Category Archives: Christmas

Gingernuts

Gingernuts are not anything I’d really buy in the supermarket but, home made, they are not only delicious, but also super-easy.

This year I decided that, each and every month I would make a positive, healthy change.

This is because I have slid into rather bad habits since late 2016, which was a traumatic year for me. So January was all about giving up NOTHING but instilling an exercise routine – which I have done. And February we are giving up all shop bought cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate etc. (aside from high days and holidays, because my children adore the loathsome Fox’s Party Rings for a birthday..).

But home made we can still have. I’m not ready for any sort of deprivation just yet.

I made these a few weeks ago, for a friend who loves ginger. The original recipe is Delia and I’ve adapted it slightly.  The original is from Delia’s Complete Cookery Course which is from 40 years ago and the original recipe calls for margarine. Delia’s more recent incarnations changed it to butter.

You need

110g self raising flour

Two level teaspoons of ground ginger

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

40g granulated sugar

50g butter, from the fridge, sliced into little pieces

50g golden syrup

1 piece of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped (you could also use the syrup in part exchange for the golden syrup)

This is what you do

Heat the oven to 190C.

Put the flour, ginger, bicarb and sugar into a bowl and mix around. Add the butter and rub between fingers to make like fine breadcrumbs. Now add the chopped stem ginger and the golden syrup. Mix together lightly to form a dough.

Break off little pieces (my mixture made about 12), roll gently between your palms, put on a baking parchment lined tray, flatten with a fork or your hand.

Bake for a scant seven minutes. Delia says 10-15 mins and I’m not sure what would have been going on in her oven back in the day, mine are over cooked at eight minutes so watch them carefully. In 15 minutes these would be incinerated.

Take out, cool, eat, yum.

Enriched bread dough with nuts and dried fruit (bread machine)

After I made enriched dough chocolate chip rolls, I thought I’d try making something similar, but stuffed with nuts and dried fruit instead. My mum especially, likes bread like this. She gets something from M&S that is stuffed with nuts and fruit.

I doubled the recipe used before and added 160g of mixed dried fruits and nuts of your choice. The bread was lovely, really soft, tasty and would be lovely with cheese or just eaten with a thick spread of butter. I made two loaves this morning and one is almost already all gone (the other, on its way to my Mamma).

This is what I did:

One teaspoon of dried yeast (I use Dove’s Farm)

500g strong white bread flour (you could make this a teeny bit more healthy by using 400g strong white/100g of strong wholemeal)

Two teaspoons of caster sugar

50g butter, chopped and added in

Two tablespoons of milk

One teaspoon of salt

Two eggs

175ml water

(for later: 160g of dried fruit and nut mix, I used 40g each of walnuts, hazelnuts, cranberries and chopped dates)

Put everything, bar the fruit and nuts, into the bread machine and set to a dough cycle (mine lasts 2hrs 20mins). When done, take out and put in a bowl and mix in the fruit and nuts. Leave for ten minutes.

On an oiled surface, tip out and knead lightly to make sure everything is incorporated. Leave for ten minutes. Then cut in half and shape into a baton shape (or a round, which ever you prefer). Place both on a baking parchment lined tray and prove overnight in the fridge (cover with a clean dishcloth).

In the morning bake for 15mins at 220C, then turn down oven to 180C and turn the loaves on their side and give an extra five mins.

Delicious!

(Apologies if I’ve made any mistakes, I’m typing this whilst also answering 101 questions about Our Generation dolls, posed by my youngest…)

HipstamaticPhoto-533895246.730634

 

Chocolate Chip Brioches, dough made in the bread machine (especially for Connie).

So a while ago, I posted a recipe for enriched dough chocolate chip brioches. My youngest actually prefers the enriched dough version but I had long hankered after proper, buttery, brioche dough.

I wanted something I could bung in the bread maker and let machine make the dough. And although my Panasonic bread maker doesn’t have a brioche cycle (it’s nearly 20 years old) I knew the newer ones did so I did a search and found a recipe, online, in a newer Panasonic breadmaker instruction book.

These brioches are fairly fuss free. As with all brioche dough, it is very buttery and if handled too much at the shaping stage you become FULLY aware of how much butter is in there as it starts to slide across the kitchen counter and you end up needing to wipe down your hands a lot. But most of the work is done in the bread machine so don’t worry.

Make these the day before you want them, shape them, cover them, stick them in the fridge and the day you want them (they make wonderful breakfasts) just heat up the oven, glaze the buns and stick them in the oven. Voila. Buttery, brioches with melting chocolate inside.

