Tuesday 31 December 2013

Best of 2013

Happy New Year!

Each year I pick five of my favourite recipes that have slipped under the radar slightly for a NYE roundup. Which one is your favourite?

You can also look at the:
Best of 2010
Best of 2011
Best of 2012

Thursday 19 December 2013

Mincemeat Squares

5 reasons why I had to share this recipe:

1/ As far as I'm concerned, it's not Christmas without mincemeat (especially homemade mincemeat).
2/ It's a nice change from mince pies.
3/ Brown butter is involved (and you know how I feel about brown butter).
4/ It's a quick, one-bowl, mix-with-a-spoon sort of thing.
5/ It makes buttery, nutty biscuit bars with a mincemeat core that caramelises at the edges.

I'll be back on the 31st with a Best of 2013 roundup to continue the tradition. Until then all that's left to say is...

Merry Christmas!

Mincemeat Squares
(adapted from Fig & Hazelnut Crumble Bars and inspired by a recipe in Delia's Christmas)

150g unsalted butter
150g plain flour
125g ground almonds
65g soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
two pinches of fine sea salt
350g mincemeat

Preheat to 180C/350F. Line a shallow tin (around 11x7"/28x18cm) with baking parchment or parchment lined foil. Brown the butter in a big pan (see here for a tutorial if you haven't made it before) and pour into a bowl to cool. Stir the flour, almonds, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Add the brown butter and mix together. Tip half of the mixture into the lined tin and press down with your fingers into an even layer. Spoon the mincemeat into the tin and spread it out evenly. Fork up the remaining topping into pebbles and spread over the top. Press down lightly with the fork. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool fully in the tin on a wire rack before cutting into squares - they can be a bit crumbly when they're warm. They keep for about 4 days in a tin.

(Makes 20 small squares or 12 bigger ones)

Four recipes that I'd make for a party dessert:
Crêpes Suzette
Ginger Bourbon Pecan Pie
Hervé's Two Ingredient Chocolate Mousse

Friday 13 December 2013

St Lucia Saffron Buns

Today, the 13th of December, is St Lucia's day. In most parts of Scandinavia, these saffron buns - also known as Lussekatter or Lussebullar - are made to celebrate.

Lucia of Syracuse was one of the earliest Christian martyrs, killed by the Romans in AD 304. Lucia - Lucy in English - is the patron saint of the blind and her celebration is one of light and hope at the darkest point in the year.

Each country has a different St Lucia song about light and darkness. Here's the first stanza of the Swedish song in English (from Sweden.se, which also has more information and photos of the celebrations):

"The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!"

John Donne wrote about Lucia's day and light too:

"‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;"

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day – John Donne, c.1627.

Having looked at some more pictures of Lucia buns today I've realised that I should probably be shaping them by coiling the ends round to give a curlier 's' shape. Having said that, I've become rather fond of the way I've been tucking the ends underneath and their slightly awkward shape once they've been baked.

There isn't enough saffron in my recipe to turn the colour of the dough more than a creamy pale yellow but I didn't want to add more (it's so expensive and I don't like a strong saffron flavour) or use food dye. I tried cranberries and raisins to stud the bread but I loved dried cherries the most (as suggested by Signe). The cherries plump up from the moisture in the dough and have a spicy flavour that works beautifully.

I really love these buns - they're soft and tender inside, with a delicate sweetness and a crisp, shiny crust. They've warmed my cold hands and brightened many of my dark December mornings.

St Lucia Saffron Buns
(inspired by Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen, Trine Hahnemann and The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas)

180ml milk
10 strands of saffron
60g unsalted butter
10g fresh yeast/4g instant yeast
300g plain flour
30g caster sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 egg + 1 for eggwash*
16 dried cherries (or raisins, cranberries etc)

Heat the milk and saffron in a small saucepan until the milk starts to steam and bubble. Pour into a bowl/jug to steep and cool. Place the butter in the milk pan and heat until melted - leave to cool in the pan. If you're using fresh yeast, when the milk has cooled to body temperature crumble the yeast into the milk and stir. Place the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir together with a spoon. Stir the instant yeast into the dry ingredients at this point if you're using it. Pour the milk, butter and one beaten egg into the bowl and stir together until it starts to form a dough. Put onto the machine and knead on medium-high (I use 6 on my KA) for 5 minutes (do time this). The dough should be slightly shiny, elastic and coming away from the sides of the bowl - it's quite a wet dough. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for 75 minutes or until doubled (you can also leave it in the fridge overnight to rise).

Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and give it a few gentle folds to knock out some of the air. Divide the dough into 8 (around 75g each) and place the dough pieces under a clean tea towel. Take one out and roll and shape it into a rope about 7"/18cm long then put it back under the towel to rest while you shape the others. Get a baking sheet and line it with baking parchment. Take the rope you formed first and shape into an S by curling each end round. Place onto the baking sheet and cover with another clean tea towel. Repeat with the other seven. Leave to rise covered in the tea towel for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

When they've risen, push a cherry into the middle of the swirl at the top and bottom of each bun, pushing deep into the bun (or they pop out). In a small bowl, beat the other egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the buns with the egg wash, carefully covering all of the sides and down into the dips. Place into the oven and bake for 16-20 minutes (mine are usually perfect at 18), turning half way if your oven bakes unevenly - they're ready when they're risen, deep golden brown and sound hollow if you tap them on the bottom.

Remove to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes - eat while they're still hot. They keep for 3-4 days in a sealed bag or box - reheat for 5 minutes in a hot oven before eating after the first day. They also freeze well.

(Makes 8 buns)

*I know using egg wash is a pain as you don't use much but these buns look so much better shiny and brown - I tend to use the remaining egg in scrambled eggs or something similar.

Three more recipes that include milk:
Coconut Cream Cake
Pancakes with Lemon & Thyme Sugar
Vanilla Ice Cream

Thursday 5 December 2013

Christmas Pudding

For Christmas this year, I decided to try making my first Christmas pudding. I chose to make it on Stir up Sunday - on the 24th November this year, Sunday before last - and mature it until Christmas Day, as the tradition goes. I wanted to participate properly - as a cook, rather than a blogger trying to get something ready for the holidays - so I decided to wait until another year to give you a recipe.

I still wanted to share some pictures of the process so I thought I would write something about the background of the Christmas pudding. When it comes to history, I can do no better than to refer you to Ivan Day's three posts on Christmas puddings, so I thought we'd look at some literature instead.

The first literary mention of plum pudding at Christmas is in Anthony Trollope's Doctor Thorne, published in 1858: "Miss Oriel's visit had been entirely planned to enable her to give Mary a comfortable way of leaving Greshamsbury during the time that Frank should remain at home. Frank thought himself cruelly used. But what did Mr Oriel think when doomed to eat his Christmas pudding alone, because the young squire would be unreasonable in his love?"

I've read a bit of Doctor Thorne online and, essentially, Frank wishes to make an 'unreasonable' marriage to the girl he loves, Mary, instead of marrying for money. His family disagrees and Mary rebuffs his advances even though she feels the same way. When he returns home for Christmas, Mary has gone to London with her friend, Patience Oriel - leaving her brother sat alone at his festive table with a solitary spoon in the pudding dish.

Since Mr Oriel's lonely dinner, most mentions of Christmas puddings have revelled in the joy and chaos of the feast, with the cook's nerves and the guest's antics only adding to the warmth. These are my favourites:

"Harry had never in all his life had such a Christmas dinner. A hundred fat, roast turkeys, mountains of roast and boiled potatoes, platters of fat chipolatas, tureens of buttered peas, silver boats of thick, rich gravy and cranberry sauce - and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table. {...} Flaming Christmas puddings followed the turkey. Percy nearly broke his teeth on a silver Sickle embedded in his slice. Harry watched Hagrid getting redder and redder in the face as he called for more wine, finally kissing Professor McGonagall on the cheek, who, to Harry's amazement, giggled and blushed, her top hat lopsided."

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J. K. Rowling, Chapter 12.

"For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush."

A Child's Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas.

"But Clongowes was far away: and the warm heavy smell of turkey and ham and celery rose from the plates and dishes and the great fire was banked high and red in the grate and the green ivy and red holly made you feel so happy and when dinner was ended the big plum pudding would be carried in, studded with peeled almonds and sprigs of holly, with bluish fire running around it and a little green flag flying from the top. "

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce, Chapter 1.

"There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day. The fat turkey was a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up, stuffed, browned, and decorated. So was the plum pudding, which melted in one's mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy revelled like a fly in a honeypot. Everything turned out well, which was a mercy, Hannah said, "For my mind was that flustered, Mum, that it's a merrycle I didn't roast the pudding, and stuff the turkey with raisins, let alone bilin' of it in a cloth."

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, Chapter 22.

"But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone - too nervous to bear witnesses - to take the pudding up, and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose: a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered: flushed, but smiling proudly: with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding!"

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Chapter 3.

Three of my favourite Christmas recipes:
Bûche de Noël
Father Christmas Gingerbread Cookies
Stollen Wreaths