Christmas Cake

Here’s a classic fruit cake which I reluctantly refer to as a Christmas Cake, as it seems a shame to restrict beautiful food to a particular time of year, religion and belief :o)

Festive Cake?

Albeit an incredibly delicious cake, the joy of this is all in the making for me; the family can all get involved in the various steps of the process and feel equally proud of the results – there’s always going to be plenty to go round, and more than enough to share with friends and family. I was so chuffed at how well received it was this year.

This recipe is lifted from Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook, his latest (and potentially greatest) book to date. Developed from refinements on classic recipes and innovative twists over nearly two decades, it certainly won’t be gathering any dust on my shelf.

My 5-year-old daughter, Winter, was particularly keen to get involved with this bake and I found myself having to reel her in at times so I had a moment to pause and think before crashing ahead. #SuperKeenBean

Ingredients:

  • 75g dates
  • 75g prunes
  • 100 glace cherries
  • 400g mixed dried fruit
  • 1 apple
  • 100ml stout or porter
  • 1 clementine, zest and juice
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200ml milk
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder

Method:

  1. Find yourself a 20cm square cake tin, grease it with butter and line it with greaseproof paper.
  2. Roughly chop the dried fruit in a food processor and transfer to a mixing bowl.
  3. Grate in the apple, add the stout, clementine juice and zest, and set aside.
  4. Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy and then mix in the eggs one at a time, followed by the milk, a little at a time.
  5. Combine the two mixtures and then sift in the flour, spices, baking powder and cocoa, folding everything together.
  6. Pour the cake mixture into the lined tin and bake for 2 hours at 150°C.
  7. Allow the cake to rest in the tin for 30 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. You can finish the cake however you like – you may want to just eat it like that – but we chose to coat it in a thin layer of apricot jam followed by marzipan and finally a fairly thin layer of royal icing.

Coating with Jam

Little hands working hard to roll out the royal icing on a sprinkling of icing sugar. rolling out the icing for the Christmas cake

We used a simple Scandinavian (Ikea!) cookie cutter to stick mini sugar pearls to the cake with a dab of water.

decorating the christmas cake

The finished ‘Festive Cake’:

Christmas Cake

Enjoy!

(Note to self – steady on the royal icing).

Blue Gammon

Blue? It simply means that the pork has been cured, but not smoked. In the UK, bacon is often often sold in either a red (smoked) or blue (unsmoked) packaging. The difference between bacon and gammon then? Different cuts from the pig.

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This isn’t something that I’ve eaten very often, but I now have an entirely new appreciation for how wonderful it can be. Mr Jamie Oliver demonstrated a terribly appealing plate on his family Christmas show with unctuous poached eggs, miniature baked potatoes and a watercress and apple salad. It certainly inspired my wife.

Step one: buy the best quality gammon you can possibly find.

Dust the gammon steaks in English mustard powder, season and fry them for a few minutes on each side. You can keep them flat whilst they cook by popping another pan on top.

The combination of flavours and textures puts it squarely in the comfort food zone.

Gammon, Egg and watercress salad

At about half the price of a beef steak, gammon’s satisfyingly cheap.

We actually chose to cook this as we were looking for a gluten free recipe for a guest; it opens up lots of new options as there’s plenty of combinations that will work as accompaniments.

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Can’t wait for Christmas!

 

 

 

Mulled Wine Jelly Sweets

As Christmas culinary activities were somewhat postponed for me, I’m finally getting round to making festive treats for friends and family.  On a positive note, this is a good January, as the house is still full of nice ingredients and treats.  You could say that the ‘Christmas Cupboard’ is well stocked.

During my pre-Christmas planning which started back in, well, October probably, I came across the concept of making wine-based jellies to accompany cheese – much like the concept of Membrillo.

Here’s a recipe from Jamie Oliver for his Mulled Wine Jelly Sweets:

Ingredients:

  • 600g apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • 300g pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • 700g golden granulated sugar
  • 200g white caster sugar, for dusting
  • 500ml red wine
  • 200ml orange juice
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tbsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 40ml liquid pectin

Method:

1. Lightly grease a 20x20cm tin with oil and line with cling film, leaving some excess to come over the sides.

2. Place the apples and pears in a heavy-based saucepan with the wine, orange juice, half of the lemon juice and the spices. Cook over a high heat for 30 minutes, until the fruit has broken down, the liquid has evaporated and you’re left with a dark red purée.

apples, pears and spices

3. Push the mixture through a fine sieve, discarding any pulp. Pour the liquid back into the saucepan, add the golden granulated sugar and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has completely dissolved.

sugar for mulled wine jelly sweets

4. Pop a sugar thermometer in the saucepan and let the mixture slowly cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 107°C. Then add the rest of the lemon juice along with the pectin and bring it up to 115°C.

