Edible Christmas gifts there’s still time to make…

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Rather than going out to get last minute presents today, why not stay in, listen to some Christmas tunes, and let the smell of edible gifts permeate the house instead?

Below I’ve collected a few of my gifts from Christmases past, and a few other recipes that work as presents – I hope they’re useful if you’re stuck for that last present for someone!

(Click on the titles to find the recipes)

Salted butter caramels

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These are a crowd-pleaser: I’ve made them numerous times in the past and they always get good comments! They also don’t take too long – about 15 minutes on the hob and then a couple of hours to set – stick them in a cute gift bag and you’re sorted…

Vanilla extract

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A lot of people don’t realise you can make your own vanilla extract, but it’s pretty easy and looks impressive! You will need to put a ‘use after’ label (or words to that effect) on this as the vanilla won’t be infused enough by Christmas – but it will look pretty in a glass bottle with the vanilla pods…

  Blue cheese & poppy seed biscuits

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These biscuits are great as an aperitif with a glass of fino, or equally as good with a glass of port post-meal. They’re a good pressie for anyone who likes cheese – just keep them in a sealed container after making. You can also swap out the blue cheese for any other semi-hard cheese you wish!

Pickled rhubarb

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This year I have decided to make some pickled cherries, but I don’t know what they taste like yet as they’re not quite ready. The pickled rhubarb I made earlier in the year was great though and a good accompaniment to cheese and cold meats. It also is quick to make, and can be used after 48 hours – winning!

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Have an excellent Christmas and New Year all – eat, drink and be merry!

Caramel Apple Cake

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Today is definitely a day for staying-in and pottering (if you can). The weather here in Bath is not nice – I’m feeling sorry for anyone who’s come to the Christmas market – get in a pub with a mulled cider is my advice!

I’m going to be making some edible Christmas presents today – more on that soon – but if you feel like doing some baking I have a great cake for you (particularly if you’re still trying to use up a glut of apples).

Apple cake with Caramel Icing

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I love apple cake, it’s delicious and moist because of all the fruit. You can spice it with cinnamon or ginger like the one I made last year (link here) which was really tasty, but this year I wanted to try a variation on the classic ‘toffee apple’ flavour. I had a lot of cooking apples left over so decided to make a variation on Mary Berry’s apple cake, and found a recipe for caramel icing which I thought would go well with it. The result was definitely a triumph! The cake was really moist inside, but with a good crust, and the icing was thick and caramelly (new word) and good enough to eat out of the bowl – there was also lots of it left over which was excellent.

Mary Berry suggests eating the cake warm, in which case the icing could be served on the side, but the cake was delicious cold also and still moist a couple of days later!

Recipe lightly adapted from Mary Berry and BBC food

For the cake:

225g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

225g caster sugar

2 large eggs

½ tsp vanilla extract

150g butter, melted

250g cooking apples, peeled, cored & thickly sliced

 

For the icing:

125g white caster sugar

80ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

160g butter, softened

200g/7oz icing sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease a deep 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. I don’t own a particularly deep loose-bottom cake tin so I gave it some extra height with a baking paper collar. 

2.  Put the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and melted butter into a bowl or stand mixer. Mix well until combined, then beat briefly.

3.  Pour half of the mixture into the cake tin. Place the apples on top of the mixture, piling most near the centre (they will spread out during cooking. Spoon the rest of the mixture over the apples, again making sure that the centre is well-covered as it will spread out in the oven.

4.  Bake in the preheated oven for 75-90 minutes until the cake is golden and coming away from the sides of the tin. Leave to cool (or eat straight away!)

5.  For the caramel icing, put the caster sugar & 4 tbsp of water in a saucepan and cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and cook the caramel for 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Don’t stir, just be patient! Once golden, remove the pan from the heat immediately and stir in the double cream. The caramel won’t like this and will spit at you so be careful. Stir in the vanilla and then set aside to completely cool.

6.  Cream the butter and icing sugar together for at least 4- 5 minutes until light and fluffy (less if using a stand mixer), then beat in the caramel a little at a time.

Decorate the cake however you want with the icing (or serve on the side if you want to eat the cake warm!)

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Happy Sunday (whatever you’re up to!)

Three New Ways With Rhubarb (and a birthday!)

Well would you believe it – my blog is a year old today! Happy Birthday to me 🙂 🎉🎈🎁🎂

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A year ago I started this blog with a recipe for rhubarb syrup (found here), and today I am continuing the rhubarb theme with some more ideas of what to do with the beautiful pink stalks of loveliness…

I think it’s quite easy to get into a rhubarb rut, most people make a crumble with it or stew it (both of which are delicious), but I was interested to see what else could be done with it. I found a guardian online article entitled ‘The 10 best rhubarb recipes’ and took inspiration from that, and also from food blog Vanilla Garlic.

