Tag Archives: christmas baking

Caraway biscuits

13 Oct

Yesterday I made my own sort of a borscht. A beetroot soup, lightly flavoured with caraway seeds. It reminded me how much I love not only beetroots, but also caraway and this morning I woke with a hankering to make caraway biscuits.

Caraway seeds

Caraway seeds

You can learn a lot when you have a short obsession on a particular flavour. I imagine my childhood self leafing through recipe books (and failing to find anything I wanted, so making something up myself) and perhaps moving on to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and then getting so distracted with whatever else was on the same page, or something else related that it suggested I look at that the biscuits never got made. It’s all so much easier now, with a laptop and a warm fire. And even Radio 2 on in the background (I give up on Radio 4 after GQT on a Sunday). I also now have the sort of library of cookbooks and thanks to the wonder that is Eat Your Books I know that in my books there are 53 recipes which use caraway seeds, including poppy and caraway crackers and caraway vodka, both of which I will be trying soon.

You could find out everything you never wanted to know about caraway with a few quick searches too, but since I’ve done it already, I’ll share some of my findings with you.

Caraway is good for flatulence. When I say it’s good for flatulence I mean that it is reputedly good for the relief of severe flatulence. Anne Boleyn knew this and secured her place in Henry VIII’s heart by feeding him caraway comfits. That didn’t turn out so well in the end though, so don’t feel obliged to feed caraway to stinky partners.

Caraway seeds aren’t actually seeds; they are fruits.

Caraway is perhaps a flavour most associated with northern Europe, with southern Germany and Austria and with Scandinavia. The German word for caraway is Kummel, which I know better as a drink. German rye bread is heavily flavoured with caraway.

Many countries don’t have their own word for caraway, and simply call it ‘German cumin’, so if you see reference to caraway in any Middle Eastern or Asian cookbooks it is quite likely that it is an error in translation and its cumin that is needed.

So, that’s the educational bit over. Now you want the biscuits don’t you?

Caraway seed biscuits

Caraway seed biscuits

Then biscuits you shall have, but before I get to the recipe I should tell you another snippet of information: Caraway Biscuits are also known as Goosnargh Cakes. Goosnargh (pronounced Gooznar) is a small town in Lancashire, almost subsumed into Preston now where they have a tradition of making these caraway shortcake biscuits. They also feed caraway seeds to chickens and ducks to produce the Goosnargh Chicken and the Goosnargh Duck.

But the biscuits. There are a few versions online, but basically the Goosnargh Cake or caraway biscuits is a buttery shortcake biscuit with caraway and coriander seeds. Use a basic 3:2:1 recipe (3 parts flour, to 2 parts butter, to 1 part sugar) and you’ll be fine.

Goosnargh Cake

Pre-heat oven to GM5. Prepare a baking tray – either by buttering it and sprinkling it with flour, or by lining it with greaseproof paper. 

  • 8oz softened butter
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 12oz plain flour
  • 2 TBsp caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  1. Cream together the butter and sugar, till fluffy
  2. Grind the caraway and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar
  3. Sift together the flour and the ground seeds
  4. Fold the spiced flour into the creamed butter and sugar and bring together to form a stiff dough
  5. Roll out the dough to about 1/2 cm thickness and cut into rounds. Place on baking tray
  6. Pop into the fridge for at least 30 minutes
  7. Sprinkle with caster sugar
  8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes – you don’t want them to turn colour much at all, although a light golden brown will be fine
  9. Move to a wire rack to cool, but sprinkle with a mix of caster sugar and caraway seeds while they are still hot.

Lovely with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Goosnargh Cakes

Goosnargh Cakes

Apple spice muffins

10 Mar

I woke at 6.30 this morning. The Captain was awake and had brought me a cup of Earl Grey. Generally on a Sunday I don’t drink Earl Grey at 6.30am, but the thought was kind.

It was a dull spring day, nothing special.

I didn’t drink the tea, but fell back into a deep sleep till after 9am, when the quality of the light in the room had changed dramatically – there was an inch of snow on the ground and it was still falling.

Spring flowers poking through the snow

Spring flowers poking through the snow

An hour later, after a breakfast of local bacon in a home-made roll, it had cleared up enough for me to venture outside. The plan today was to sort out the greenhouse – perfect snowy weather activity you’d think. Except that the trouble with clearing a greenhouse is that you need somewhere to clear it to, and that somewhere is down the bottom of the garden. And by this time it was blowing a blizzard again.

So, what’s a girl to do but revert to type, retreat indoors and bake?

We had some spare apples and I have some of the loveliest cinnamon ever, which I suspect won’t be so lovely for evermore. Apple spice muffins were the answer.

