Friday, 28 December 2012


We set up our main dining table in the Conservatory this year.  We have a largish round table there, and all five of us would be able to sit round it in comfort, and we have a nice side table for the dishes etc.  All went well, but I don't seem to have taken any pictures.....

I had taken a few of my baking:  the mince pies, tiny tarts and almond and cranberry tarts for my daughter in law

A couple of days before Christmas I made some stollen, and it is now nearly gone, but here it is at the stage when one is ready to roll up the dough with the marzipan:

On Christmas Eve I also baked our bread ready for breakfasts over the following few days.  I've made some individual buns in brioche tins, ready to pop straight into the freezer.

We've been out most days for long walks, and on Christmas Eve, we went to look at the Ford in Kenilworth.  With all the rain we had had, the road looked like a river, traffic was diverted, and people lined up on the side to view the water.  It rushed through the railings alongside the road, and the sound level was very high.

On the West side of the Castle it looked as if the Mere was being re created.

We've had a very wet year, too wet for comfort, and far too wet and devastating for farmers, and people who have lost homes and businesses.  My heart goes out to them.

On the other side of the World, it is very hot.  I've just spoken to my sister, and she has had to have the airconditionning on all day and night, and it is too hot to do anything but stay inside with the curtains drawn.......

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Cake

This year I am making our Christmas Cake.  Last year I bought one...dear Hubby wanted me to take things easy last  year, and I think I have been able to explain to him, that I really love baking, and with planning and preparation, there is nothing to get flummoxed about.  But I am writing this a few days before the day, and I have diaried my baking to cover each day....

Quite a while ago, I baked a little cake, 6 inches only, as I thought then that there would be just the two of us....but we shall be more, and anyway, if the cake is eaten quickly, it will be an excuse for me to try something else.

It has been fed a few times....I shall explain what this means.  The reason for the explanation is that I have had a lovely email from a friend living in the tropics saying how much he enjoyed my blog.....March Henri a neighbour of my late Mother.  When sorting out her home, we gave him her lovely Kenwood Chef with all the attachements.  It had been mine, and Mum has carted it all the way out there.  He is a great baker too, and is famous for his carrot cake.  The Kenwood had no end of attachements, Mum's old Kenwood which I can remember when very young, was on its way out, and with my work committments then, baking was taking a back seat.....and now I have recently heard that my dear friend Vicki in London is passing over her machine to me.....Just imagine all the cakes, bakes, etc made on these machines....

Feeding entails pricking the cake with a toothpick or anything fine and sharp, then drizzling brandy over it.  Not too much, only a teaspoon or two, just enough to have a nice moist feel.  The cake is matured over several weeks, then comes the day to cover the cake with Marzipan.  I make this myself, with eggs, almonds, two types of sugar, and a touch of lemon juice.  It is very malleable and easy to roll out to cover the cake.

First one has to cover the cake with something so that the marzipan sticks to it.  I searched the preserve cupboard and found that my last jar of summer apricot jam had been eaten.  In the end I bought a punnet of apricots which are really excellent at the moment, coming from the Southern Hemisphere for Christmas.  The jam was still warm when  it went on the cake.  Maybe I put on a little too much, but the taste of the jam is tart and a delicious contrast between the richness of the cake, and the marzipan.

The piece of string comes in handy for measuring the circumference of the cake and then rolling out the marzipan for the sides.  Its strange how memories come flooding in.  I went to Stretford Grammar School for Girls, for just over a year, before going to boarding school...and because I arrived too late to pick up German, I was placed in O Level Domestic Science....we had a really great teacher, and I remember making the cake over the autumn term.  I did all sorts of fabulous pipped decorations....

After a little rolling and smoothing, the cake is ready to 'dry' out for a few days, or else some of the oil from the marzipan may leach through the icing.

No fancy pipped  icing decorations this year.  As I played with the icing on the cake, smoothing it down the sides, I found a pattern made by the spatula pleasing to me....a little like the bark on a wood log.  With the pattern across the glass stand, reminding me of fancy ostrich feathers at the bottom of a ball gown. 

On the top when the icing is a little drier, I shall place a little scene which we have had for over 15 years.  As it is a little damp today, I have set the dehumidifier on to gently help dry out the icing.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Savoury buns inspired by Chelsea and Sorrento

How can I describe these as Chelsea like, when really they ought to be Sorrento type?  Neither really, but inspired by both, here is a recent bake....

 Rolled up olive dough, filled with goats cheese, roasted red pepper, onions, olives....a few herbs, et voila, put the little rolls to rise in a large bag, heat the oven up,

plenty to tear and share, some to go in the freezer for later, and very easily carried for a picnic.....

delicious warmed up with a bowl of soup for lunch.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Cranberry Frangipane Tartlets

With a baking challenge in mind, I first had to think what I would bake.  Its dreadful, the more books one has, the more difficult the task of deciding.  In the end I thought about Christmas, and preparing a nice tart with my daughter in law in mind.  She loves things Christmassy, but does not like mincemeat.

