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).

French Onion Soup

For this year’s Food Revolution Day, Jamie Oliver shared ‘10 recipes to save your life‘ – learn how to master these dishes and you can successfully cook nutritious food for yourself and your family for the rest of your life.

As Ambassadors for the revolution, we’re all about inspiring others, sharing skills and knowledge, and helping people to build confidence in the kitchen.

My alternative to Jamie’s Minestrone Soup is the one and only French Onion Soup. It’s a fantastic example of how you can transform a humble ingredient by concentrating the flavour. You have a couple of options here: make a relatively quick and acceptable soup, or show it the love, give it the time and attention it deserves, and make a beautifully deep, complex and truly sensational bowl of joy.

brown onions

Ingredients:

  • 500g brown onions
  • 50g butter
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Splash of cognac or brandy (optional)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1.5 litres beef stock
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 150g Gruyere cheese
  • ½ baguette

 

Method:

Finely slice the onions and sweat them in a pan on a very low heat with the butter, sugar and a little olive oil for about an hour until beautifully soft, caramelised and almost melting.

sweating onions

Increase the heat, add the garlic and thyme and cook for a few minutes before carefully flambéing with the cognac/brandy if using.

Stir in the flour and cook it out for two of minutes.

Add the wine and let it bubble away and reduce by a third.

Add the beef stock, season and simmer for a further 30 minutes.

Serve the soup with Gruyere-topped croutons – they’re essential.

I like to make the croutons by frying garlic-rubbed slices of baguette in a pan with butter until golden, but you can just toast them or bake them in the oven to dry them out. Pop them onto the soup, grate Gruyere cheese over the top, and slide everything under the grill or into the oven until gorgeously molten.

Enjoy!

Onion Soup

Omelette Twist

As Jamie launches his ‘10 recipes to save your life’ for this year’s Food Revolution, here’s my twist on the basic omelette for you: Baked Mini Omelettes!

Super-simple fayre, these little treats are a fun take on the humble and nutritious egg, and can be served hot or cold.

The fillings are up to you – I like to have a bit of variation so here’s some ideas:

Fresh chives, chillies, bell peppers, ham, tomato, cheese, smoked salmon; perhaps some pre-cooked ingredients: bacon, mushrooms, black pudding, sausage, broccoli.. the list goes on, so feel free to experiment.

The most important factor is to use the freshest and highest quality eggs you can find – the hens deserve it, and it’ll make such a difference to your cooking.

You’ll need roughly 1 egg for each omelette.

 

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C degrees (160°C fan).

Grease a muffin/cupcake tray with butter or a drop of oil.

Beat the eggs and season them with salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mixture into the muffin tray and sprinkle in your choice of ingredients.

Bake for 12 minutes.

It’s as easy as that.

Enjoy!

mini omelettes

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