Seasons greetings all! The festive period is approaching. Some may say it’s already here. If you’re a home baker then it’s definitely time to be thinking about what you are going to bake this Christmas. Hurray! Maybe you’ve already started.
Mince pies are a traditional choice, dating back hundreds of years, and there are many possibilities to try for the pastry, the filling and the topping. They haven’t always been sweet though and were once filled with meat and suet along with fruits, spices and alcohol. Here’s a few traditions, apparently, which I read about on the internet so they must be true:
- Only stir the mincemeat mixture clockwise because stirring it counterclockwise is bad luck for the upcoming year.
- While eating the first mince pie of the season, it’s traditional to make a wish.
- Always eat mince pies in silence.
- Eating a mince pie each day of the 12 days of Christmas is good luck for the upcoming year.
Not sure about eating them in silence, but that last one sounds pretty good to me.
The internet also provided me with many options for mince pie recipes and I’ve mixed a couple together for these particular pies.
This isn’t the quickest recipe, but it doesn’t take too long and the results are definitely worth it. The cranberries and brandy in the mincemeat, the orange zest in the pastry, and the sweet and creamy vanilla almond topping make these mince pies extra special. Here’s how to bake them (approx 24):
Ingredients for the pastry (Yes, I did make my own pastry. Smug. I did use a food processor though. Is that cheating?)
- 200g very cold butter, cubed
- 400g plain flour
- 100g ground almonds
- 100g golden caster sugar
- zest 2 small oranges
- 2 tbsp milk
Ingredients for the filling
- Approximately 400g mincemeat
- Approximately 85g cranberries (I used frozen ones)
- 100ml brandy
Ingredients for the vanilla almond topping
- 125g salted butter, slightly softened
- 125g icing sugar plus extra for dusting
- 25g plain flour
- 125g ground almonds
- 1/2 vanilla pod, split down the centre and seeds scraped out
- 2 eggs
- Pastry – Whizz the butter, flour and ground almonds in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs. Pulse in the sugar and half the orange zest. Add the milk and keep whizzing until a rough dough comes together. (Mine sort of came together, but I had to take it out of the processor and knead it for a bit.) To make by hand – rub the butter and flour together with your fingertips until they look like breadcrumbs; stir in the almonds, sugar and orange zest; then stir in the milk and bring it all together in a dough.
- Tip onto the work surface, press together and shape into a smooth disc, kneading once or twice if you need to. Chill for 15 minutes. This can be made up to 3 days ahead and chilled, or frozen for up to 1 month.
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
- Prepare the filling – While the pastry is chilling, mix the mincemeat, cranberries and brandy together to soak.
- Make the topping – Use an electric beater to whisk the butter and icing sugar together for a few minutes. Stir in the flour, ground almonds and vanilla seeds. Beat in the eggs gently, then continue to whisk for 4 or 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy again. (Mine didn’t go light and fluffy again and was a bit runny, but it still worked.)
- Prepare the cases – On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough to about the thickness of a £1 coin, (some of mine were a little thicker as I didn’t want to keep rolling the pastry in case it broke apart!). Using an 8cm cutter (I used a glass), stamp out 24 circles and use to line the holes of a bun tray. (To avoid the pastry breaking push it down gently into the tin.)
- Assemble the pies – Spoon the filling into the cases (I poured the filling through a sieve first to drain off the excess juice to avoid a soggy bottom!). Then place a dollop of almond topping on each one. Not too much as it spreads when cooking, but try to cover the top of the mincemeat.
- Bake the pies for 18 to 20 minutes until golden.
Make a wish (if it’s your first mince pie of the season) and enjoy. For extra decadence, serve with ice-cream, double cream or vanilla custard. Maybe even all three. Well, it is Christmas.
