Monday, December 16, 2013

Chocolate Salami


At this time of year it’s always handy to have a little something that you can whip up faster than 2 verses and a chorus of Jingle bells.

With no baking and minimal dexterity required this chocky treat is utterly splendid. Wodged together to resemble salami, thin discs cut as you go are best served alongside pre Christmas gossip and a calming cup of tea.

I love things as easy and simple as this, which somehow makes one look all homemade and creatively kooky all at the same time. The recipe is blindingly simple. You can mix it up and substitute whatever bits and bobs you have on hand, but I was particularly chuffed with the addition of ginger nuts as they added some good crunchy texture and aren’t too sickly sweet. As for the red and green of the pistachio/cranberry combo, well; ‘tis the season.

Wrapped up in waxed paper and string this is a happy deviation from the more traditional gift repertoire.

150g gingernut biscuits

100g butter

2 Tbs golden syrup

60 g Cocoa

100 g pistachio

50 g craisins (dried cranberries)

1)      Clear some bench space and lay out a piece of alfoil topped with baking paper about 30cm long in readiness for the mixture.

2)      Pop the bickies into a sturdy bag and bash in a firm, yet restrained fashion. (This is an ideal outlet letting out some pre Christmas stress, but it’s a fine line as it you go too vigorously they will spay everywhere and make you swear loudly)

3)      Heat the butter and golden syrup in a saucepan over a medium heat, once melted stir in the cocoa and then add the remaining ingredients.

4)      Stir well to create a thick lumpy mass then plonk it alongside the long edge of the baking paper. With clean slightly damp hands wodge the mixture into a sausage shape. Then working with a bossy disposition roll the paper, foil and mixture into a long, firm sausage shape. Squeeze and twist the bits on the end and crunkle the resulting log to create the wrinkly textured surface.

5)      Chill for2 hours or until firm.

6)      To serve. Unwrap and dust with icing sugar and then loosely wrap in baking paper and some bits of string. Marvellous with a cup of tea and lashings of festive chit chatt

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Relish the moment - beetroot edition

Whilst I am on a festive roll I think it’s time we had a chat about beetroot relish. Its a failsafe part of my Yule arsenal. I have given it numerous times as gifts to great accolades and have found it a saviour to have on hand to jolly up any summer entertaining efforts.

The flamboyant red flesh is sublime in a meaty hamburger or it can add an intriguing twist to a cheese plate or bbq. I have even added it with equal parts sour cream to make a luridly pink dip.

The only tricky part is grating and preparing the largish quantity of beetroot. Thankfully beetroot does not need to be peeled, just give it a good soak and scrub then away you go. As for the grating, I tend not to rely on gadgets, but a food processor makes this chore an absolute doddle. If you are going down the path of using a simple box grater, my advice would be to pop on a latex glove. Stained fingers aside, a sacrificial layer of skin when dealing with knuckle loving blades is always a good thing.
The quantity given is on the high side, generally it tends to make 4 large jars, which is rarely an issue given the long shelf life and general deliciousness of the preserve.

It truly is as simple as popping all of the ingredients into a big cauldron and boiling like mad. The time taken to boil into a thick mass is quite variable- the best indication of readiness is when your can swipe along the base of the pan and see a clear line that does not instantly fill with liquid. Most of the juices should be evaporated or become soaked up by the beets, err on the side of extra cooking if things are looking on the flimsy side.
It does make your house smell like a pickling factory, but I quite like that, its just another little sensory reminder that happy summer days are not far away.

Beetroot relish

The lively combination of beetroot, orange and fennel seed combine to make this gloriously coloured relish.  It makes a wonderful accompaniment to festive cold meat and is marvellous to have on hand for summer entertaining.

1.5 kg raw beetroot coarsely grated

3 onions sliced

3 granny smith apples peeled and grated  

Zest and juice of 3 oranges

2 Tbs mustard seeds

1 Tbs fennel seeds

1Tbs ground cloves

1 Tbs ground cinnamon

700 ml red wine vinegar

700 g brown sugar.


1.     In a preserving pan or your largest saucepan, mix together all the ingredients well. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for 1 hr, stirring occasionally, until the chutney is thick and the beetroot tender.

2.     While the relish is cooking, prepare your jars by running through a short hot wash in your dishwasher. Or wash thoroughly by hand, and then put in a hot oven to sterilize for 10-15 mins.

3.     Once the relish is ready, let it settle for 10 mins, then carefully spoon into the jars and seal while still hot. You can eat it straight away but it will be even better after a week or two.

4.     Will keep for up to 6 months in a cool dark place. Once opened, refrigerate and eat within 2 months.

The quantity given makes 4 large jars, the recipe can easily be halved to yield a more modest amount.

Relish the moment (rhubarb and cardamon edition)

Rhubarb relish

This peppy scented relish is a surprising detour from traditional condiments. Richly spiced with festive flavour its rather delicious with sharp cheeses and can transform a ham sandwich it something really rather special.

