Merry Christmas!

Hello folks!

I’ve been a bit remiss with blogging in the run up to Christmas as a dodgy oven does not a good bake maketh. So I’ve actually not had the chance to do any baking until now, with these mince pies whipped up in my parents oven.

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It’s the same recipe from last year, some sweet shortcrust pastry, and a jar of mincemeat that I’ve doctored with extra cranberries, chopped apple, raisins and a shake of speculoos spices.

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Unfortunately, whilst taking these photos, the dome of my cake stand, which was sitting on the sofa, fell onto the carpet and smashed into smithereens. It’s a lovely new cake stand with dome from M&S that I had been saving for that special occasion to take photos with, so really quite gutted!

At any rate, despite my longish break from baking, these mince pies turned out pretty well. I think I rolled out the pastry a little too thick for some of them, although that does mean a nice sturdy pie with a good pastry to filling ratio for those that prefer their pastry!

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The mincemeat is much less sweet than normal, which I really like, and packed full of fruity flavours. Although it’s unlikely I’ll be making my own mincemeat in the future, I do like the idea of throwing in some extras to make the supermarket stuff a little more special.

Hope everybody is enjoying spending a little bit of quality time at home with friends and family, and see you in the New Year! Roll on 2016!

Getting Cosy for Christmas

The days are short, and the nights long. Cosy is the word of the month, and great is the temptation to run amok in Anthropologie and festoon the flat with beautifully crafted garlands, kitsch tree decorations, and gloriously fragrant candles, thick with spiced and vanilla scents.

Sorry it’s been a little quieter around here on the blog over the last few weeks. I’ve been catching up with some much needed sleep, and lusting after incredibly inappropriate purple feather jackets. Clearly been watching a little too much Made in Chelsea!

I’ve already started bejazzling up the flat, and having great fun in the process too.  Despite the temptation to run around spending the entirety of my November paycheck, I’ve managed to hold the reins back.

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This string of minature baubles is knotted onto some jute string (comes with the packaging). It cost me £2 in total, and I think it looks very colourful and snazzy! Then, some jazzy string lights (from Tiger again) for the stairs.

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I also made some felt snowflakes for the windows, but they look ridiculously juvenile, like a three year old cut them out, so I’ll spare your eyes from them.

Soon time to find a tree, and then I’ll have an insanely fun time decorating it with the leftover baubles, and see what else I buy/concot/bake! Although I’m going to struggle with baking biscuits in my current oven, so we shall see what happens.

I can’t wait to open my advent calendar. We decided not to go for chocolate advent calendars this year (due to some misguided attempt at being ‘healthier’) so A kindly gifted me this fab looking Jonny Loves Rosie jewellery version!

Liebster Award

Before I forget too, many thanks to Jo for nominating me for a Liebster Award! I have seen it do the rounds before in the past, but I have to confess I never quite mustered up participating in the past! Here we go:

  1. I am a crisp fiend. Give me a family-sized bag and I will demolish it faster than you can say “salt-and-vingear.”
  2. Even though I’m supposed to be mature and grown-up I still love my soft toys. My boyfriend is resigned to the fact that he has to share his bed with not just me, but three other cuddly, furry friends.
  3. I have run three half-marathons, and now signed up for my fourth! Great way to burn off all the cakes.
  4. My fave season of the year is spring, followed closely by summer. I try and get in the mood for autumn but it just reminds me Winter is Coming …
  5. I was such a girly-girl that I didn’t own a pair of trousers until I was ten, and even then my parents had to cajole me to wear them.
  6. I just love watching Barefoot Contessa. From Ina Garten’s random friends popping by, to the table centrepieces of toy trains/DIY tools, the salads that are more cream and mayonnaise than vegetable, and of course, Ina being loved up with hubby Jeffrey, it’s hilarious.
  7. I am so bad at Guitar Hero I can’t even complete a song on the most basic level. E-musician, I am not.
  8. I did have piano lessons for 12 years though, so somebody tried.
  9. I’m a milk chocolate girl. Dark chocolate is alright, but when you get a chocolate-coated digestive biscuit, it’s milk chocolate all the way baby.
  10. My guilty pleasure is watching serial runs of Made in Chelsea in my pyjamas, surrounded by soft toys.
  11. I hate milk (probably as a consequence of being force-fed those horrid warm milk cartons at school) but butter, cream, cheese…no problems at all.

