Monday, 1 January 2018

A tale of two cakes

I made my first ever Christmas cake in 2016 - it turned out really well but for some reason I never blogged it. I therefore made a different recipe in 2017, but only realised when a Facebook photo popped up with a caption specifying a recipe from Mary Berry. This year I did James Martin's, and next year I'll return to the fold of St Mary. These photos are from 2016.


The biggest difference is that this year's cake was undercooked, despite passing the skewer test and being cooked for a bit longer than specified. It's still tasty, but definitely squidgy in the middle, and despite covering for the last part of cooking I would say the top is a bit burnt. The recipe is also wetter overall: it has less fruit (over 25% less) and less flour, but the same amount of egg and alcohol plus the juice of a lemon and an orange.

Other errors were mine. I fed with brandy, which is just not as tasty (to me) as sherry or rum, and I made the icing wrong, omitting one egg white, so the icing is very crumbly. (However, a useful note - the egg whites make this a good partner to the Christmas shortbread recipe which needs yolks.)

I don't roll out marzipan for the whole cake at once, but match up a circle (drawn around the outside of the cake tin) and a couple of strips wrapped around the sides. The icing recipe given by Mary (3 whites, 675g icing sugar) is quite a lot for a 20cm cake, and personally I prefer a thinner layer of icing. However it keeps well and is good for piping on biscuits. I piped filligree stars on the top of the cake after lightly pressing a biscuit cutter into the icing to give a template.

Next year I also need to make multiple smaller cakes, as a 20cm one is too much for us really. I see that various blogs and recipe sites suggest using small baked bean tins, which is genius. Must remember that it would use more marzipan and icing, to do them all over, or much less, to just do the top.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Taking (or giving) the biscuit

Biscuits are easy to make but also easy to jazz up into nice gifts. My favourites come from Holly Bell, on Recipes From A Normal Mum:

St Clement's Shortbread Stars - Super easy, and look very classy if you can manage to keep small hands away from the decorating. Of course, the splodges-and-sprinkles look is also great, especially for teacher and grandparent gifts...

Cut Out Vanilla Biscuits - the best for fiddly cutters.

Lemon Animal Biscuits - For playdough-style moulding rather than cutters.

I've previously done Nigella's Christmas Spice Cookies and they are good too.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Ikea meatball sauce

...allegedly (recipe here)

This was too thick. It's basically a white sauce made with cream and stock instead of milk. Pretty tasty, but another time I would make the usual white sauce with milk and a stock cube. Could benefit from mushroom stock, finely chopped mushrooms and maybe capers or gherkins.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

The perfect tiramisu?

Taken from a Guardian article.

I made 1.5 times the quantity for a big-ish gathering, and there was definitely not as much as I expected, but then again it's quite rich. I put a quarter to a third of the mix in a separate dish (2 layers) without alcohol. In the one with alcohol, I used Kahlua as I didn't have the specified booze.

 Things I might change next time:

- make the yolk mix and then do the whites. The whites wept a bit when they were left and I think they weren't as fluffy after waiting.
- make sure the sponges are well soaked (and boozy!) without being soggy. There were dry bits.

On the mascarpone lid, there was an alternative recipe involving mixing pre-made custard with mascarpone... might try that another time!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Butternut squash casserole

An inevitably-tweaked BBC Good Food recipe. Ripe for slow cooker conversion but haven't done it yet - although it's so easy, as long as you have 30 minutes to really let it simmer it will be fine.

2 onions
1 clove garlic
500g each butternut squash and sweet potato (peeled, chopped, and handily frozen by Tesco...)
1 jar roasted red peppers (I buy them from the World Foods aisle where they are cheaper)
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1 tin chick peas
ground cumin
freshly ground cumin seeds
1 stock cube of your choice made up with about 100ml water

Chop the onion and fry along with the spices until translucent. Chuck in the peppers (chopped), squash and sweet potato, chick peas, tomatoes and stock then simmer until the squash and potato are soft.

Optionally, serve with grated cheese, fresh coriander, plain yogurt, and cous cous. But it's fine as a one pot.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Pork casserole

Didn't do this in the slow cooker but I think it is ripe for conversion to do so. One from Holly Bell's fab blog, it got the thumbs up in this house.

Lean pork shoulder (350g) browned in flour, an onion and a stick of celery chopped and softened along with a couple of carrots, sage and black pepper, chucked in a pot with a chunked bramley (or maybe two if smaller), a couple of bay leaves and pork stock (350ml) to round it out. I also popped in some chestnut mushrooms. An hour at 160°C (fan) did the trick.

Served it just with kale and courgette that we had knocking about and needed finishing. The kale worked especially well with the zingy sauce. There was a lot of liquid so at the end I also put in some leftover mash we had, which helped a bit. I think next time I'd put dumplings on the top, maybe made with a dab of wholegrain mustard, or serve with mustard mash. Savoy cabbage would be another good accompaniment.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Bonfire beauties

We had a really lovely bonfire party at friends' yesterday, lots of sharing dishes and cakes. Here's one recipe from me, and two from others that I tried on the night and loved.

Bonfire cupcakes (makes 24)

I made a standard 4-egg chocolate sponge mix (sub out 30g flour for cocoa powder). For me, this made 24 cupcakes with about 40g raw mix. I made them in muffin cases so there was a bit of freeboard, and they baked in about 20 minutes at 160°C (fan).

Once cooled:

Paint the top with marmalade and roll in, or sprinkle on, any chocolate/dark sprinkles, especially around the edge.

Pipe in a 'fire' of buttercream. I made one with 250g butter, 350g icing sugar, and milk to loosen (turned out there was about 20-25% too much for what I needed, but I don't like over-frosted cakes). I coloured it red, orange and yellow in three batches with gel colour, and placed it in the piping bag by alternating spoonfuls.
Add chocolate sticks for "wood" - I used posh Elizabeth Shaw things due to a lack of choice but Matchmakers would be ideal. There are 24 in a box and I had 2 boxes, so each cake got 6 bits. However, the sticks needed to be shorter than I first thought to look good (too-tall pyramid fires look silly) so I have a pot of snapped off ends to eat...
For a final touch I added two mini marshmallows on a cocktail stick to each :)

The other recipes I want to record before I lose them...

Delicious, rich-tasting, barbecue-y vegan baked beans from A Virtual Vegan. (Advice is to omit the vinegar.)

Awesome autumn squashage rolls (vegetarian) from my friend Flo:

"I roasted 4kg of squash, then puréed about 3/4, and chopped the other 1/4. I mixed that with 500g marscapone, 2 onions sauteed in butter with 16 cloves of garlic and a bunch of fine chopped sage, and 4 eggs. That made a sausage meat replacement to make rolls with - I used 2kg of all-butter puff pastry. You could probably make a bit less!"