Apple spice muffins

Prepare muffin tins and preheat oven to 400F / 375C / GM6.

  • 2oz porridge oats
  • 7oz plain flour
  • 3tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • a shake each of ground cloves and ground ginger
  • 3oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • a large apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely
  • 6fl oz milk
  • 2fl oz veg oil

And for the topping

  • 3TBsp soft brown sugar
  • 2oz walnuts, chopped
  1. Mix the topping ingredients together and put to one side
  2. Mix together the porridge oats, flour, baking powder, spices and salt
  3. In another bowl whisk  together the egg, milk and oil and then add the chopped apple
  4. Pour all the wet mixture into the dry and stir it till it’s all just combined
  5. Spoon into the prepared muffin tin (that probably means muffin cases in a muffin tin).
  6. Sprinkle a spoonful of topping on each muffin.
  7. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the tops are light brown and the muffins spring back when you gently press them.
  8. Cool for a wee minute, then EAT.
Dry ingredients in a bowl

Dry ingredients in a bowl

Add an egg, without the feather

Add an egg, without the feather

Remember to sprinkle the scrumbly topping on your muffins

Remember to sprinkle the scrumbly topping on your muffins

They're ready when they are golden brown - so about 1 minute before these ones came out slightly burnt!

They’re ready when they are golden brown – so about 1 minute before these ones came out slightly burnt!

Spiced cake (with added parsnips!)

5 Jan

I got it into my head that I wanted to make a parsnip cake.

I could blame that cute James on the Great British Bake Off which is re-running daytimes this week, and I might just have caught some of it yesterday. And the day before.

Or I could blame the Captain for declaring it his favourite vegetable.

But actually, when I’m making something as tasty as a spicy parsnip cake, why am I looking to blame anyone at all? The combination of warming winter spices with the sweet moistness of the parsnip is an absolute winner. Or it would be if I hadn’t thrown in too many parsnips in a moment of madness, ensuring that the resulting cake would be on the heavy side, instead of light and moist. Ah well, I’ll know for next time. And I’ve done it, so you don’t have to.

Tea-time!

Tea-time!

Spiced parsnip cake

Preheat oven to 180C /350F / GM4

Grease and line 2 sandwich cake tins

  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup muscovado sugar
  • 1 TBsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 balls of ginger from a jar of stem ginger in syrup – chopped up small
  • 2 cups grated parsnips (about 2 large)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 2 TBsp butter, softened
  • 2 TBsp syrup from jar of stem ginger in syrup
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 3 cups icing sugar
  1. Mix together flour, sugar, spices, baking powder and salt in a large bowl – I use a whisk to combine them all instead of bothering to sift them in.  However – this means you may end up with pockets of sugariness in the finished cake, as it’s tricky to break down all the muscovado if you don’t sift it. And this bowl is going to have EVERYTHING in it soon, so make sure it’s big enough
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, milk and vanilla extract
  3. Pour the eggy mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined
  4. Add the stem ginger, parsnips and chopped walnuts and mix together
  5. Transfer to cake tins
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean – but watch, it might be quicker in your oven
  7. Cook cakes on a wire rack
  8. For the icing, beat together the cheese and butter, with the syrup, till smooth. Add the grated ginger and the icing sugar  (you should sift the icing sugar on this occasion, or you’ll get lumpy icing, which is a beast to make smooth). Beat till smooth.
  9. Sandwich the cakes together and spread the goopy icing all over the top too
Cooling the cakes on a wire rack

Cooling the cakes on a wire rack

This cake is utterly perfect with a cup of Earl Grey tea. It also makes a pretty marvellous pudding, especially if you’ve had something quite light like soup for your main course. Because of the rich icing, it needs no ice cream or anything with it, but if it were made as a single large cake (perhaps in a loaf tin?) with no icing, it would be lovely with a vanilla ice cream, or a scoop of creme fraiche for pudding.

Christmas leftovers (but no turkey)

2 Jan

It’s that time of year when you’re probably still living out of the fridge and store cupboard, still eating up bits of food you bought thinking you’d need it over the festive period. Or perhaps you haven’t over-shopped this year and you are now eating delicious meals started from scratch, made with fresh vegetables and real meat (ie not leftover roast turkey, or cold ham). If so, well done.

But have you still got things lurking in the fridge which you’ve had enough of? Maybe you’ve had enough of Stilton? Or brussels sprouts? If so, I have a couple of recipes for you which might help: Stilton Nibbly Biscuits (gluten free!) and creamy sprouts.