So behold recipes for Pickled rhubarb, Rhubarb & custard cake, and Fennel basted pork chops with rhubarb!

Pickled Rhubarb

recipe found & tweaked from Vanilla Garlic

Pickled rhubarb is really quick to make (apart from having to wait 2 days to eat it!) and is delicious with cheese and charcuterie – particularly goats cheese camembert which is an excellent invention that you can find in Sainsbury’s. Pickled rhubarb would also make a great foodie present for someone!

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ingredients

3 stalks rhubarb

Spices: 2 star anise, 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes, 1/2 a cinnamon stick, 1 bay leaf, 5 cloves, 5 peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon salt

325ml white vinegar

155g caster sugar

1 large preserving jar (at least 750ml) – sterilised

Trim the rhubarb and chop into approx 2inch chunks. Put into the preserving jar with the spices.

Put the sugar, salt and vinegar into a small saucepan and boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Pour the mixture over the rhubarb and stir.

Put the lid on and leave in the fridge for 48hours before using. Use within a month.

Fennel basted pork chops with rhubarb

recipe found on guardian website here

Pork goes well with apple, apricot, raisins – loads of different fruits – so why not rhubarb? The fennel adds an extra dimension of flavour, and we served this with celeriac mash and green beans. This would make a nice addition to a spring dinner party!

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Ingredients

serves 2

2 pork chops

1tsp fennel seeds

1tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

1/2 tsp sea salt

50g butter

finely grated zest & juice of 1 orange

4tbsp sweet sherry (or other dessert wine)

225g rhubarb

1 tbsp honey

1 celeriac, peeled and chopped (optional)

Using scissors, snip the rind of each chop at approx. 1 inch intervals. Put the fennel, coriander, pepper and salt in a pestle & mortar, and crush (but not to a powder). Rub this into each chop.

If serving with celeriac: Put the celeriac into a pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook for around 20 minutes until soft, then mash with butter & milk. Keep warm.

Melt a third of the butter in a frying pan with some oil and hold the pork rind-side down in the pan for 2-3 minutes, until browned. Fry the pork chops for 2 minutes on each side, then add the rest of the butter and the orange zest to the pan. Baste the chops and turn them over once.

Pour in the sweet sherry and let it bubble for a few seconds, then add the orange juice and bring back to a simmer.

Add the rhubarb to the pan, fitting it in around the pork chops, and drizzle over the honey. Cook for around 4 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft but not collapsed, and the chops are cooked.

Using a slotted spoon, take the pork and rhubarb out of the pan and keep warm. Stir the sauce and let it simmer until it has thickened, but before it turns into syrup.

Serve with the celeriac and steamed green beans.

Rhubarb & custard cake

Rhubarb & custard is a classic combination, put it in a cake and you have a surefire hit! This recipe is a cross between one from the guardian rhubarb article, and one from food blog eat, little bird.  The layer of custard sank to the bottom (I don’t think I thickened it enough), and took the rhubarb with it, but it still tasted delicious and I will be making it again…

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Ingredients

Serves 6-8

175g butter

250g caster sugar

4 eggs

175g plain flour, sifted

25g custard powder

2½ tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp salt

1½ tsp baking powder

100-150 ml ready-made custard, heated and thickened with cornflour, then cooled

2-3 tsp ground cardamom, or the seeds from 2 cardamom pods, crushed

4-5 sticks (400g) rhubarb, cut into 12cm lengths

Preheat the oven to 180C.

In a saucepan, heat 25g of butter with the cardamom, 1tsp of the vanilla extract and 50g of the sugar. When it starts bubbling, add the rhubarb and simmer for a couple of minutes until cooked but still holding its shape. Take off the heat and leave to cool.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then add all the other dry ingredients and the vanilla extract and fold together to make a batter.

Line a 23cm baking tin with greaseproof paper and pour the batter in. It is quite a thick batter so may need some help from a spatula to make it even.

Spoon the custard in a layer over the batter and add the rhubarb on top, keeping some of the syrup from the pan for drizzling.

Bake in the oven for approx 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Once cooled, drizzle with the remaining rhubarb syrup and enjoy!

Thanks for reading my blog over the past year – here’s to the next one!

Panicking about Pancakes?

Just a quick one re the important food-related business we all have today (in the UK anyway) – Shrove Tuesday = Pancake Day!

I haven’t decided what to have with my pancakes this evening, but I have made a little pinterest board with some ideas on, so if you feel like doing something other than lemon and sugar take a look!

