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Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

Happy Easter 2012

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

Traditional Simnel Cake for Easter

See Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake for cake recipe and information on making a Simnel Cake.

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Happy Easter!

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

Traditional Simnel Cake for Easter

See Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake for cake recipe and information on making a Simnel Cake.

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  Simnel Cakes were originally made for their mothers by working children as a gift for Mothering Sunday, the third Sunday in Lent, which falls three weeks before Easter.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!

Read more……

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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 …

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

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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April ‘Meanderings’ …

Pictured (top to bottom)
North African Style Pickled Lemon & Lime
Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Oranges & Beetroot
Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad
Moroccan Style Plum Pudding

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

This month, after posting Chocolate Rice Krispie Cakes, which were an Easter treat, I have been adding dishes from North Africa and enjoying using the jolly striped Tagine I received for my birthday back in February.  Firstly, though, I added my personal spice mixture for Ras el-Hanout plus a simple recipe for preserved or Pickled Lemons (or alternatively lemons and limes).  These, along with the spice mixtures of Za’atar and Harissa are some of the distinctive flavours of North African food.  I posted several main course dishes: using chicken, lamb and beef.  I also included Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad our favourite recipe for couscous and finally a delicous dessert that is flavoured with rosewater, a fragrant and often used ingredient in the food of the region, particularly in sweet dishes.  Orange flower water is also commonly used in both sweet and savoury foods and was an ingredient in my Beef Stew Tagine (pictured right).  (See further down for a full list of dishes posted in April.)  There is one more North African dish (North African Style Fish Fillets) which will be posted during May when I will be adding fish recipes.

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I found a very helpful book in the library, Illustrated Food and Cooking of Africa and the Middle East: A Fascinating Journey Through the Rich and Diverse Cuisines of Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey and Lebanon by Josephine Bacon and Jenni Fleetwood.  There are so many attractive recipes and I was sure I would be making more.  In fact I loved this book so much I ordered my own copy!  It is a book I will enjoy leafing through, particularly for the excellent regional ingredient and cooking information at the front.

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

Easter is a busy time in our household, mostly centred around our church and its family as we celebrated Jesus’ death and Resurrection.  On Easter Monday it was good to take a break after the busyness of the previous week and to share dinner with our own family. For this meal and I cooked a Roast Beef dinner with all the trimmings (Yorkshire Puddings, Roast Potatoes and vegetables).  For dessert I made a recipe which I recently rediscovered when hunting through some recipe books: Delia Smith’s Lemon Surprise Pudding (remembering that this recipe is so delicious it always has to be doubled!)  Alongside I served some Sliced Caramel Oranges, which made a really refreshing accompaniment.

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On television I have just finished watching Sophie Dahl’s new cookery programme, The Delicious Miss Dahl. Sophie Dahl and her recipes were both attractive to watch, but I was not really sure about the format of the programme, which I found rather irritating.  I just wanted to see and learn about the food!  There were some lovely and not too difficult recipes, though, including: Arnold Bennett omelette, Peanut butter fudge, Rich chocolate pots with brandy-soaked cherries, Rhubarb and rosewater Eton mess (BBC site recipe no longer available), Toffee apple and pear crumble, Cardamom rice pudding with spiced plums, Borscht and Flourless chocolate cake.  The one recipe I have tried so far from the series is Lentil shepherd’s pie with champ, which I adapted very slightly and was much enjoyed.  I will post my version in due course.

