Monday, December 28, 2009

All I want for Christmas is......Cake!

I can't believe I've neglected posting here for so long! I've still been baking and cooking as much as ever, but just not blogging about it.

I was really pleased with the Christmas Cake I made, so it seems the perfect prompt to report back here about it.

It occurred to me this year that I've never made Christmas cake before. My mum is a great cook and baker, and has traditionally made us all a Christmas cake for as long as I can remember. Now we live in NZ, this is a slightly impractical arrangement, so if I wanted a cake I was going to have to make it myself.

I had a good look for a nice sounding recipe. There is nothing worse than an over dry Christmas cake, and they're hardly cheap to make afterall. I found this yummy recipe in Mindfood. It initially got my attention as there is (unusually perhaps) chocolate in the recipe.

Makes 22cm round cake

500g raisins
250g prunes, roughly chopped
200g dates, roughly chopped
150g sultanas
150g currants
1 cup sherry (Jerez-Xérès Medium Dry Amontillado)
- I used Brandy
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups dark brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs

200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup plum jam
1 large orange, finely grated rind
and ½ cup juice
2 cups plain flour, sifted
½ cup self-raising flour, sifted
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground nutmeg

fondant, to decorate (optional)

1 Put raisins, prunes, dates, sultanas, currants and sherry in a large bowl. 
Stir until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

2 Preheat oven to 160C. Line the base and sides of a deep 22cm round cake pan with a double layer of baking paper. Using an electric beater, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add to fruit mixture and stir with a large metal spoon until well combined. Add chocolate, jam, orange rind and juice. Stir in sifted flours and spices until well combined and mixture is smooth.

3 Spoon cake mixture evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with cold water and smooth the surface with a wet hand. Tap pan gently on the bench top 
to settle the mixture.

4 Wrap two layers of brown paper around pan and secure with string. Bake for 2½ to 3 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. (If cake is becoming too dark while cooking, loosely cover with a sheet of foil.)

I made the cake a month before Christmas. When it was completely cold, I wrapped it in foil and stored in an airtight container. A fortnight later, I unwrapped the cake and pierced holes all over, and drizzled a minature of Grand Marnier over the top. The cake was then wrapped again, and stored until the weekend before Christmas.

I covered it in almond flavour fondant 4 days before Christmas, and then iced it with royal icing (2 whisked egg whites and 4 cups icing sugar, and a squirt of lime juice, all whisked in the mixer). My daughter added the silver balls for the final touch!

It was such a moist cake and a real winner. I'll certainly repeat this recipe next year - though I might use Grand Marnier to soak the fruit instead.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge is pure school dinners throwback comfort food! An inspired choice. Delicious both hot and cold.

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)

Sweet shortcrust pastry
225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.
Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.
Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

250ml (1cup) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability

Assembling the tart.
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.
Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.
When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Ginger Spice and all things nice!

I bought this months Taste magazine as I was lured in by the baking section by Julie le Clerc . I used to buy the Julie le Clerc magazine, but it seems to have disappeared from the shelves. A sad victim of the recession I suspect.

I tried these ginger cookies - which were just lovely. The method is pretty similar to the slice and bake cookies I tried a few weeks ago, only this particular recipe doesn't need to be frozen before slicing, just refridgerated.

I splashed out on real butter, and the extravagence was so worth it. The end result is more 'grown up' than your regular cookie due to the chopped crystalised ginger.

Ginger cookies
250g butter
3/4 cup soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp ground ginger
200g crystallised ginger, chopped

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until creamy.
Sift flour, baking powder, and ginger. Beat into the creamed butter mixture until just mixed.
Add in the chopped ginger.
Divide the dough in half, and roll each into a 5cm thick log. Wrap in cling film and refridgerate for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 180C. Place baking paper on two baking trays.
Cut the dough into 1cm slices, and lay on the baking trays. Space them to allow the biscuits to spread a little during cooking.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Remove to wire wracks to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container. Will keep for a week - if not all snaffled in the meantime!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A week of birthdays

It's been a busy couple of weeks with birthday celebrations. The week started with the Queen's birthday, which was marked by a public holiday the previous Monday. I've always thought it slightly odd that NZ mark the day with a public holiday, as does Australia, and yet the day goes virtuously un-noticed in the UK!
The Son celebrated his 11th birthday last Sunday. He had a 'movie night' party at home, with the husband making home-made individual pizzas for everyone, each choosing their own toppings. We also had a pick-n-mix, home made pop-corn, and ice-cream cones. The evening was finished off with the Son's favourite chocolate mud cake.

