Christmas preparations

 

The apple harvest always heralds the start of Christmas as I make the incredibly simple seasonal mincemeat with home-grown fruit.

I’ll be demonstrating this and other apple basics on Monday 13 September at 1030.   You can sign up for a free ticket at:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week, I’ve been experimenting with honey cake.   I think that the last effort was in San Francisco using the recipe of Steve Edwards, winner of Professional Masterchef.   This weekend, at a gathering of local beekeepers, I learned about their “Hampshire honey cake” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1a3vl4wLeIcanNKMusmMAU0ph5SNCb0T2/view?usp=drive_open
I confess, having checked it out, I wouldn’t waste the ingredients.   One of the issues with using honey instead of sugar is that it contains about 17% water (23% for heather honey) which can make a much wetter mix.   One way to offset the water is to add more flour whereas my alternative here is to use some gentle heat to try to persuade the dry fruit to absorb the liquid.   The honey-soaked sultanas, even when coated with flour, still had a tendency to sink but I was too mean with the honey to rinse them.   The orange zest is just to offset the sweetness.   Using a ring mould means that the heat can get to the centre of the cake more easily but the wetter mix still needs longer cooking time to reach the cooked temperature – I prefer something over 95C (in this case, 98C).

And cooking with warm honey, sticky fruit and wobbly cake moulds is particularly testing when you can’t see!   Lots more cleaning up.

 

175g sultanas.

475g honey.

250G butter (one pack).

4 eggs.

250g self-raising flour.

zest of one orange.

 

Place the honey and sultanas in a pan and heat until warm (still comfortable for a finger).   Cover and leave to cool and the sultanas to absorb water from the honey (overnight) – repeat the following day.

On day three, gently reheat the honey until warm enough to drain the honey into the mixing bowl.   Allow to cool.

Whisk the butter into the honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Fold in most of the flour, leaving a tablespoon or two to mix in with the sultanas.

Fold in the sultanas, coated with flour and the orange zest.

Place the mix in a lightly buttered and floured silicone ring mould.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 20 minutes before turning in the oven.

Cook for a further 20 minutes, covering loosely with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Allow to cool before turning out.

Next time, I might ignore the sultanas, add 100g chopped walnuts with the flour and top the cooked cake with a warmed honey glaze and walnut halves dry-roasted in a pan with a little honey added to make them sticky at the end!

 

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Ho, Ho, Ho!

 

Just when you thought it was safe to go out …

The frustration, rage and misery of all those truck drivers stuck at Dover is not the image we want to see just before everyone starts their Christmas holidays.  Here too, we will be in Tier 4 within days – but probably not making huge difference as I haven’t been in a shop for nearly a year – so the Christmas presents were somewhat sparse as on-line buying really doesn’t work if you are blind.  But at least I know that all the packages of preserves, home-made confectionery, cakes and more are all Covid-secure: they’ve been self-isolating for weeks.

Here’s a very simple Christmas roast fruit salad:

1 pineapple, cored, skin removed and cut in to mouth-size pieces (or open a tin).

2 eating apples , cored and chopped.

2 pears, cored and chopped.

2 bananas, peeled and chopped.

2 handfuls dried sultanas.

2 handfuls dates, chopped.

2 handfuls crystallised ginger, chopped.

2 oranges, zest and juice.

About half a pint apple or other fruit juice.

Optional spices: 1 inch cinnamon, 2 star anise, 4 cloves, 4 green cardamon pods.

Mix all the ingredients in an oven-proof bowl and cover with a double layer of foil.

Cook for 30 minutes at Gas 6 and a further couple of hours at Gas 1.

Serve hot or cold.  Reheats very well in the microwave and is a good alternative to Christmas pudding.

You can vary the fruit or add more – today’s version has a mango (peeled and chopped).

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas, a much improved New Year and very good health.

 

 

 

Ding Dong

Last of the Christmas decorations: three wreath rings and a turquoise tree to welcome friends popping in to exchange Christmas gifts.  Masked and distanced, it is very different to the usual party gatherings but worth it if we are all to be around next year.

