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Archive for December, 2010

December ’Meanderings’ …

December was, as usual, a busy month not least because I spent part of it in hospital. This rather lessened my chances of trying some new ideas this year.  Sadly the Pannetone I had planned will have to wait for another year and our mince pie supplies were rather short but we still ate well enough.   I made some favourite seasonal recipes already on this site, plus I added a few new ones, all of which are listed below.  I had, fortunately, started early so at least we had a good selection of pickles and chutneys.  The delicately flavoured Pickled Pears were a huge hit at tea time with the cold meats and cheese and I shall definitely be making them another year, in fact I may well be giving some away as gifts.  Follow this link to see my whole list of Christmas & New Year recipes
 
Most importantly this month we celebrated once again the birth of Jesus with our church family and in our home.  I advertised a very attractive illustrated version of the traditional Christmas story called Christmas Unwrapped (pictured) which I felt was worth viewing.  (A more contemporary version can be found at Paperless Christmas and Natwivity for those who follow Twitter.  (I am not sure whether these are available outside the Christmas season.) 

Recipes this month

 Banoffee Curd                                                           Pickled Prunes
  
Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake & Starry Night Christmas Cake
  
White Christmas Slices
 
Spiced Braised Red Cabbage Casserole  Sausagemeat Plait with Fennel Chutney
 
All images ©’Meanderings through my Cookbook’ http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com/ 

Bookshelf Meanderings:  Delia Smith’s Christmas has some lovely ideas for this time of year.  I own the original version, published in1990, but it has been republished and updated in the past year or so.  The recipes cover the entire season, from ideas for the pre-Christmas party, through Christmas Day itself and into New Year, plus ideas for using up the inevitable leftovers. 
Recipes from this book already on this site: Stollen & Spiced Braised Red Cabbage Casserole
Watch out for: Spiced Apricot & Orange Chutney, Spiced Preserved Tangerines, Cheese & Parsnip Roulade with Sage & Onion Stuffing, Creamed Turkey en Croute, Irish Coffee Pudding & Caramelised Orange Trifle.  Also Parmesan Baked Parsnips (which I have made before and are delicious) and Truffle Torte (which was made by a friend for their Christmas party – very rich and very good!)

Blogosphere Meanderings:  I am grateful to the writer of Vintage Hearth for adding the recipe for Banoffee Curd to her site, in response to my request.  My family love Fruit Curds and I have instructions for several variations which I will gradually add to this site as they are made.  The most common curds are citrus flavours, particularly Lemon, but to date my list also includes Orange, Blackberry and Banoffee.  (Banoffee has also been posted separately.)  I plan to add Lime plus St Clements, Blood Orange, Tangerine, Apple, Mango, Strawberry, Raspberry … the list goes on!  Vintage Hearth is based in Weardale, North Eastern England, part of England I know just a little.  Rather a long time ago now, when first married, I lived in the historic and beautiful City of Durham on the River Wear.  We used to drive up the valley to enjoy the scenery and wild open spaces – happy memories!  (There are some amazing pictures of the 2011 winter snow and the frozen River Wear in Durham.)  Vintage Hearth contains only a few recipes, but I have my eye on Tomato & Chilli Jam (from Prima magazine online) & Rabbit with a Cider & Cream Sauce – plus some instructions for making home made laundry starch that looks very useful.

Television Meanderings:  In October I stumbled upon the lengthy daytime TV series Lakes on a Plate, called by the Channel 4 website ‘a culinary adventure’ set in the (English) Lake District.  The programme is partly a travelogue set against a beautiful scenic backdrop with chef and presenter Peter Sidwell using regional produce to make a variety of locally influenced recipes as well as some more exotic ones. The website carries an episode guide for Series 1 (I do hope this means there will be more) and also recipes under two headings: Peter Sidwell and Lakes on a Plate.  In the very first programme the recipe for Sausage Rolls with Fennel & Apple Chutney took my eye.  I quickly made Fennel & Apple Chutney and then Sausagemeat Plait containing a layer of the chutney.   Other recipes on the site: Roasted Onion Soup, Cumberland Rum Nicky, Chocolate & Orange Shortbread & Chocolate & Raspberry Mousse – sadly some recipes from the series seem to be no longer available.

