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.
Ciambella cake is an Italian ring-shaped cake. I believe it is traditionally eaten at breakfast. Yes, a cake that is supposed to be eaten for breakfast. Amazing. You can, of course, eat it at whatever time you like, but for breakfast seems quite indulgent, and we like that.
The cake was sweet, vanillery and smooth with a lemony twist and denser than say a Victoria sponge, not heavy though. Having never made this cake before I was a little concerned that it may be too dense, but when I shared it with my work colleagues they assured me it had worked. It didn’t last long on the plate and that’s a success in my books!
It may look plain, but it’s a simple cake and meant to be so, full of flavour and great all by itself. No added extras needed. Although it did work very well with a coffee. The magical interweb tells me that it also works extremely well with warm milk or at the end of a meal with a glass of sweet wine. Although, while we all like a bit of indulgence, I can’t recommend that you have wine for breakfast.
Here’s what you’ll need and how to bake it (recipe by Nigella Lawson):
- 150g plain yogurt
- 150g flavorless vegetable oil, plus some for greasing
- 3 eggs
- 250g caster sugar
- 2 capfuls (1.5 teaspoons) vanilla extract
- Zest 1⁄2 unwaxed lemon
- 175g plain flour
- 75g corn flour
- 1 teaspoon icing sugar, to serve
- Ring mould
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan oven/gas mark 4, and grease your ring mould with vegetable oil or a special baking spray.
- Separate the eggs and put the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Whisk the whites until you have firm peaks, then set aside. Remember to use a glass or stainless steel bowl to whisk the egg whites, not a plastic one.
- Pour the yoghurt onto the egg yolks, add the sugar and whisk until airy and light.
- Slowly add the vegetable oil to the egg yolk mixture, beating all the while. Then beat in the vanilla extract and the zest of half a lemon.
- Still beating, add the plain flour followed by the cornflour, then scrape down and fold in with a rubber spatula. Now, with a large metal spoon, dollop in the whisked egg whites, and fold them in with the spatula.
- Fill the greased ring mould with the mixture and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30–35 minutes (although it took about 45 minutes in my oven). It’s cooked when the sides come away at the edges and a cake tester comes out clean.
- Remove it from the oven to a wire rack, letting the cake sit in the mould for 10 minutes before turning it out.
- Once cooled dust with icing sugar. Although it’s also very tasty eaten warm.
Whoopie for the whoopie pie! Had never made these before so thought I would give it a go for Father’s Day. They were quite easy to make (you may have gathered by now that I like to keep the baking simple). The trickiest bit was making sure that the pies were all the same size, or at least that there were pairs of pies that were the same size so that they could be sandwiched together. I would also add more whipped cream next time. Anywho, here’s how to bake these little yums…
- 175g (6oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 150g (5.5oz) soft light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 225g (8oz) self-raising flour
- 75g (2.5oz) cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 150ml (8 fl oz) milk (I used semi-skimmed)
- 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt or thick plain yoghurt
- 150ml (5 fl oz) double cream, whipped
- 250g (9oz) strawberries, thinly sliced
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F/Gas 4). Line several baking sheets with baking paper.
- Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy (electric whisk time again). Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.
- In a separate bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Mix the dry ingredients and the milk into the batter alternately, a spoonful at a time. Fold in the yoghurt.
- Put heaped tablespoons of the batter onto the baking sheets, trying to put the same amount down each time so that they are the same size. Remember to leave a space between each one because they do spread. Have a small glass of warm water handy and then using the back of a teaspoon smooth over the surface of each pie.
- Bake for 12 minutes until well risen. They should be springy to touch and a skewer will come out clean. Leave a few minutes then put them on a wire rack to cool.
- Once cool, grab two pies and spread some whipped cream onto each half. Layer the thinly sliced strawberries onto one half and then sandwich together.
- These don’t really store because of the fresh cream, so best eaten straight away. What a shame.