I cooked some of these this morning (made yesterday) because I was making Christmas cards with my children and my friend Mary, who is super crafty came with her absolutely fabulous children and we all sat sticking, embossing and cutting; chatting, the fire burning, lovely music on. It was like something out of a Jane Austen novel, except with Spotify.  Connie, the eldest has just started making bagels and asked me for the recipe. So here it is.

One and a half teaspoons of instant yeast

400g strong white bread flour

Four tablespoons of caster sugar

15ml of rum (I seriously don’t know what this does so if you don’t have it I’m sure you can just add a bit more milk but if you have it, add it, I mean why not?)

One and a half teaspoons of salt

70g of butter, cut into cubes and straight from the fridge

90ml of milk

50g of butter, cut into cubes and straight from the fridge for later *

100g chocolate chips, I prefer dark – for when the dough is out of the machine

Makes 12

Put everything except for the chocolate chips and ‘later’ butter into the bread maker and set the dough cycle – it should be about 2hrs. Mine is 2hrs 20minutes.

At the first knead stage (about 30-50 mins in) add the ‘later’ butter. Your machine may have a beeper for ‘later butter’ stage. Mine doesn’t.

*You can add all the butter at the beginning and honestly I’ve not noticed much difference, so see how you go. If you’re around and can add it later, do, if you need to get on with something just add it all at once.

Don’t, however, add the chocolate chips now, they will melt slightly and the dough will be slightly coloured. It doesn’t affect the taste but..I just prefer it done later.

When the dough cycle is finished, take the dough out, flatten out, add the chocolate chips and sort of gently knead them in. Rest the dough for ten mins, then cut 12 pieces out of it and shape into sausage shapes (or rounds). If you find the dough resistant you can cut the 12 pieces, then rest, then shape. Or just cut and shape straight away – see how you feel.

When shaped, place on a baking parchment lined tray, cover with a tea towel and put in the fridge overnight or for a few hours until you need them.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 180C, brush the brioches with egg yolk and cook for 20 mins (check after 15).

Eat about 30 mins out of the oven when it’s the perfect mix of warm brioche and melting chocolate. You can also freeze them, when cold, for resuscitation another day.

Modernist cuckoo clock

A few Christmases ago, my partner and I decided that, instead of buying each other presents, we would pool our money and buy something fabulous, luxurious, indulgent and beautiful for the house. The first year we bought each other half a cuckoo clock.

In southern Italy, where my mother is from, my maternal grandmother had a proper Swiss cuckoo clock. As we lay in bed I could hear it sing in the room below mine. To this day the sound of a cuckoo signalling the hour makes me feel safe, happy, nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time. Could our first present, I ventured, be a cuckoo clock? My partner, he say yes. But, however sentimental, I didn’t want a cuckoo clock like my Nonna’s; it would not look right in our home. Did such a thing as a modernist cuckoo clock exist?

It did. And it was made by Diamantini and Domeniconi.

The one we decided on was the Cucu, because it HAD to have a cuckoo coming out (the Cucu Low Cost doesn’t). Cucu comes in various finishes, but we wanted it in oak, so I ordered it from My Marca. It was one of those transactions where it all seemed so unreal, I had to make a real leap of faith and convince myself the money was not just going to disappear into an offshore bank account never to be seen again. Communication was not great. But lo! Just before Christmas – on something ridiculous like Christmas Eve – our Cucu arrived, beautifully packaged. And it’s been hanging in our house ever since.

I think we paid about £250 for ours to be specially made in oak (as in, it was as special order at the time and not available off the peg as I think it is now) and delivery from Italy.

The cuckoo’s song can be switched to low, high or off. And it has a light sensor, so it doesn’t sing at night. It is beautiful and is a real conversation piece. We adore it. It makes me happy every time I see it or hear it.

When the clocks went forwards, I couldn’t remember how to change the time so that the cuckoo still sings at the right time. I emailed the company and didn’t hear anything for a while. Then, in (what I find is) typical Italian style, the reply came: late but utterly charming. And direct from Dan Domeniconi himself.

 

Big beautiful bags that are brilliant for tidying up, storage, and car travel.

Years ago, I worked, briefly, in the Evening Standard fashion department. When we weren’t ordering champagne off the stationery list (really), and drinking it on a Friday night, we were working hard. I used to write features about Chrissie Hynde’s fringe and we would look out over the atrium at who was coming and going. Late into the afternoon, as the sun was starting to set over Kensington, the fashion editors and stylists would come back from their shoots with tales of who had done what and the shots they had got (or not). And they would be wielding these enormous chequered laundry bags stuffed with clothes that, for some reason, held some fascination for me (the bags not the clothes, I was utterly sick of them by that time).