Restaurant Meanderings: Each year between Christmas onever know quite who is coming, though one member does keep tabs on numbers and let the restaurant know. Raja is at the top of Walthamstow High St (London, E17) with a ‘gourmet night’ menu: a special flat rate price for starter, a main course, rice and side dish (with an extra charge for Naan bread), not including drinks.  This year I enjoyed Prawns on Puri (similar in taste to Prawn & Tomato Korma served on a flat bread similar to Paratha Roti), followed by Chicken Shaslik (my regular favourite: skewered chargrilled chicken, onions and peppers served sizzling on a platter), pilau  rice, bhindi (okra) bhaji – plus a small chilled Cobra beer.  At the end he manager gave us a ‘free’ glass of cream liqueur on ice to say thanks: a friendly gesture I always think, even though they sometimes have problems finding enough small glasses for us all at the same time!  The fact we all go annually, plus other times in the year including takeaways, has to be a good recommend!

Miscellaneous Meanderings:  Thank you to all who have posted their comments on this site.  One reader in particular, Wendy John, has written to me on a number of occasions about my Beetroot Chutney recipe, singing its praises: actually this was my second most popular recipe in 2010 – and at time of writing, still is.  I do hope, if you are reading this Wendy and Alison, that you are still enjoying it!   

A very Happy New Year, albeit a belated one, to all my readers and blogging friends.

——  

‘For what we are about to receive…’ January 2011

Coming in January – A quick look at my statistics from 2010 on 1st January, as provided by WordPress and as gleaned by me with links and pictures to my top posts … recipes for New Year celebrations and for using up festive leftovers … warming soups by the bowlful … 

Happy Cooking & Eating! 

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I am the person who avoids the sausage rolls at parties, at least the cold mass produced variety.  I have never been able to work up much enthusiasm for them.  However, a freshly home baked sausage roll – or plait, which is just a larger version of the same item – can be delicious.  There are some rules which I feel must be obeyed for the best results.  First, buy good quality sausagemeat.  If your butcher or supermarket sells the type that they put in their best quality sausages, all the better.   I never buy the value brand and skimp on meat products.  They usually contain a lesser quality product.  I would rather have a small amount of good quality meat than lots of a lesser grade.  Around Christmas, at least one supermarket makes a type which is a combination of pork sausagement with chestnut, which would be delicious, although I would be careful not to mask the flavour of the nuts with a strong flavoured chutney, in fact would probably leave it out altogether.  My second rule is simpler:  unless you really must make it yourself, please go ahead and cheat by buying a pack of ready made puff pastry from the supermarket.  It’s one little thing that makes life so much easier, especially if you are mass catering for an occasion.  Part packs of pastry can easily be frozen, but need to be fully defrosted before use.

Some time ago I was watching chef Peter Sidwell in a cooking programe based in the English Lake District: Lakes on a Plate.  One particular recipe, for Sausage Rolls, used home made Fennel & Apple Chutney which I made some time ago.  I opted for a sausage plait, as a quickly made weekday meal, but I like the idea of making larger individual portion rolls or even bite sized ones for a buffet, as in the original instructions.  Simply roll the pastry into long thin rectangles before filling and cutting into the size required.  I am sure that this plait – or the rolls – would be equally good made with other chutneys.  Try Tomato Relish, Beetroot Chutney or, for a spicy version, Indian Lime Pickle or around Christmas try spicy Christmas Chutney.  Leftover plait is delicious eaten cold the next day and ideal in a packed lunch, in place of the usual boring sandwich.  On New Year’s Day I am feeding the extended family (there will be ten of us) and I am planning to serve slices of Sausagemeat & Fennel Chutney Plait as an ‘extra’ alongside the Roast Pork we will be eating.  Any leftovers can be eaten at tea time on the cold buffet.

Readers might also be interested in the sausage roll ideas at The Evening Hérault. Fennel seeds are suggested there too as a flavouring plus using marmalade in place of chutney.  Another good use for that home made chunky Seville Marmalade: I expect Ginger Marmalade would be good too!

