and bubbles everywhere.

You could of course then go over the top like we do and top them with a few spoons of brandy butter and a drizzle of double cream. That's what we did to two of the above.

After we had scraped our plates clean, I realised I hadn't dusted them with icing sugar before photographing them. Admittedly I don't normally bother but they do look nice with a bit of sugar snow.

Anyway, I hope this recipe comes to life in your kitchen. It has lead to many smiles of rich satisfaction in my home.

Mince Pies
(Adapted from Delia's Christmas)

175g plain flour
pinch of fine sea salt
75g cold butter, cut into cubes
juice of a clementine, chilled*
cold water*
about half a big jar of homemade or best quality mincemeat

Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (see here for a guide). Add the clementine juice and use a knife to combine. Add a little cold water and try to bring the pastry together into a ball, adding more if needed - it should still be fairly dry, not sticky or crumbly. Squish into a disc then wrap in cling film and chill for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200C/390F. Evenly roll out the pasty - I like it to be thin for these. Either use a circle cookie cutter or use a glass as a guide to cut out circles - you should get 10-12 with some spare. Use biscuit cutters to cut out snowflakes or stars out of the leftovers. Place each circle into a cupcake/muffin tin and lightly press into shape. Add a few teaspoons of mincemeat until nearly full, then top with the decorations. Put into the oven until golden brown and bubbling - about 20-25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool quickly (any escaped bits of caramelized juice will set hard and make them very difficult to remove). Serve warm with brandy butter and/or cream.

*You can also just use cold water, or use milk instead - it's about 2-3 tbsp.

(Makes 10-12)

Brandy Butter
15g ground almonds
55g unsalted butter
50g soft brown sugar
pinch of fine sea salt
1-2 tbsp brandy, to taste

Toast the almonds until they start to turn golden brown in a dry pan over medium heat then set aside to cool. Beat the butter, sugar and salt until pale and fluffy (as if creaming for a cake). Beat in the almonds. Slowly add the brandy one tablespoon at a time. Spoon into a bowl and put into the fridge to harden. Serve cold if having with hot mince pies. Will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge covered in cling film.

(Makes 1 small bowl, enough to serve with the mince pies above, but easy to multiply up)

(Updated 15/12/15, then 18/12/17)

Sunday 19 December 2010

Christmas Mincemeat

Mincemeat is a bit like Marmite.

People tend to either love it or hate it. I am firmly in the love it category.

I do truly believe, however, that a significant portion of the haters would feel differently if they tasted homemade mincemeat. When I was interning at delicious., I helped out with the Christmas food taste test. Among other things (cakes, stollen, panettone, puddings) we tested mincemeat and mince pies from a wide range of brands and price points. Even the ones that won weren't a patch on homemade.

So if you make one thing from my blog this Christmas, please make it mincemeat. Take a look at the ingredients above. Is there anything you dislike? There's no suet, no soggy candied peel.

Making mincemeat is a family tradition. Mum and I have made it together for years. It's a very simple recipe - the only thing is stirring it every now and then. We love stirring because it's an excuse to take a peek, sample some and let the gorgeous aroma out.

Nothing smells more like Christmas to me.

Our recipe is adapted from Delia's. You cook the mincemeat on low for a few hours in the oven, which lets the butter and spices thickly coat all the apple pieces and fruits and seals all their juices in. We don't use suet or candied peel because we don't really like them, but you could sub the suet in instead of the butter and replace some of the fruits with peel.

Apart from gorgeous mince pies (my current recipe is here), you can use mincemeat in a variety of other things. One of our favourites is sandwiched in a crunchy slice. You could make a tart. Delia does a strudel. There's a another great Delia recipe for a mincemeat cake that's delicious - it was our Christmas cake last year.

This makes enough to last us through a Christmas season. Half it if you're not sure. If you're on the fence or have never had it before (it is quite a British thing) then go for it.

