instant cherry gelato

20170102_185627How easy is this?  It’s also low carb – no added sugar – and totally delicious. This quantity serves about 4. Or just me when I feel like icecream.

  • 350g frozen black cherries
  • 250ml double cream

Put the double cream and frozen cherries into a bowl and use a stick blender to blend the two ingredients together until the mixture looks like ice cream. It doesn’t have to be completely smooth – having visible bits of cherry makes it more interesting.  You can either eat this straight away, or store it in the freezer, but if you store it then take it out and leave in the fridge for 20 minutes before eating.  It is lovely served with dark chocolate sauce (melt dark chocolate with cream – easy).

low sugar mincemeat

20161210_191103I know I’ve written about mincemeat before, but we’ve been on a bit of a dietary adventure over the past six months, eating a low carb/high fat diet to alleviate Chris’s Type 2 diabetes – and it’s worked!  So we’ve been thinking about adapting many of our favourite recipes to cut down on the carbohydrates.  This version of mincemeat contains only 50g of  added “half and half” sucrose/stevia.  It is not low-calorie, as the dried fruits contain high levels of fructose, but this is absorbed more slowly than other sugars and so is better for diabetics. In any case there’s only a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in a mince pie anyway.  Oh, and it’s also suitable for vegans as it contains no animal products.

  • 200g vegetable suet
  • 300g cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 50g whole almonds, chopped into slivers
  • 200g dried apricots, chopped small
  • 140 g raisins
  • 300g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 150g dates
  • 150g prunes
  • 50g brown sugar with stevia (by Tate & Lyle)
  • 4 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest and juice of 2 large clementines
  • 6 tablespoons brandy

Put the dates and prunes into a food processor and blitz to a paste. Put in a big ovenproof bowl with all the other ingredients except the brandy, and mix it all together thoroughly. Leave it overnight, covered in a cloth.  In the morning, take off the cloth, stir the mixture well and cover it loosely with a piece of foil. Place the bowl in a very low oven (gas mark 1/4, 110 degrees C) for 3 hours, then take it out of the oven. As it cools, give the mixture a stir occasionally. When it’s completely cooled down, stir in the brandy (be generous – and maybe add a splash of Pedro Ximenez sherry as well; after all, it is Christmas…) and mix well, then spoon into sterilised jars and seal with acid-proof lids and wax discs, or parfait jars with rubber seals.

This makes just under 3kg of mincemeat (about 6 normal sized jamjars).

 

Prize-winning Eccles Cakes, 2016

So, OK, I only won the prize because no-one else entered, but I’m confident they would have stood up to any competition.

I’m usually disappointed by any Eccles cakes apart from the usual shop-bought ones which aren’t really ‘puffy’ puff pastry and these did turn out very like them: I used Delia Smith’s cheat method for puff pastry, because life’s too short. This recipe makes about 10 decent sized cakes, but you could make more if you go for a smaller size of pastry square. Don’t forget to adjust cooking times if you make smaller ones though – they’ll cook more quickly.

Ingredients:  Rough Puff Pastry:

  • 1 pack (250g) salted butter
  • 350g plain flour
  • Water

Filling:

  • about 100g currants
  • 25g chopped apricots
  • 30g butter
  • zest of an orange or lemon or 2 limes
  • Orange liqueur*
  • two tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom

* NB. you can use any booze here, the original recipe used to have brandy it in apparently, but then those temperance folk came along and complained. You can use mixed peel but I hate it so usually substitute apricots.

Freeze the butter for about half an hour, measure the flour into a big mixing bowl and then grate the butter into it using a box grater – the side you’d normally use to grate cheese. If the butter’s getting a bit melty, dip it in the flour. When it’s all done, mix it up with a knife, chopping any big lumps until it’s the consistency of bread crumbs. Add the cold water a bit at a time until you get a reasonable dough.

Put the dough in a plastic bag or clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for an hour. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you’re ready to roll, or it can be too hard to roll out.

Meanwhile make the filling. Melt the butter in a pan, and add everything else. The longer you can leave this soaking in the booze, the juicier and more fabulous the currants and apricots will taste. Currants will soak up quite a lot. If you have some free liquid when you’re ready to use it, pour it off or you’ll get a soggy bottom. Actually drinking it is quite nice.

Roll the dough out, fold it up – all recipes seem to think it’s important to fold over a third into the middle and then the other third over that, so why not do that? Then roll it and do it again a couple of times more.