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Sausagemeat Plait
(Serves 4)

250g packet puff pastry
a little flour (plain or self-raising) for rolling out – just a few tbsp
500g good quality sausagemeat, Cumberland if possible (original recipe)
1 egg, cracked & lightly whisked
or
1tbsp milk
1 tbsp fennel seeds (choose another topping for a different chutney if you wish)
2tbsp Fennel & Apple Chutney (or another chutney/relish of your choice)

1.  Preheat oven to 190oC/370oF/Gas 5.

2.  Roll the puff pastry into a long rectangle on a floured surface.  Spoon the chutney evenly in a line lengthways along the centre third of the pastry, but do not take right to each end.

3.  The sausagement should be almost the same length as the pastry – about 2cm/1inch shorter lengthwise to allow for tucking in.  It will help to roll the sausagement into a sausage shape, if it has not been bought like this.  If it needs to be shaped or made longer use a little flour on the surface and on your hands to stop it from sticking, though try to keep this extra flour to a minimum.  Place on top of the chutney, lengthways along the central third of the pastry.

4. For a plait, score 2cm/1inch lines from the centre to the outside edges of the pastry at right angles to the sausagement, giving an equal number of strips on each side.

5.  Start the plait by folding one end of the pastry over the sausagemeat.  Lift the first pastry strip on the left side.  Gently place it slightly diagonally across the filling making sure it also overlaps the end fold.  Take a strip from the right side and cross the meat from the other direction, overlapping slightly the previous strip from the left.  Continue like this, alternating sides and making sure each strip slightly overlaps the one that has gone before, until all but the final two strips are folded over.  Either tuck up the end pastry before overlapping the final two strips or, if you prefer, when all the strips are folded tuck the end of the pastry neatly underneath.  There should be as few gaps in the pastry as possible but there will be some which will act as vents for the steam.   (If this all seems too complicated then fold up both ends of the pastry as a seal.  Then draw up the sides of the pastry and fold over, or pinch together to make a decorative finish along the length of the sausage.  Add few diagonal slits as vents if using this second method.)

6.  Flour a sufficiently long tin for the plait or roll and gently lift it on.  Carefully paint the entire roll with either beaten egg or milk.  Sprinkle generously with fennel seeds.  If fennel seeds are not available, or an alternative chutney is used then another seed could be substituted: for example sesame, linseed, black or white poppy.   The flavour of kalonji seed (nigella), available from ethnic grocery stores, whilst not spicy in itself, would complement a spicy or Indian style chutney.

7.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown.  A thicker shorter sausage plait will take longer to cook than a longer thinner one, and it is very important that pork sausagement is thoroughly cooked before eating.

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A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL MY READERS

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Starry Night Christmas Cake 2010

I am seeing stars this year – and am very pleased with the outcome of this year’s cake.  I was inspired by some pretty transparent ribbon with glittery stars and a wired edge, which I have used around the outside of the cake.   The cake, using the basic recipe for our family favourite Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake, was first covered with a marzipan layer followed by a layer of shop purchased white fondant icing, having previously reserved just enough to cut out the overlapping stars.  (The decision to have a non asymetric design was deliberate, by the way.)  I rolled the marzipan and the icing out between two sheets of cling film which helped avoid sticking.  I used three different sized star cutters and three different types of silver decoration: silver balls (readily available in supermarkets), tiny sugar pearls (Belbake brand, bought in our local Lidl supermarket – I actually hand picked out just the silver ones as they were mixed silver and gold!) and The Sparkle Range Rainbow Dust edible glitter, colour Hologram Silver. This came from a (new to me) local very small specialist shop: Lilac Domino’s, Unit 15, Wood St Indoor Market, Walthamstow, LONDON, E17.  The friendly helpful owner deserves a little plug here – it’s good to support local small businesses!

