Saturday, 24 December 2011

Gingerbread Christmas Cake

I don't really like Christmas cake, its low down on my list of Christmas foods. I find it dry and heavy, tough with the density of the fruit. So this year I decided to put a gingerbread house on top of the cake so I'd have something nice to eat! I can't ignore the kitsch factor here either, I mean the house is totally adorable! You can fill it with goodies, pipe on decorations, use sweets and jellies to make window sills, roof tiles, pathways, figurines etc. Go for it!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Last Minute Peanut Butter Fudge

Fudge can of course be eaten all year around but there is something especially Christmas-y about soft melt in your mouth golden fudge. It also makes a great edible gift which have become so fashionable recently. Everyone from Nigella Lawson to Donal Skehan are embracing the kitsch and stocking up on jars and ribbons. Edible gifts are of course, recession friendly but I think even with cost-savings aside they make a lovely personal gift. Sometimes its too easy to go into a shop, pick up the first thing you see and give it as a Christmas gift. In fact with the internet now you don't even have to leave your couch to get someone a gift. When you make your gift the receiver knows that you've put time and energy into it. And for people who don't bake, the gift could be the best thing they've tasted all year!

This fudge takes ten minutes to prepare and a half hour to cool. Perfect for the rush of Christmas eve!

From The Delicious Miss Dahl 
125g butter
500g dark brown sugar
120ml milk
250g peanut butter
1 vanilla pod, seeds only
300g icing sugar

1. Melt the butter over a low heat. Add the brown sugar and milk, stir once through, then bubble for 5 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat, stir in the peanut butter and vanilla seeds. She recommends crunchy peanut butter but I don't think I would like the shards of peanut so I used smooth.
3. Place the icing sugar in a bowl and beat in the melted butter mix until smooth.
4. Pour into a 20cm square baking tin. Allow to cool in the fridge until hard. Cut into squares and store in an airtight tin. Will keep for at least a week.

Mammy's Mince Pies

My sister loves mince pies and I have to say after the Christmas pudding (which I love lathered in Bird's Custard, I know its nasty but its my achilles heel) I am partial to a mince pie and a cup of tea. I've seen recipes for fancy twists on the old traditional, like topping mince pies with frangipane and marizpan but I like mine plain and simple, sweet pastry top and bottom. People make a big deal out of making pastry, but abide by two key rules and you'll be set:

1. Keep everything for the pastry cold,except the margarine
2. Don't overwork the pastry.

Alternatively buy good quality sweet shortcrust pastry.

Rich Sweet Pastry 
225g plain flour
50g icing sugar
150g stork margarine (at room temperature)
1 egg yolk, 1 tbsp ice cold water and 1/2 lemon juice beaten together.

1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar together.
2. Place one third of the flour mixture in a mixing bowl, together with the Stork and the beaten egg mixture.
3. Cream with a fork until well mixed.
4. Add the remaining flour and mix to a firm dough with the fork until the flour is just absorbed. Bring the crumb together with your fingers, turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead lightly and quickly until smooth. Leave in the fridge for about half an hour.

Hints and Tips: Use a non stick cupcake tin but you won't need to use the cupcake liners. Roll your pastry out nice and thinly, about the thickness of a coin. Use a large round cutter for the bottom (or the mouth of a glass), pressing gently into tin. Only fill the pastry two thirds full with mincemeat, otherwise it will bubble up and burn giving a bitter taste. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Pecan and Marmalade Cupcakes

I am HORRIFIED at the number of people who don't like marmalade and eat jam on bread for breakfast. At elevenses I'm the only one eating marmalade on my scone/toast. The cafe at work doesn't even serve marmalade! I sneak a little jar in in my handbag.... Leads to a very sticky mobile phone/lipstick/other random contents of said bag but worth it. Marmalade has a delicious balance, the sweet sticky syrup is cut by the tangy orange peel- wake up sleepy!!

I was delighted to see the awesome marmalade honoured in the Cupcakes from the Primose Bakery book. A light fluffy sponge hides crunchy pecan pieces. Best eaten on the day made!