April Recipes 

Chocolate Rice Krispie Nests

Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad
North African Style Pickled Lemon & Lime
Ras el-Hanout

Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Oranges & Beetroot
Moroccan Style Lamb & Rice Pilaf
Moroccan Style Lamb Stew with Pumpkin & Preserved Lemon
North African Spiced Baked Chicken with Pickled Lemon

Moroccan Style Plum Pudding

Meanderings Revisited (links to original post):
Fruit Curds
Prawn & Tomato Korma
Sausage & Courgette Pasta
Sliced Caramel Oranges

Read Meanderings ‘a la carte’ from previous months  

‘For what we are about to receive…’ May 2010 and beyond

Food Focus – Fish & Bananas, though not together in the same recipe!
Recipe Book(s) used:
…from my shelf
Taste of the Sea by Rick Stein & Fish for Today (John West) 
…from the Library – 200 Fab Fish Dishes: (Hamlyn) by Gee Charman
Non Fiction Food book (still reading) Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey

Coming up next month are some delicious and relatively uncomplicated fish recipes alternating with banana recipes.  These will be especially useful if you have a bunch on the dish that are a bit past their best and starting to brown.  I will also be dipping into some books of recipes from the Far East: Far Eastern Odyssey by Rick Stein and Far Eastern Floyd by Keith Floyd, being just two.

Also this month I am off to Paris for a few days.  This is not my first visit, so it will be a chance to visit some places not previously explored: we are particularly interested in seeing the Marais area, Pere Lachaise Cemetary (better than it sounds!) and Parc des Buttes Chaumont.  Apart from sampling the food I am especially looking forward to a visit to the Musée d’Orsay, the major art gallery housing Impressionist paintings. Wonderful! We always look forward to visits to France, home of wine, cheese, patisserie and lots of other good things beside!

Happy Cooking & Eating!

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On Good Friday we make Hot Cross Buns to remember Jesus’ death on a cross and it therefore seems appropriate to mark Easter Sunday and beyond with the symbolic use of eggs to represent the resurrection and the new life that Jesus brings.  I bought some little pastel coloured sugar coated eggs to decorate my Simnel Cake in a ‘take a bag and scoop and do-it-yourself’ shop.  Then, on a whim, I bought a few more: I, or perhaps my daughter, could make some little chocolate cereal nests.  Most people with children are likely to have had these brought home from school and may even have made them in a family home cooking session.  However I realised that the last time I made them it was with a special kit that came with a packet of Rice Krispies so I did not really have a recipe.  Searching online was simple and there seem to be two methods.  One includes butter/margerine and golden syrup.  The quick and simple method, the one I have chosen, is just melted chocolate and cereal, with the optional  of adding extra ingredients such as coconut, raisins or cherries.  Cornflakes can be substituted for Rice Krispies as can, I understand, Shredded Wheat: I have not tasted this last, though it could look rather like the twigs in a nest.

An internet search led me to the Netmums site and a recipe called Chocolate Crispies.  There are two or three other simple recipes (including one for Banana Flapjack, which is a good way of using a glut of ripe bananas).  We included some sultanas for good measure, finishing with sugar eggs – a hen and chicks were also added as Easter decoration.  The original recipe is for a larger amount of chocolate but we scaled it down for the one bar of chocolate that I had bought and found 24 nests to be ample (I was more generous with the raisins than the original). There is also a suggestion that cornflakes or other cereal could be used if you don’t have rice crispies and that the nests could be served with chopped bananas.

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

Chocolate Rice Krispie Nests
(Makes  24)

150g/5ozs chocolate (I used dark: Green & Blacks Fairtrade 72% Chocolate for Cooks)
80g/3ozs Rice Krispies
50g raisins
Mini eggs: sugar coated, foil coated or jelly type – 1 per cake
Alternative extra ingredients: coconut, glace cherries, dried cranberries, chopped nuts – amount may be more or less than 50g depending on personal preference.)

1.  Gently melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of water on a low heat. (Alternatively use a bowl and quick bursts of heat in the microwave.)

2.  Put in the rice crispies and raisins (or alternative extra ingredient if you have chosen one) and stir until well covered with chocolate.

3.  Place individual paper cases into small tart or muffin tins and put spoonfuls of the mixture into these. 

4.  Place 1 or 2 mini eggs on top while still the chocolate is still soft (number depends on size of eggs/nests and personal choice). Leave to cool and set – can be put in the fridge for a short time.

5.  Lovely for tea-time on Easter day decorated with a small edible egg, or at any time of the year replacing the sugar egg with half a glace cherry.  At Christmas a piece of cherry and two pieces of green angelica give the seasonal look of holly.