The ribbon came from one of our many inexpensive £1 – or 99p – shops.  I bought it  last year and got 5 rolls for 50p in the post Christmas sale!  The starry silver and gauze runner used underneath came from the same shop – also a 50p sale item.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

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At the end of November I made several cakes to feed friends at a church event, settling on a Mixed Fruit & Ginger version of our favourite (never known to fail) Knock Up Fruit Cake, a double sized Fragrant Marmalade Cake, made in two sandwich tins with more marmalade spread in the middle plus, as a nod towards Christmas and having come across the recipe the previous week, these White Christmas Slices.  They proved to be very ‘moreish’ and I am thinking of making some more batches to give away at Christmas.

I discovered this competition winning recipe by Caroline Richards for White Christmas Slices in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket: one of many free cards available, in this case giving new ideas for Christmas food.  It appealed because, not only did I have everything available at home (apart from the inexpensive and easily bought coconut biscuits and the white chocolate), it also looked quick, easy and did not require baking.  I rarely make a recipe exactly as written and adapted this just a little.  Firstly, I cut the amount of butter by one third as I do not like to add too much unnecessary fat.  Secondly, I felt the original recipe was lacking something and decided the something was fruit, or similar.  To compensate I added dried cranberries to give one of the flavours of Christmas: glacé cherries, sultanas/raisins, dried apricot, fig or date or even crystallised ginger could be added instead.  In fact I have decided that this successful – and useful – little recipe is highly adaptable, so variations may be posted here.  I have my eye on a gingery version, which I know would be a great hit here!  These slices are quite rich so do not make them too large:  I cut mine into bite sized squares.

Update 22.12.12:  I have just made my third batch of these this year – they go like hot cakes, or should that be hot slices!  I have also made Nigella Lawson’s Sweet & Salty Crunch Nut Bars, from her new book Kitchen, but the post will have to wait for another occasion.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

White Christmas Slices
(Makes 20-24 small pieces)

200g dark chocolate
75g unsalted butter
400g coconut cookies
2tbsp runny honey
200g white chocolate
50g desiccated coconut
50g dried cranberries or alternative (see my suggestions) – optional

1.  Gently heat the dark chocolate, butter and runny honey together in a pan, stirring with a spoon until the chocolate and butter are melted.

2.  Crush the biscuits in a bag until they are large chunks and crumbs.  Do not crush too much.  Add to the melted chocolate along with the dried cranberries, if using. 

3.   Carefully stir, continuing for about 5 minutes until well coated and so the mixture starts to cook.

4.  Using a spoon, press the mixture down well into a 30cm x 20cm baking tray lined with foil (or cling film as suggested in the original recipe, but foil is easier to handle).

5.  Gently melt the white chocolate over a low heat.  Do not overheat as the white chocolate spoils very easily. Drizzle over the biscuit base and spread out. (The base may be unevenly covered and dark patches may show through, but this does not matter.)

6.  Sprinkle over the desiccated coconut.  Place a layer of cling film on top and chill for 4 hours.  If you are short of time then the covered tray can be placed in the freezer for about an hour, but do not leave too long as chocolate is better if it is not frozen for an extended period.  Do not cut from frozen as it will shatter. 

7.  Once it is set, place the block on a board and while it is still cold cut into small squares with a sharp knife.  If it warms up it is more likely to crumble, and should be returned to the fridge to harden before cutting.   I cut my block 6 squares by 4 squares, giving 24 bite sized pieces.

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This is one of the best recipes I know for cooking red cabbage.  The spicy, sweet and sour, very seasonal flavours make it a perfect and attractive addition to the Christmas dinner table, but it is also really good eaten at other times of the year.  Some months ago this was one of the dishes at one of our parish Sunday lunches, when it was served with slowly cooked beef.  The recipe benefits from a long cooking time, so in recent years I have found it best to make a large quantity by cooking the whole cabbage at once, either eating the leftovers the next day or freezing them for another occasion.  I recently found a forgotten box in the bottom of the freezer which I had put there after Christmas eleven months earlier.  It was fine – we really enjoyed it!  Echoing Delia Smith’s words: ‘a real winner of a recipe.’