So now I get to nominate some other lovely bloggers.

Baking Stuff, Mostly Averagely: B’s writing never fails to make me laugh, and the recipes look both delicious and do-able.

The Very Hungry Baker: plenty of delicious looking bakes, especially the epic looking pizza pie!

Running Cupcake: Maria writes about running and baking. What a great balance!

Christmas is Coming…

It’s Christmas Eve! Yay!

I’ve finally summoned my festive spirit out of the dark hole it’s been hiding in, and the kitchen smells gloriously of baking pastry, and wintery spices. The tree is up and sparkling, I’m belting out Frozen on repeat, and there’s golden glitter nail polish on standby if I remember to put it on.

I baked up a batch of pork and mustard sausage rolls.

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They weren’t quite as good as the chorizo and pepper sausage rolls I made earlier in the year, but they were still very moreish, and I ate more than my fair share! All I did was spread a thin layer of wholegrain mustard against the pastry, then adding the sausagemeat and rolling it up. They definitely make a great change from the sweeter snacks that lying about in abundance this time of year.

Then, I baked another batch of scrummy mince pies, and liberally dusted them with icing sugar.

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I’m in the process of defrosting my last piece of the Gateau L’Opera which will be served up tomorrow as dessert, all that remains is to pipe on a suitably jolly message over the top, and sprinkle it liberally with gold glitter.

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Hope everybody else is getting their festive bake on (or helping eat it all). I’ll be making the most of the holiday season this year – with my baking cupboard bulging as ever, what other delights will be coming out of the kitchen I wonder?

Maybe some more of these gruyère and smoked bacon straws?

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To all my blog readers, wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! 

Gruyère and Smoked Bacon Straws

Crispy and crunchy, with salty smoky bacony goodness running through the centre, and a generous punch of gruyère cheese. It’s perfect fodder for the party season.

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You can wield them like a wand, have a minature duel, stick them out of your mouth like walrus tusks, or just gobble them down in several bites. If you try not to lick your lips, it’s well nigh impossible!

Make them long or short, or fat or thin…no matter, because they all taste scrummy :). Indeed, the tight button on my jeans can attest to how terrifyingly moreish these are! I was going to add some wholegrain mustard to some of the straws but I didn’t bother in the end. I still think it would be a great addition – for super posh cheese straws!
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If you don’t have any puff pastry lying about handily, I’ve included a recipe for quick rough puff pastry underneath that doesn’t take too long. Of course, you can completely skip this step and just buy it in the supermarket!

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I’m starting to wish I was more organised, and did all my Christmas shopping in November! John Lewis, usually so reliable, failed to deliver and various online parcels are still pending. In-store, everything has flown off the shelves, so I might have, ahem, to throw in some last minute substitutions.

Gruyère and Smoked Bacon Straws 

Makes around 9 straws

  • 110g unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 130g plain flour
  • 50ml water, cold
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • large handful grated gruyère cheese
  • thin strips of streaky dry-cured bacon or pancetta

Cut the butter into small cubes. Tip the flour and salt into a bowl, and rub the butter in roughly until half rubbed in, with plenty of small lumps of butter. Tip the water into the bowl, and bring together with a table knife into a rough looking ball of dough. Wrap this in clingfilm and pop into the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Once chilled, take out the pastry ball, and roll out into a long rectangle, three times longer than wide. Fold into three like a letter, and wrap again. Chill for another 30 minutes. Once chilled, take the pastry out, turn it 90˚, roll it out into a rectangle and fold again. Repeat this step until you have done 3-5 folds in total.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Now roll out the puff pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin and baste with beaten egg. Sprinkle over with grated cheese. Gently press this into the pastry to make sure it sticks. Then turn the sheet of pastry over, baste the other side with beaten egg, and sprinkle over a layer of grated cheese on that side too. Cut the pastry into strips. Lay over a slice of bacon and roll the pastry strip up into a straw. Place on a baking tray. Then repeat this with all the other strips of pastry.