The coffee and walnut cake. What is there to say about it? It’s a classic cake. It’s also delicious. Fact. If you look up delicious in the dictionary there will be a photo of a coffee and walnut cake. If you disagree on how tasty it is then you are a fool! Bit harsh? Nope. Well, maybe, but I think it might actually be the law to like it. So because it is amazing I decided to bake one and eat it. I could have baked it in two cake tins to sandwich together, but I thought I would try it in two loaf tins so that it would be easier to slice (and look nice in a photo!). This cake is topped with light and fluffy coffee buttercream, A LOT of it, and lovely crunchy walnuts. Mm mm mmmm! You could swap it for decaff if you’re caffiene free. Here’s how to bake it:
Ingredients for the cake
- 225g unsalted butter
- 225g caster sugar
- 225g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 4 medium eggs
- 3 tbsp strong instant coffee
- 2 tbsp boiling water
- 100g chopped walnuts
Ingredients for the buttercream
- 150g unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 300g icing sugar
- 2 tsp strong instant coffee
- 1 tbsp boiling water
- Chopped walnuts
Method for the cake
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/gas mark 4 and grease and line the cake tin
- Dissolve 3 tbsp coffee in 2 tbsp water and leave to cool
- Cream together the butter and sugar until pale, light and creamy
- Add one egg at a time, beating well into the mixture after each addition
- Add the cooled coffee into the cake mixture and beat until well combined
- Add the flour, baking powder and walnuts and mix well together
- Divide into the cake tins and smooth over the top with a palette knife or a wooden spoon
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean
- Allow the cakes to cool (out of the cake tin) before icing
Method for the buttercream
- Make up 2 tsp of instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water and leave it to cool down
- Beat the butter and icing sugar together until pale and light
- Add the coffee and mix together well
- Spread the buttercream over the top of the cake (and in between the two sponges if making a layered cake)
- Sprinkle over chopped walnuts
Just a quick post to show you these rather bizarre cupcakes I made. I pretty much threw everything I had decoration wise at them. I was feeling pretty ill yesterday. I believe its what scientists call a ‘hangover’ and I was not really in a baking frame of mind. After a bit of dodgy piping and failed random creativity (I have no idea what I was trying to achieve with that green one) I pretty much filled small bowls with various decorations, covered the cakes with buttercream and literally dunked them in the bowls. Quick, efficient and super easy when feeling delicate. I’ve taken them to work where we hope to raise money for the Philippines crisis. Seems a lot of people have contributed their baking creations for this great cause so good show everyone.
Is this cake bright enough? IS IT? Yes it really is isn’t it. Sometimes all I want is a simple sponge. But you have to admit, the insides lack a certain something. Panache. Snaz. Etc. The outside can easily be decorated but the inside? The inside alas, gets forgotten. But not by me. This actually harks back to when I was a kid. A simple sponge was my limit but I could go nuts with the colours. E numbers were my childhood drug of choice. Recently I bought a load of food colouring (the liquid kind) and made a sponge ring cake. The colours were so insipid. What a letdown. I checked the bottles and they were made with ‘natural’ food dyes. Bleugh. I don’t want natural! You think when I’m eating cake I’m thinking of my health? Who is for crying out loud? Give me those E numbers and give them to me now. So the next obvious step was to get some PROPER food colour. And that came in the form of paste. That stuff is the shizzle. I knew it wouldn’t let me down (because I already had it in red). There are soooo many colours available but I went for the classics. They come in small pots and are like intensely coloured goo. You need such a small amount so start with a bit and work up. Also the baking process tends to make colours more intense I find. This happened with the purple. It didn’t look great raw but turned out lovely once it came out the oven. These are by Sugarflair but there are other brands around.
I made a normal sponge but divided the mixture between four bowls and added food dye to each. Next I shoved the batters into piping bags and sniped the ends off. Only about 1cm up. Then I proceeded to make strips in my pre-lined loaf tin, so it ended up looking like this:
I baked it in the oven for about 30-40 mins on about gas mark 4 until cooked.
I ate my first slice warm and was transported back to childhood. Thank you radioactive food colourings! You bring me joy.