Earlier this year, as I struggled to fit our duvets (Brinkhaus silk and wool filled brilliant), sheets and pillows (Ringsted Dun, excellent) into a suitable receptacle for going camping (we camp in luxurious style), I thought of those bags again. Weren’t they huge? Couldn’t they accommodate everything? And so I looked them up.

They are really cheap and if you travel by car, I honestly can’t think of a much better way to transport clothes and the like. But, don’t buy too cheap. The really cheap chequered ones of yore can mark the stuff you put in them (the dye is not stable). Then I found these utterly brilliant Jumbo bags from Dot Com Gift Shop. I know it’s slightly mad to rave about a bag but there you go – they are just great: reasonably priced at five Black Jacks under a fiver, good quality, I love the designs (check out the Christmas one which I intend to fill with Christmas presents and not attempt to hide, at all) which are jolly and sweet. You can use them to temporarily tidy stuff away, for storage (although only in safe, stable environment, if you want long term storage that resists damp, wet and all but the  most resistant rodent, you need these Ultimate boxes from Lakeland, which are superb for storing things in the garage/shed, but are not cheap.

And, best of all, and not like boxes, when you’re done with these bags, they fold up really small to be put away.

Sorry about the picture. I’m in the middle of building work and I really can’t be bothered to find mine and stuff them full of stuff to photograph them, so I just nicked it off the DGGS website, I’m reckoning they won’t mind. Plus it tells you that they are made out of recycled plastic bottles!

 

White chocolate and berry cheesecake

I’m mindful, at this time of year, of having lots of people to cater for at once, and also the value of being able to Do Things In Advance.

I made this at the weekend, for a lunch party at a friend’s house where I was asked to bring pudding. The value of this is that it feeds lots – easily 12*. It not only can, but has to be made in advance. It looks good, but can also be brought out after a meal, to sit on the table for many hours without spoiling and be picked at (‘I’ll just tidy it up’) as guests get drunker and drunker.

I didn’t have a tin big enough, so I made this in one large rectangular Mermaid tin and a smaller tart tin. But this cheesecake is so good that I think it’s worth buying the right size tin for it as I will be making it again.

A few notes:

I put in 300g of frozen mixed berries as that’s the packet I had, and didn’t see the point of keeping back a handful of berries.

Yes you do put the berries in frozen.

Do build the crust up to a good height at the sides, although this mixture didn’t (for me) rise up, there is a lot of it and if your sides aren’t high enough, you’ll be at a dam-bust situation.

It may be an idea to put the tin on a baking sheet to catch any drips – I didn’t have any but see my point just above.

It definitely took an hour in my oven, maybe a few minutes more.

That’s it. This is a good one to keep up your sleeve for party season and the other great thing about it is that * you can cut the slices as thin or thick as you want, so it could feasibly feed may, many more than the predicted dozen.

Here is the recipe.

A last minute Christmas present idea: Kumquat chocolate slab

 

This is a really easy, delicious thing to make. Yes you do need a) chocolate and b) kumquats in the house to make this exact one, but the idea is that with a bit of imagination, you have a really easy, original gift to make for someone at the last minute. Perhaps you’ve been invited round to someone’s house and want to take a little gift.

I used kumquats, because that’s what I saw in Martha Stewart Living. This decision also resulted in perhaps my most middle class quest of the year: going in search of them (Sainsbury’s had them). It was worth it because kumquats lend themselves really beautifully to this idea and weren’t madly expensive. A packet that would have made this twice over cost £1.50. Plus they look festive, colourful and this was absolutely delicious: like a grown up, not too sickly, Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

But if you don’t have kumquats, or don’t like them you can put anything on top of the chocolate: slices of stem ginger, roasted hazelnuts, sliced pistachios, what ever takes your fancy, you get the idea.

For this I used a mixture of Green and Black’s milk chocolate and Waitrose Continental 70% cocoa chocolate, because I wanted it to be quite creamy. You want the slab to ‘snap’ when you serve it so don’t go too milky chocolatey, even if you want to serve it to children. To make it really grown up and ‘snappy’, make it out of all 70% cocoa chocolate. I used about 250g of chocolate in total to make this slab, which fed sixteen at after lunch coffee.

Melt in a bowl, over boiling water, then pour onto baking parchment on a baking tray. Scatter over your topping of choice. Put in fridge to set. If giving as a present – and not serving at your own dinner party – then break it up and put it in cellophane bag or if you have food-grade cellophane wrap (naturally, ahem, I do) then you can wrap the whole thing in one piece.

That’s it. So easy and looks so impressive.