Let me explain first of all about the sprouts. I never thought I would grow to enjoy a sprout, but they are the Captain’s second favourite vegetable! Yes, seriously, they are. His favourite is parsnips, and I think this afternoon I’m going to find a recipe for a parsnip cake just to use up the last of the bag of parsnips I have in the fridge. But, back to the sprouts. I’ve done all manner of things with sprouts to try to enjoy them: added juniper berries, lardons, chestnuts, lots of butter… but all to no avail. Until now. I used what I had in the fridge (as you do at this time of year) and found my perfect Brussels Sprouts recipe. It’s not for the faint hearted, and should be eaten BEFORE you start your diet. But it is delicious with roast pork, or a pork chop, or I can imagine it working really well with sausages and black pudding and some creamy mash.

And then I mentioned Stilton didn’t I? One of my favourite cookbooks over the last year or so is by Thane Prince: Ham, Pickles and Jam. It consistently gives me interesting and useful recipes. One that I keep returning to is for cheesy nibbly biscuits. All you need is about 30 minutes, and food processor and some leftover cheese. OK, and some butter and flour too (preferably gluten free).  I originally wrote about this recipe here, back in 2011.

Over the months I’ve modified the recipe – these days I generally make it with stilton and pretty much always omit the parmesan. Also, when the dough is made I roll it into a great big sausage, and then just slice off pieces to bake them, instead of all that faff with making cherry size pieces and then squishing them flat before rolling them in sesame seeds. The sesame seeds are important though – they add an extra nutty flavour to the biscuit. And I’ve only ever made them with gluten free flour – I love the light crispness you get with this mix.

So, that’s your stilton sorted. Now for the brussels sprouts.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts

Prepare your brussels sprouts by cutting off the wee end, and removing the outer leaf or two if necessary. Then slice the sprouts – you’ll get about 4 or 5 slices out of each sprout, depending on their size. You don’t need to be a perfectionist with this, all you’re doing is cutting down the size of each sprout so they cook through more quickly and evenly.

Put the sliced sprouts into a wide flat pan and throw in some stock (or if you’re me, some water and a stock cube). You don’t need much stock – the idea is that the sprouts will cook in it, but it will boil away. I use about 200ml when cooking enough sprouts for two people.

Now, put a lid on the pan and boil up the sprouts. Remove the lid and stir them around a bit, to make sure all the sprouts are in the water. Put the lid on again if you think you should, but if it’s a tight fitting lid, you might want to leave a slight gap to let some steam out.

Ideally, the sprouts should be just about cooked at the point when the water is just about boiled away.

Throw in about 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg and a good turn or two of black pepper. Stir. Add a seriously big glug or two of double cream and stir again.

Leave quietly bubbling away while you serve the rest of your food up, and by the time you’ve plated everything else up the sprouts will be ready.

Delicious with roast pork and all the other trimmings, or as I’ve just discovered with Lucas Hollweg’s Beef Casserole with Cinnamon and Prunes. Exquisite!

 

Christmas muffins (The Cranberry Years)

2 Dec

I love Christmas food.

Cranberry clementine muffins

Cranberry clementine muffins

Well, I love my sort of Christmas food – which is almost anything apart from traditional Christmas cake. I love warm and mellow Christmas spices; chestnuts thrown into all manner of leftover dishes just because you have them; turkey; glazed ham; mulled wine; spiced cider; and cranberries. I really love baking with fresh cranberries.

And I know it’s only just December, but I was in the wonderful Whole Foods Market in Giffnock again this weekend and they had ENORMOUS fresh juicy cranberries. I had to have them.

And I had to make muffins with them. I combined them with clementine zest and orange juice, for flavour. And a muffin batter which included extra bran and porridge oats to make them pretend they are somewhere further along that health spectrum than you might imagine. But then lots of melted butter to make sure they are still tastiness itself.

And now you can make them too. If you start now, they’ll be ready within an hour. Unless you have to go out and pick your own cranberries.

Cranberry & clementine muffins

Preheat oven to 375F / 200C / GM5-6. Prepare muffin tins, lining them with muffin cases. Makes about 12 regular muffins . 

  • 8oz plain flour
  • 1oz bran
  • 1oz porridge oats
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3oz dark brown or muscovado sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 6oz fresh cranberries (you could use blueberries, or other berries of your choice)
  • grated zest of 5 clementines
  • 7fl oz clementine or orange juice
  • 3oz melted butter (or 3fl oz veg oil)
  1. Mix together in a large bowl: flour, bran, porridge oats, baking powder and salt
  2. In a separate bowl beat together: sugar, egg, zest, juice and melted butter
  3. Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ones and stir until just combined, adding the berries towards the end. The batter can have lumps but there should be no pockets of dry flour
  4. Spoon into muffin cases (about 3/4 full should work, and produce nice full muffins)
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until tops are golden brown and the muffins spring back when you poke them gently

 

 

Autumn baking

3 Oct

So, it’s October. I’m not entirely sure where September went, but it seems to have been and gone and now we are truly in the grip of Autumn. So, apart from all that lovely Autumnal weather (which is just an excuse to knit and wear a bright scarf) and Autumnal colours (yup, when you have a wood at the bottom of your garden you hardly need television this time of year) there is all that lovely Autumnal cooking and baking.

