Advent Calendar 4: Christmas Cake

If you are anything like me, then the year has gotten away from you, and half a moment ago it was halloween, and you were overdue for making your Christmas cake, and now, BAM! It’s December 4th, and you still haven’t done it. Do not despair, dear ones. It is not too late.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t *need* to make a Christmas cake months and months in advance. Sure, you get more time to feed it to boozy godliness if you do, but it is not essential. So long as you make your cake 3-4 weeks before the big day, you will have plenty of time to get in plenty of feedings to have a delicious, brandy spiked delight to serve on Christmas Day.

The recipe below is adapted from Delia Smith’s age old and much loved Christmas cake recipe. I’ve really only removed the nuts (I prefer the texture nut free, personally), tweaked the spices to my preference, and altered the fruit a little (cranberries > currants).

Christmas Cake

  • 750g dried fruit (you can pretty use whichever dried fruits you like in this mixture. I used approximately 100g glacé cherries, 200g sultanas, 200g raisins and 250g dried cranberries)
  • 50g candied peel
  • 3tsbp brandy
  • 225g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 225g butter
  • 225g soft brown sugar
  • 4 free range eggs
  • 1tsbp treacle
  • Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

9-12 hours before you want to make the cake, or the evening before, weigh out the fruit into a mixing bowl (If you like, you can chop your cherries, but I prefer them as whole gleaming jewels in the finished cake). Drizzle the brandy over the fruit and stir to ensure all the fruit is coated. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave the fruit to steep. If you are able, the odd stir during this process will only help the absorption.

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Preheat the oven to 130-140c and double line an 8 inch cake tin with greaseproof paper. Prepare a double layer of greaseproof to sit on top of the cake in the oven too. This will help protect the cake from over-browing during its long and slow baking.

Weigh out your flour and measure out your spices. Sieve or whisk together to remove lumps.

In another bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. Beat the eggs, and mix into the butter mixture in 2-4 parts until completely incorporated.

Add the flour mix into the wet ingredients and fold to combine.

Finally add the zest, treacle and fruit, and fold into the mixture until it is uniform.

Pour the cake batter in the prepared tin, cover with the paper ‘lid’, and pop it in the oven for 4 and 1/2 hours. If your oven is particularly fierce, check at 4.

Allow to cool completely in the tin before removing the cake to an airtight container. Poke the cake full of holes with a toothpick, and drizzle in a healthy plug of brandy. Repeat this process at least once a week until you are ready to ice the cake, flipping the cake over each time to ensure an even feeding.

 

Like a lot a festive recipes, this cake is super easy, it’s just time consuming, and contains a lot of ingredients. Making your own Christmas cake is a labour of love, and will rapidly become a tradition in your household, if for no other reason than the phenomenal scent of it baking for hours on end. With so many steps before the cake is baked, and after, theres plenty to get the whole family involved in. If you are tee-total, use strong tea instead of brandy in the first step, and simply don’t feed the cake. It will keep well enough if it is kept airtight.

Enjoy!

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Mango Chutney

I love Indian food. I used to be very suspicious of it (I have an intolerance to garlic, and have therefore had some very bad experiences) but got turned back on to it via the delicious fare at a friend’s wedding last year.

‘Indian’ food has long been a staple favourite in Britain, since the days of Empire, and today this persists in our love of the take away curry, as well as the homemade option. However, this neon food is a long way from the traditional flavours it was inspired by, and this is perhaps truest for the tango-orange gel that is called Mango Chutney.

My father loves a good Indian, and since it was his birthday last month, I whipped him up a batch of curry-changing sweet goodness in the form of a more traditional Mango Chutney. And, spoiler alert: it’s not bright orange.

 

Proper Mango Chutney

  •  145ml Cider vinegar
  • 250g Caster sugar
  • 180g Dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp Ground allspice
  • scant 1/4 tsp Ground cloves
  • 1 tsp Ground nutmeg
  • 1 red chilli
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 onion
  • 70g sultanas
  • 10g Root ginger
  • 500g mango flesh

First things first, get prepped. Wash up 4-6 jars to make sure they are super clean, then pop them in the oven at 100-130c to dry and sterilise. You can also put them through the dishwasher, but I recommend sticking them in the oven anyway, as hot food needs to go in hot jars, or the jar could shatter.

You also need a decent sized saucepan, and ideally to prep your fruit and veg in advance. The chilli needs to be deseeded and chopped finely. The onion needs to be chopped fairly finely. The ginger needs to be grated or very finely chopped. I bought my mango frozen because I am incredibly lazy, so all I had to do was defrost it, but if you are using fresh you need to chop your mango into 1cm cubes. You can do this as you go, but it’s much easier to get ahead.