Finally cut out a square about the size of a CD case and put a dollop of the fruit mixture in the middle and fold in the corners – a bit of water applied to them will help them stick. Turn them over and nudge them gently into a more round shape. When you’ve done them all, make some slits in the top, wet the tops slightly with water and sprinkle them with some brown sugar.

Bake for about 20 mins in a 225°C oven, until they’re a nice golden brown. If they still look or feel a bit soggy and pale around the sides or bottom, leave them in for another 5-10 minutes. For god’s sake leave to cool before sampling. The insides are hotter than the sun when they first come out. They’re actually better completely cold.

To serve: Stuff them into your face as fast as you can before someone else gets hold of them. With clotted cream is nice.

ecclescakes

 

 

 

French almond cake

5 eggs at room temperature showstopper_cut_almond_cake
200g  caster sugar
half a teaspoon of salt
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
200g ground almonds
30g plain flour
Knob of butter for greasing your tin

Switch on your oven and pre-heat to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.  Base-line a 23cm (9in) springform tin with greaseproof paper, and smear the insides with a bit of butter. Grate the zest of your lemon, then cut the lemon in half,. Get two large bowls ready. The one for the egg whites should be ceramic, steel or glass – trying to whisk egg whites in a plastic bowl is a recipe for disaster, as plastic is never completely grease-free and any trace of grease will mean you can’t get as much air into the whites as you need. Rub the inside of the bowls with the cut lemon halves (you can use them for putting in your gin and tonic later). Separate the eggs and put the whites in one bowl and the yolks in the other.  Add half the sugar to the yolks and beat together until light, pale and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and beat for a bit longer. An electric hand mixer is great for this – if you use a hand whisk you will get really tired trying to make this cake!

In the other bowl, beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. If you are using the same mixer for both yolks and whites, make sure that you clean the blades well before whipping up the whites – see comment above about grease and egg whites. Add the remaining sugar to the whites gradually, and keep beating until stiff and shiny.

Using a metal spoon add two big spoonfuls of the whites to the batter to loosen it then fold in the rest, using a cutting motion to avoid knocking out all the air you’ve carefully beaten into the whites. Weigh out the salt, almonds and flour and mix together thoroughly, then fold gently into the egg mixture. There’s really no need to sift the flour/salt/almond mixture, just make sure there are no big lumps of ground almonds and that the salt is evenly distributed.

Scrape the mixture into the springform tin and bake  for 40 minutes. The sponge should be coming away from the sides and the middle should spring back when gently pressed.

Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and place the right way up on a cooling rack. Once it is completely cool, remove the paper. This cake does sink slightly in the middle as the only raising agent is the egg whites.

The image is of my entry for the street party bakeoff challenge – three layers of French almond cake, sandwiched with blueberry and raspberry jam, finished with white chocolate ganache, white chocolate fingers and white chocolate buttons, and topped with fresh strawberries and blueberries. It came second…showstopper_almond_cake

Cranachan

For Burns night (25th January), a traditional Scottish pudding made a bit lighter by the addition of half-fat crème fraîche. We ate it all before I could take pictures. This quantity makes 6 portions.

  • 75g porridge oats
  • 35g flaked almonds
  • 300ml double cream
  • 150g half-fat crème fraîche
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons whisky
  • 3 tablespoons clear honey
  • 350g frozen raspberries, defrosted
  • handful fresh raspberries (optional)

Take the raspberries out of the freezer at least 2 hours before you’re going to use them – they need to defrost at room temperature.  Put the oats and almonds in a large non-stick frying pan and dry-fry over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Watch it like a hawk, and keep stirring the oats and almonds so they toast to a golden brown colour. If you take your eyes off the pan for a minute you’re guaranteed to come back to a pan full of blackened almonds! Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Pour the double cream and crème fraîche into a large bowl and add the vanilla extract, whisky and honey. Whip to the soft peak stage – don’t over-do it, as the cream will stiffen further when mixed with the oats. Set six glass tumblers on a tray (you could use ramekins, but if you use glasses you’ll be able to see the lovely layers). Put a spoonful of the whipped cream mixture in the base of each glass. Sprinkle on some of the oats and almonds and about half the defrosted raspberries on top. Repeat the layers once more. If you’ve got fresh raspberries, put a thin layer of the oat/almond mixture over the top layer of defrosted raspberries and put the fresh raspberries on the top of that.  The oat/almond mixture can be made well in advance, and you can whip the cream mixture ahead of time as well, but the cranachan needs to be served as soon as it’s assembled.

tawny marmalade

Chris called this “mahogany marmalade” as it’s a fair bit darker than tawny!  An accident, but a tasty one, because I didn’t have quite enough demerara sugar to make up 2kg, so I improvised with what was in the cupboard. This made 6 1lb jars. If you put all the shreds of orange peel in you’ll probably need more.