Bake the cheese straws for 25-30 minutes until golden and the bacon is crisp at the edges.

Festive Mince Pies

YAY, it’s December!

Christmas is round the corner, festive stuff fills the shops, et cetera. Time for me to get my baking jig on and fill the house with calorific edible goodies, like mince pies.

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Oooh the humble mince pie. It sounds so gross. Like it’s full of gristle, and ground up bits of meat that nobody wanted to eat whole.

Good thing it’s not (at least, not the modern day mince pie). For those unfamiliar with them, they’re sweetly sticky, spiced, and packed full of glossy dried fruit. Then there’s all that pastry too!

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Gosh I’m on such a pastry kick these days. I think it’s because I went a bit crazy a few weeks ago and made loads, and now I feel guilty about how full the freezer is with pastry, and there’s no space for the frozen vegetables to go.

To be honest, I don’t see the point of making my own mincemeat. I only ever use up a little bit each year, and homemade stuff seems to taste the same to me, only a lot more boozy. So with these mince pies, it was a quick scurry to Waitrose, and plucking the last remaining jar triumphantly off the baking shelf.

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Actually, when I think about it, with ready made mincemeat and pastry, mince pies are as about as simple to make as jam tarts, but you get about triple the amount of domestic goddess points. How great is that?

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The first lot of photos turned out luridly yellow thanks to the lack of actual daylight at 5pm. Of course, I was hardly only going to make one batch of mince pies, so I took another set of snaps during the daytime, which turned out a lot better!

Mince Pies

Makes 12

  • 300g shortcrust pastry
  • 1 jar of mincemeat

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry. Cut out larger circles from it, and use them to line a 12 hole muffin tin. Prick the base of each pastry case with fork. Into each case, coax in a spoonful of mincemeat.

With the remaining pastry, cut out smaller circles or stars, or other shapes, to use as lids for your pies. Dab a little water around the edge of each pastry case so the pastry lids stick down nicely. Pop your pies into the oven for 15-20 minutes until they are golden and the mincemeat is bubbling.

Leave the pies to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then unmould and set onto a cooling rack to cool down completely. You can dust them with icing sugar at this point if you like too.

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Next year I might even make my own mincemeat – I’ve tried a suet-free version before, but now I’ve got plenty of the stuff leftover from sticky toffee puddings, so why not go all out?

Chorizo and Pepper Sausage Rolls

My best and worst ideas result from trying to avoid wasting offcuts of food. Once at university, my flatmate was trying to make fudge. It refused to set and we tried to turn it into cakes, by adding in approximately about half a tub of baking powder and strawberry food colouring. You can imagine the results were dire.

These mini chorizo sausage rolls are the complete opposite – they are stonkingly delicious! I had some pastry scraps and fancied using up the chorizo I had lying around too. It sounded pretty tasty in my head, and luckily, it turned out very tasty in reality too!

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I know it’s still November, but I can’t help thinking these would be perfect little bite size nibbles at Christmas parties. My pastry offcuts made 5 perfectly sized rolls, and I ate two warm out of the oven. Yummy. Sausage rolls are one of those delights where the homemade version is really so much tastier than anything you buy in a supermarket.

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I reckon the presence of chorizo instead of standard sausagemeat already makes them a little bit special, but you could always fancy these up even more by sprinkling some fennel seeds over the top or cracked black pepper.