1 Tbs olive oil

2 onions

2 Tbs finely chopped rosemary

2/3 cup dried cherries

70  g crystalised ginger

5 bruised cardamom pods

1 quill of cinnamon

½ a teaspoon of each -cloves , nutmeg, allspice

A generous pinch of salt and pepper

750 g brown sugar

3 apples peeled and cored

1large bunch of rhubarb (roughly 1kg)

500ml apple cider vinegar

1 Tbs brandy

Finely slice and dice onion then sauté in a large wide based preserving pan with rosemary until soft and translucent.

Meanwhile prepare apples by peeling and slicing into large chunks, cut rhubarb into 2cm lengths- set to one side

To the pan add cherries, ginger, spices and heat until fragrant then add sugar, fruit and vinegar.

Bring to a brisk boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and then simmer for up to an hour or until chutney is thick and jammy. Remove woody cardamom pods and add brandy, allow to boil for 1 min, then allow to cool for 10 mins.

Ladle the cooled chutney into clean jars, cover, seal and store in a cool dark place. Once opened store in the fridge and eat within a month or two. 

An astonishing knowledge of fruit cakes

When it comes to Yule baking the lines between being eccentric and prepared are somewhat blurred.

On one hand it makes perfect sense to spend considerable time constructing multi layered origami collars with a fit so precise a Saville Row tailor would be proud. Then there are the days of massaging and anointing the hand selected fruit, the temperature being kept consistent by one of the cotton muslin wraps I used to wrap my babies in. I have even been known to wait for an elusive rainy day to optimise ambient moisture in the air.
“Dryness” being the nemesis of any fruit cake connoisseur, most of the fastidious little rituals are all about maximising plumpness and taking the manufacture of a once a year treat with due ceremony. Preparing the fruit marks the beginning of the festive season in much the same way as the last toothsome slice heralds the start of the business end of the year and end of holiday fun.

And there is the crux, this is a once a year gig. I like the rhythms and ritual of festive fare. It is the very antithesis of the quick and zesty mid week suppers we bang out night after night to our hungry brood.
You cannot hurry a Christmas cake, nor can you trick one into being something that it is not. Your labours should result in something bold dense and wonderful. All of the seeming phaffing about will (hopefully) result in a wonderful companion that accompanies many post Christmas piping hot cups of tea and good gossip sessions.

And whilst I love the making of the cake it is the subsequent eating that thrills me most. It is made to be shared and is an omnipresent guest at happy times. This is our family cake recipe, used for weddings, christenings and Christmas. I am yet to find one I enjoy more and it really is a pleasure to revisit it every year.

(Mum’s) Rich Fruit Cake

Step one – fruity goodness.

The first step is to get the fruit brewing along nicely. All fruits given here have a degree of flexibility, just obey the weight and tailor to suit your favourites.

3 cups (500g) sultanas

1 ½ cups (250g) raisins, chopped

2/3 cup (140g) red glace cherries, quartered

¾ cup (125g) dried currants

¾ cup (125g) mixed peel

2 tablespoons marmalade

½ cup (125ml) booze

More than 12 hours in advance (preferably up to a week) mix fruit, marmalade and booze in a large non reactive bowl. Give it a little stir every now and then and sniff it occasionally to fill your little heart with festive cheer. I tend to cover mine with glad wrap to lock in the moisture, then I drape a cloth over it to make it nice and dark and cool.
Purists opt for brandy, but we tend towards rum as a nod towards my Dads preference for a rum and coke after a hard day of bowling. Port is you budget option. Orange juice or tea for goody two shoes.

On that note....often I am asked about doing an alcohol free version for kids. I tend not to, as I think, without putting too finer point on things, that enough of Christmas revolves around the little darlings. I have no issue with saying to my kids; no you can’t have any cake- it’s for grownups.  This is my cake recipe – not theirs.

Step 2 – origami
Save this task for a day of robust disposition. The aim is to create a good protective sheath around your pride and joy as it cooks. Please don’t mock me when I confess to doing up to 8 layers. You can not do this step with noisy children about, or under the influence of any alcohol. It should be a zen like moment in the hurly burly haze of pre Christmas preparations- good luck with that....

I make mine every year in a 22 cm round pan. Square tins are notorious for dry corners and therefore terrify me.

Step 3 - the baking bit.

This bit is even more fun if you make a nice little montage of ingredients and pretend that you have your own cooking show.
Note the wildcard addition of freeze dried cherries this year - I await the ceremonial cutting on the 24Dec for Santa to let you know if this flippant substitution for mixed peel was a success.
You will need:

250g softened butter

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1 cup (200g) firmly packed brown sugar

4 eggs

2 cups (300g) plain flour

2 teaspoons mixed spice
Beat butter, rinds and sugar in a small bowl with electric mixer until just combined and then beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, until just combined between additions.

