Monday, 26 November 2012

Christmas Cake

Snow scene Christmas Cake



Rather late this year, but at the weekend I finally got around to baking my Christmas Cake.  I love making Christmas Cake – mixing up the fruit and alcohol every day for a week as the fruit soaks up the liquid and becomes plump and juicy; the smell of the cake wafting through the house as it cooks; deciding how to decorate it this year …

This is a recipe adapted from one I found highly recommended on a forum – I used it last year and the cake was delicious! This is my version though – I add lots of different dried fruit rather than just the mixed fruit and add spices and zest to the fruit while soaking. I’m afraid that my measurements for soaking the fruit aren’t very precise – I tend to just chuck in a bit of whatever I find in the cupboard! This year, I mixed in sloe gin, cherry brandy, brandy and amaretto, plus a good slosh of orange juice! I soak the fruit for a week – stirring at least once in the morning and once at night – and adding more alcohol if it looks at all dry.  This year, I miscalculated and did three times the quantity of fruit in the recipe, rather than the double quantity that I need for my 9” square tin – so at the moment I have lots of leftover juicy fruit – although I have plans for it (if I can stop eating it!). 

I doubled the quantity of cake mix (and actually had to use 200g of light brown sugar rather than all dark brown sugar) and this made plenty to fill my 9” square tin and the leftover made 8 fairy cakes. When making the cake mix, make sure that you beat the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, and again beat it lots after the addition of each egg. Don’t worry if it splits slightly after adding the eggs – it will be fine again when you have stirred in the flour. 

This year, I bought Magi Cake Strips and used them to wrap the baking tin rather than corrugated card. They worked brilliantly – the edges of the cake were not over-cooked at all (even after 6 hours of cooking!) and the cake was perfectly level – can’t wait to try them on a normal sponge cake.

So the cake is now cooked and wrapped – I’ll be unwrapping it and feeding it once or twice a week until the week before Christmas. I'm then planning to cut this large cake into 4 small square cakes before marzipanning and icing them. I'll do another post at that point! 

Christmas Cake

Ingredients
To soak the fruit:

Christmas cake before marzipan and icing
  1. 650g mixed dried fruit
  2. 50g dried cranberries
  3. 50g dried sour cherries
  4. 50g dried blueberries
  5. 100g chopped mixed peel
  6. 150 g glace cherries halved
  7. (100 g blanched almonds – chopped – optional)
  8. 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  9. ½ tsp cinnamon
  10. ½ tsp ginger
  11. ½ tsp nutmeg
  12. Grated zest of an orange
  13. Significant quantities of alcohol – eg sloe gin, cherry brandy, brandy, amaretto
  14. Orange juice


For the cake mixture:

  1. 225g plain flour
  2. 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  3. ½ tsp salt
  4. 200g butter
  5. 200g dark brown sugar
  6. 2 tblsp spoons black treacle
  7. ½ tsp vanilla essence
  8. 4 standard eggs lightly beaten

(2 x ingredients will make a 9” square cake; 3 x these ingredients will make one 12” square cake)

Method
In advance of making the cake (I do this a week in advance but a couple of days would be fine):

  1. Place all dried fruit in a large bowl and scatter over the spices and the orange zest.
  2. Pour over alcohol and orange juice so that it covers about a quarter of the fruit.
  3. Stir to ensure that all the fruit is covered.
  4. Stir a couple of times a day and add extra alcohol/orange juice to ensure that fruit plumps up.

  1. Grease 20cm 8” round or an 18cm 7” square cake tine and line the base and sides with double layer of greaseproof paper.
  2. Wrap a band of corrugated card around the outside of the tin.
    Pre-heat oven to 150C, 300F, Gas Mark 2
    Sieve together the flour, salt and mixed spice.
  3. Cream the butter, sugar, treacle and vanilla essence together until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last amount.
  5. Fold in the remaining flour, then all the fruit and almonds.
  6. Turn into the prepared cake tin and make a slight hollow in the centre.
  7. Bake in a cool oven for 3-4 hours (6 hours for a 9” square cake), testing after 3 hours by inserting a skewer into the centre; when it comes out clean the cake is cooked. You may need to put foil across the top of the cake after a few hours of baking – to stop it singeing on top before the centre cooks.
  8. Remove from oven and leave in tin until cold.
  9. Use a skewer to make a few holes in the top of the cake and pour alcohol of choice over the cake while it is still warm.
  10. Wrap cake in baking parchment and then foil and store.


Once a week, take cake out of wrappings, and “feed” the cake with more alcohol, before wrapping and storing again. 


Here's two that I decorated last year:  

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Amaretti biscuits

It’s very nearly December, so time to start practising a few recipes that I like to do for little Christmas presents for friends and family. I’m meeting up with some friends tomorrow so I decided to have a go at one of my easiest Christmas recipes – amaretti biscuits. This is a Gino D’Acampo recipe taken from the BBC website – the only changes that I have made is that I roll the biscuits rather than spooning them onto the trays; I use parchment rather than greaseproof paper (and so don’t need to butter the paper) and I make them much smaller than suggested. The original recipe suggested that it made 20 biscuits – I make about 70! I also find that they tend to take longer to bake than suggested (although this could be my oven) – I suggest turning the trays after about 12 minutes so that they bake evenly and leaving them in until they are golden brown all over.

