Saturday, 26 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everybody! 2009 has been a good year for me and my little piece of the blogosphere – I’ve spoken to new lovely bloggers and discovered many gorgeous new blogs to become addicted to, been published for the first time on TasteSpotting, celebrated my first blogoversary and generally learnt so much about blogging! Of course, lots of delicious things have also been baked, consumed and enjoyed (with a few disasters along the way). I am very much looking forward to 2010, a whole new decade, and seeing how the blog progresses into its third year.
I hope everyone has a gorgeous holiday wherever you are. I won’t be posting again until January in the next decade (!) as I’m off to see in the new year in Venice. Happy Holidays people :)

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Gifts No3: Mince Pies

There isn’t anything that screams “classic British Christmas” to me than the humble mince pie.
DSCF5667Crisp and flaky pastry houses the juicy Christmas mincemeat, topped off with a festive-shape pastry topping and dusted with a sprinkling of icing sugar snow. Delicious.
DSCF5669Christmas wouldn’t be the same without mince pies for me: they just symbolise it (along with a classic Christmas Cake). The reason I love them so much is mainly in the making: the rolling out of the pastry, twisting open the rich jars of mincemeat, gently laying on mini pastry stars, candy canes and snowflakes to top each little morsel, with Wham and Slade playing in the background. Aand…relax. (Of course its more hectic and over-excited on sugar and festive spirit than that..but you know.)
You can buy mince pies anywhere, but often the pastry will be stodgy and the mincemeat filling turns out as a heavy lump. They are so easy to make and turn out so much better – its worth the miniscule effort :) Plus, nothing can fill your house with a more Christmassy scent, and no Christmas tin can make a face light up brighter! I made my own mincemeat last year here, and you can use any sweet pastry recipe (I like to add the zest of an orange to make the pastry extra festive) you like.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas Gifts No2: Orange Chocolate Marzipans

With all the gifts I give to my friends or family, I think its nice to give something a bit different or special. Even if I am giving someone a specific thing off their list, I like to give a small extra gift as a surprise. It just makes present giving more fun. Which is why these little sweets appealed to me – I hadn’t seen a similar recipe before and they looked like they tasted truly delicious. And again, there’s just something in the name that lets you know these are going to be good.
These marzipans are another simple gift – requiring a total of about ten minutes hands on time. You just blend the ingredients to form a soft and squidgy (and full of flavour) marzipan, cut into small circles and let dry for a couple of hours. Then cover each one with a swirl of chocolate and piece of candied peel – if you are a fan of this often-hated treat. What could be easier?
DSCF5634These went down a storm as after-dinner treats in front of Strictly Come Dancing! They have all the perfect textures – soft soft marzipan, light crunch from the chocolate and chew from the candied peel. The orange flavour in the marzipan adds a little bit of Christmas “zing” and you could enhance this with orange flavoured chocolate if you so wished. You will be popular when you make these – find the recipe here.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Christmas Gifts No1: Chocolate Truffles

On the blogs right now, you’d have to have been severely absent not to notice the huge amount of Christmas Gift posts. There are cookies and candy-canes, jams and jellies. Anyone would be overjoyed to receive a scrumptious hamper of goodies, jars of chutney or box of chocolates as a gift from a foodie friend. I haven’t given away homemade Christmas presents before, but for Christmas this year on the blog I thought I’d show some gifts really worth making. I’ve got several goodies coming up but first – chocolate truffles. DSCF5632Chocolate & Cointreau Truffles, to be precise. You can surely tell they are going to taste good when you read the name! But also, these are so simple to make, so you can make lots quickly for every lucky recipient. I can never resist a truffle. For my tenth birthday I held a truffle-making and cookie decorating party – that is the strength of my affection for the truffle. For some reason I do always think of them as a Christmas thing – perhaps because they are so rich – and this is the first time I have made them in a very long time.
DSCF5640From my experiences, I learnt several things about making truffles:
  • Heat the cream gently but don’t let it get too hot or your truffles will split.They take practice to get the perfect sphere, but even a misshapen pentagon truffle tastes delicious.
  • Cut your chocolate very small (you could even grate it) before pouring the cream over it so that the chocolate melts faster.
  • Do not make the truffles too big. Glorious as they are, a plate full of mini truffles looks far nicer than half a plate of huge ones. Plus, they are very rich.
  • They only need a light roll in the cocoa-covering – mouthfuls of cocoa powder ruins the effect.
  • After making your truffle balls, they need to firm up before you attempt to put them in pretty gold cases.
I made chocolate truffles with a splash of Cointreau and grated zest of an orange. I chose to roll in either cocoa powder or coconut but you could do chopped pistachios or almonds, icing sugar, crushed amaretti biscuits, hundreds and thousands, festive chopped candy-cane or edible glitter – whatever takes your fancy. You can also cover the truffles in melted chocolate (tempered if not coating, there’s not much need if you are) for more richness.
Chocolate Truffles
150ml double cream
150g chocolate
1. Heat the cream gently – either in the microwave for 1.5minutes or over a low heat.
2. Put the chopped chocolate in a bowl and pour over the hot cream. Stir slowly to form a ganache. Cover and chill for a few hours or overnight.
3. Take teaspoons of firm ganache and roll into balls. Set out plates of your chosen coatings, and roll the truffles. Leave for about 30minutes to firm. Place delicately in boxes, cases or on plates. Enjoy!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Raspberry Jam Drops

There are good cookies, and then there are great cookies. There are everyday cookies, and then celebration cookies. There are “are-these-worth-the-calories-?” cookies, and then there are five-in-one-go cookies. There are mini cookies, and then plate-sized cookies. There are simple “meh” cookies and then there are these cookies.
DSCF5592 The thing with a To Bake list, is when ever you see a different recipe it just calls you more. These cookies were spotted on the Delicious magazine website – and immediately it was clear the To Bake list was going to have to wait. These were being made!
These are so simple, which is partly what makes them so good (aside from the fact they make a LOT.) The cookie dough is flavoured with vanilla and custard powder (which is pink! Who knew thick yellow custard could be made from a pink custard powder? Strange.) and a blob of bright raspberry jam is plopped into a well made in each little ball of dough. Refridgerate, bake, eat. The trouble with these cookies being so small is that it becomes very easy to eat several in one go. 26 cookies were produced for a family of four on Saturday evening. 9 remained on Sunday morning!
These would make lovely Christmas gifts – give these stacked into a jar tied with ribbon and you would be very popular! Let the Christmas baking commence! These are also versatile – I’m seeing rhubarb jam for a nice rhubarb&custard combo, or less custard and more ground ginger/cocoa powder/chopped raisins – anything! – in the cookie. But at heart, these are best simple and warm. Oh so good warm. Find the recipe here.