Archive for the ‘British Traditional Style’ Category


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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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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)

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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.

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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.


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 …

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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.

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Silver Wedding Anniversary Celebration Cake

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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.

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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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My family love mince pies and I start making batches from early December.  I like the fruity, spiced flavour of mincemeat, but am not too keen of the slightly greasy aftertaste that comes from the melted suet which is part of the traditional recipe, even if vegetarian rather than beef suet is used.  A friend from years ago gave us her method of ‘improving’ a standard jar of shop bought mincemeat where extra amounts of favourite ingredients were added, including plenty of alcohol – I simply didn’t add any extra suet.  (See my post Last Minute Mincemeat for the ‘cheat’ recipe, plus my favourite recipe for Mince Pies and more information on their history –  and more of the pies we ate last year!)

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Then someone told me about Suet Free Mincement and ever since I have looked for a good recipe.  I’m glad to report that I have struck gold at last thanks to A Spoonful of Sugar, who found it in Nigella Lawson’s book How To Be A Domestic Goddess in a recipe created by Hettie Potter (who I gather is Nigella Lawson’s right hand woman).  If you like lots of apple flavour (very alcoholic apple flavour actually as it contains both cider and brandy) then this could be for you. It was easy to make and I will certainly be doing so again – why buy from the shop!   The mixture made four 1lb jars, which I hope is enough for the time being, though I think it may not last too long.  Perhaps next time I should make a double quantity or two panfuls at the same time. If you want to make the original version it can be found in Nigella’s book or at A Spoonful of Sugar – Hettie Potter’s Suet Free Mincemeat.   I took a few shortcuts, which I don’t think changed the flavour a great deal, substituting dried mixed fruit which of course, includes candied peel and zesting my lemon rather than cutting up the peel.  I am sure there could be other variations: my other recipe includes orange which may be a good alternative to the lemon. Cranberries would also be a good addition as would ginger (this would be especially popular with my ginger-loving husband).  I wonder too whether the apples and apple cider could be replaced with pears and pear cider, which is now becoming more widely available.  It would be interesting to hear comments added to this page by anyone who has adapted this or a similar recipe.  If I make any variations I will, of course, add them here.  I understand that this mincemeat keeps well and has been known to be good after a year – probably due to the high alcohol content.  Sadly if your cooking is an alcohol free zone then this recipe is not for you.

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Hettie Potter’s suet-free mincemeat
(Makes about 4lb/2kg)

250g soft dark brown sugar
250ml medium dry cider
1kg cooking apples, peeled, halved and quartered
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
500g dried mixed fruit
75g glace cherries, roughly chopped
75g blanched almonds,
zest & juice of ½ lemon
6 tablespoons brandy (alternatively rum)

1.  Place the cider and the sugar in a large saucepan and heat gently.

2.  Add the roughly chopped apples to the saucepan and stir well.

3.  Add the remaining ingredients, apart from brandy (or rum).  Simmer for around 30 minutes until the mixture is soft and pulpy.

4.  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.

5.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 5-10minutes.  Stir in the brandy (or rum) and transfer to 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.

6.  This mincemeat can be used immediately after cooking if you wish, but improves with age and keeps well.

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Welsh Rarebit is a traditional British dish.  It was recorded in an eighteenth century recipe book having been served as a supper or of snack food in taverns and alehouses. It is not clear why it has the name Welsh, which was  first recorded in 1725.  However it has been suggested that cheese was cheaper than the meat which the impoverished Welsh people of that time could not afford to eat.  Some traditional versions add a splash of Worcester Sauce, ale or mustard to the mixture as it is mixed for extra flavour.  Also a pinch of cayenne can be sprinkled on top.  I have a Welsh Recipe Tea Towel, which includes one for Welsh Rarebit (called Caws-Wedi-Pobi in the Welsh language).  The ingredients are 8ozs/225g cheese, 1tsp butter, 1tsp dry mustard, 2tsp Worcester Sauce and 2tsp flour mixed with 4tbsp milk or beer which are melted together in a saucepan before being spread onto 4 slices of toast and finished under the grill – a parsley garnish is suggested: so a much more complicated and highly flavoured version than mine below.  Buck Rarebit has a poached egg served on top. 