A number of versions of Spiced Braised Red Cabbage are available.  I usually use Delia Smith’s recipe, either from her original version of the book Christmas (Traditional Braised Red Cabbage with Apples), recommended with venison, goose, pork or sausages and mash, or from her Complete Cookery Course (Braised Red Cabbage with Apples), suggested to accompany sausages or cassoulet.  (I ought perhaps to try it with my own Cassoulet ‘Franglais’!)  It seems to be a good accompaniment for most meats. Sometimes Cranberries are included, which make a particularly Christmassy addition.  I have made this recipe in a saucepan on the hob, giving it a long cooking time over a very low heat, but it is far better made in the oven.  I follow the recipe almost exactly as it doesn’t really need any improvement, apart from the addition of the optional cranberries and the crushed juniper berries, a flavour which I love.  Some recipes add ginger, apple juice, orange juice or stir in ready made cranberry sauce: all these would add their own twist to the basic recipe and the challenge is to get the flavour mixture that you like the best.  Although I like the original flavours well enough, I may well experiment with alternative flavours so this recipe could well change as I find something which I consider an improvement.  If you make this recipe and add an ingredient or flavour not listed here please do leave a message in the comments.

‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’ http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Spiced Braised Red Cabbage Casserole
(Serves 8)

2 lb/1 kg red cabbage
1 lb/450g cooking apples
1 lb/450g onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ whole nutmeg, freshly grated
¼tsp ground cinnamon
¼tsp ground cloves
1tsp juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional)
3tbsp brown sugar
3tbsp wine vinegar
½oz/15g butter
Salt & freshly milled black pepper
3-4ozs/75-100g dried cranberries (optional)
   or
6-8ozs/150-225g fresh or frozen cranberries (optional)

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 150oC/300oF/Gas 2.

2.  Remove and throw away the tough outer cabbage leaves.  Quarter it and making a ‘v’ shape remove and discard the tough stalk in each piece.  Shred the rest of the cabbage finely, using a sharp knife.

3.  Peel, core and chop the cooking apples in small pieces.  Skin the onions and chop them small.

4.  Layer the ingredients in a large ovenproof pot or casserole, alternating layers of shredded cabbage seasoned with salt and pepper with layers of chopped onions and apples with a little garlic, spices and sugar.  Continue with the layers until all the ingredients are used up, apart from the vinegar and butter.

5.  Pour over the wine vinegar and dot pieces of butter on top.

6.  Cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven to cook slowy for 2 – 2½ hours.  Stir the ingredients well twice during the cooking time.

7.  Grate a little extra nutmeg over the top as it is served, if you wish.

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Some time ago, in my search for alternative fruit curd recipes I found one for Banoffee Curd, posted by vintagehearth, which I have just got round to making.  I have to say it was delicious!

I made two slight changes, using soft light brown rather than dark brown sugar for a paler colour and adding lemon juice.  The sharpness of the lemon cuts through the sweetness of the curd and has the added bonus of helping keep the bananas pale in colour.  My only other advice would be to double the quantity of this recipe.  It takes only a little longer to cook a double batch and the single jar (and a bit over) yielded by 2 eggs is gone too quickly!  Apart from spreading on bread or toast, this would be wonderful as a cake filling or could be layered with crushed biscuits and cream or sweetened crème fraîche with some slices of fresh banana for an easy dessert.   When hunting for the original recipe again, I came across a second almost identical recipe, at the fruits of my labour which is for four rather than two eggs.  I would still add the lemon juice as well. 

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Banoffee Curd
(Makes 1 and a bit jars)

10oz/280g soft light brown sugar
2 medium/large bananas
2oz/50g butter
2 eggs, beaten
Juice of ½ lemon (my addition)

1.  Using a fork mash the bananas in a large heatproof bowl.  (I found that they did not need pushing through a sieve but you can do this if you wish.) 

2.  Mix in the sugar well, which will help break up the bananas.

3.  Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Cut the butter into small pieces and add, stirring until it’s melted.  

4.  Mix in the eggs. Simmer gently until cooked, stirring regularly so that the thicker layer on the bottom is mixed through.

5.   Meanwhile wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water from the lids as possible before filling.

6.  Pot the curd into sterilised jars.  Once the jars are filled and the lids well screwed on, invert them to improve the heat seal.  Turn the jars the right way up once they are cool.