My pancake board

A couple of interesting-looking recipes from it below:

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Apple Pie Pancakes (photo & recipe by Averie Cooks)

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Goats’ Curd Pancakes with Pomegranate Molasses Roast Grapes (photo from Marie Claire, recipe from Anna Hansen’s The Modern Pantry)

I’m thinking of some sort of apple and caramel version, using the salted caramel sauce recipe from my last post and softening some apples in a little bit of butter, then piling on top of crepes or scotch pancakes…

The standard crepe-style pancake recipe I use is from BBC Good Food here

For some reason I don’t tend to eat savoury pancakes on pancake day, although I’ll happily have them any other day – I think it’s because pancake day is the only day where you get to eat dessert for tea 😉

I have included some savoury pancake recipes on my pinterest board in case the urge takes though!

Happy Flipping…

Christmas Gift Ideas: Last-Minute Salted Butter Caramels

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It’s entirely possible (and preferable), that anyone reading this is doing so snug at home, relaxed and ready for Christmas with the presents all wrapped, the food all bought, drinks all chilling in the fridge… if so, I salute you and you can keep that smug smile on your face for as long as you like!

If you’re a present or two short, or you want that homemade touch without bags of effort then I hope I can help. Firstly, who doesn’t like salted caramel? Or homemade sweets? Secondly, these homemade salted caramel sweets are quick and pretty easy to make (if you keep an eye on them), and they only need a couple of hours to set, so they can be made this evening or tomorrow morning and be ready in time for Christmas day. Thirdly, they are made from things you probably have lying around the house anyway – the only exception possibly being a sugar thermometer*.

*In which case, a jar of salted caramel sauce would also make a nice present for someone – just follow the recipe until the sugar thermometer goes in, and instead, cook on a medium heat for another 3 minutes, then pour into a jar or bottle.

So without further ado, I give you:

Salted Butter Caramels

85g granulated sugar

100ml double cream

40g butter

30ml honey

1/2 tsp salt (plus extra if desired)

You will need a sugar thermometer and a loaf tin (or equivalent) for this recipe

Recipe taken (and adapted slightly) from A Beautiful Mess via Rachel Khoo

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Line a loaf tin or square tray with baking/greaseproof paper and set aside – this will be what the caramels set in. Put the sugar in a medium saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a medium/high heat until the sugar dissolves and starts to bubble. Keep cooking the sugar syrup until it turns a dark amber colour (see photo above). This can take a few minutes but the colour/smell can change quite quickly so keep an eye on it and take it off the heat as soon as it looks ready.

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Once you’ve taken it off the heat, add in the rest of the ingredients – the mixture will bubble up and may spit at you so be a bit careful! When stirred in, put the saucepan back on the heat and add the sugar thermometer. Heat the mixture until the temperature on the sugar thermometer reaches the ‘hard ball’ stage (260F). As soon as the temperature hits 260F remove from the heat and pour into the prepared loaf pan or dish you are setting the caramels in. If you wish, you can add some more flaked sea salt to the top of the caramel.

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Let the caramel cool for a couple of hours before cutting into squares or strips and wrapping in baking/greaseproof paper. I found cutting with a greased knife made it a smoother process.

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And Voila! You have another tasty little homemade gift for someone 🙂

Here’s a photo of my salted caramels and Limoncello/Arancello bottles ready to be given to family this Christmas!

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All that remains is to say:

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Because if a clown and hoop la-ing pigs doesn’t say Merry Christmas, what does?!

Quite Easy Mince Pies

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I’m typing this with the mixed scents of freshly baked mince pies and pine trees in my nose, and the sound of Otis Redding singing ‘White Christmas’ in my ears… it’s safe to say I’m finally feeling Christmassy 🙂

Buying a real tree has definitely helped this year, although we misjudged the size of the tree versus the size of our living room, and now can’t really see the TV. Oh well, the tree is prettier!

If you remember, a while back I posted a recipe for homemade mincemeat – now it’s time to make the mince pies. I make these mince pies every year, and they always get good comments – the pastry is very short which makes them lovely and crumbly, and obviously the mincemeat is delicious 😉

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They’re not the most professional-looking mince pies, but they make up for that in taste.

The recipe they come from calls them ‘unbelievably easy’ mince pies, and although they aren’t rocket science, I would say they aren’t as easy as the title would have you believe – that’s why I’ve called them ‘quite easy’! There’s no need for a food mixer, just your fingers, and the pastry doesn’t need rolling out, just pressing into the trays – this makes them easier (and fun for kids to do), but they do take a while to assemble because of this however, and when trying to make the lids by just squashing them in your palms, there are invariably some cracked lids when they come out of the oven. I ended up rolling out small amounts of the pastry for the lids as I could control the size/thickness of them better that way. I also had half a packet of sweet shortcrust pastry left in the freezer which I used for some of the lids, this meant I could make 24 mince pies instead of 18. (Don’t judge me for cheating slightly!)