And this weekend I suggest you make your Christmas cake. Yes, really. Just do it. The smell in the kitchen is awesome, and the baking is relatively simple (although you will need several large bowls). And come Christmas you’ll be so glad you baked it early.

I’ve made this cake for the last few years – last year I made it in late November, but for various reasons it wasn’t eaten till June. It had been wrapped in cling film, then silver foil and just left under the stairs for months. And oh my it was sensational. So, bake now; eat later. You’ll thank me.

I added 1/4 again to this recipe as my tin was 23cm. When I say I added 1/4 again I mean approximately 1/4 again. Some people say that baking is an exact science and for some recipes it absolutely is, but this cake is forgiving. And so long as the totals of nuts vs dried fruit is about right it’ll be ok. I hope.

Here we go. Light Christmas Cake. Make it now. And again next month for a wee late January treat.

Bacon maple brownies

11 Dec

Thank you Nigella.  They’re in the oven, so I don’t know yet if they are to die for, or a waste of some perfectly good ingredients.  The constituent parts were scrummy (well, I had to lick the spoon after scraping the brownie batter into the tin, and the baconny-syrupy scraps on the plate were just asking to be licked up).

But really?  Bacon in chocolate brownies?  I totally see where you came from with this – bacon and maple syrup pancakes are divine.  And as a child I remember the treat that was bacon with fried bread and honey. Now, whatever happened to fried bread?  Did the health Nazis get rid of it for good? Possibly not the worst decision ever made, but still divine in my childhood memory.

Anyway, Nigella sent me a recipe for Bacon Brownies.  Well, she didn’t just send it to me, it was sent out to anyone who subscribed to whatever style thingy she’s guest editing this week.  And now I’m wondering if it was all just a big hoax, to see what muppets would actually make it.  Well, here I am, prize muppet! I give you Bacon Maple Brownies, inspired by Nigella, but not exactly the same.

Bacon maple brownies

Preheat oven to 190C / 375F / GM5

(OK, now I see why my finished brownies seem even gooier than they should be, I had the oven not quite hot enough).

Grease and line a 25cm square brownie tin.  Or Nigella does it in a throw away tin, of course she does.  Her hands aren’t made for washing up.  And it’s so much easier to take a gift of brownies when you pop in to your neighbours if they are in a throw away dish!

100g thin rashers of streaky bacon, snipped or chopped into teeny weeny pieces

2tsp maple syrup (or golden syrup)

150g unsalted butter

250g soft light brown sugar

75g cocoa powder

150g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 large eggs, beaten

150g chopped chocolate (dark, or milk)

  1. Heat a heavy frying pan and then add the bacon bits, and fry till they are just going crispy
  2. Add the syrup, and mix quickly, then pour the whole bacony syrupy mixture onto a plate to cool
  3. In a large heavy pan melt the butter over a low heat.  This is the pan the whole batter will be made, so make it big enough
  4. Once the butter is melted, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar with a wooden spoon.  Bash out the sugary lumps (unless you anticipated this and sifted it in advance).
  5. While the butter was melting you should have put the flour, cocoa and bicarb into a bowl and mixed it.  And cracked the eggs into a bowl and beaten them.
  6. Once the sugar and butter are mixed, add the flour mixture and stir it in
  7. Add the beaten eggs, and stir all together
  8. Throw in the chopped chocolate, and then use your finger to nudge all the bacon off the plate into the chocolate batter. Lick your fingers.  And wonder if this was all a hoax and you should have just made ordinary brownies, and had maple syrupy bacon bits as a separate snack.
  9. Mix all together
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 25 mins or so.  It will still be slightly wobbly, so you have ultimate gooeyness in your brownies.  But if you cook it at the right temperature it shouldn’t be too gooey.
  11. Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and cut into pieces.  Not too small, but not too big pieces.  You know, a couple of decent mouthfuls.

Don’t tell anyone what is in them

Mine are out of the oven now and I’ve decided it’s not a hoax – they are divine.  That sweet yet salty hit of a wee nubbin of bacon is just perfect in the rich gooeyness of the brownie.  They may not be glamorous, but oh my god they are tasty.

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