Edit 2012: I recently wrote about this mincemeat recipe for The Everygirl - as they're American, the recipe I wrote for them is in cups (it's also a half recipe) but otherwise it's the same.

(adapted from Delia Smith's Christmas)

450g apples (cooking or sour) - roughly 2 big bramleys
225g unsalted butter
340g raisins
340g sultanas
340g golden sultanas
340g dark brown sugar
2 oranges
2 lemons
50g whole almonds
3 tsp mixed spice*
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp/a good grating nutmeg
6 tbsp brandy

Core and chop the apples but don't peel them, then weigh out the 450g. Chop the almonds into slivers. Weigh out the raisins, sultanas, golden sultanas, sugar and spices into a big roasting tray. Add the apples and almonds. Zest and juice the oranges and lemons and add that on top. Mix well. Cover with foil and leave overnight to steep. Stir every now and then.

The next day, preheat the oven to 120C/225F. Cube the butter and add to the tray. Give it a good stir then put the foil-covered tray into the oven for 2 hours. Take out, stir and leave to cool. It will look fatty but don't worry. As it cools, try to stir it every now and again. When cool, stir in the brandy and jar.

(Makes 3 big jars)

* If you can't get mixed spice, I suggest 1 extra tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cloves and 1/4 tsp allspice.

Updated 05/12/16: Just to edit some of the spices and reduce the sugar by 10g.

Updated 18/12/17: I now add the butter the next day - it doesn't need to sit there overnight. I've also tried a small amount of this with coconut oil (took off 1/6th of the recipe after steeping overnight) for my mum who isn't eating dairy at the moment, and it seems to have worked OK. Over the years I've also subbed in some cranberries and I subbed in 100g of dried pears I needed to use up this year, which I actually really like (both instead of more golden sultanas).

Three more Christmas recipes:
Mince Pies
Moulded Gingerbread Cookies
Galette des Rois

Friday 17 December 2010

Wholemeal Gingerbread Biscuits

Last night I made the third batch of these biscuits in ten days. What can I say - they're pretty addictive (and good for presents). I've tried various recipes over the years but this is my favourite - it doesn't even need chilling. I added wholemeal flour to these not for the health factor but because I think it makes for a better biscuit. I also greatly increased the amount and variety of spices - especially if you're going to ice them, the flavour needs to be strong. 

I've never made or iced with royal icing before but I decided to try for the second batch. The blogosphere is full of gorgeous, artistic decorated cookies so I was slightly nervous about my first attempt. I made a paper piping bag and used it without a tip as we didn't have anything else. Massively messy, especially as I didn't think to put an elastic band around the top. 

I have a lot to learn but I really enjoyed playing with royal icing and tried again today for the third batch (the photos are of the second batch). I have to admit I kind of prefer them without the icing to eat. Still, it's fun to decorate them and normal people like icing more than I do. 

Wholemeal Gingerbread Biscuits

Edit: I've removed the recipe as I've had some problems with it since. This is my new one

Royal Icing
(Adapted from the recipe here and Sweetopia here)

1 egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice
165g icing sugar

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low for ten minutes. It should be thick and creamy. Using a knife, test the consistency - draw it across the surface and if the line disappears in 5-10 seconds it is okay. Water down slowly until you reach this consistency. Scrape some into a prepared piping bag and secure with an elastic band. Cover the remaining icing with a damp tea towel. Pipe your design onto the cookies and leave to dry. 

(Makes differing amount of biscuits depending on size - from 25 to 50 I guess)

Monday 13 December 2010

Ginger and Apple Jam

A few days ago I was in urgent need of 160 grams of 'ginger preserve'. A cake recipe demanded it and I really wanted to make that cake. I searched all the supermarkets at home to no avail. I started a long trawl through websites to find a good recipe but couldn't decide on one I liked and my lack of experience with jam stopped me going out on my own. In the end I was standing in Migros and just decided to get on with it and make some. I grabbed some fresh ginger, a bag of cooking apples and a packet of jam sugar. 