My own birthday was a few days later. It's funny how an 11 year old's view of birthdays can differ so much from someone in their very late thirties. I have to admit I wasn't looking forward to this birthday, as I'm not exactly relishing turning 40 next year. *Sigh*. It took me until early afternoon to really start enjoying myself. By dinner time I was feeling thoroughly spoilt with flowers, chocolates, a charm for my bracelet, and Jo Malone perfume.

To finish the day off, The Husband made us steak with a wine and grainy mustard sauce. He also made me a birthday cake - which was absolutely divine! The recipe was from Nigella's Christmas book.

Nigella's Chocolate Fruit Cake
350g/12¼oz dried soft prunes, chopped
250g/8¾oz raisins
125g/4½oz currants
175g/6¼oz unsalted butter, softened
175g/6¼oz dark muscovado sugar
175ml/6¼fl oz honey
125ml/4½fl oz coffee liqueur
2 oranges, juice and zest only
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tbsp good quality cocoa
3 free-range eggs, beaten
150g/5¼oz plain flour
75g/2½oz ground almonds
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.
Line the sides and bottom of a 20cm/8in, 9cm/3½in deep, round loose-bottomed cake tin with a layer of reusable silicon baking parchment.
When lining the tin with the parchment, cut the material into strips that are twice as high as the tin itself (it is easier to use two shorter strips of parchment, than one long strip); the height of the strips protects the cake from catching on the outside of the cake tin.
Place the fruit, butter, sugar, honey, coffee liqueur, orange juice and zest, mixed spice and cocoa into a large wide saucepan. Heat the mixture until it reaches a gentle boil, stirring the mixture as the butter melts.
Let the mixture simmer for ten minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and leave to stand for 30 minutes.After 30 minutes, the mixture will have cooled a little. Add the eggs, flour, ground almonds, baking powder and bicarbonate soda, and mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula until the ingredients have combined.
Carefully pour the fruitcake mixture into the lined cake tin. Transfer the cake tin to the oven and bake for 1¾-2 hours, or until the top of the cake is firm but will has a shiny and sticky look.
At this point, if you insert a sharp knife into the middle of the cake, the cake should still be a little uncooked in the middle.6. Place the cake on a cooling rack. Once the cake has cooled, remove it from the tin.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Daring Baker's May Challenge - Apple Strudel

This was my first month taking part in a Daring Bakers challenge. The May 2009 Daring Bakers’ Challenge is brought to us by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks .

I'd never cooked strudel before, so for my first attempt I stuck pretty much the recipe. I stuck to the recipe pretty much, though left out the rum, used 2 tsp cinnamon instead of the teeny amount suggested, and substituted slivered almonds for the walnuts.
I followed advice from other Baking challengers and used plenty of flour when rolling out the dough were really helpful. I think I managed to get the dough to about 2 foot square.
I was very pleased with my effort - as were all the family.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The best apple pie!

I've neglected the blog this week - I've been baking and cooking as much as ever, but haven't had chance to write about it due to loads going on at work, and my mother in law has been really ill. Happily she's now doing very well, so I'm in a better frame of mind to blog.

We duplicated apple purchases at the weekend, so what better excuse than to make apple pie. Not just any old apple pie either, but this lovely Delia concoction. It's quite an odd sound combination - apple pie with a cheddar crust. But once you get over the sweet/savoury confusion, it really works. It's best served with warm custard poured over the top.

I use probably about two thirds of the quantity of apples that Delia suggests, as I like a thicker crust. Also, I prefer to use desert apples as I like the chunkier result to the apple filling rather than the saucey result of using a cooking apple. I used some delicious NZ Gala apples - and no-one noticed that I forgot to add sugar to the filling!

Apologies for no photos for recent posts. Photo uploader is on the blink.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Feijoa season is upon us. They're only in season for a couple of months (sadly), during which time they are in abundance. One of the few things we miss about the little house we rented when we first moved here is the feijoa trees in the garden. The Daughter used to pick a bowl full of 'jojos' to have for breakfast everymorning. We love the wee house we bought last year, and planted feijoa trees. Not quite sure how long they'll take to produce fruit though.
I made this cake for The Husband to take to work, to thank his colleague for the big bucket of feijoas she gave us from her garden. Recipe is Allyson Goften's.

Feijoa and coconut cake.
150 grams butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 cups desiccated coconut
2 cups S.R.flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 cup milk
1 cup peeled and chopped feijoas

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Beat in the egg yolks. Fold in the coconut and sifted dry ingredients with the milk and fruit. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the cake mixture. Turn into a well-greased and lined 23 or 25cm cake tin. Bake at 180C for 1 hour or until cooked. Cool for 10 minutes before turning out.