This is how I came up with this recipe:

First make your Cranberry conserve.  I used 250g fresh cranberries, the juice and finely grated rind of an orange, star anise, and 250g sugar.  I cooked up the cranberries in the juice until just soft, and left them a day for all the flavours to mature, then added the sugar, and completed the preserve.

With rich shortcrust pastry well rested overnight in the fridge, and a lovely frangipane, the tarts were assembled:

Complete with a sprinkling around the edge of almonds

they are ready to go into the oven, and bake on a preheated tray to avoid the soggy bottom

given a light dressing of caster sugar, and I avoided putting on top of that some more conserve, as that would spoil the pale finish, they were ready, and very delicious too!

I've since heard that a friend in London will love these, so there will be more batches of this for Christmas and for our next visit.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Library Christmas Party Food

Last week we had a little Christmas Lunch Party for all the volunteers who help up with the service offering books, cds, tapes etc, to people all over Warwickshire who are unable to get out through age or infermity to choose their own books. 

Everyone takes something to share for lunch, and sitting around it is a chance to meet other helpers who work on different days, or are driving and delivering.  My contribution this year was these Tiramasu Inspired Macaroons.  I added a little more than just the marsala wine to the mascarpone cheese, a little amaretto too, as I use that when making Tiramasu, and for the sort of generous filling I was looking for used 200g rather than the 100g of mascapone given in the recipe.  Originally I found this recipe in one of my WI magazines, but have including the link to the online recipe.  I made the macaroon the day before and sandwiched them just before leaving. 

Lurgashall Mill and more baking

My normal stock of wholemeal has come to an end, and I have decided to wait till after Christmas to stock up.  In the meantime I have several special bags of flour in my Stash to use up.  Actually you can't really keep a stash of flour for long....

For the weekend, I baked a Cottage Loaf, as I had heard my dearly beloved talking about loaves he had eaten when he was a lad....I followed Paul Hollywood's recipe, and it came out beautifully....However I am not so sure, as the outcome was that it tasted just as if it had come from a bakery, I suppose after my long proving of bread with added depth and flavour, this was a straight forward white loaf.  Anyway it provided for a nice bread and butter pudding on Saturday evening.

Monday's bake used stone ground whole meal from Lurgashall Mill.  During the kneading of the dough, lots of nice memories of our holiday in Arundel came flooding in, including the full day we spent at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.  The Miller proudly showed off his spic and span milling process.

I used a long process, starting the night before, as the same time I decided to dress the top with kibbled wheat.....

For supper that evening, we had cauliflower cheese, and crispy bacon, and a slice of bread.

I suddenly realised that we had to stop, or there may have been the danger of a broken tooth.  Maybe I ought to have soaked the grain to soften it.  In any case I did not loose any time in phoning up Roy, to whom I had taken a loaf round earlier on, to warn him to scrap all the grain off.  Apart from this little setback, the loaf is really tasty with a good crumb.  However I must say I do prefer my flour from Hampton Lucy, as the miller gets a  finer bran and flour.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Guess what this is

Have you guessed yet?  Come on, its quite easy......

When I was little my mum used to have a magazine where there was a close up of something, and you had to guess what it is....
Is it wool, maybe shoe laces? I've even been told that once years ago there was a hoax showing spaghetti growing on trees on Blue Peter, though I never saw it myself.  Getting the hint....

You must have guessed by now, its first home made batch using a rolling machine, which has been lurking in the cupboard for months, since I got it second hand....I've made gnocchi before, and I've occasionally had fresh pasta bought from a shop.  Usually I get dried pasta.  I wanted to wow my man with a simple and quick pasta dish, but with only brown pasta, I knew he would not have been really really Wowed...however delicious the sauce was.

As I made it, I realised it was sticking together, and I would need to air dry it for a bit, so out came my clothes airer...

We both went WOW when we had our first mouthful.  The texture, and flavour, and the way the sauce bathed the strands just made this the best pasta ever....can't wait to try different types.  But I shall make it earlier in the day, it took a little longer I guess because it was the first time, and we ended having dinner an hour later, than if I had just used shop bought.

Coconut Buns

I've written about making coconut buns before, these buns which are an afternoon treat in Mauritius.  I am very fortunate to have a Mauritian friend living just round the corner, and when a baking day recently, , I remembered that I had promised to have MC over, and teach her the technique for rolling and shaping the dough.  When the dough was ready to shape, and I had called her, and after a quick chat, and demonstration, MC was shaping the dough....