This is the way Welsh Rarebit is cooked by my mother but I think the recipe is a fairly standard one.  It is one of the simplest cooked lunch dishes I know and very popular with my family. In some ways it reminds me of a very simple version of Nigella Lawson’s Triple Cheese & Onion Strata, especially if I put a little more effort in when making it and add some fried onions, which make it delicious.  I have tried to give an idea of the quantities of ingredients, but mostly I do not weight what I use.  It is a good way to finish up the remains of a block of cheese and different types of cheese can be combined although it is usual to use hard rather than soft cheese.  Mostly a fairly strong cheddar or similar is recommended, but a milder flavour is fine if it is preferred.  A delicious addition is to spread the bread with some home made Tomato Relish or another relish or chutney – or even a scrape of Marmite (love it or hate it?) before grilling.  My family have been known to add a dollop of tomato sauce onto the finished rarebit, though I prefer it without.  However, the recipe given below is for my usual everyday version with no frills, apart from those I am likely to include. The mixture can be made a little in advance and stored in the fridge. It is usually eaten hot, but there is no reason why it could not be eaten cold.  Cheese on Toast is an even simpler version of this recipe and too simple to be a stand alone post.  It is quite literally cheese-on-toast: sliced (or grated) cheese, arranged on the untoasted side of a slice of bread and then gently grilled until golden and bubbling.

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 Welsh Rarebit
(Serves 4)

4 thick slices of bread (for toasting so 1 or 2 days old is fine)
2 eggs
8ozs/225g Cheddar or similar hard cheese, or a mixture of cheeses (aprox)
1 onion, finely chopped & fried (optional) or
1 tbsp tomato or other relish (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

1.  Break the eggs into a bowl and stir with a fork.

2.  Stir in the grated cheese.  Add the pre-fried onions at this point if using.  Season and mix together well.

3.  Toast the slices of bread on one side only.  If using relish, spread this over the untoasted side of the bread.

4.  Share the egg and cheese mixture equally between the four slices of bread, piling onto the untoasted side (on top of any relish if it has been spread on).  Gently spread over the slice but not quite to the edges as the mixture will melt and spread out slightly.  It can be gently spread more with a  knife while cooking if necessary.

5.  Sprinkle over the cayenne, if using.  Cook under a gentle grill until the mixture has melted and browned.  Do not cook too high or the crust will burn before the centre is cooked.

6.  Cut into half, or slices and serve with a small side salad while still hot.

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A fruit compote is a mixture of lightly baked or stewed fruit or fruits, usually combined with a sweetener and served either hot or cold as an accompaniment to ice cream, yoghurt, crème fraîche, soured cream, cold or hot rice pudding or similar.  It is also delicious served with a slice of egg custart tart or alongside a fairly plain dessert cake, with a little single cream poured over.  When on holiday cold fruit compote is usually available at breakast in French motels: cherry/raspberry or apple are both very popular and there is always yoghurt available to eat.  However Compote is a traditional English dessert dating from the 17th century, being whole or pieces of fruit in sugar syrup.  The syrup may also be flavoured: vanilla, lemon/orange peel, cinnamon, clove, ground almonds, grated coconut, candied fruit, or raisins are common additions.  Honey can be used as an alternative sweetener.  I have read and heard in several places recently the benefits of sweetening fruit with fructose (natural fruit sugar).  Apparently, using just a third of the quantity of normal sugar (sucrose) really enhances the flavour of fruit.  I have not tried this myself but it is certainly something to bear in mind and I have just bought a small packet.  I would be interested to hear of any readers experiences on using fructose in place of sucrose – I am not talking about aspartame, a sugar substitute which is banned in some countries. 

This idea was found at two sources, but is my own variation: a mixture of an idea from a recipe by Claire Macdonald on the UKTV site, Lemon Cream with Rhubarb & Orange Compote and a recent free recipe card, Super Sticky Rhubarb, found in Sainsbury’s supermarket.  Compote can be kept in a sealed box in the fridge for up to four days, so it is worth making a double quantity.  I have already added posts on this site for similar fruit mixtures: Marmalade & Ginger Baked Bananas and Lemony Baked Pears & Peaches.  Other variations will be added below.   These compote recipes can be used to make variations on the simple, creamy & delicious summer dessert Eton Mess.  Slightly strain the compote so that it is not too liquid and alternate spoonfuls of the compote with the cream mixture and meringue pieces, stirring very gently if needed and decorating with a few small pieces of whole fruits and meringue (see Eton Mess recipe for further details).  Any compote liquid not used can be combined with yoghurt to make a smoothie, slightly diluted to taste with water (or milk if the fruits used will not cause it to curdle) for a delicious quick drink or simply used to add sweetness to a fruit salad.  Rhubarb and Raspberry (see below) is very popular in our house and recently we have enjoyed this when mixed with rosewater or drizzled with a little rose syrup as well.  Pear Compote with Lemon, Honey and Ginger (for those who like it) may possibly be reminiscent of cough mixture to some and is definitely a warming winter mixture, but we enjoy it at any time of year.  For an extra treat, pour a small amount of a complementary alcoholic fruit liqueur over these compotes just before serving! 