5. You can check if your mixture is done by dropping ½ teaspoon of it into a bowl of cold water; if it forms a ball, it’s ready; if not, give it a few more minutes.

6. Pour into your prepared tin and set aside to cool.

7. Once cooled, cover the top of the mixture with cling film and leave to set at room temperature for at least 12 hours.

8. Pour the white caster sugar onto a tray. Using a hot or lightly greased knife, cut the set jelly into 2cm squares. Roll the jellies in the sugar and place them in the fridge until you’re ready to bag or box them up.

Sweets for Cheese

Whilst making these, I recall thinking “never again”.  In hindsight, I think that I will probably give them ago next year but pay more attention to testing how the mixture is setting.  The flavour is fantastic, but the jelly can be terribly sticky and hard to work with if it isn’t quite set enough (hence the ‘rustic’ shapes).

Spiced Apple Relish

The festive season inevitably brings us cheese.  Lots, and lots of cheese.  This is a good thing.

In preparation, I like to make a few accompaniments to enhance the experience.  Membrillo (Quince Paste/Cheese), Pickled Onions, Piccalilli, Chutney and glorious Relishes.

I happened to have a glut of apples and a requirement for some lovely gifts for friends and family.

Job #1: Sterilise a few jars.  It’s worth checking roughly how much you’re going to make to avoid cleaning too many jars.

There are a couple of methods for this.  The easiest is to run them through a dishwasher on a relatively high heat.  The traditional method is to give them a good wash and rinse and them lower them into a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can pop them into an oven at 130°C for 20 minutes, but both of these methods involve juggling with hot glass.  Don’t forget the lids.

Clean jarsOnce sterilised, I use a filling funnel to avoid sticky splashes on the outside of the jars.

Cooking Apple Chutney

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 kg apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 450g sultanas
  • 700ml cider vinegar
  • 750g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp salt

Method:

Combine all of the ingredients in a preserving pan or suitably large pot.

Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for 30­ to 40 minutes, whilst stirring frequently. Remove from the heat once it’s nice and thick.  Fill and cap your sterilised jars.  Easy.

If you can resist, store your relish for at least a month before devouring, as the flavour will develop over time.

Apple Chutney

Holiday Traditions

November challenge #3 for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolutionaries: ‘Holiday Traditions’.  I instantly imagined this as a bit of a montage as I’m completely smitten with all things Christmas.

So, holiday traditions and food for your family gatherings… Easy.  I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have a ‘Christmas Book’ and start planning a couple of months in advance (you have to if you’re going to make all the good stuff from scratch…).  Heavily booze-soaked Christmas cake and sloe gin are well worth the early effort.

Let’s start with…

  • Hampers.  Who doesn’t love a hamper? I’d use an interrobang at this point if only my keyboard supported it.  I’m not sure I’m even too fussed what it contains, a hamper is a both exciting and practical whatever the festivity.

xmas hamper

It’s even more special when someone makes up a hamper from scratch for you.

Next on the agenda;

  • Christmas Ales.  I love dark, heavy and flavoursome beers and it’s a real treat when all of the special festive brews hit the shelves.  Even better if it’s Belgian.  Here’s a favourite of mine.

Christmas Beer

  • Brussel sprouts (Brassica oleracea) on the stalk.  For some crazy reason, you only seem to be able to buy sprouts on their stalk at Christmas.  What’s with that?

Brussel sprouts (Brassica oleracea)

  • Christmas Butter.  Useful stuff for poultry of any kind.  You can make it well in advance and pop it in the freezer.  I usually use cranberries, orange and lemon zest, sage and all the generally festive ingredients.

festive butter

  • Santa Sustenance.  I suspect I might get a little dreary about this tradition one day, but hopefully the children will have sussed it all out well before then.  That said, the port is particularly welcomed by the time I get to finally indulge.  Do reindeer even eat nuts?

Treats for Santa

  • Hash.  Continuing the leftover theme, I honestly look forward to boxing day more than the main event.  This is probably the ultimate in comfort food eating.  We are all guilty of cooking far, far too much food at Christmas, but use fantastic ingredients.  The rule; there isn’t one.  The beauty is that you can use whatever you happen to have left (plus eggs and maybe some hot sauce depending on how late you partied…).

Christmas hash

  • Pie.  Again, this tends to be a boxing day dinner based on cooking too much the day before.  Never be without a block of puff pastry in the freezer during the festivities. Turkey, ham, mushrooms, crème fraîche and a couple of leeks.  Heaven. Obviously this also lends itself to pretty much anything you have to hand.

pie filling at christmas

Have fun, indulge, and above all, spoil the younglings.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Happy Holidays