Good afternoon folks and welcome to the last post of the year!
This year I’ve tried to be good about Christmas baking. In other words, I’ve tried not to go overboard! As Mr Bandit is working away from home at the moment, its just me and the dog at home, and we don’t need an excess of biscuits! However, I couldn’t go completely without. I love the smells and tastes of Christmas baking. Whilst I like chocolate and caramel as much as the next person, my favourite flavours are those warm, spicey tastes that come with baking at this time of year. I really wanted to try and make pfeffernusse, which have been a firm favourite since I was about 5 (known in my family as knee biscuits – I’ll leave you to work out why!), but I haven’t found a recipe I like enough to share. Instead, I thought I’d offer up two contrasting tastes of winter. The first I don’t find very Christmassy at all, but I’m told they are all the rage across the pond. The second I consider proper Christmas fare, full of spice and all things nice….
PECAN TASSIES – A Taste of America
The other day I wanted to make something quick and simple that gave a flavour of the holiday season but without the time and faff that most of my staple Christmas recipes take. These are wonderfully light, sweet and delicious. Don’t have too many though or you’ll feel a bit sick! Also do not fear at the sight of making ‘pastry’ – it isn’t really pastry at all and is very simple. (adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com)
Pastry Ingredients: 50g pecans, 50g soft cheese, 50g soft butter, 50g plain flour and a bit extra for dusting.
Filling Ingredients: 90g pecans, 1 egg yolk, 50g light brown sugar, 2 tbsp maple syrup, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tbsp butter (melted).
- For the pastry, put the pecans in the food processor and whizz as small as they’ll go. Then throw in the other ingredients and mix until combined. The ‘pastry’ will be quite sticky and thick – not pastry like at all!
- Scrape the mixture out onto a work surface (make sure it and your hands are flour dusted) and divide the mix into 12 equal sized balls.
- Get a fairy cake tin, or another small bun tin. Then drop a ball of pastry into each hole. Use your fingers to push the mix up the sides of the tin to form little bowl shapes. Its easy to manoeuvre but don’t spread it too thin or there will be holes. Mine didn’t come all the way up the sides of the tin and that’s okay.
- Put this in the fridge while you get the filling ready and preheat the oven to 160 (fan).
- For the filling, dry fry the pecans on a low heat until they warm and crisp a little. You’ll know they’re done when they start to release some oil and smell good!
- Pick out 12 good looking pecans, and chop the rest up roughly.
- combine the chopped pecans and the rest of the ingredients until well mixed.
- Put the pastry cases in the oven for 5 minutes. When you take them out some might have gone a bit puffy, but just use the back of a spoon to press them down. Don’t use your fingers – these are fragile at this stage and you’ll go through it.
- Spoon the filling mix evenly between the cases and top each one with a whole pecan and a sprinkling of sea salt (optional).
- Bake for 15-20 mins.
- Leave to cool for a few minutes before taking them out the tin but I do recommend you take them out whilst still warm, and leave them to cool completely on a rack. When cold the sugary filling will go hard where it has spilled onto the tray and they will be difficult to extract in one piece.
I do like these, and I’ll certainly make them again, but they just aren’t at all festive to me. There’s too much sweet and not enough spice, not enough of the smells of the season. So, my baking needs left unsatisfied, I moved on to a classic….
SUGAR AND SPICE GINGER BISCUITS: A taste of Winter
I make these every year. They are so unbelievably simple, can be adapted to your tastes and are the essence of festive cooking. They double up as tree decorations if you fancy (although not in our house as dog + tree biscuits would equal disaster!). Also a brilliant way to pass the time with kids, who will particularly love the decorating part! (adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com)
Ingredients: 140g butter, 100 dark muscovado sugar (although a lighter brown sugar would work), 350g plain flour, 3 tbsp golden syrup (or you can use 2 of golden syrup and one of treacle for some extra punch), 1 tsp of bicarb, 1 ball of stem ginger, 2 tsp of ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of ground all spice.
- Heat the oven to 180 (fan) and get two baking trays ready with baking paper on them.