  • 1kg seville oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 1.8kg demerara sugar
  • 200g dark soft brown sugar

Wash and dry the fruit. Pour 2 litres of cold water into a large pan (it really does have to be the biggest one you’ve got, it WILL boil over…).  If you’re making a lot of jams and pickles then invest in a maslin pan, like this one: Lakeland maslin pans

Squeeze the juice from the oranges and lemons and add to the water.  Scrape out the pips and pith from the oranges with a teaspoon (don’t bother with the lemon) and put it all in a muslin square, tie it up and put in the pan with the juice and the water.  Now attack the orange peel. I cut it as fine as I possibly could, and put in only about two-thirds of the bits. If you like chunkier marmalade then put the whole lot in.  Add the peel to the pan, and leave to soak overnight.  

The next day, put a small plate into your freezer (you will be using this to test for a set later).  Bring the panto the boil and let it all simmer very gently for 1.5 to 2 hours until the peel is very soft.

Squeeze as much juice from the muslin bag into the pan as you can, and put it to one side.  Add the sugar to the pan, bring slowly to the boil, stirring all the while so that the sugar dissolves properly, then whack up the heat and boil it rapidly for about 20 minutes.

Test it for a set by spooning a small amount onto the cold plate you put in the freezer. Leave it for a minute and if the surface is wrinkly when you push it with your finger, then it’s set.  If it’s not wrinkly but just runny, boil the marmalade for another few minutes and try again.

Switch off the heat when setting point is reached, and leave it to settle for about 15 minutes. This is just enough time to sterilise your jars and lids. Either run the jars through the dishwasher, or wash them in hot soapy water, rinse well and put them in a low oven for 5 minutes to dry out.  Put your lids in a saucepan with boiling water to cover, and boil them for 3 minutes. Take them out and dry them thoroughly before you use them to seal the jars – kitchen paper is best. The jars should be warm when you put the marmalade in them or they may crack owing to the temperature difference.

Skim off any scummy stuff on the surface of the marmalade and throw it away.  Spoon the rest of the marmalade into the jars and seal with a lid. I don’t bother with wax discs if the lids are new or show no signs of discoloration- if the marmalade or jam is still pretty hot, just screw on the lid tightly and turn the jar upside down briefly.

apricot and walnut shortcake

With grateful thanks to our Good Housekeeping cookery book – subtitled the cook’s classic companion – and well worth seeking out if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to traditional recipes.

For the shortcake:

  • 175g self raising flour
  •  half teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 75g unsalted butter – softened
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the filling:

  • 100g broken walnuts
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 410g can of apricot halves in juice (or you can use fresh apricots, stoned and halved, poached briefly in water with a bit of sugar and lemon juice added)

Grease a shallow 8 inch (20cm) round springform tin. Put the flour and cinnamon in a food processor and add the butter. Blitz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the egg and mix to a soft dough.

Turn the dough into the greased tin and smooth it out evenly. You could use the back of a spoon to do this, or your fingers.

Now start the filling.  Put the walnuts in the food processor with the sugar and blitz until it’s all finely ground.  Then add the egg white and blend it to a soft paste.  Spread this mixture over the shortcake base and leave a 1cm-ish gap to the edge.

Drain the apricots well.  Arrange them with the cut side down over the filling.  Bake at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes, until the filling has risen between the apricot halves and is looking set and slightly browned.

You can glaze the shortcake with some sieved apricot jam mixed with the juice drained from the fruit, heated in a pan until it goes syrupy (about 3 minutes).

For a bit of variation you could use ground almonds instead of walnuts, and you can also use plums instead of apricots.

Biscotti

IMG_20151228_182522The week between Christmas and New Year – a time for pootling about and trying new stuff that I wouldn’t normally have the time to do. So I’ve had a crack at making biscotti, to be dipped in vin santo (or Pedro Ximenez sherry, or a dessert wine). You can dip them in coffee or hot chocolate too.