Chorizo and Pepper Sausage Rolls

  • puff pastry offcuts
  • Spanish chorizo sausage, straight not curved segments only
  • 1 pepper, thinly sliced and lightly sauteed
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Roll out the puff pastry into a narrow long rectangle. Peel the paper around the chorizo away. Slice lengthways down the middle to split it partially open, and stuff this cavity with the cooked peppers. Lay the chorizo down the centre of the puff pastry rectangle. Now gather the sides of the puff pastry and pinch together in the middle to seal the pastry around the chorizo. Now flip the log of pastry wrapped chorizo over so the fold is underneath. Now cut the log into inch wide pieces. Prick the top of each chorizo roll with a fork, and brush with beaten egg. Pop them into a baking tray and put into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, reducing the oven temperature to 180˚C halfway through baking. Your chorizo might have oozed a lot of oil during baking, in which case transfer your rolls carefully onto a cooling rack to cool down. They might not get that far!

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Gingerbread Owls

The idea for decorating these cuties came from the winner of the last Great British Bake Off series, Frances Quinn. They are the sweetest way to finish off the Christmas tree.

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If you want to find Quinn’s biscuit recipe, and decorating instructions, they are on BBC Good Food. I used my leftover dough from the Gingerbread House, and got a dozen owls in total.

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I find their stoned expressions unbelievably adorable. I forgot to punch any holes in the biscuits, they’re happily packed into the biscuit tin, where they are likely to last for a little longer too. Otherwise, the decorations are up, and there are Christmas songs on the radio. I’m already sick of Quality Street, and trying to figure out what to do with my leftover sweets from decorating these! Any ideas?

Also, despite finishing these off at Midday, it was so dark outside that I used the light box to take these photos. I’m very happy with the result!

Christmas Gingerbread House Part 2

Good daytime light is scarce during the winter season. After taking the first round of photographs for my Gingerbread House, I decided to play around with my new light box (Christmas gift from A 🙂 ) and see what I could come up with.

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I’m still working on the best way to position the lights so they aren’t harshly silhouetted in the backdrop, but so far so good! As I couldn’t decide which photographs to use in the final post, I thought…why not have two?

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I’m sure that there will be many more experimenting with light and angles to come!

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Christmas Gingerbread House Part 2

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • mixed sweets

It’s now time to assemble the Gingerbread House, and decorate it.

Firstly, make some royal icing by mixing the icing sugar together with the egg white in a mixing bowl to make a thick, fairly stiff icing. Put the icing into a piping bag with a narrow nozzle. Twist the end of the piping bag to seal the icing inside, and pipe designs onto the gingerbread pieces. Leave these to set for a few minutes.

Then prepare a board for the gingerbread house to sit on. Using the icing like glue, pipe each gingerbread wall piece to each other, and to the board itself, to assemble the structure of the house. Prop the interior of the house up with tins. Leave to set.

Then remove the tins, pipe on more icing, and stick the roof on, holding the pieces in place until they start to stick. Leave these to set. Change the nozzle on your piping bag to a crescent shaped one, and pipe on a trimming of snowy icing along the roof and the gables of your house. Finally use the remaining icing to stick sweets onto the house in decorative patterns. Now admire your gingerbread house, it’s all done! 🙂

Gingerbread goes soft after keeping, particularly if its slathered with icing, so I would recommend eating the Gingerbread House within a week of making. Make sure there are plenty of ready mouths and tums!

Christmas Gingerbread House Part 1

Christmas food in the UK relies deeply on aromatic spices, dried fruits, sugar, nuts and a dash of brandy. Honestly, most of it doesn’t float my boat. I wanted to make an alternative to the traditional Christmas Cake, and so, this Gingerbread House came into being.

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I’d wanted to make a Gingerbread House for years, but the images online looked so impressive I was quite intimidated at the prospect of making my own.