Additional recipes below:
Rhubarb and Raspberry/Rosy Rhubarb & Raspberry
Pear Compote with Lemon, Honey and Ginger

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Rhubarb & Orange Compote
(Serves 4)

450g/1lb rhubarb, cut into 5cm/2inch chunks
100g/3½ozs demerara or light brown sugar
1 large orange, juice and zest

Oven method: 
1.  Preheat oven to 170oC/325oF/Gas 3

2.  Combine the ingredients in an ovenproof dish.

3.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the fruit is tender but still identifiable.

4.  Serve warm or cold.

Microwave method:
1.   Combine the ingredients in an microwave proof dish.

2.  Cook on a low heat, for 10-15minutes or until the fruit is tender but still identifiable.

3.  Serve warm or cold.

Stove Top/Hob method:
1.  Combine the ingredients in an saucepan.

2.  Bring to the boil and immediately turn down the heat.  Simmer very gently for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is tender but still identifiable.

3. Serve warm or cold.

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Rhubarb & Raspberry/
Rosy Rhubarb & Raspberry Compote

450g/1lb rhubarb, cut into
    5cm/2inch chunks
180g/6½ozs demerara or light brown
225g/8ozs fresh Raspberries – more if you
Rosewater/Rose syrup to taste (optional)

Gently stew the chunks of rhubarb in the sugar until soft but still holding its shape.  If using frozen raspberries add while still warm.  Fresh rasperries can be added when cold.  Chill in fridge until needed. Overstirring raspberries can make them break up.  

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Pear Compote with Lemon, Honey & (optional) Ginger

1-2 Conference Pears per person
1 lemon
1-2 tbsp runny honey
Small piece of root ginger (optional), grated
Peel pears and cut lengthwise into 8-12 long pieces depending on size of pear (or smaller chunks).  Place in a small saucepan.  Cut lemon into quarters.  Immediately squeeze juice over pears pieces before they go brown.  Add empty lemon shells to pan and stew with pear to add flavour.  Drizzle honey over fruit. Sprinkle over ginger if using.  Poach over low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until pears are soft.

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Not a very inspiring name for something so delicious, Eton Mess is said to have originated at Eton College, the famous public school near Windsor in Berkshire.  Traditionally, it is a combination of strawberries (also banana in the original version), cream, sugar and meringue and served each year at the picnic held on the Eton College playing fields following the annual 4 June prizegiving ceremony.  The derivation of the name is unclear: it could refer to the appearance of the dessert, but ‘mess’ is a word often connected with food, most notably army catering.  This comes from the word ‘mensa’: Latin for table.  Twice recently, while out for a pub lunch, I have had Eton Mess for dessert.  The first version was excellent but the second less good, the difference being the small size of the meringue pieces, which must be kept recognisable otherwise the dish can become a sickly mush. 

I decided it was high time I had a go at making Eton Mess myself.  I particularly liked the idea of adding another flavour when mascerating the fruit: various suggestions included Kirsch, a berry flavour liqueur or Cointreau (Jill Dupleix, Times online), Port (Antony Worrall Thompson, BBC) or Pomegranite juice (Nigella Lawson, Daily Mail – also book: Nigella Express).  As I had just bought a small bottle of Pomegranite Sauce/Syrup that I was itching to try out (ÖNCÜ brand Pomegranite Sauce, found in ASDA), this seemed the ideal opportunity.  I used this to mascerate the strawberries and raspberries (aproximately 450g strawberries and 150g raspberries), adding some sugar as well as the Pomegranite Sauce is quite tart in flavour.  It may be possible to use the sweeter French style Grenadine syrup, which is usually diluted with water as a fruit drink and available from continental supermarkets, but the sugar may need to be adjusted according to taste.  Some recipes use a mixture of yoghurt and cream, which helps to cut through the sweetness of the dessert.  We are very fond of crème fraîche, which is similarly although less sour than yoghurt, so I used a mixture of this and cream.  I was careful to leave the meringue in largish pieces as they break up a little more as the mixture is stirred together.  This dish can mostly be made in advance, although I would suggest that the components are combined shortly before serving.  A word about mixing Eton Mess: just because it is called ‘Mess’ it doesnt have to be too messy!  Aim for alternating spoonfuls, gently combined so the colours just start to mingle … it’s probably one of those cases where ‘less is more’!