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March ’Meanderings’ …

Pictured (top to bottom)
‘Oxford’ (& ‘Cambridge’) Style Seville Marmalades
Fragrant Marmalade Cake
Easter Biscuits
Bran Brack – Irish Tea Bread

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The first of March dawned bright and sunny and spring is most definitely in the air with a row of daffodils now making a lovely yellow splash in the garden.  The scents of Spring are starting to be on the air.  Floral fragranced food has appeared this month, with orange flower water added to both cake mixture and icing and also rosewater infusing desserts.  Lavender is also commonly used as a culinary flavouring, with Lavender sugar being easy to make by simply putting a few stems in a jar of sugar and leaving it to absorb the scent.  Lavender is also sometimes used in Herbes de Provence, a fragrant herb mixture from the south of France.  All of these scents can also be used in ice creams and as the summer goes on I shall be getting out the ice cream maker again in order to try them.  I have also been researching another bottled fragrance I have seen in shops: Kewra water (from the Pandanus flower), but have yet to buy a some.  I’d like to have a recipe or two to use first: if you have a one to share, please do get in touch via the comments box below. 

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

So what have I been up to in the kitchen this month?  I started with a marmalade making session, having found some Seville oranges on the market.  These have such a short season and can be found for just a few short weeks from late January to late February. I made what I have called ‘Oxford’ (& ‘Cambridge’) Style Seville Marmalades.  I had been planning to post some cake recipes, so started with some citrus ones: Fragrant Marmalade Cake and Lemon Drizzle Bread, followed by a Fragrant Chocolate Orange Marble Cake using the versatile basic recipe for The Adaptable Sponge.  I then moved on to some of our favourite family fruit cakes: Bran Brack – Irish Tea Bread and a much used family recipe called ‘Knock Up’ Fruit Cake, which can be easily adapted with a variety of ingredients: I separately posted a Apricot, Date & Brazil Nut Cake version of this cake where I doubled the quantity to make two cakes, one of which was for Mothering Sunday teatime.  Finally there is Gingerbread Cake, which I first learned to make at school but has stood the test of time and Nigel Slater’s unusual but delicious Beetroot Seed Cake.

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Easter this year falls at the very start of April so at the end of March and in Holy week I shall make my usual pre-Easter food preparations.  The Simnel Cake is looking lovely – I use the family Special Occasion Cake recipe handed down from my Nanna: my father’s mother.  There will be Spicy Hot Cross Buns, of course, using the same Nigella Lawson recipe as last year, with Cardamom giving a lovely fragrance.  I shall also be making Easter Biscuits and am hoping my daughter will help me make some Chocolate Rice Krispie Nests using the extra sugar coated eggs I have bought.

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

March is a busy month for celebrating.  We have birthdays, a wedding anniversary and usually Mothering Sunday as well: all these dates usually falling within a few days of each other.  I love feeding friends and family to celebrate special occasions and was delighted to give mum a special birthday meal.   We ate Duck Stewed in a Vietnamese Style Spiced Orange Sauce, which was flavoured with Star Anise, a recipe from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey that I had seen him make on TV in Saturday Kitchen.  I had previously made a chicken version and knew that it was delicious as well as slightly unusual.  (Mum likes trying new things.)  This was served with some Thai Jasmine Rice and some simply stir fried vegetables. Dessert was Cherry & Rosewater Pavlova Meringue Roulade, from a recipe by Rachel Allen.  I will definitely be making these again, I made some simple stir fried veggies, but I need to experiment to find a good Thai vegetable recipe.  

Recently, I have started to post only two rather than three recipes each week, due to time commitments.  However, to keep to the spirit of three posts a week, I have started adding Meanderings Revisited, a brief midweek post linking to a favourite recipe from my archive.  

Finally, on 1 April I will have been Meandering through my Cookbook for one year, my 1st cookbook ‘Blogiversary’.  I am amazed at how many posts there have been and the variety of material I have covered.   Here’s to my second year: I have lots of lovely recipes waiting to be shared, so watch this space! 