This is based loosely on one recipe I found but is mainly an experiment and a mish-mash of various ideas I came across. I didn't have a clue how much ginger I wanted to add, so I just guessed. Luckily it didn't come out incredibly fiery - it seemed like an awful lot of fresh ginger. 

I'm so pleased I decided to make this jam - it came out really well. It's very clean and fresh and not too sweet yet still warming from the ginger kick.  It's got a fairly soft set and a lovely texture. You get the subtle apple flavour at first, followed by the ginger warmth at the back of your mouth. Mum has declared it to be her new favourite jam flavour. 

Ginger and Apple Jam
(Adapted from a recipe by Gini Walsh of Swallow Hill Farm)

150g fresh ginger, peeled
6 medium cooking apples (or sour apples)
Juice of half a lemon
500ml water
1 kg jam sugar (I got mine from Migros - add pectin or similar if you can't get it)

Cut the peeled ginger up into chunks and put into a food processor and pulse until it's pretty finely chopped (bit like cous cous). Pour the water and lemon juice into a big saucepan and add the ginger, swirling it around. Start peeling and coring the apples and chopping them into small chunks, adding them into the pot as you go. When you've finished, turn the heat on under the pan and cook the mixture on medium-high until the apple chunks are soft. Get a potato masher and mash the mixture until smooth (you could blend it instead). Stir in the sugar and heat until dissolved. My jam sugar then requires you to boil the mixture on a very high heat for four minutes then leave it to cool. Follow any instructions you're given with any other gelling agent or keep heating on high for 20-30 minutes until the mixture reaches the right consistency. To check consistency, put a saucer in the freezer to chill, then take it out and put a teaspoon of jam onto it. Put it back and it should form a skin within five minutes or so. Follow your favourite method of sterilizing jars (I put mine in the oven) then jar the jam. 

(Makes about 4 jars)

Friday 10 December 2010

Candied Orange Peels

A few days ago I finally got home for the holidays. After just a day, I felt quite different in the kitchen. It's amazing how much residual stress builds up over a term and how it affects creativity. I just couldn't think straight or let things flow while I was in Oxford. 

It's wonderful to be home and just bake, chat to mum and play with the puppy. He's grown so much while I've been away but he's still very playful and loving. He's sitting on my feet as I type, attempting to nibble my socks without me noticing. 

I've never been a fan of the candied peel that comes in little plastic tubs and is used in loads of different Christmas baking. Mum and I have always substituted other things in for the peel. This Christmas I decided to try making my own to see if we liked them. 

I'm not sure exactly what happened but just as my peels were becoming translucent, the sugar started to crystallize and dry up. By the time I realised it was happening, the whole pot had dried up. As a benefit, they were done and covered in sugar without me needing to roll them, but I'm not sure why this happened. Maybe the heat was too low? Or high? 

I thought they came out pretty well, especially considering the weird ending. They're taste good - perhaps not the best thing ever, but much better than the stuff I've come across before. Perhaps I'm just not a candied peel person, especially in pure form. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing how they work in other projects...

Edit: I've removed the recipe as I use a different method now.

Monday 6 December 2010

Lemon Rainbow Cake

I've been planning this cake ever since I saw this fabulous rainbow cake on Whisk Kid. It was the perfect 20th birthday cake for my housemate Sarah. She's been hanging around in the wings of this blog as 'my housemate' for ages but I think it's high time she was introduced as herself. 

Sarah is my housemate who doesn't like chocolate cake (but loves anything else chocolate, including chocolate fondants and brownies). She is a big fan of Emma biscuits. Sarah could survive on cheesecake alone (it's her fork that's attacking this Raspberry and Caramel Cheesecake). She is the one who would have killed me if I didn't make profiteroles for this challenge (and may still do so if I don't make eclairs soon...).

Sarah also loves lots of bright colours and rainbows. Hence this cake. She was also the best bet for a fabulous reaction (see below)!