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Two years ago, I tried to freestyle what turned out to be an inedible biscuit church that was thoroughly glued together with gallons of overboiled fondant icing.  This year I wanted to aim for something pretty, but something that would remain tasty too.

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I have a lot of recipes for gingerbread biscuits, but the one from Peggy Porschen caught my eye. I made a few changes based on what I had in the cupboard: I substituted extra golden syrup for the treacle, contributed the spice flavours from a jar of French quatre d’epices, and added a little wholemeal flour. Crisp, crunchy, and full of Christmas spice, this is my new favourite recipe.

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Gingerbread House Part 1

Adapted from Cake Chic by Peggy Porschen

  • 5 tbsp water
  • 210g brown sugar
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 tbsp quatre d’epices
  • 250g salted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 80g wholemeal flour
  • 480g plain flour

Put the water, sugar, golden syrup and spices together in a saucepan, and heat until it comes to the boil. Then take off the heat, and mix in the butter until completely melted and amalgamated. Add the bicarbonate of soda and briefly whisk in. Then leave to cool until just warm, and mix in the flours to form a fairly wet dough. Wrap this up, and pop in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

Make the template for the gingerbread house. I downloaded mine online.

Roll out the gingerbread dough in batches between two sheets of greaseproof paper. Lay the templates on the gingerbread and cut out shapes, removing the scraps to be re-used. Don’t move the cut shapes around, but transfer them to the baking sheet by sliding the tray underneath the sheet of baking paper. Put them in the fridge to chill.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C, and bake the sheets of gingerbread for approximately 15-20 minutes. The differently sized shapes will vary in their baking times. Take out of the fridge, and quickly, whilst the gingerbread is still soft, lay the templates on again, and trim the baked gingerbread.

Put the gingerbread on a cooling rack and leave until cold.

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Next, the decorating step, coming up in Part 2!

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Fairytales and Festive Biscuits

Fairytales and folklore are best enjoyed during the colder months of the year. Endlessly open to reinterpretation, retelling and reimagination, just think of the wild contrast between Disney’s pastel films, and the twisted tales in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. While Disney’s saccharine formula is wildly successful, that’s not the sort of fairytale I’m talking about.

I like a dose of realism mixed into the magic, and Sarah Pinborough get this balance just right. By pulling out a completely new take of several traditional fairytales, and weaving them together, we get Beauty, then Poison, then Charm. I spent the last few weeks reading them all jumbled up in the wrong order but it didn’t matter. A good book is a fantastic way to spend a cold winter’s night huddled up in bed.

Now I’m working my way through Gossip from the Forest, by Sara Maitland. It intersperses loving descriptions of the British woodlands with short retellings of traditional fairytales, and entwines the two in a really rather beautiful way. The book is brilliant in that you can happily read one chapter at a time, like a sweet treat savoured once in a while.

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Anyway, reading material aside, it is indeed the festive season. December tends to bring out my inner Scrooge (along with Valentine’s Day and my birthday). It doesn’t help being at work throughout the holiday, but I thought I would try to make a bit of an effort, and bake something cheery to herald all that is Joy Unto Us.

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The making of Christmas biscuits is commonplace throughout many European countries. I had a flatmate from Austria who made it an event every year to painstakingly roll out and form hundreds of tiny, beautifully formed little biscuits that she would hand out to us in ribbon-festooned bags. This lovely tradition hasn’t quite crossed the Channel into the UK, although I do remember making Advent Biscuits at school ( the combination of cardboardy biscuit, gluey icing and rock-solid silver balls wasn’t the most tempting of repasts).

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Here I’ve used a basic biscuit recipe by Peggy Porschen that has a simple, elegant but subtle flavour. This makes it infinitely adaptable. Not only can you slather on icing, but also adapt the biscuit itself with different flavourings. I’ve used lemon zest, but you can easily put in vanilla seeds, orange zest, cocoa powder, ginger and other spices….the possibilities are endless!