7.  All curds should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a month of production as they contain egg.

More curd recipes… (Comments to be left on the Curds page, please)
091005/101212

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This is a very special recipe, one I turn to again and again for a rich fruit cake: for Christmas, Easter or even the occasional ‘special’ birthday.  (It would also make a good wedding cake, but that is outside my experience.)  Its full title in my recipe file is Special Occasion Cake (from Mrs Maud Farrant) written in my mother’s hand.  As with all good recipes it is a ‘hand-me-down’.  I am the third generation, at least, to use it.  It came from my father’s mother, my ‘nanna’ as we called her and through her daughter, my aunt, to my mother.  Each time I make this recipe I do so with a sense of pride and connection with the past, especially as my nanna and aunt are no longer with us.  It is especially lovely to have it each Christmas and also to turn it into an Simnel Cake at Easter.  I really hope that the tradition will continue with my own daughter: that in years to come I will be able to eat a slice of a cake from the same recipe in her home!

Here is this year’s Christmas cake, made a little later than I had hoped but looking just as tasty as usual. Each year it is decorated slightly differently. This year it will be a version of the traditional topping of marzipan and icing (the photo will appear on this page in due course). Last year I finished the cake with an unusual sweet and crunchy Florentine topping, from an idea in Tesco’s 2009 free instore magazine which I will definitely be repeating (recipe and picture further down). I have also often made it into a Dundee cake, covered with concentric rings of nuts and glacé cherries before it was baked. Our last Dundee Cake was before I started this blog so there are no photos, but it is about time we ate one again. Perhaps Christmas 2011 unless I develop another plan. (As mentioned before I also use this recipe for my Simnel Cake at Easter and more recently for our Silver Wedding Celebration Cake – pictures and details below or by following the link.)

Meanderings through my Cookbook http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Although this cake doesn’t take long to mix, it is really important to have the timings in mind. For best results it needs to be started in advance, preferably the day before as the fruit needs to be soaked in alcohol and plump up. Actually, I have forgotten this several times and it is still delicious – just leave for as long as possible and go ahead. Remember too that the cooking time is around 2¼hours, give or take a bit, so if you put it in the oven late in the evening (again I admit to doing this) plan to stay up past midnight waiting for it to cook – you have been warned! Some people like to ‘feed’ a cake by piercing the bottom of the cooked cake with a skewer and pouring over a small amount of additional alcohol. There was no instruction to do this in the original recipe and I know my mother does not, however, as recommended by others, I feed my Christmas Cake just a little and like to think it is an improvement. I never feed a Simnel Cake and we enjoy it just as much. It all comes down to personal preference. (The measurements given are Imperial and I am loth to convert the original as I am afraid that adjusting the measurements may make the cake less successful.)

Meanderings through my Cookbook http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Basic Recipe: Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake
*Mixed dried fruit can be either a combination of sultanas, raisins and currants or the ready mixed variety with mixed peel included, in which case add an extra 2ozs mixed fruit instead of adding the peel or add another 2ozs glacé cherries.

Start this recipe in advance and soak the mixed fruit in the brandy at least overnight.
2tbsp brandy (rum can be used as an alternative)
1½lb (or 1lb for a less rich and heavy cake) mixed dried fruit (*see note above)
2ozs peel (unless using mixed fruit with peel – *see note above)

8ozs butter, at room temperature
8ozs soft brown sugar
3 large or 4 small eggs
10ozs self raising flour
large pinch salt
1 level tsp mixed spice
1 level tsp cinnamon
2ozs glacé cherries (*see note above)
1oz blanched chopped almonds or flaked almonds
a little milk to mix, if required

1.  Place the mixed fruit in a bowl, pour over the brandy and cover.  Leave to soak overnight.

2.  Line a 8-9inch loose bottomed tin with non stick baking parchment.  I do this by cutting a ring for the base and a long strip that is 2 inches more that the width and height of the sides.  Fold up the spare 2 inches of liner along the long side and cut into it at about 1inch intervals up to the fold along the entire length.  Use this to line the inside of the tin, folding in the cut pieces to part line the bottom.  Place the circle of liner on top.  It should not need greasing, but you may just like to add a few dabs of oil to help it adhere to the tin.