As I've said before, I'm not a massive fan of piles and piles of super sweet icing and really like my cakes of taste of more than sugar with a faint vanilla tinge. Whisk Kid already had some lemon in her icing but I wanted to take this further to really give the cake a good tang. So I added some rind to a different cake batter recipe and soaked the cakes in a lemon syrup. I also made a tangy cream cheese icing and used a lot less of it. 

I might have to rechristen this 'The E-number cake', as it's full of them from the food colourings. It's definitely a special occasion cake and not one I'd want to make all the time. Beating the colour into the batter took a lot of the air out of it, so the cake itself wasn't as light as I would of liked, but it still tasted and looked good. Room for improvement - but half the fun would be taken out if there wasn't!

P.S. I'm really sorry for the awfully lit photography - it was basically dark by the time we cut the cake and I didn't take proper ones before. I didn't want to not post about it so they'll have to do!

Lemon Rainbow Cake

Edit: I've removed the recipe as I wasn't especially pleased with the flavour, even though it looked dramatic.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Although I'm English, my housemate is American, so for the past two years we've celebrated Thanksgiving. This year we had a lovely big group of friends come over (there were sixteen of us in total) and shared a meal. We had a big roast turkey, gravy, roast potatoes with crispy sage, mashed sweet potatoes with nutmeg (no marshmallows!), cranberry sauce, bread sauce, stuffing, glazed cocktail sausages, carrots, french beans and brussel sprouts. I love bread sauce so we had to have it, even though it's not American (as with the roast potatoes, sausages and brussel sprouts). 

For pudding, my housemate made a lovely pumpkin pie and I made this chocolate pecan pie. I also made some Lebovitz cinnamon ice cream (to die for) to go with them along with vanilla ice cream and super thick double cream. 

I adore this chocolate pecan pie - this is the fourth time I've made it and it's always delicious. I sometimes swap in a bit of dark brown sugar for some of the soft brown for an even deeper flavour. Using good quality chocolate is important. 

I was getting quite worried a few weeks before that I wouldn't be able to make all the food properly as there was plenty of other work stuff I had to do and it's not a holiday here. Luckily in the end I had most of the day free to cook and it all came together without any major issues. It was a really lovely evening. I managed to squirrel away a slice or two of the pecan pies for absentees and photographs but the cinnamon ice cream was all gobbled up. 

It's been really quite cold here ever since Thanksgiving.  I woke up on the friday to the first really big frost this winter and went for a lovely walk. I've just got my new camera body so I took that along and took some pictures of a wintery Oxford. Don't have many pictures of the pie so I thought you could have some frosty pictures instead - I love that all the summer punts are filled with ice. 

Chocolate Pecan Pie
(adapted from Green & Black's recipe book, Unwrapped)

For the pastry:
275g plain flour
75g icing sugar
150g cold butter
2 large egg yolks

Sift together the flour and icing sugar into a bowl. Cut the cold butter into small cubes. Rub the butter in until it looks like breadcrumbs. Use a knife to cut in the egg yolks. Add water if you need it to pull it together. It works well in the food processor. Bring it into a ball, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Carefully roll the pastry out into a circle and fit into a 11" fluted tart tin - I've done two smaller ones successfully too.  Leave a little bit extra as it shrinks. 

Chill for another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Blind bake for 15 minutes with beans and paper and about 10 minutes without, keeping an eye that it doesn't go too brown. Set aside to cool while you prepare the filling. 

For the filling:
275g dark chocolate - about 60%, broken up
200g pecans, chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
225g light brown soft sugar
250ml evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g unsalted butter, melted. 

Prepare all the elements. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. In another bowl, mix together all the other elements. Stir the chocolate into the other bowl. Spoon into the tart case. Put in the oven (still at 180C) for around an hour. You may well need to cover with foil to stop the pastry burning. Serve either warm or cold with ice cream or thick cream.

(Serves 10-12)