Right, now to the cooking part- heat the vinegar and sugars to combine, and add the spices, chilli and salt. Bring up to the boil, and boil for 10 minutes.

Add everything else except the mango and boil for further 10-15 minutes.

Finally, add your mango and reduce the heat to a simmer for a further 15 minutes. Depending on how chunky you want the finished product, you can use a potato masher or your spoon to crush the mango into the mixture as it cooks.

Remove your jars from the oven and take the chutney off of the heat. Spoon the mixture into the jars and, ensuring the screw top is clean of drips, screw on the lids until closed, but not sealed. Allow to cool fully before tightening the top of the jar up.

 

The finished product is dark, spicy and sweet. You can play with the chilli content and spice balance if you know you like things hot, and add a clove of garlic or more onion if you want more punch, but this chutney is sweet and complex, and goes well not only with curries, but with meats and cheeses.

Enjoy!

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Golden Christmas Cake : Advent Calendar 23rd

My mother requested something a little different when it came to Christmas Cake this year. The traditional black, rich cake is yummy, but I agree that it divides people into lovers, tolerators and haters. Haters won’t touch it, tolerators will have a sliver begrudgingly, and lovers will eat half the cake themselves, before leaving it to moulder on the side til easter.I get the feeling that my mother is in the middle category at best.

So, to honour her wishes, and because I like a challenge, and because I kept forgetting to make my Nanny’s Christmas Cake, I gave a blonde fruitcake a go. I based my recipe on Nigella’s Golden Fruit Cake very closely. The only changes I have made are because I wanted a flour based cake, and due to fruit and spice preferences.

Please note that though I have used dried pears in my recipe, you can substitute dried apples, which are MUCH easier to get hold of. Of course, you can dry your own, as I did.

Golden Christmas Cake

  • 850g dried fruit (apricots, pears and sultanas. I used about 250g sultanas, 150g pears and the rest apricots)
  • 100g glacé cherries
  • 175gsoft butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 125ml Malibu
  • A glug of brandy
  • 200 grams ginger jam
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 35g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom, or 3 pods worth
  • ¼ tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • approx. 75g whole blanched almonds
  • 2-3 generous tablespoons apricot jam
  • Gold sugar balls and confectioners glitter to garnish

First, prep the fruit. Roughly chop the pears and apricots. Cut the cherries in half.

Put all the fruit, the butter, the rum, jam and sugar in a pan and bring up to a simmer, mixing until all the butter is melted. Simmer for 10 minutes, the add the brandy. Stir through, then turn off the heat and set the mixture aside to cool.

Double line a 9 inch pan and preheat the oven to 160 c.

In a bowl measure out your dry ingredients and mix them together. Mix them into the fruit mix, then beat in the eggs.

Spoon the gloriously bejewelled mix into your lined tin and even out. Decorate the top with the almonds as you please.

Bake for 1 hour 40 minutes at 150 c. Check at 1hr 20 minutes. To finish the cake off, turn up the heat to 170 c for 20 minutes. The cake is done when the top is golden and an inserted blade or skewer comes out clean.

Cool completely in the tin- this will take some time as the cake is so dense and large. However, you can glaze it when it is halfway cool. Melt the jam in a milk pan and spread evenly over the top of the cake to give it a jewel like shine. If you like, you can now sprinkle over golden sugar sprinkles and confectioners glitter, for an extra touch of seasonal sparkle.

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Moist, richly fruity without the smoke of traditional cake; this is an excellent last minute wonder. It also avoids me having to marzipan and ice anything, and then being ‘made’ to eat everyone else’s icing and marzipan, as my family lack my sweet tooth to a degree.

Enjoy!

 

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Speculaas Cheesecake : Recipe Advent Calendar 22nd

Speculaas, Spekulatius or Spéculoos, depending on where you are from in Europe, are traditional spiced biscuits made to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas at the beginning of December. They are made with a specific set of spices (known as Speculaas Spices) which bring warmth and sweetness to the biscuit.

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I love the combination of cream and ginger and spice, so here’s a lovely dessert that’ll be a simple yet elegant showstopper at any seasonal feast.

Speculaas Cheesecake

  • 200g Ginger biscuits
  • 1tsp Cinnamon (ground)
  • 1/2 tsp Nutmeg (ground)
  • 1/4 tsp Cloves (ground)
  • 1/8 Tsp ground or 1 fat pod Cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp White pepper (ground)
  • 75g Butter
  • 400g Cream Cheese
  • 300g Mascarpone
  • 200g Icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Take your ginger biscuits, and break down in to crumbs. It is easiest to do this in a ziplock bag with a rolling pin. Wrap the bag in a tea towel first to prevent the bag splitting.