After she went back home, the buns doubled in their own time, and after their rise to glory in the oven, we had a great batch for tea.....

The weather though, had turned very nasty, and I did not feel like walking round, and MC' husband likewise, so the next morning, I walked round for a few for their family to share.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Panettone Recipe using Baked Pumpkin

I've been making a version of  Panettone for several years now.  For the Gardening Club Christmas Party, I thought this would be just the right 'dish' to take for our shared supper, as it contained pumpkin.  I also made two smaller ones: one went to my friend who gave me a pumpkin earlier in the year, and the other to a Annie, my hairdresser who is also keen on baking.

It was really appreciated, so I thought I would revisit the recipe, and publish a revised version.  I've scaled down the quantities to fit the Pirottini, the special Panettone paper case, which I got from Bakery Bits.  They give the size as 154mm diameter but the ones I received came up as just over 160mm.  They are just a little too large to fit into my 6 inch cake tin.  When I ordered the cases Bakery Bits did confirm that they  are strong enough to bear the weight of the dough whilst cooking.  I did not feel confident and placed the case in a 7 inch cake tin, even though it did not touch the sides.  The pirottini held beautifully.  The recommended weight for dough is 750g but I like a good rise above the collar, and have allowed for a larger total weight. The alternative to the paper case is to line a 6 inch/150mm cake tin with baking parchment, backed by a strong paper collar 120 to 130 mm deep.

Another ingredient which I used for the first time this year again from Bakery Bits was the Aroma Panettone, which contains essential citrus oils of bergamot, orange, lemon, tangerine and vanilla extract....divine.

250 g pumpkin, weighed after baking till tender, with skin, seeds, brown bits and membrane removed
50 g butter
30g golden caster sugar

400g strong white flour
1/3 tsp ground allspice
1/3 tsp grated nutmeg
5 g sea salt pounded fine
15g fresh yeast dissolved in 1 tbsp warm water
25g pistachios
25g pecan nuts
1 large egg
25g candied peel, chopped fine
25g dried cranberries
30g large raisins
1tsp Aroma Panettone
1 to 2 tbsp brandy or rum

Oil for brushing the inside of the pirottini
Extra melted butter for brushing

Icing sugar to sift over

24 Hours before, bake the pumpkin or remove the frozen pre prepared and baked pumpkin from the freezer.  Soak the fruit in the brandy or rum.

In the morning, warm up the pumpkin gently with the butter and sugar, till warm.  Puree this. 
Prepare the yeast mixture.  Add this to the pumpkin mixture, as well as the Aroma Panettone.  Add the large egg, and mix well together.

Weigh out and sieve the flour together with the spices and salt, into a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the pumpkin mixture.  Gradually drawn all the ingredients together in the bowl and start to knead the dough.  It should be soft but not overly sticky.  If it is too dry and some more beaten egg, and if too wet, a little more flour. 

Knead on an oiled work surface, to develop the gluten, for about 10 minutes, using a scraper to bring the dough together, try not to add any flour.  When the dough is smooth and silky and well developed, put the dough to prove in the bowl, covered with oiled cling film.

Warm the oven to Gas Mark 2, 150C, 300F.  Place the nuts on a baking sheet, and place in the oven for about 10 minutes, to improve the crunch and flavour, they should not 'brown'.  Remove and when cool, chop up each piece into two or three or thereabouts.

After about two hours, turn out the dough, knock back gently, incorporating the fruit and nuts.  Allow to rest for about ten minutes.  Shape the dough into a smooth round.  I recommend brushing the inside of the paper case with a flavourless oil, before gently putting the dough into the paper case.  It will come up half way.  Place the whole lot in a puffed bag with plenty of head room, and allow to rise till it just peeks above the paper.  Keep a watch as the time it takes to rise depends on the ambient temperature. Mine took just over an hour to rise.

Just before the dough reaches the top of the case, preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5, 190 C, 375 F, making sure that the shelf is in the right position to allow the dough to rise without it being too close to the top of the oven.  

When dough is just peeking above the collar, gently brush the top with melted butter,  and place gently in the oven.  After 10 minutes, brush again with melted butter, and return to the oven, having reduced the temperature to Gas Mark 4, 180 C, 350 F.  Continue to cook for a further 30 to 40 minutes.  Check with a long fine skewer.  Remove from the oven, brush again with melted butter, allow to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then remove to finish cooling on a wire rack.  The smell from the baking fills the house with rich smells and is a sure sign that Christmas is on its way.

Keep for up to 2 days wrapped up.  When ready to serve, dredge thickly with icing sugar. 

This is one made a previous year.

It can be used just like Panettone, but has much less butter and eggs.  Would a chunk count as one of your five a way?  Maybe, but that is not the only reasonfor baking this loaf.