Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Marguerite Patten's Rich Christmas Cake

A famous Christmas cake

You can make this cake several weeks before Christmas, but it is still delicious if made at the last minute.

Makes a 23cm round cake or 20cm square cake

350g plain flour (no raising agent)

1 tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste

1 tsp mixed spice, or to taste

115g mixed candied peel, chopped

900g mixed dried fruit (preferably 450g currants, 225g sultanas, 225g seedless raisins)

50-115g blanched almonds, chopped

115g glace cherries, chopped

4 large eggs, whisked

4 tbsp sherry or brandy or rum or milk

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Finely grated zest of 1 orange (optional)

225g butter

225g sugar, preferably dark moist brown sugar

1 level tbsp black treacle or golden syrup

Prepare the tin carefully. Line the inside bottom with a double layer of brown paper, then cover this with a double thickness of baking parchment. Line the sides of the tin with greased greaseproof paper or baking parchment. Tie a deep double band of brown paper round the outside of the tin.

Sift together the flour and spices. Mix the peel, dried fruits, almonds and cherries (if these are slightly sticky, flour them lightly). Blend the eggs with the sherry, brandy, rum or milk. Cream together the lemon and orange zest with the butter, sugar and treacle or golden syrup until soft. Do not overbeat, as this type of cake does not need as much aerating as light cakes. Gradually blend in the egg mixture and sifted dry ingredients. Stir in all the fruit. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth flat on top, then press the top with slightly damp knuckles, as this helps to keep the cake moist and flat.

Bake in the centre of an oven preheated to 160C (140-150C in a fan oven) for 1...#8747; hours, then lower the heat to 140-150C (120-130C in a fan oven) and cook for approximately 2 hours. Baking times for rich fruit cakes like this vary considerably according to your particular oven, so test it carefully.

To test the cake: first press firmly on top - there should be no impression - then check to see if the cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin. If it has, remove from the oven; listen carefully. A rich fruit cake that is not quite cooked gives a definite humming noise, in which case return it to the oven for a short time and test again. Cool the cake in the baking tin; when completely cold turn it out carefully; wrap in foil and store in an airtight tin.

This cake is given a very moist texture if you prick it once or twice before icing and pour several teaspoons of sherry or brandy or rum into the cake. Use a steel knitting needle or fine skewer, make a number of small holes on top of the cake and spoon the sherry, brandy or rum over this. If wished, turn the cake upside down and do the same again. Wrap the soaked cake tightly in foil and store in a cool, dry place. If you do not wish to moisten the cake during storage, do not worry, for it is still very rich and delicious.

German Christmas Biscuits

Vanilla Crescents - Vanille Kipferl

This makes a lot of biscuits, but trust me they disappear very quickly

Heat oven to 180c.

200g plain flour, 1/4 tsp backing powder, 100gm caster sugar, 15gm vanilla sugar, 1 egg, 125g soft butter, 100g ground almonds. 80gm icing sugar 15 gms vanilla sugar.

Sieve the flour and backing powder into a large bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients (if you have a food processor - using the pastry mixing thingy)or if like me, you like getting down and dirty mix with your hands till the pastry comes together (I added another egg as my mix was a bit dry)knead very lightly and then pop in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Take lumps of the pastry and roll into a long sausage. cut into 4 - 5 cm lengths and form little crescents.

Cook for 10 minutes.

Mix the icing sugar and the vanilla powder and sprinkle over the biscuits while they are still hot. Then sprinkle again when they are cold.

Cinnamon stars - Zimtsterne

Heat oven to 140 c (120 c in fan assisted oven)
3 egg whites, 250 gms icing sugar, 7gms vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3 drops of almond essence, 1 tsp cinnamon, 400 gms ground hazelnuts,

Beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Sieve the icing sugar and fold into the egg white. (put 3 heaped tablespoons aside for icing the biscuits after they are cooked)

then fold the vanilla sugar, almond essence, cinnamon and half the ground hazelnuts into the egg white mix. Add as much of the rest of the ground hazelnut it takes for the mixture to come away from the sides of the bowl.

Sprinkle icing sugar on a surface and roll out the biscuit mixture to 1 cm thickness. Cut out star shapes then 'paint' them with the icing sugar egg white mixture you put aside.

cook for 25 minutes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

An Ottolenghi Christmas

Roasted pork belly with orange & star anise

Roasted pork belly with orange and star anise.

This cut of pork, slowly cooked, offers the best contrasting textures. The crackling skin and fatty meat, along with the mellow spiciness of anise and sharp sweetness of orange, are exactly what you'd expect both of pork and of Christmas. It's the ideal festive centrepiece for the inexperienced or kitchen-shy; if you follow the instructions, it's hard to get wrong, yet is highly impressive. Goes well with french beans and roasted potatoes. Serves six to eight.

7 oranges, halved
1 bunch thyme, roughly chopped
1 bunch rosemary, roughly chopped
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
100ml olive oil
2-3kg pork belly, rind on
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
2/3 bottle white wine

For the star anise reduction

500ml orange juice
180ml balsamic vinegar
160g honey
10 star anise

Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Arrange the orange halves in a large roasting tray, cut side up. Put the herbs, garlic and oil in a food processor and blitz roughly. Lay the pork on top of the orange halves, skin side down, and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using your hands, spread the herb mixture evenly all over the upward-facing side of the meat, pressing so it sticks. Turn the joint over, so it's now skin side up and sitting on the orange halves. (Don't be too fastidious - not all the oranges have to be under the meat.) Wipe the skin dry with kitchen towel and sprinkle all over with sea salt.

Roast at full blast for an hour, turning the tray around halfway through. By the end of the hour, the pork should have turned a deep golden colour and the skin have firmed up. Turn down the heat to 160C/325F/gas mark 3, pour the white wine into the base of the tray, avoiding the skin, and roast for an hour more. If the belly begins to turn black, cover with foil. For the last cooking stage, turn down the heat to 110C/225F/gas mark ΒΌ, and roast for another hour, uncovered, until the skin has crackled and thoroughly dried.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Put all the ingredients in a heavy-based pan, stir and place over a medium heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and reduced to a third. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

When the pork is ready, take it out of the oven. To serve, cut the joint into segments of a few ribs each, cutting in between the bones. Plate the pork pieces and orange halves on a large platter, and pour some of the cooking liquids on top, followed by a little of the star anise reduction. Dot the 10 star anises from the reduction here and there over the meat, for decoration, and serve the remaining sauce on the side.

Roasted pumpkin wedges with chestnut, cinnamon & fresh bay leaves

Roasted pumpkin wedges with chestnut, cinammon and fresh bay leaves.

A simple and gratifying dish that looks great and is very easy to make. Lay out on a flat serving dish and bring to the table. It doesn't get much more Christmassy than this. Goes well with almost any main course. Serves four to six.

1 medium pumpkin, about 1.3kg
6 tbsp olive oil
4 cinnamon sticks
4 tbsp maple syrup
3 garlic cloves, crushed
20 fresh sage leaves
10 fresh bay leaves
Salt and black pepper
150g cooked chestnuts

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ gas mark 6. Cut the unpeeled pumpkin into wedges (1-2cm at the thick end) and discard the seeds; leave the skin on. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin pieces with four tablespoons of olive oil, the cinnamon, three tablespoons of maple syrup, the garlic, sage, half the bay leaves, and salt and pepper. Lay out in a single layer in a large roasting tray and roast for 20-25 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and golden. Add the chestnuts five minutes before the end.

Arrange the tray's contents on a serving platter and scatter the remaining bay leaves over the top. Stir together the remaining syrup and oil, and drizzle on top. Serve warm.