More people are making special efforts to share Christmas treats: the superb “self-isolation choir” will be presenting their Nine Lessons and Carols this Sunday 20 December at 1700:

http://theselfisolationchoir.com/s/Christmas-at-Home-Poster.pdf

These talented amateur singers exude their enthusiasm and the authenticity of Christmas giving as they warble alone from their homes and create the splendid sound of the massed choir.  There is a voluntary ticket price of £5 to the charity FORGETMENOTCHORUS – further details in the link

I was especially treated for my birthday this week.  Friend and co-cook Karen created the super-decorated ginger birthday cake, great cooking pal John brought his Christmas Bakewell tart and I’d used the scrapings from our own Christmas cake to make a small birthday edition – topped with a mini-pile-of-presents I’d made in pewter.  Far too many calories too close to Christmas!

John was happy to share his recipe and I’m working on Karen.

John’s Christmas Bakewell Tart

For the pastry base:

125g butter.

250g plain flour.

50g icing sugar.

1 egg.

Rub the butter in to the flour and sugar before binding together with the beaten egg.

Roll out the pastry to line a deep flan case.

Cover the base with a layer of fruit mincemeat topped with glace cherries and flaked almonds.

For the filling:

175g margarine.

175g sugar.

200g self-raising flour.

3 eggs.

A generous tablespoon of good almond essence.

Whizz all the ingredients together in a food processor and pour into the flan case.

Bake at 160C Gas 4 for about an hour.

 

For the icing:

3 tablespoons icing sugar.

1 teaspoon almond essence.

1 teaspoon water.

Flaked almonds.

Mix the sugar, essence and water together to create a smooth and slightly runny icing.

Remove the tart from the flan case once cooled and pour over the icing, topping with the almonds.

 

This is a substantial and delicious alternative to other seasonal cakes and puddings – perfect for a last-minute addition to a Christmas buffet.

 

 

Deck the halls …

Still a bit early but it’s not too soon to practice some Christmas treats.  These mince pies must be nearly calorie-free being so very tiny and encased in just a wisp of pastry.  How could anyone refuse

I’ve been experimenting with a different pastry: sweet and spiced hot water crust.  Usually this is reserved for pork or game pies but I’ve found it very flexible for many different uses.

This quantity made 24 very small pies and even enough to make tops for four.  The rest were given a crumble topping.  I used homemade mincemeat made with our own apples but shop-bought would work just as well – perhaps with some added orange zest, chopped apple and a splash of brandy to make it your own.

Thumbs up for this version: pastry could be pressed very thin to contrast with the succulent filling, crisp with a little bite and easy to extract from the tin.  Ideal pastry for blind people as minimum mess with no floury rolling out – and good for children too.

75g lard

100g water

50g sugar

200g plain flour

50g strong white bread flour

1 rounded teaspoon ground mixed spice

Half teaspoon salt

50g butter.

Melt the lard, water and sugar until everything has dissolved and allow to cool a little.

Meanwhile, rub the butter in to the flours, spices and salt.

Pour the liquid mix in to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well to combine, first with a wooden spoon and then your hands.

Roll small pieces of the dough in to balls and press in to the tin, over the bottom and up the sides of each hole.

Trim the excess pastry from each pie and reform the scraps to fill every hole, using anything left over to make lids.

Fill the mini-pies with mincemeat – not too much as it may run over in the oven.

Top with lids, re-trimming as necessary, or with a few tablespoons of crumble mix.

Chil the tray in the fridge for an hour or so.

Cook at Gas 4 for 10 minutes and then at Gas 2  for a further 15 minutes.

Dust the lidded pies with a little sugar and allow the whole tray to cool for at least 30 minutes before gently removing the pies.

I always have a bag of my standard crumble mix  in the freezer.  It uses a ratio of 1  each butter; crushed hazelnuts; soft brown sugar to 2 porridge oats.  Excellent   on top of cooking apples and some more of the mincemeat – and no more sugar needed.