Melt the butter in a pan, and add your Speculaas spices and mix in. Then add the biscuit crumbs and mix through thoroughly until the mixture is uniform. This mixture will be your base.

Press the crumbs into the base of a greased 9inch springform or loose bottomed tin to form the base of the cheesecake. Pop it in the fridge to cool and set.

In a mixer, or with a handheld electric whisk, combine the cheese and mascarpone. Whip until light and aerated.

Sieve your icing sugar and whip into the cheese mix bit by bit. Finally, add your vanilla and do the same until you have a fully combined, fluffy mix.

Spoon your mix into the tin on top of the crumb base and gently spread out, smoothing the top with a spatula or palette knife. Set in the fridge for at least 4 hours before serving.

Are you going to make this treat soon? Be sure to tell me how you got on!

Enjoy!

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Traditional Mincemeat : Recipe Advent Calendar 18th

I love my Cranberry Mincemeat, as does pretty much everyone I know- even several who don’t really like mince pies! But cranberries don’t mix with certain medications, so since I’m off to visit relatives for Chrimble, I needed to make something everyone could enjoy.

You can buy standard mincemeat in the shops, and sometimes very good ones, but they are often overly sweet or very acidic. Making your own is really simple, it just takes a little bit of time. And the flavour is always better.

In the past I have made Bramley Apple and Clementine mincemeat to replace my favourite red concoction, but this year I’ve turned to Delia and her famous mincemeat recipe.

You can find this recipe in her wonderful Happy Christmas book, or on her website, but here it is again. I’ve really made very few changes, and those are mainly based on what I had in at the time, rather than for flavour tweaks etc.

Please note this makes PLENTY of mincemeat- you’ll have enough for pies and then some. You can easily half the recipe and still have oodles.

Traditional Mincemeat

  • 450g Bramley apples, cored and chopped (Approx 3 apples: I actually used 488g because I have a waste not, want not frame of mind. Also, you don’t need to peel them.)
  • 225g shredded vegetarian suet (you can use any suet, and I only actually used 200g)
  • 1025g mixed fruit and peel (currants, raisins and sultanas)
  • 350g Soft dark brown sugar (I used a mixture of molasses sugar and SDB sugar)
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 4 tsp mixed spice (I used a mixture of the last of my mixed spice, plus nutmeg, ginger and cloves)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 6 tbsp brandy

In an oven proof mixing bowl (if you don’t have one, don’t panic- you can transfer the mix to an oven proof dish later) combine all the ingredients except the brandy and leave to infuse overnight. Cover the bowl with some loose cling film, foil or a tea towel to keep anything unwanted out.

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If you haven’t already, cover the mincemeat loosely with foil. Pop it in the oven at 120 c for 3 hours.

After the 3 hours are up, remove it from the oven and stir occasionally as it cools. The melted fat will settle back into the mixture and coat the ingredients, rather than remaining in shreds.

Once cold,  mix the brandy through the delicious mixture and store in sterilised jars.

Mincemeat recipes can look daunting, because of the amount of ingredients involved mainly. The truth is, they are sickening easy. All they need is a little time and simple cooking, and you’ll have something wonderful to eat this christmas season.

Let me know how you get on!

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Snowcapped Gingercake : Recipe Advent Calendar 17th

I love gingerbread in all its forms, but I’ve never posted a recipe for the treacly, cakey variety. That is all about to change.

I have been making this cake since I was a student, and it is sticky and filling and satisfying and, just, yum. Topped with white chocolate ganache flavoured with lemon, and it’s a truly special treat. If you aren’t a fan of fruitcakes, you could even use this recipe as your ‘christmas cake’- dust the finished product with icing sugar to imitate fresh fallen snow, and decorate as for a snow scene!

To be honest, the topping is really, pun intended, the icing on the cake, as this burnished brown beauty is sumptuously tasty all on its own. I mean, just look at it…

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Snowcapped Gingercake

  • 1-2 quantities of white chocolate ganache as per the recipe here
  • OPTIONAL: Zest of a lemon and/or 1/2 tsp Lemon extract
  • 150g Butter
  • 175g Soft brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp Treacle
  • 2 cups Plain flour
  • 1tsp Baking powder
  • 2 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 Free range egg
  • White chocolate curls or icing sugar to garnish

The first step is to make your ganache. If you just want to cover the top of the cake, then you need 1 quantity. If you want to cover the whole cake, then make two. Instead of adding liquor, you can either leave the ganache as it is, or flavour it with lemon zest and/or lemon extract. Don’t use lemon juice, as the acid will affect the consistency of the finished product.

Now, for the cake: Melt the butter, sugar and treacle together in a milk pan over a low heat. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes or so.