3.  Preheat the oven to 150oC/140oC Fan/300oF/Gas 2.

4. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and very creamy.

5.  Break an egg into a jug and gently mix with a fork.  Add a little at a time to the butter and sugar mixture, beating well between each addition.  Continue in the same way until all the eggs are added.  Beat the mixture very well.

6.  Add the soaked fruit, cherries and almonds and mix in well.

7.  Sift the flour, ground spices and salt into the cake mixture and gently fold in, until the flour has disappeared.  Gently stir a little milk to the mixture if it seems a little stiff.

8.  Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, pressing down well into the bottom and smooth out so the top is flattened.

9.  Make a collar out of three or four sheets of newspaper about twice the height of the tin and tie in place around the cake with string.  This prevents burning.  (I find the Waltham Forest Guardian makes an excellent ring, but doesn’t add anything particular to the taste – so feel free to use any newspaper!)

10.  Place in the centre of the preheated oven.  Check after 2hours by gently pressing the top to see if it is still spongy and/or inserting a skewer to see if it comes out cleanly.  I usually find that it needs a further 15 minutes in my oven but the original instructions specify 2½ hours (and in one place it says 2½ to 3hours – a non fan oven instruction).

11.  When cooked remove from the oven, take off the newspaper collar, ease out of the tin and remove the lining paper.  Place onto a wire rack to cool.

12.  When cold the cake can be stored in a tin until it is ready to be finished.  Place it on the lid of the tin and cover with the upside down tin base.  (Label the bottom ‘this way up’ so no one forgets!)  If you want to ‘feed’ the cake pierce the base, not the top, with a skewer and gently drizzle about a tablespoon of extra brandy into the holes.  This can be repeated at regular occasions.  If I make my cake in November I usually do it four or five times between baking and the time it is decorated.

The cake is now ready to be decorated.  See below for some of the cakes we have eaten … plus decorating information.

Finishing touches …

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Starry Night Cake – Christmas 2010
Traditional marzipan and white icing (fondant).  Design by hopeeternal
(more information about the cake and design)

Meanderings through my Cookbook http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Florentine Topping for Christmas Cake (December 2009)
(Amount generously covers a 23cm/9inch cake)

Florentine Topping is an alternative to the usual Christmas marzipan and white icing. Mixed red & green cherries, if available, would be a pretty alternative.  If you can get whole candied fruit to chop this is preferable to bought ready chopped peel in a tub. This recipe comes from the Tesco In Store Free Magazine, November-December 2009.

25g/1oz butter
2tbsp golden syrup
50g/2ozs flaked almonds
50g/2ozs roughly chopped walnuts
200g/7ozs halved red cherries
50g/2ozs chopped mixed peel
1tbsp plain flour

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180oC/160oC Fan oven/Gas 4

2. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a pan.

3. Stir in the almonds and walnuts.

4. Stir in the cherries and mixed peel.

5. Stir in the flour and mix thoroughly.

6. Place the cake on a baking tray and spoon over the Florentine Topping aiming for as even a layer as possible.

7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes. Gently lift onto a rack to cool and decorate with ribbon to serve.

8. Can be stored in a cake tin for up to two weeks.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Dundee Style Christmas Cake – December 2011
Walnut halves, pecan nut halves, blanched almonds, red and green glace cherries. Design by hopeeternal
More information about this cake

Dundee Cake (simplified topping using blanched almonds & cherries)
For a generous topping use 50-60 whole blanched almonds and 12-15 halved cherries.  Start with a ring of evenly spaced nuts around the edge of the uncooked cake mixture.  Within this place a ring of halved cherries.  Then a second ring of nuts and finally a small ring of cherries and a central cherry or nut if space permits.  Try to place the nuts and cherries without smearing the cake mixture on them for a clean looking finish.  The finish can be varied by adding other nuts, differently coloured cherries or changing the design from the usual formal concentric rings.