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

Eton Mess
Serves 4

600g strawberries & raspberries, mixed – reserve a strawberry/berries to garnish
3-4 teaspoons sugar or vanilla sugar, if available
2 tbsp Pomegranate Sauce/Syrup
145ml/5fl ozs whipping cream
145ml/5fl ozs crème fraîche
6-8 meringues, depending on size or 4 small meringue nests

1.  Hull the strawberries and halve (quarter or slice if they are large). Place them in a bowl with the raspberries, rinse gently, drain well and dry on kitchen paper.  Add the sugar and pomegranate syrup.  Leave to macerate for at least 30minutes.  Reserve a large strawberry or one good sized strawberry per portion to decorate. 

2.  Whip the cream in a large bowl until it is thick but still soft.  Gently fold in the crème fraîche. 

3.  Crumble the meringues or meringue nests aiming for largeish pieces, although there will be a mixture of large and small, all of which can be included.  Gently fold most of the meringue pieces into the cream reserving a few pieces to decorate.

4.  For one serving dish: Using a large bowl, alternate spoonfuls of cream/meringue mixture and fruit.  The mixture needs very little mixing together so the cream and fruit do not combine too much. 

5.  For individual portions: Divide the cream/meringue mixture between dishes or plates, placing a spoonful of fruit mixture on top of each and if necessary fold gently together once or twice with a spoon.

6.    Depending on size, carefully cut the reserved strawberry/berries into 4-6 slices without cutting through to the green stalk, gently fan out and place on top of the bowl or individual dishes.  Scatter over the reserved meringue pieces.  To serve, drizzle over a little additional Pomegranite Syrup (optional).

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The word biscuit literally means twice cooked, taken from the Latin bis (twice) and coquere (to cook). It is this slight cooling followed by a second burst of heat that gives crispness to a biscuit, a method used by the recipe I use for Easter Biscuits.  Sure enough the resulting biscuits are light and crisp and very ‘moreish’: a crispy sugar topped treat for Easter.  These Easter Biscuits are similar to the round ‘fruit shortcakes’ that can be found in shops, sometimes called ‘squashed fly biscuits’ (although I know that this title can also be given to the long Garibaldi biscuits).  I am not sure why they should particularly be associated with Easter.  Easter Biscuits are said to have originated in the West Country of Britain where they were given as gifts on Easter Sunday, (though they are also claimed by Shropshire and probably other places as well).  They were often larger too, measuring up to 4 inches (10cm) across.  An article in the Times, which includes an alternative recipe (untried by me) suggests that the ‘tradition’ be moved to Easter Monday.  Not all recipes include the mixed spice with some Easter Biscuits including lemon zest, such as this Netmums recipe (also untried by me). I will definitely add zest next time, even though there is already mixed peel in the recipe. 

The recipe used below comes from The Women’s Institute Book of Biscuits which was published jointly with Mornflake Oats.  For these small biscuits I used a 2 inch (5cm) cutter: a metal one is good as it cuts through the pieces of fruit.  However, I like the idea of bigger biscuits and I will definitely be making them larger next time.

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

Easter Biscuits

(Makes about 3 dozen x 2inch biscuits)

175g/6ozs plain flour
75g/30zs butter
75g/3ozs caster sugar
50g/20zs currants
15g/½oz candied peel
Large pinch of mixed spice
1 egg yolk
Scant 2 fl ozs milk
1 egg white (or a little milk)
Caster sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 170oC Fan oven/180oC/350oF/Gas 4.  Grease 2 or 3 baking sheets.

2.  Cream the butter and the sugar together and beat until it is soft and fluffy.

3.  Add the egg yolk, spice, fruit and flour and mix together.

4.  Add just enough milk to make a stiff dough.  If the dough becomes sticky then add a little more flour but too much flour will make the biscuits a little hard and less rich.