Makes 12 regular cupcakes

55g unsalted butter melted and cooled
125ml corn oil (I replaced this with the same amount of unsalted butter because I don't like oil in cupcakes, I find it leads to greasy, overly dense cupcakes)
60ml orange juice
grated zest of 1 small orange
80g thick cut marmalade
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
180g golden caster sugar
60g pecan nuts, toasted for 3-4 minutes in a hot oven and chop

1. Preheat the oven to 180oC and line a 12 hole muffin tray.
2. In a large mixing bowl combine butter, corn oil, orange juice, orange zest, marmalade and vanilla extract. Set aside.
3. Combine the flour, bicarb and salt in a separate bowl and set aside.
4. In a third bowl beat the eggs and sugar with an electric hand beater until the mixture is light and fluffy and quick thick. Slowly add the butter mixture, keeping the beater on a low speed until it is all combined.
5. Add one third of the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Pour in another third of the flour and beat again. Repeat with the last third and gently fold in the pecans.
6. Fill the cupcake cases one third full. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until slightly raised and golden. Insert a skewer and ensure it is clean.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The 'Perfect' Loaf of White Bread

I hate when recipes say 'The Perfect....' How dare anyone be so presumptuous! No one recipe is 'perfect' to everyone's tastebuds. And I see the Good Food Channel have made a whole series of 'Perfect' recipes. Hrumph (read indignatious noise). The cheek! So I have put the 'perfect' in the title of this white loaf recipe in interveted commas because I think, in my humble opinion that this loaf is perfect. I always find that when I make white bread it tastes too yeasty with little other flavour. This loaf uses only a sachet of dried action yeast to 700g strong white flour so the yeast flavour doesn't come through so strong. The cooked dough is soft with a nicely browned crust. I sprinkled mine with poppy seeds, I like the contrast of the dark seeds and the crunchy texture.

From the Great British Bake Off Book
700g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 x 7g sachet fast action yeast
about 450ml lukewarm water- the water must be lukewarm to activate the yeast.

1. Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the lukewarm water. Mix the water and flour together to make a soft but not sticky dough. I use the dough hook on a food processor as I find the large quantity of flour difficult to fold into the water.
2. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured worktop and knead for ten minutes until smooth. Alternatively put on a low speed in the food processor for about 4 minutes and let the dough hook do all the work! Embracing modern technology is fun.
3. Gather the dough in a ball and transfer to a clean oiled bowl. Cover with clingfilm and allow to rise for about 2 hours. Don't rush the rising process or you will lose the flavour.
4. Punch the dough down, cut in two and roll into two round loaves. Place on non stick baking paper and cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for an hour. When rising time is oven, cut a cross in the top of the bread, brush with milk and sprinkle on seeds of choice.
5. Bake in a 230oC for 15 minutes. Place a small roasting dish full of cold water on the bottom of the oven. This will create a nice crust. Turn down the oven to 200oC and bake for another 15-20 minutes until hollow when tapped.

Penguins on shortbread!

If you are looking for some seriously beautiful edibles, check out What this girl cannot do with a cookie! I've spent hours just pooching around the site, ooh-ing and ah-ing at pages of emaculate icing and unbelievable piping skills.

I sadly recognise that this is a standard that I will never reach. I'm rubbish at art. After years in school I've conquered the stick man and the two-up-two-down house.  But the site is just so adorable and cute (check out the Hello Kitty cookies!) that I had to give fancy cookie decorating a bit of a go. I wanted to add more detail to these but I just didn't get a chance.

I watched David Attenborough's Frozen Planet a few weeks ago where they went into the water and filmed penguins shooting up out of the water and bellyflopping onto the ice, their speed underwater leaving vapour trails like airplanes in the sky. They were unperturbed by the camera man and seemed almost to be reveling in the attention. So I decided to celebrate the penguin in a cookie!! The red background gives the cookies a Christmas-y vibe.

For the cookie base I used the shortbread recipe in my strawberry shortcake post. I find sugar cookies so tasteless and hard, even if you try to liven them up by adding essence/zest. This shortbread is easy to make and roll and is crumbly and buttery.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

Instead of stingy, grumpy misers, our modern day Scrooges are economic analysts and opposition politicians. This week I was under the cloud of economic doom and gloom, a smothering depression after a particularly vicious forecast I heard. So naturally I went straight home and enveloped myself in sugar and butter. These cupcakes were just the ticket. The cupcake is sweet but with an orange tang. I don't know who originally put these two flavours together but congratulations to Terry's for maximising on the chocolate orange combo!

From Primrose Bakery Book

110g butter softened
225 caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
150g self raising flour
125g plain flour, sifted
90ml milk
2 tbsp orange juice
grated rind of 1 orange.

1. Cream the butter and sugar for about 3-5 minutes until smooth. Add a tbsp of the egg at a time with a tbsp of the flour to prevent curdling until all the egg is gone. Beat well after each addition.
2. Pour in half the milk and beat well. Add a third of the remaining flours. Beat in the remainder of the milk and orange juice.
3. Finish with folding in the rest of the flour and orange rind.
4. Fill the cupcake tins two thirds full and bake for about 25 minutes until slightly golden brown.
5. Allow to cool.

Chocolate buttercream
175g chocolate melted
225g butter softened
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g icing sugar

Beat the butter, milk, vanilla and icing sugar together for about 3 minutes until smooth. Beat in the melted chocolate.