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Traditional Simnel Cake for Easter
A Simnel cake can be made with brandy or rum, as in the basic recipe above, or alternatively pre-soak the fruit in the juice of half a fresh orange.  Simnel Cakes were originally made for their mothers by working children as a gift for Mothering Sunday, the third Sunday in Lent, which falls three weeks before Easter.  Nowadays Simnel Cakes are mostly eaten at Easter.  See Afternoon Tea for Mothering Sunday for more information.

A Simnel Cake traditionally has 11 marzipan balls around the edge – one for each Disciple or Apostle of Jesus, except for Judas Iscariot!  Counting is not my strong point (!)  I miscounted and managed to add 12 balls instead of the usual 11.  A pity because I was very pleased with the cake.  Here it is …

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

First make the 11 small marzipan balls of around 2cm in diameter, before dividing the remaining marzipan in half.  Cut the cake horizontally through the centre into two equal pieces.  Roll one piece of marzipan into a circle.  Lightly spread the cut surface of the cake with apricot jam and place a rolled out circle of marzipan on top, putting any trimmings to one side.  Spread over a little more jam and cover with the second half of the cake. Roll a second circle from the remaining marzipan and place on the top of the cake. Trim to size and reserve the trimmings. The top can be marked in a lattice pattern, if required, using a light touch of a knife and the 11 marzipan balls are then placed equidistantly around the edge – a very little jam can be used to keep them in place.  Flash grill the top of the cake until the marzipan starts to bubble and slightly brown – take care as it burns quickly.  Any other decorations, such as sugar or foil covered chocolate eggs, fresh or sugar flowers or other items should be added when the surface is cold.

This version is decorated with a nest using the marzipan trimmings pushed through a clean garlic press to create strands.  When cool place a small pile of sugar covered chocolate eggs in the central nest.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

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Silver Wedding Anniversary Celebration Cake

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

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Prunes: love them or hate them?  Perhaps it is the humourous asides that accompany their mention – perhaps it’s memories of school dinners – I don’t know, after all, they are simply dried plums and if you like plums I cannot understand why you would not like prunes as well.  So, let’s hear it for the much maligned but versatile prune!  How do I eat them?  Well stewed, of course, hot or cold, which is the simplest way but I also put them in fruit cakes and even, in spite of my dislike of meat and fruit together, in a Moroccan style dish we love of chicken.  Now I have a new way…

I came across this recipe recently whilst leafing through one of my favourite chutney and pickle books The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles & Chutneys by David & Rose Mabey and is extremely simple.  The instructions say it goes well with ham and I plan to make sure it goes on the table at Christmas & New Year.  I tried a quarter quantity using inexpensive supermarket Value brand prunes and was able to almost fill two attractive tall jam jars, just having to add a few extra prunes (say 50g) for good measure to top up the jars.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Pickled Prunes
(Makes around 1½lb)

8-10ozs/250-300g no soak pitted (stoneless) prunes
2ozs/125g sugar (I used white)
1 small blade of mace – original used a pinch each of ground nutmeg & mace
12 black peppercorns
½pint/10fl ozs/300ml white malt vinegar
½tbsp brandy (optional)

(As I was using no soak prunes I omitted the step soaking them in water overnight until plump and juicy, before draining.)  However … 

1.  … if the prunes seem a little dry cover with boiling water.  Leave for 5-10 minutes to plump up before draining well. 

2.  Wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water  from the lids as possible before filling.

3.  Place the sugar,vinegar and spices in a small pan.  Boil for about 10 minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve and the flavours to permeate the vinegar.

4.  Pack the prunes into prepared jars, using extra prunes if necessary.

5.  Adding brandy is optional and if using it should be divided equally between the jars before adding the vinegar mixture.

6.  Place the peppercorns and mace blade in the jar (cut the blade into pieces if you have more than one jar) and finally pour the vinegar over the prunes.

7.  Put the lids on the jars and invert until cool, which helps with the seal.

8.  These prunes can be eaten immediately but are better kept a few weeks or even months.  They have a spicy slightly sharp flavour and are good eaten with cold ham.

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