March Recipes …

Basic Recipe: ‘Knock Up’ Fruit Cake
Basic Recipe: The Adaptable Sponge

Apricot, Date & Brazil Nut Cake
Beetroot Seed Cake
Bran Brack – Irish Tea Bread
Fragrant Chocolate Orange Marble Cake
Fragrant Marmalade Cake
Gingerbread Cake
Sylvia’s Lemon Drizzle Bread

Easter Biscuits

‘Oxford’ (& ‘Cambridge’) Style Seville Marmalades

Meanderings Revisited (links to original post):
Creamy Pasta with Bacon & Butternut Squash
Simple Cheese & Tomato Topped Baked Fish
Spicy Hot Cross Buns
Spicy Chicken with Chickpea Couscous 

Read Meanderings ‘a la carte’ from previous months 

‘For what we are about to receive…’ April 2010 and beyond

Food Focus – North African style food: Tagine meals, accompaniments & desserts using North African Spices (Harissa, Ras el-Hanout) & Rosewater
Recipe Book(s)
…from my shelf
Tagine: Spicy Stews from Morocco by Ghillie Basan
…from the Library
– Food & Cooking of Africa & the Middle East by Josephine Bacon &  Jenni Fleetwood
Non Fiction Food book (still reading) Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey 

There will continue to be a taste of Easter in the recipes posted at the start of April.  Mostly, however during April, I will be posting some of the North African style recipes I have tried in the past few weeks, especially recipes to go with or using the Tagine I received for my birthday in February.  I have been learning about the spice mixture Ras el-Hanout, which I have mixed myself and have also used Rosewater as a flavouring in several dishes.  The Rosewater proved to be a revelation – fragrant and delicious, I am definitely hooked! 

Thinking further ahead, as the evenings get lighter I hope that the food will get lighter too (and possibly my waistline too!)  A chance, perhaps, to get back to simpler foods with more salads.  

Wishing you a very Happy Easter and…
…Happy Eating!

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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.

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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
Glaze:
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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Marzipan is an ancient sweetmeat.  One of its major uses is as a layer under icing on a rich fruit Christmas cake and also at Easter as the top layer of a Simnel Cake.  It is also used in Stollen, a rich and fruity yeast bread eaten at Christmas, mainly in Germanic and Scandinavian countries.  It can also be shaped and beautifully painted as miniature fruits and as the filling for chocolates, either plain or flavoured.   I like to add small marzipan stars on top of Mince Pies over the Christmas period.  I know it is easy to buy Marzipan in packets from the supermarket, but it is so easy to make – plus, of course, you know exactly what ingredients you have used so there are no strangely named additives.  If you want a yellow marzipan then carefully add a few drops of yellow food colouring until the required shade is achieved, but be careful not to over knead the mixture or it will become oily.  

I have several Marzipan recipes, but used the one from Leith’s Cookery Bible: Completely Revised & Updated Edition by Prue Leith & Caroline Waldegrave.  The original used vanilla essence but I substituted almond essence as suggested in several other recipes, which seemed more sensible.  I do not make the full quantity: half for covering a Christmas/Simnel cake or a quarter (with half an egg) to fill a Stollen, leaving just a little over to cut out for the star topped mince pies.  Providing it is well wrapped, the marzipan keeps well in the fridge for at least two weeks.

The recipe includes raw egg and may not be suitable for certain vulnerable groups of people.  I expect there are egg free versions available.  Delia Smith has a version using cooked eggs on her website, but I have not tried it.

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

Marzipan (Almond Paste)

225g/8ozs caster sugar
225g/8ozs icing sugar
450g/1lb ground almonds
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
2tsp lemon juice
6 drops vanilla or almond essence

1.  Sift the sugars together in a bowl and stir in the ground almonds

2.  In a separate bowl mix together the eggs, lemon juice and essence.

3.  Add to the sugar & almond mixture and mix together with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to overmix as it will become over oily. If it is a bit sticky then add some more almonds and/or icing sugar

4.  Wrap well and store in a cool paste.  As it contains egg it should be used within a few days.

5.  When rolling out this should be done on a dusting of icing sugar to stop the marzipan adhering to the surface or rolling pin.