Fold the butter mixture into the fruit mixture then mix in the sifted flour and spice.  Spread mixture into the prepared cake pan using the precision of a surgeon; you don't want any gloppy bits on the paper sleeve.

Bake in a slow oven for 3 hours. (Refer to table below for cooking times and temperatures)  Whilst cooking you may wish to cover the cake with brown paper if top is browning too fast and for extra added insurance you may wish to use a cardboard collar cut from cereal boxes around the outer side of the cake tin.

When cooked, brush extra rum over top, (this is the highlight of my culinary year as the warm cake sizzles with the excitement of the extra booze and you can almost hear it sigh with gratitude.)

Step 4 – Nativity scene

The last part of the cooking process is a long slow wafty incubation of all of that festive goodness. Remember your cake has endured 3 hours of cooking, so the secret to making sure it if properly cooked is a long slow, moisture locking, cool down.
In the spirit of the season I opt for the newborn effect of multi layers of swaddling, and pity the fool that messes with my baby.

In a perfect world your cakes are made about 2 months before eating. That said I have made them only a week before and they have still been glorious.

Here are some notes from the years of running cooking classes on the topic. I am delighted to report that I have had  numerous people tell me that their cakes turned out fabulously using these tips:
A good deal of time and effort has gone into your cake. Here is how to keep it in good condition until Christmas.
      Wrap the cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper and then in double foil. Secure it all with an elastic band, then keep it in an airtight container till needed

For those that like it boozy….little 'feeding' of the cake at odd intervals (say, weekly) before Christmas will add an extra dimension to it. This is done by making small holes in the top and bottom of the cake with a darning needle, then spooning over teaspoonfuls of brandy to soak in through the holes and permeate the cake.


There is no definitive timing for cooking smaller cakes - Small cakes have to be watched carefully if they are not to be dry; a few minutes either way can be the difference. You can always juice a cake up a bit by force-feeding it with brandy through holes pierced in its underside, which can be a handy insurance policy!

Here is a table which through trail and error I have devised as a guide to cooking times for smaller cakes. I think I nabbed the original from a Delia Smith book, but I have scribbled and scrawled my own little numbers all over it so I think I can safely call it my own. It’s impossible to be exact on cooking times as the moisture of the fruit and personality of the oven are very dominant factors, however a soft oven and a keen eye can guarantee success.

Use 160 for first hour, 150 for second hour then 140 for all remaining time. Allow 25% leeway either side and remember the best test for “doneness” is a fine metal skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.

DiameterCooking timeRemarks
Cupcake40Use 4 patty pan thickness
15 cm round1.5 hours 
18 cm round2 hours 
20 cm round2.5 hours 
22 cm round3 hoursUse a cardboard shield around outside for any cake larger than this
24 cm round3.5 hoursCover any cake larger than this with baking paper cut with a hole in the centre for last 2 hours of cooking
26 cm round4 hours 

Scaling up is more difficult with fruit cake recipes – they cannot simply be doubled or tripled. However, as a general rule, square tins hold about 25 per cent more than round tins of the same size (fastidious engineer husband has verified this by doing some tricky sums - he concurred it was more like 27% but we agree to disagree). The cooking temperature would be the same, but it might take longer to cook, and it’s a good idea to turn the cake tin round in the oven a few times because the corners tend to cook faster than the middle.

Sieved marmalade or apricot jam
2 x 500g packets almond flavoured cake paste
pure icing sugar
2 x 500g packets soft icing (fondant)
75cm ribbon

1 egg white
1 cup (160g) pure icing sugar
¼ teaspoon lemon

1. Trim the top of the fruit cake flat and turn upside down on the board. Fill the holes in the cake with small pieces of the almond cake paste.

2. Knead the cake paste until smooth on a surface dusted with sifted icing sugar. (If cake paste is too firm, remove the foil pop it in the micro for a jiff.) Roll the paste on a surface dusted with sifted icing sugar until large enough to cover the top and sides of the cake.

3. Brush the cake all over with the warmed jam or marmalade then gently lift the cake paste onto the cake with a rolling pin. Smooth the icing onto the cake with sugared hands.  Trim the excess paste from the base with a sharp knife. Stand the cake at room temperature for several hours or until firm to touch.

4. Knead the soft icing until smooth on a surface dusted with sifted icing sugar. Roll the icing as for the cake paste, brush the cake with warmed jam or marmalade and cover with the soft icing as before.

 Royal Icing: Beat the egg white in a small bowl with a fork until frothy; discard half of the egg white. Beat in the sifted icing sugar, about 2 teaspoons at a time, with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms very firm peaks; stir in the juice. Keep the surface of the icing covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.

 Attach the ribbon to the cake with a small amount of the Royal Icing at the join. Attach any additional adornments to the top of the cake with tiny amounts of icing. Stand until set.

Stay turned for the next chapter which is more detail of icing, decorating and running the gauntlet that is international customs, but if you need that info faster than my blogging allows hope you got the general gist....

to be continued...