They are ridiculously tasty, so without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Recipe taken from BBC Good Food

‘Quite Easy’ Mince Pies

Makes approx. 18

Ingredients

225g cold butter, diced
350g plain flour
100g golden caster sugar
280g mincemeat
1 small egg
icing sugar, to dust

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For the pastry: Put the cold cubed butter and the plain flour into a large bowl and rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. (It’s good to have cold hands for this bit!) Add the golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt, and combine well.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

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Lightly grease a cupcake tin (or 2). As the dough is pretty dry and doesn’t have egg or water added to it, I find it easier to knead a small amount at a time, rather than all in one go – a walnut sized piece is enough for each mince pie and a good amount to knead at a time. When pliable, push each ball of dough into your cupcake tin with your fingers.

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Now it’s time to add the mincemeat – about a teaspoonful is a good amount.

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Next, either roll out a small amount of the dough (after kneading briefly) and cut out circles for the lids – a 68mm cutter is perfect, or form a circle from squashing a small ball of the dough in the palms of your hands until it’s the right size (it’s good to have warm hands for this bit). Top the mince pies with their lids, pressing down at the edges to seal – you don’t need to seal them with anything as they’ll stick fine on their own. Brush each mince pie with some of the beaten egg, and put into the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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When ready, take out of the oven and allow to cool for at least ten minutes in the tin, they’ll be easier to take out once cooler. When removing from the tin, you may need to trim the edges of each hole, and ease the knife down the side to help release the pie – they should come out easily after this. You can trim the pies after removing them too, to give them more of a uniform shape. Leave on a rack to cool down completely (if you have willpower…)

NB: The mince pies without the cracked lids are the shop-bought pastry tops.

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When ready to serve, dust liberally with icing sugar and make a pot of tea – or some mulled wine. Delicious!

I have plans for one more last-minute Christmas gift idea before the big day, but in case I run out of time…

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Gift Ideas: Homemade Vanilla Extract

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Think of this post as an ad break between the epic movie that is ‘El Celler de Can Roca’…

I’ll be honest, i’m struggling with motivation a little bit at the mo – blog-wise and life-wise, and now that Christmas is turning up pretty quickly, I’m realising I need to catch up with that too! I made Vanilla Extract last Christmas for friends and family, and I’ve had a request for more this year. This is fine, as it’s a really quick and easy thing to make – but it does need about two months to mature, so I really should’ve made it a month ago. It will be ok though, i’ll just give it to people with a little ‘Best after’ note so they know when to start using it!

Vanilla extract is made with only two things: Vanilla beans/pods, and alcohol. Commercial Vanilla extract can have sugar syrup in it too, but if it’s just used for baking there’s no need. Vanilla beans can be expensive in the supermarket, and you’ll need quite a few for this recipe (depending on how much you want to make), so I tend to buy them in bulk on Amazon or Ebay – this year I bought a pack of 10 ‘extract grade’ beans from here – they were £2.30 and they were perfectly good – not dry, and smelt amazing.

You don’t need to buy expensive alcohol either, I usually buy standard vodka as it has the least flavour, but I know people also use rum or bourbon which would be nice in baking too.

Anyway onto the super-easy recipe…

Homemade Vanilla Extract

70cl Bottle of alcohol of your choice (my vodka was 37.5%)

10 Vanilla Beans

attractive bottles/jars to gift them in

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1. Cut your vanilla beans in half length-wise with kitchen scissors or a knife – if you’re going to leave them in the jars/bottles to continue maturing, leave them connected at one end (it looks prettier!).

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2. Put them in your bottle of alcohol.

3. Leave for as long as possible!

If you have your gifting bottles/jars ready, you can make the extract straight into these – just divide up the amount of beans/alcohol, and make sure you sterilise the jars before using. I haven’t got round to buying nice bottles yet (told you I was disorganised this year!), so will be leaving mine in the vodka bottle until the last minute, and then decanting and fishing out the pods so they can continue to mature in their new bottles.

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Here’s a photo of the extract I made last year (excuse the phone quality)

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Even if you don’t want to give this as presents to people, it’s really nice to know you have an endless supply of vanilla extract to hand 🙂

P.s Vodka is an excellent base to make Christmassy liqueurs with too, and they only take 2 weeks – so i may be making limoncello or similar soon – watch this space…

P.P.S. Happy thanksgiving to any American readers!