  • 150g almonds with the skin on
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of a lemon
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 3 small ones)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C or gas mark 6. Put the almonds on a baking tray and bake for five minutes, then take them out and chop them very roughly when they have cooled down a bit.

While the almonds are in the oven, you have the time to weigh out the rest of the ingredients.  Start with the sugar, then grate the lemon zest into it and mix well.  Then add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix that well.  Beat the 2 eggs in a separate bowl, then stir them into the mix too, along with the almonds.  Stir it all together until it forms a dough.  It will be quite sticky.

Sift some icing sugar onto a worktop. Split the dough into two and roll each part into a sausage just long enough to put onto a baking tray – this will be about 5cm in diameter.  Make sure the two sausages are well separated as they will spread a lot on the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes.  Take the tray out of the oven and reduce the heat to about 150 degrees C.  After about 10 minutes of cooling down, slide the now flattened sausages onto a chopping board and use a sharp bread knife to cut them into diagonal slices about 1cm in width.  This is a bit of a guessing game – if you leave them to cool for too long they’ll be difficult to cut, and if they are too hot you’ll squash them.

Put the slices back on the baking tray and put them back in the oven for 15 minutes – take them out, turn them over and put back in for another 15 minutes.  When you take them out for the final time, put them on a wire rack to cool down completely. You can them put them in an airtight biscuit tin. They should keep for at least a month.

Christmas puddings 2015

IMG_20151122_180954[1]Rather than make one big pud, this year we decided to make loads of little ones.  This is because we found some small plastic pudding basins in our favourite cook shop,  Cooksmill on Regent Road in Salford.  I could quite happily spend an hour just mooching about in there, fantasising about what I could do with an industrial-size food processor and mixing bowls the size of hot tubs.

This mixture made about 10 small quarter-pint puddings, or you could use one enormous 3 pint bowl (that’s just over 1.5 litres in new money).  The quantities below were made up of the dried fruits we had in the cupboard, but as long as you get 450g in total you could put in whatever you like.  The prunes are important though – they add a nice squidgy texture.  As with Christmas cakes, bear in mind that you need to assemble your ingredients well in advance of making this, as the longer you leave the dried fruits soaking the better it will be. Pedro Ximenez sherry tastes like liquid Christmas pudding anyway, so it’s a perfect thing for soaking Christmas pudding fruit.  The other thing to remember is that the first time you steam your puddings they will need about 3 hours if they’re all in small bowls, or up to 5 hours if it’s one big one, so do it on a day when you don’t need to stray much from the house.

  • 150g currants
  • 125g dried morello cherries
  • 75g prunes
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 50g dried figs (figgy pudding,innit…)
  • 175ml Pedro Ximenez sherry, or brandy, or a mixture of the two
  • 100g plain flour
  • 125g breadcrumbs
  • 150g vegetarian suet
  • 150g dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 30ml honey (2 tablespoons)
  • butter for greasing the bowls

Cut up the dried figs and prunes into small pieces (scissors are best for this), and put them in a bowl with the other dried fruits.  Pour over the sherry/brandy, mix it about a bit and then cover the bowl in clingfilm.  You can leave the fruit to soak up the alcohol for anything up to a week.

When you’re ready to start making the pudding, set up your steamer or double boiler, or just a big pan of water with a trivet in the bottom would do.  Get the water simmering.  Then grease your bowl or bowls with a bit of butter, not forgetting the lids if your bowls come with them. If they don’t have a lid, you can improvise with a piece of greased baking paper, a double thickness of foil, and string to tie it onto the top of the bowl.

Use a big mixing bowl and mix together all the ingredients except the dried fruits – it’s easiest to start with the dry ingredients, then add the eggs, mix well, then add the lemon zest, apple, and honey last.  Then add the dried fruit mixture and all the sherry/brandy juices, and mix well.  At this point it’s traditional to ask every member of the family to stir the pudding and make a wish, especially if you’re making the pudding on Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent. Divide the mixture between the individual pudding bowls or just plonk it in t.he one big bowl if that’s what you’re using.  Press down the mixture so that there are no air gaps, and put on the lid.  Place the pudding bowls in the steamer/double boiler/big pan and allow them to steam for a couple of hours for the small puds, or up to 5 hours for one big one.  Check the water level every hour or so to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.  Leave the puddings to cool after the appropriate cooking time, then take them out of the pan, dry off the outside of the bowls and put them somewhere cool and dark until you need them.