These taste great but I'm still not completely convinced about this recipe - they don't rise or crack across the top in the way I would expect - and they are a bit chewier rather than crisp. Not sure if this is down to the way that I mix in the sugar and almonds - maybe I knock out too much of the air - I'm not sure. May give another recipe a go at some point soon.  


Amaretti biscuits



Ingredients

  1. 340g/12oz ground almonds
  2. 340g/12oz caster sugar
  3. 4 eggs, whites only
  4. 30ml/1fl oz amaretto liquor

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.
  2. Line two tins with baking parchment.
  3. In a large bowl beat the egg whites until firm.
  4. Mix the sugar and the almonds gently into it.
  5. Add the amaretto liquor and fold in gently until you have a smooth paste.
  6. Roll small balls of the paste and place on the baking trays – leaving at least 2cm between each as they will expand, whilst cooking.
  7. Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown.
  8. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes and then remove from baking trays and cool on a wire rack.

12 fab finds for Christmas baking / Christmas gifts for bakers



Christmas is rapidly approaching and so it is definitely time for a scout around the online shops to see what I need for festive baking this year.  I’m more than a little addicted to baking equipment – it’s gradually taking over the whole kitchen! I also have a separate box of Christmas baking equipment that comes down from the loft at this time of year, but there’s always room for a few more things! Here are some of the bits and bobs that I’ve found this year: 


   


Love these! They come in a nice solid box and would be a nice gift for a keen baker. I’m going to be using them for Christmas cookies and for cutting out fondant to decorate my Christmas cakes.











I love plunger cutters – I have quite a collection of these already but could resist adding this set! I would definitely recommend getting sets of these on Amazon or Ebay – they’re quite expensive in Hobbycraft / Lakeland etc but can be bought relatively cheaply if you get them as a set online. 





Ok – slightly cheating as I have had these a couple of years, but I love them and would highly recommend! They can be used to make beautiful and intricate cookies, or to cut fondant icing to make great decorations for cakes.


You can buy this spray in lots of places and it is great fun to add a sparkly gold finish to cakes and cookies.

 

There are loads of cupcake cases out there but I really rate the Culpitt range – they are much better quality than most and keep their colour and shape better than many others.














 
I’ve never used these and so I have no idea what they are like to use but I really like the look of them. Let me know what they’re like to use if you get some!
 


These aren’t actually designed for cake decorating but they work brilliantly. I haven’t got this set (although I am very tempted …) but I have used embossing plates with fondant before: it works brilliantly and gives very professional looking results.


Again, you can pick this up in lots of different places and in lots and lots of colours. I love this simple white glitter for adding a fab sparkly touch to snowy cakes.











 


This features on my Christmas list this year, but I’m very tempted to buy it myself beforehand! It is oven- and freezer-proof and can be used to make gingerbread or chocolate houses.










Not specifically designed for baking, so these aren’t “food-quality” but I’m hoping that these are a good size for filling with Christmas biscuits as gifts for friends and family.
 
I bought these at gone 11.00 on Thursday evening and they had arrived by this morning (Saturday) – so I’m really impressed.  As the seller states, these are much nicer than they look in the picture. Great for packaging baked goods as presents!  














Lakeland Christmas macaroon boxes

 
Not sure if I'm planning to make any macaroons for Christmas this year, but if I do, I'll be very tempted to buy these boxes - they're a little expensive but very cute!










Monday, 19 November 2012

Banana Cake




I had a couple of over-ripe bananas hanging round in the kitchen so I decided to have a go at a banana bread/cake today. After a quick search on the internet, I found a couple of recommendations for this recipe. It looked nice and easy and I had all the necessary ingredients so I decided to give it a go. Mid-way through the bake, I realised that my loaf tin was too small, so I decided to just bung it in a round cake tin and hope for the best! It turned out just fine – cooking in about the same time as suggested for the loaf tin.

The original recipe does not include the fudge chunks – I had these in the cupboard and decided to throw them in rather than the walnuts – I figured it would give quite a nice banoffee flavour. The golden syrup also isn’t in the original recipe but was suggested in one of the comments below, and so I decided to give that a go too.

When the cake came out of the oven, it looked quite domed in the middle, but it settled down to a nice flat top. Some of the banana did sink a little to the bottom – I think I should have mashed it a little smaller - but overall, the flavour of this cake was fantastic and it was a nice moist cake.

Ingredients

  1. 115g butter
  2. 170g caster sugar
  3. 225g self-raising flour
  4. 2 eggs
  5. 2 tblsp golden syrup
  6. 115g chopped walnuts (optional)
  7. 85g mini fudge chunks (optional)
  8. 2 large/3 medium bananas

Method

  1. Heat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin / 20cm deep round cake tin.
  2. Mash the bananas in a bowl and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Mix in the bananas and the walnuts/fudge chunks if using.
  6. Stir in the sifted flour.
  7. Stir in the golden syrup.
  8. Pour your mixture into the tin and pop it in the oven.
  9. Bake the loaf for 40 minutes and then lower the oven temperature to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and bake for a further 30 minutes.
  10. When cooked, the cake should spring back when touched lightly.
  11. Once cooked, remove from oven and place the tin on a wire rack.
  12. Leave to cool for 15 minutes and then remove from tin and place on wire rack to cool completely.