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Ham is a traditional meat for the Christmas table, alongside the usual turkey.  We particularly enjoy them together at tea time as cold cuts with salad, pickles and chutneys. Cooking the ham completely or partially in ginger ale, rather than conventionally in water, gives a lovely sweet flavour which penetrates the whole joint of meat. Adding a glaze followed by a quick second cooking adds a further gingery spicy/sweet outer crust. I have served gammon in this way at a special Sunday lunch for family, accompanied by vegetables or ratatouille. It is very easy to make as the joint can be cooked the night before for a Sunday lunch and covered in the marinade for an hour or so before the short final cooking. I substituted canned ginger beer for the ginger ale of the original recipe (I used Old Jamaica brand, but any can be substituted.) The original recipe was for a large (12lb) joint of meat which was cooked in 7 litres (12 pints) of ginger ale, which at 1 pint per lb seemed rather a lot. For a very small ham joint of about 2lbs I used just one can, which still gave a good flavour but probably two, or at most three, cans would be ample for a larger joint. I am sure it does not matter if the ham is cooked in a mixture of ginger ale and a little water. It is important that the joint is pre-soaked to remove some of the salt used in the curing process.  The original recipe uses Ginger Marmalade: the combination of Orange Marmalade and ground ginger that I use was suggested as an alternative.

This recipe originally came from Nigella Lawson’s Christmas 2008 television programme, from her book Nigella Express. I scribbled the details, which were simple, on some scrap paper but was glad to find Nigella’s recipe for Ginger Glazed Ham online as well. The quantities given below are my adaptations of the original which have worked well for me. 

For a plain boiled ham, without using ginger beer, use all water plus 6-8 black peppercorns and a small bay leaf.

100_7739 Honey Glazed Ham

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

Gingered Glazed Ham
(Serves 4-6)

1.5-2kg/3-4lb joint unsmoked boneless ham (as little rind as possible)
2 x 330ml cans of ginger beer (original recipe uses dry ginger ale)
A little water if needed (optional)

For glaze:
125g/4ozs orange marmalade
½tsp ground ginger
1 tablespoon hot English mustard (or ½tbsp mustard powder)
50g/2ozs soft dark brown sugar
¼tsp ground cloves

Slow Cooker method:
1. Place unwrapped gammon piece in a heatproof blow and pour over boiling water.  Pre-heat the slow cooker on high for 30minutes. 

2.  Remove gammon from bowl and throw away water.  Place gammon in slow cooker, cover with ginger beer (one can may be enough) and top up with boiling water.  Turn cooker to low and leave to cook: up to 2lb (up to 1kg) ham for 4-hrs, 3-4lb (1.5-2kg) for 5-6hrs.

To finish ham, continue from stage 3 below…

Stove top method:
1. Place the joint a good sized pan and cover with boiling water. Depending on size, leave it to soak for at least 20 minutes but longer if you wish a to remove more salt. If you are short of time, make sure you remove the most salty juices by pouring over the boiling water and leave for at least five minutes. Strain away the salty water.

2. Return the joint to the pan and pour over the ginger beer, topping it up with water so the liquid comes about half way up the pan and a good portion of the ham is covered. Bring the pan to the boil and then lower the heat slightly simmer for 1½hours.

3. Mix together the glaze ingredients a bowl.

4. Towards the end of the cooking time pre-heat the oven to 220oC/425o, unless you are going to finish the joint from cold (see 6 below).

Same day finish:
5. Gently lift the ham out of the pan and place on a foil-lined baking tray. Carefully remove any skin, leaving a thin layer of fat. There is no need to score the surface, just cover liberally with the glaze and place the tray with the ham into the hot oven for 20 minutes.