On Christmas day you can either set them to steam again for a couple of hours, or stick them in the microwave for 5 minutes until they’re piping hot (although I wouldn’t recommend using the microwave method for a single big pudding).   Turn them out of their bowls onto a plate, pour over a bit of heated brandy and set it alight
(although vodka seems to light better than brandy, it doesn’t add anything to the taste). Traditionally served with a sprig of holly for decoration, and brandy sauce.

 

Christmas cake 2015

IMG_20151122_181718[1]There are hundreds of different recipes out there, but having tried Nigella’s last year I think this is just about the easiest both in terms of shopping for ingredients and in baking it.  This is my take on it. Quantities below are for one small 18cm round or 15cm square cake.  If you double up the mixture this will make a 23cm round or 20cm square cake but will take much longer to cook.  Soak the fruit in any type of aromatic spirit (I used a mixture of Scotch and brandy as that’s what I had available!), or use bourbon if you want to go the full Domestic Goddess route. Make sure your butter and eggs are at room temperature before you start mixing – take them out of the fridge the night before. Nigella suggests adding a teaspoon of almond extract but I don’t think it’s necessary, especially if the cake is going to be covered in marzipan before icing. This is quite an easy cake to put together, but you do need to bear in mind that you need to start preparing the ingredients a good 24 hours before you’re ready to bake it.

  • 350g raisins
  • 150g currants
  • 50g glace cherries, cut in half
  • 75g chopped walnuts
  • 200ml whisky, brandy or bourbon
  • 150g butter
  • 90g dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • half teaspoon cinnamon
  • quarter teaspoon ground cloves
  • quarter teaspoon ground ginger

Put the raisins, currants and cherries in a small saucepan and pour over the spirit of your choice.  Bring the mixture to the boil then remoove it from the heat, give it a good stir, then cover it and leave it overnight.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C or gas mark 2.  Line your cake tin with a double thickness of greaseproof or baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream them together until the sugar granules have disappeared. Then mix in the grated lemon zest. Now add an egg and beat it in well.  Add a spoonful of flour, mix that, then add another egg and beat well.  Now add in the black treacle.  A good tip to get treacle out of the tin is to heat up the spoon over a gas flame fora few seconds, or dunk it in a cup of boiling water, before putting your spoon in the tin.  The heat will help the treacle slide off the spoon more easily.

Mix the flour, spices and ground almonds together in a separate bowl (you really don’t need to sieve flour these days, unless you’re still buying it from a grocer’s shop where they scoop out your flour from a big sack on the floor….).  Add a big spoonful of flour mix followed by a big spoonful of the soaked dried fruit and mix well. Continue like this until all the flour and all the fruit is incorporated.  Then add the chopped walnuts and give the mixture one last stir to distribute the nuts evenly through it.

Put the mixture into your cake tin.  A silicone spatula is a great tool for getting the last scrapings out of the mixing bowl.  Level off the  mixture in the tin as much as you can, then put it in the oven. A small 18cm round cake will take anything between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours to cook, depending on your oven.  A larger 23cm round cake will take about 3 hours, give or take 20 minutes either side. The easiest way to test if your cake is done is to stick a thin metal skewer right into the middle, leave it there for a few seconds, then pull it out. If the skewer has some sticky cake mixture on it, the cake’s not done yet.  If it comes out and looks clean, the cake is baked all the way through.  Take it out of the oven and brush the top with a tablespoonful of brandy or whisky, turn it out of the tin and wrap it up in a double layer of foil (you can keep the baking paper on it at this point).  The next day, take off all the baking paper and rewrap it in fresh baking paper, then put it in an airtight container.

At this point, your cake is ready for feeding.  Every so often,  unrwap your cake,  prod it all over with a skewer and brush over a couple of tablespoons of whisky or brandy, then wrap it up again .

A small cake will need one pack of marzipan to cover it – anything bigger may require two. You should put the marzipan on the cake a few days before you want to put the icing on.  Use a tablespoon of apricot jam, heated up and sieved, to brush over the cake before you put the rolled out marzipan on – it will help to stick the marzipan onto the cake.  Icing?  I cheat and use ready-rolled fondant!

IMG_20151122_180954[1]