Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas cut-out biscuits

Edible presents are the best - suitably frugal for the purposes of this blog, and the pocket.  These bikkies are lovely and spicy.  If you want to make them into hanging tree decorations, cut a hole for a ribbon with a piping bag nozzle from the soft cookies as soon as they come out of the oven.  Once cool, ice them with a not too runny icing made from icing sugar and boiling water, and decorate with edible glitter.  But personally I like them just as they are...

  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger (use a good one, like Barts Spices)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 3 generous tablespoons golden syrup
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F.  Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  • Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan over gentle heat and melt together.
  • Whilst they melt, sieve the flour, baking powder, and spices into a mixing bowl.  Grind in the pepper.
  • When the butter and sugar mix is runny add to the flour and beat in thoroughly.  You may need to add a little milk to make the dough sticky enough, but it is a crumbly mix.
  • Gently kneed the dough together, it may keep falling apart in an annoying way, stay with it.
  • Once all the biscuit dough is together, start to roll it out on a lightly floured surface.  Don't try and move it around, it won't stick to the surface.
  • When you have it rolled to 1/2cm thickness (no less), dip the cutters in flour and cut your biscuits.  The dough will take a lot of squidging together and re-rolling, don't be timid.  Use a pallet knife to move the cookies to the tray so they don't collapse.
  • Bake the biscuits for 6 minutes until golden round the edges.  Don't overcook, they will harden on the tray.  Leave to cool and snaffle..

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Joy to the world...

Oh I have that Christmas feeling for sure now. All the twinkling lights, my new 'Home for the Holidays' Yankee candle, the ice cold air... I am full of seasonal cheer - my little heart is jumping at the joy of it all. Yes, Christmas truly is my FAVORITE time of year!

And how better to celebrate the daily advance of 25/12 than by filling the kitchen full of the heady scent of cloves and orange, and baking up a storm of little star-topped cranberry mince pies? And please note the nod to Channukah, starting tomorrow night, in the choice of a star of David. Well these will be going to my in-laws on Monday after all...

This cranberry mincemeat recipe is from Nigella Christmas (London GB, 2008) p. 189. It is lighter and sprightlier than traditional apple and suet mincemeat. I thoroughly recommend it, as I suspect many mince pie haters could be won over by these...

  • 60ml ruby port
  • 75g soft dark brown sugar
  • 300g cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 75g currents
  • 75g raisins
  • 30g dried cranberries
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 clementine or satsuma
  • 25ml brandy
  • few drops almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons honey
  • In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the ruby port over a gentle heat.
  • Add the cranberries to the saucepan and give them a good stir, then add the spices, dried fruit, and zest and juice of the clem.
  • Simmer the fruit for about 20 minutes over a moderate heat, until everything looks pulpy and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Squash any rebellious cranberries with the back of your wooden spoon (note - this doesn't work with red silicon spatulas, however festively appropriate they may be!).
  • Take off the heat, and once it has cooled a little beat in the brandy, extracts and honey.
  • The mincemeat can be stored in sterilised jars for a month, or be frozen for 3 months. I made mine on Monday and kept the saucepan in the fridge, removing it to make a batch a day until it was all used up.
The Pastry
  • This is not the exact pastry Nigella Lawson recommends (on page 187 of the same book) but it is how I like to make it. You will need two batches of this to use up all the mincemeat, making 48 cupcake sized mince pies.
  • Measure out 480g plain flour. Cut 240g unsalted butter into small cubes and stir through the flour. Freeze the whole lot for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove the flour and butter from the freezer and pour into a food processor fitted with a double blade. Zest in 2 clementines and pulse the whole lot until it resembles dry sand.
  • Squeeze the juice from the 2 clems and add to the flour. Pulse again.
  • Add teaspoons of ice cold water down the funnel, pulsing cautiously, until damp course sand forms.
  • Empty the whole lot onto a cold surface and kneed firmly to bring it together - don't over-knead!
  • Divide the pastry into 2 disks, wrap them in cling and let them rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling and cutting.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Autumn fruit cupcakes

My my, where does the time go? 2nd December already...and I have that Christmas feeling! Yesterday morning there was a white frost on everything, outlining every tiny leaf and pine needle, and snow on the Hillfoots. I bought 3 bags of cranberries from the local deli to cook up Nigella Lawson's cranberry mincepies, and lit a cinnamon scented candle.

But today is back to the soggy, muddy, 'this is Scotland and don't you forget it' form of winter weather, so baking these little cupcakes has created a pleasantly spicy fug for me to hide myself away in. A last taste of autumn before the Christmas excesses really begin.

The cupcakes will keep for 2 days in an airtight tin - after that they become a little sticky.

  • 115g unsalted butter, softened
  • 115g golden caster sugar
  • 115g self-raising flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 115g stewed apple (about 1 large desert apple, peeled and cored and cooked down)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 125g ripe pear, peeled and cubed
  • Preheat the oven to 175C/350F. Line a 12-bun muffin tray with cupcake papers.
  • Cream the butter, sugar, flour and eggs together with an electric beater until very smooth.
  • Beat in the apple sauce.
  • Carefully fold the pear cubes through the batter with a metal spoon.
  • Spoon the batter into the cases - about 2 desertspoons for each cupcake.
  • Bake for 25 minutes until golden and cooked. They will be very soft initially so let them stand in the tin for 5 minutes before carefully moving them to a wire rack to cool.
For the icing -
  • Sieve 1/2 cup icing sugar to remove any lumps.
  • Add 2 teaspoons maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a dribble of recently boiled water. Beat well until a thick, smooth icing forms - add a little more water if it is too thick to drizzle, or more sugar if it is too runny to sit on the cake and set.
  • Using a teaspoon, drizzle the icing over each cupcake, and allow to set.