Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas cake - an attempt at fondant icing

As is our family tradition, the icing of the Christmas cake was up to me this year. In the past, I've made figurines out of white marzipan to sit on top of the royal icing...

...but this year I decided to go for some fondant icing. Which turned out to be far more difficult than I expected. Making the icing paste is straightforward enough - icing sugar with not very much water, plus food colouring (be prepared for funny-coloured hands for a few days afterwards if your mixing's anything like mine), but rolling it into thin shapes turned out to be pretty tricky - as soon as you do, it starts to dry out and crack.

Anyway, I eventually achieved this poinsettia:

But I clearly need more practice. Next year's Christmas list has one entry already - cake decorating lessons!

Rocky road crunch bars - Nigella's delicious recipe

A very quick bake that I made over Christmas to be eaten on boxing day was Nigella Lawson's rocky road crunch bars. Really easy, really delicious:

I used digestives instead of rich tea biscuits (I bought the wrong type by accident, but they worked very well - although perhaps were less crunchy than the name of the recipe intends) and I added a small pot of cut up glace cherries to give a bit of chewiness.

Delicious. Moreish. May have been the cause of my stomach ache after I ate about 5 in a row...

Mini bakewell tarts

And so, to my favourite bake of the last week - mini bakewell tarts. Essentially, these were the product of some left over shortcrust pastry from the banoffee pie, jam and royal icing from the Christmas cake and ground almonds from the lebkuchen! So, my recipe was a bit of a mishmash of various others, and probably not the easiest way to make them. But they worked really rather well, so here it is anyway:

Katie's mini bakewell tarts

First of all, grease up a deep 12-hole muffin pan and get your oven on to 170 degrees.

For the rich shortcrust pastry (enough to make about 12 tarts - or 6 tarts plus a banoffee pie case):

- 125g butter
- 100g icing sugar
- 250g plain flour
- Half a vanilla pod
- 1tsp lemon juice
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tbsp cold milk

Using a food processor (or a serious amount of elbow grease), cream the sugar into the butter until white and fluffy, then quickly mix in the flour, lemon juice, egg yolks and seeds from the vanilla pod - do this with as little mixing as possible to keep the pastry light and stretchy. Once this has all mixed together, add the milk and gather together into a ball. Put in the fridge for half an hour to firm up a bit.

Once it's a little less sticky, roll out the pastry on a floured surface, then cut small circles using a pastry cutter, to be the same size as the bases of your muffin tin. Drop these into the greased tin and then cut long strips, about an inch wide, to form the sides of each pastry case. Make sure that you've pressed the sides right into the base so that there are no gaps - use a bit of extra pastry to fill any holes, before scraping a pallette knife across the top of the tin to neaten up the tops of the cases.

Prick the bottom of each case with a fork, then spread about half a tsp of raspberry jam into the bottom of each case.

For the frangipane (enough for 12 tarts):

110g butter
110g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
80g ground almonds
2 tbsp plain flour

Mix it all up in a bowl (nothing special about this part of the recipe) then divide it evenly between the pastry cases (on top of the jam). They won't be full to the top - the frangipane will rise during cooking, plus you need to leave some space for icing!

Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes, or until the frangipane has started to turn golden brown. Cool in the tin first, then put the tarts on a wire rack to finish cooling once the pastry's hardened a little. Fingers crossed for no soggy bottoms!

Once the tarts have cooled, ice in whatever way you like - I used some leftover royal icing from the Christmas cake, but a bit of icing sugar and water is just as good - keep it nice and thick for either piping on or just spreading a layer over the whole tart. Finish with a silver ball, or a glace cherry, or whatever you fancy!

Eat with lots of cream. Mmmm.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Jamie's banoffee pie

Not being a big fan of Christmas pudding (just too rich - plus the thought of eating something over a year old has never really appealed), every Christmas it's my job to create an alternative pudding to have after the turkey. Something not too rich, but still festive - past successes have included a Christmas chocolate cheesecake and various varieties of trifle.

This year, it was the turn of the banoffee pie - and Jamie Oliver's fantastic recipe from the 'Jamie's Kitchen' book is one of my favourites. Sadly it's not online so you'll have to buy the book to get the whole thing, but here's my abridged version of something similar:


6-7 inch pastry case (make your own sweet shortcrust - or buy it - see my recipe in the next blog post)
One jar of Dulche de Leche caramel (Waitrose do it in the baking aisle)
About 3-4 bananas
A pint of double cream
A handful of hazelnuts and almonds
Icing sugar
1tsp instant coffee
One vanilla pod


Once you've cooked and cooled your pastry case (making sure to avoid a soggy bottom), spread the dulche de leche over it, about a centimetre thick - this will be all of a small jar or about two thirds of a big one. Then, slice up the bananas to about half a centrimetre thick and lay the pieces out to create a solid layer of banana - cut some slices up small to fill the gaps.

Whip the cream until it's starting to make soft peaks. Scrape the seeds out of one of the vanilla pods, and add these to the cream. Then dissolve the instant coffee in about a tablespoon of boiling water. Mix this into the cream too - use all of it for a stronger coffee taste or just half for a subtle hint. Whip the cream with these added ingredients to make stiffer peaks - but be careful not to overwhip (as I did...) Spread this out on top of the banana layer.

Finally, rinse the almonds and hazlenuts in a little water, then put them in a bowl with a few tablespoons of icing sugar. Mix it all up until all the nuts are coated, then tip them onto a baking tray. Bake in the oven (around 180 degrees) for about 10 minutes, until the sugar has caramelised a little. once they're cool, heap them onto the top of the pie.

Serve immediately - or it keeps for 4-5 days (and a day/night in the fridge does wonders for the flavours melding). Yum!

Christmas Lebkuchen

It's been a while since my last post - November and December turned out to be pretty busy - but there have been plenty of opportunities for baking around Christmas - so many, in fact, that I spent about 8 hours on Christmas eve in the kitchen...

So, most of what is to come was the product of a huuuge day of baking - although these weren't. Every year I bake something (normally of the small cake/biscuit variety) to give to people for Christmas presents - providing whatever you make looks (and obviously tastes!) good, they're the perfect gift for those people who have everything - and your boss!

Anyway, this year's offering was lebkuchen - delicious spicy German cake/biscuits that are not only delicious but last really well, so great to give away. All you need is a nice cake tin (John Lewis always do great ones at Christmas), a bit of ribbon and you're away.

The recipe I used (to great success) was this one from the BBC:

I made it completely as written, changing only the icing - I missed out the egg as I was giving the cakes as gifts, and just went for icing sugar and water instead.

I do recommend taking the cakes off the hot tray as soon as possible after taking them out of the oven, to cool on a wire rack - when they first come out, they'll be pretty soft, but they soon crisp up on the outside (while keeping deliciously soft on the inside). And I don't recommend trying to do anything more exciting with the icing - I tried to do different colours and patterns, but actually the rough texture of the top of the biscuits makes them difficult to decorate - so a bit of plain white icing definitely looks best:

Straight out of the oven

After icing (the rest got eaten too quickly to take a photo of them all!)