Next day finish:
6.  Leave the joint to cool and finish the procedure the next day. Cover with the glaze at least 1hour before cooking as the flavours will take longer to penetrate the cold meat. Pre-heat the oven to 220oC/425oF and place the tray with the ham into the hot oven for 20 minutes.

7. The sugars  in the glaze will blacken a little while cooking but be careful not to overcook the joint at this stage. 

8.  Serve hot or cold.  Any meat juices from the oven cooking plus a little of the liquid from the stovetop cooking can be thickened with a little cornflour to make a gingery sauce, although taste it well as adding too much cooking liquid could make it salty.

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I have long felt it is sad that we can buy Hot Cross Buns, with their crosses on, throughout the year. I’d be happy just to have ‘Not Cross’ Buns for most of the year, just putting the crosses on from Good Friday until the end of the Easter season at Pentecost (fifty-two days later) to mark their special seasonal significance. (This year the Dean of St Albans has been saying much the same with an article about reclaiming the Hot Cross Bun in the press.)  Hot Cross Buns are especially good when eaten still warm for breakfast or tea on Good Friday, with or without butter. However, made without the crosses, why restrict them to the Easter season as they can be enjoyed at breakfast or tea at any time of the year!

I love home made Hot Cross Buns and try to make some every year. I have tried different recipes but have never felt I have found that ‘extra special’ one – until, that is, this year. Radio Times this week has a recipe feature including Nigella Lawson’s Spicy Hot Cross Buns from her book Feast: Food that Celebrates Life. Finally a recipe to remember – I will most definitely be making these in future years. Interestingly, Nigella uses Cardamom seeds, one of the ingredients used in the buns mentioned in the St Alban’s article where they are given their ancient name ‘grains of paradise’ – appropriately, in my opinion, as I love them!

100_2509 Spicy Hot Cross Buns

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

Spicy Hot Cross Buns
(Makes 16)

For the dough:
175ml/6fl ozs milk
50g/2ozs butter
Zest of 1 orange
1 clove
2 cardamom pods
400g/14oz strong white bread flour
1tbsp castor sugar
7g (1packet) easy-blend yeast
100g/4ozs mixed dried fruit
1tsp ground cinnamon
½tsp ground nutmeg
¼tsp ground ginger
1 egg
1 egg beaten with a little milk to make an egg wash
For the crosses:
3tbsp plain flour
½tbsp caster sugar
2tbsp water
For the sugar glaze:
1tbsp caster sugar, dissolved in
1 tbsp boiling water

1.  Heat milk, butter, zest, clove and lightly crushed cardomom pods in a saucepan until the butter melts and leave to infuse.

2.  Measure the flour, sugar, yeast and dried fruit into a bowl and add the spices.

3.  When the infused milk reaches blood temperature, take out the clove and cardamom pods and beat in the egg.

4.  Pour the liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix together.

5.  Knead dough well. If it is too dry then add a little more warm milk. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic – takes about 10minutes. The dried fruit will keep escaping, but just push it back into the ball. Form dough into a ball, place in a bowl, cover and leave to rise. This can be either overnight in the fridge (the slower the rise the better), at room temperature. If in a hurry I use the airing cupboard, which takes at least 1 hour. (The risen dough should be doubled in size.)

6.  Heat oven to 220oC/Fan Oven 200oF/Gas 7.

7.  Punch the dough down and knead again until elastic. Divide into 16 smooth round buns. (16 means you can just keep halving the mixture.) Place on lightly greased and floured baking sheets, leaving a space between each so it they can rise. Score each with a cross using the back of a knife. Cover with tea towels and leave to rise until doubled again with buns almost joined up on the trays.  (Once more I use the airing cupboard, but this can be done at room temperature.)

8.  Brush the risen buns with egg wash and then carefully spoon/drip flour mix into the scored cross marks. Bake at the top/middle of the oven for 14-16minutes.

9.  When the hot buns come out of the oven, brush immediately with the sugar/water glaze to make them sweet, sticky and shiny. Cool on a wire tray.

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