Preheat your oven to 170 c and grease a 9×9 cake tin ready for the baking.

Mix together your dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. I use a whisk, as that what there is no need to sieve.

Stir in the milk, then the egg, then the butter-sugar-treacle mixture and mix everything together gently, and pour out into the tin.

Bake for 30-40 minutes at 170 c. Check at 30 minutes.

Let the cake cool completely, then ice with the ganache and decorate as desired. Store in an airtight container or in the fridge.

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If you do want a fruitier twist than just the lemons, peel, core and cube a couple of eating apples and treat them with lemon juice, or acidulated water. These can be mixed in to the batter with everything else. I personally like my gingerbread unadulterated, but ginger and fruit are a match made in food heaven.

Enjoy!

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Fröhliche Weihnachten!

… Und alles gute zum neuen jahr! 

It’s a no brainer; the Germans do Christmas well. With their Weinachtsmarkt, gluhwein and delicious edibles like stollen, they tick all the boxes for me: great shopping, delicious drinks and good eating. I come from German stock on my mother’s side, and whilst it hasn’t played a too overbearing part on my life, I think around the festive season certain aspects of it have always shined through in the feasting and libations. Every year we would get these delicious German christmas biscuits called Pfeffernüsse, a tradition I still maintain, and I can’t help but get excited when I see them in shops come autumn time.

My favourite German christmas treat however is a similar creation to those ‘pepper nuts’. Europe is awash with gingerbread recipes, each country having its own version or versions with different textures and spice blends. Lebkuchen, which I have often heard called affectionately (if incorrectly) ‘Liebkuchen’ are my favourites. They burst with spice and pepper heat, plus a heady fragrance of citrus and honey.

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This year I’m using this gorgeous wholemeal plain flour from Otterton Mill in Devon, which I picked up on holiday. Good wholemeal plain flour really does add a depth of colour and flavour to biscuits, though of course if you are cooking a paler treat such as a sugar cookie, the bleached stuff is probably going to give a more convincing finish. I highly recommend raiding your local market or farm shop for produce from your local mill.

This recipe makes great biscuits, large or small, and excellent edible Christmas decorations. So long as your house isn’t damp, and you can keep them away from hungry mouths, they don’t tend to stale either, meaning decorations put on the tree before Christmas can be scarfed down on twelfth night and still pack a flavour wallop.

Lebkuchen

  • 200g honey
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 50g butter
  • Juice of a lemon and a small orange
  • Zest of a lemon and a small orange, or a few drops of lemon and orange extract if you hate zesting/have lost your zester
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 550g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice

In a medium to large saucepan, heat the honey, sugar, butter and juices until dissolved and melted accordingly. Allow to cool until warm.

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While your mix is cooling, weigh out all of the dry ingredients (from flour down on the list above) and either sieve or whisk together to combine and roughly remove lumps.

Whisk your eggs, then beat them into the honey mix. Add your zests and mix in.

About a third at a time, add your flour into the honey-egg mix and stir together, adding the next third when the dough begins to look wet again.

Grease a freezer/food bag and spoon in the dough. Age the dough in the fridge for 3 days. If you can’t wait that long, at least leave it alone for one day, for the flavours to develop.

Roll out the dough fairly thickly (approx 1/4 inch thick) and cut out your shapes. If you want to make these into Christmas ornaments, use a drinking straw to poke a hole in the top of each design.

Lay out your cookies on a baking sheet. These biscuits do spread and puff up, so leave at least 1/2 inch between them, ideally  a whole inch. This also means that once they are baked, you will have to rewiden the holes for the hanging string.

Bake at 170-180 c for 7-9 minutes until lightly golden. If you bake them darker they will still be delicious, but they will lose the chewy consistency those biscuits are famous for.

Once cool, thread through ribbons/string if required and decorate with royal icing and non pareil, dip in dark chocolate or simply enjoy au naturel.

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These biscuits pack a flavour wallop. You MUST include the pepper as it takes the flavour to another a level. Another word to the wise- I have tried substituting golden syrup for the honey, and it just isn’t as good. Make the effort for this treat, and grab a jar of the good stuff.

Making this treat makes me smile from start to finish. The delicious honey-lemon smell of the first step warms and soothes the senses, and the puffs of joyful spice as you mix the dough fill the air with festive cheer. Even decorating them has a huge place in my heart; traditionally you would find me with a tray of biscuits and icing equipment, in front of the television on Christmas Eve, watching the carols and singing to myself whilst given reindeer harnesses of icing and silver balls.

If you like this recipe, why not try the other european gingerbread recipes I shared last Christmas; Polish Pierniczki and Swedish Pepparkakor?

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

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