5.  Roll the dough out thinly on a floured surface.  Cut rounds and place them fairly closely on the greased baking sheet:  they do not need too much room for expansion.

6.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  After 10 minutes remove the trays from the oven, brush the biscuits with egg white or a little milk and sprinkle with a little caster sugar.  Return them to the oven for the remaining time – remove when just starting to become golden.

7.  Remove from the trays and cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight box or tin.

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This recipe is based on the ‘Knock Up’ Fruit Cake basic recipe, with apricots, dates and brazil nuts taking the place of the dried mixed fruit.  This version would be good for a special occasion as it uses more expensive ingredients: I made it  when my mother came to tea with us on Mothering Sunday.For this cake the quantity of mixture was doubled, using five eggs and it was then divided between two equally sized tins.  I mixed the cake mixture the evening before it was baked the following lunchtime, covering and leaving it in the fridge overnight.  I had not tried doing this before but it did not affect the finished cake in any way.  I would definitely make this fruit cake in advance again if necessary.  The sugar topping was added just before the cake was baked.  In this case I was over generous with the sugar I had reserved, but the cake ended up with a lovely thick and crunchy sugared topping.

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

Apricot, Date & Brazil Nut Cake

Basic Recipe: Knock Up Fruit Cake without the dried mixed fruit, plus … 

4ozs/125g dried apricots, cut into 3
4ozs/125g pitted dates, cut into 3
2ozs/65g brazil nuts, chopped (large pieces)

Mix and bake the cake using the basic recipe instructions, replacing the mixed dried fruit at Step 5 with the apricots, dates and brazil nut pieces and sprinkle over reserved sugar for a crunchy topping.

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This is the fruit cake version of the Adaptable Sponge, given to my mother by a friend, Dorothy Spicer.   We have both been making it for many years and it can be different every time as the ingredients are varied.  If you use the ‘Knock Up’ Fruit Cake method to make a cake, then please consider sharing your version with me and others via the comments below – thank you. 

The basic recipe can be adapted by varying the dried fruits, replacing some or all of the mixed dried fruit with dried apricots/dates/figs/cranberries, glacé cherries, crystallised ginger, nuts or seeds.  Some of the the flour can be replaced with cocoa to give a chocolate fruit cake.  The mixed spice can be omitted or replaced with dried ginger or another flavouring.  The milk can be replaced with orange juice.  Orange zest can be added as well.  I usually double the quantities below, making either two small or one large cake and will take 2hrs – 2hrs 15mins in the oven.  For this doubled quantity I used 5 eggs.  Some links to adaptations of this basic method are listed after the recipe. 

100_4864 Knock up cake

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

Basic Recipe: ‘Knock Up’ Fruit Cake 

5ozs/140g soft margerine
2 or 3 eggs, depending on size
8ozs/250g self raising flour
2 fl ozs/60ml milk
5ozs/140g caster sugar – reserve 1-2tbsp for cake topping (optional)
10ozs/285g mixed dried fruit (replace some fruit with cherries – optional) 
1 level tsp/5mg mixed spice 

1.  Preheat oven 150oC/300oF/Gas 2  

2.  Grease and line a loaf tin. 

3.  Cream the margerine and sugar together until soft and fluffy. 

4.  Gradually add the eggs to the mixture a little at a time and one by one, mixing well each time some is added. 

5.  Put the mixed fruit into a bowl and add 2 or 3 tbsp flour.  Put the mixed fruit and flour mixture into the sieve and toss so the flour goes into the mixture and the fruit is coated with flour. (This will help stop the fruit from sinking.)  

6.  Sieve the remainder of the flour and the mixed spice into the cake mixture.  Gently fold the fruit and flour into the mixture as well. 

7.  Add the milk and gently mix in. 

8.  Spoon into the pre-lined tin and smooth the top.  Sprinkle over any reserved sugar to give a crunchy top. 

9.  Bake in the centre of the oven for about 2 hours, although check to see if it is cooked after 1hr 45minutes as it can become dry if overcooked.  A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake will come out clean if the cake is cooked. 

10.  Turn out and cool on a wire tray. 

Further uses and adaptations of this basic recipe:
(Please leave comments about the following recipes with the recipe at the link given rather than here – thanks!)

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

Apricot, Date & Brazil Nut Cake








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

Ginger Fruit Cake
(from 30.3.11)




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