- Put the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan over a low heat and melt together.
- In a large bowl sieve the flour, bicarb and spices. The spices quantities are a guide – go with what you like!
- Stir the chopped stem ginger into the melted mixture, allow it to cool a little and then pour into the bowl of dry ingredients.
- Mix thoroughly until it forms a stiff dough.
Strangely, the trickiest bit is cutting out the shapes! This dough is fragile at this stage. A top tip is to break off a section of dough and roll it out directly onto the baking tray. Using cutters of your choice, cut out biscuits to any shape you fancy and remove the excess from around them. If you are making smaller shapes this mix can make as many as 40 biscuits. I bake 4 trays worth in total.
- Bake for 10 minutes. When you remove them from the oven they’ll still be soft, so wait a minute for them to cool and harden before you remove them to a cooling rack.
There’s no need to decorate these – they are lovely as they are! However, I decided to decorate these simply with a little fondant icing. Just follow the packet instructions to get a thick but liquid consistency. Pop it in a pipping bag and away you go! I kept it very simple but you can use different colours, glitter, whatever!
The smell around the house while these are baking is divine, and they just look properly festive. So apologies to our American cousins but these win every time!
I hope everyone has a wonderfully festive time over the next few weeks. Bake and be merry my friends!
Sometimes you want a cake to celebrate a special occasion and sometimes you need a dessert at the end of a celebratory meal – so why not make something that covers all bases? This Amaretti and Apricot cake fulfilled both tasks at a recent family celebration, and the leftovers made an excellent accompaniment to brunch the following morning!
This cake is moist and sweet, and with the addition of some stewed fruit, maybe some cream or even a dollop of vanilla ice cream, is transformed into something heavenly to end a meal with. It also feeds about ten people, so is perfect for a large gathering. Best of all, it is a really easy cake to make!
This recipe is adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.co.uk
INGREDIENTS: 200g butter or Stork (I used the latter as this cake needed to be dairy-free), 200g caster sugar, 200g self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 4 large eggs, 1tsp almond essence, 410g can of apricot halves, 120g amaretti biscuits (for anyone else wanting to make this dairy free, check the ingredients of the amaretti biscuits – some include milk powder but good ones shouldn’t).
- Heat the oven to 160 (fan) and butter and line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
- Cream the butter and sugar and then mix in the flour and baking powder. It will be quite thick at this stage.
- Add in the eggs one at a time. I suggest breaking them into a smaller bowl first, just to make sure you don’t get a dud one!
- Add the almond essence and mix it all quite hard – it should be smooth and creamy and a bit fluffy.
- Take a quarter of the mixture and set it aside.
- Drain the apricots and chop them up roughly, then add them to the larger portion of cake batter.
- Bash the amaretti biscuits into chunky pieces. Add 1/4 of the pieces to the apricot batter.
- Put the apricot batter into the tin and smooth over. Pop it in the oven for 25 minutes.
- While the cake is in the oven, add half of the remaining crushed amaretti biscuits to the remaining portion of batter.
- When the cake has had 25 minutes in the oven, take it out and quickly spread the remainder of the batter over the top. It is easiest to dollop on blobs of the mixture and then work them together. Do this quickly though so that the cake doesn’t sink.
- Sprinkle the remaining amaretti crumbs on top of the cake and pop back in the oven for another 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Your finished cake should be two-tone, with a lighter crust from the late addition of the second batch of batter. The top layer had an almond-y crunch and the bottom layer is full of moist fruit.
This was such a winner I think it is going to become a dinner party staple!
Some alternative ideas could include:
- For more of a pudding feel, save half the apricots and pop the whole halves on the top with the second batch of batter so that they form little igloos on the top of the cake.
- Toast some almonds and sprinkle them over the top
- Sprinkle the top with a mixture of icing sugar and gold glitter for a real wow-factor effect.
I hope you enjoy this little gem of a recipe!
Its nearly Christmas folks, so I’ll try and get in a recipe for the holiday season before the end of the year – if anyone has any requests let me know!
Bake well my friends,