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My final recipe for the year, and a proper Christmassy recipe, was for marzipan topped mince pies. All of the ingredients were left over from other recipes so we had shortcrust pastry from a dessert which Emma made shortly before Christmas and we had the fruit and marzipan leftover from the stollen.
I took the boozy mixed fruit and added some dried cranberries and ground almonds to make a slightly more substantial mincemeat style filling. We blind-baked the pastry bases for a few minutes before adding a spoon of fruit. This went back in the oven for a few more minutes before a disk of marzipan was placed over each pie. The pies went back in the oven for another minute or so until the marzipan had softened and formed a seal around the edge of the pies.
The only real problem with the pies was that they were a bit small. Our pastry cutter was slightly too small and when the pastry shrank back during the blind-baking, we ended up with small disks instead of pie cases. This meant we needed a marzipan dome over the fruit, more marzipan and less pastry is not a problem for me.
My Christmas recipes continue with Panettone. I am a couple of days late with this because we didn't finish the stollen until today and I didn't want too many half eaten cakes in the house.
The recipe I followed was based on several different ones and was also modified based on the ingredients I had open in the kitchen.
The dough was made by sifting 500g of flour, 100g of caster sugar, a teaspoon of yeast and a teaspoon of salt into a bowl (I used 400g of bread flour and 100g of plain flour
200ml of warmed milk, 1 tsp of vanilla essence and 2 medium eggs were beaten together then mixed with the dry ingredients to make a fairly sticky dough. This was left for several hours to rise until it had roughly doubled in size.
It was then time to mix in the butter (215g, a mixture of salted, unsalted and baking margarine) and dried fruits (240g, a mixture of sultanas, dried cherries and mixed fruit and peel).
I lined two round cake tins, with a round disk in the bottom and baking paper up the sides of the tins, standing at least 2 inches taller than the tin itself. This was an improvised panettone paper liner to support the cake as it rose.
I spooned the dough into the cake tins until it was level with the tops of the tins. I did not preheat the oven and put the cakes into the cold oven, on the middle shelf, and left them to rise, undisturbed, for several hours.
When they had started to rise again I turned the oven on to gas mark 7 and left them to bake for 35-45 minutes (the smaller one was ready first). Halfway through cooking, I brushed the tops of the cakes with melted butter and sprinkled some brown sugar on top. I then turned the oven down to gas mark 5 until the cakes were cooked and a skewer came out clean.
This recipe was another success. It was trickier to make than the stollen, since lining the cake tins was a bit fiddly and the dough was sticky and difficult to work with, but the flavour and texture of the finished cake was good.
I don't think I'll be buying any supermarket stollen any more. While I have been a fan of stollen for several years, most bought ones tend to be a bit dry. When I decided to make one this year, I looked around for recipes and found several similar ones. The one I followed came from the River Cottage Cake handbook.
I actually started making this yesterday but didn't get chance to bake it so it went in the fridge overnight. I took it out this morning and let it get to room temperature before putting it in the oven at gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes.
The first thing to do is to make the enriched dough. This had 500g of bread flour, 100g of melted butter, 175g of warm milk, 125g of caster sugar, 2 eggs and some yeast. This was mixed together, kneaded for a few minutes then left to double in size.
Meanwhile, 100g of dried cherries and 200g of sultanas were put in a bowl and mixed with a few tablespoons of sloe gin and the zest from an orange.
When the bread has risen, it was knocked back and flattened to a rectangle. Some of the fruit was spread over it along with some flaked almonds. These were kneaded into the dough then the procedure was repeated until all the fruit and nuts were mixed in.
The dough was divided into 3 portions. The larger one had two marzipan 'sausages' in the middle, the smaller round ones had marzipan balls inside.
When the cakes were cooked, and while they were still warm, they were brushed with melted butter then dredged with icing sugar.
When I put the cakes in the oven I realised I had forgotten to add the cardamom but they tasted fine without. They certainly had a better texture than any shop-bought stollen I've had.
I was unable to post a new recipe last week because I was too busy at the start of the week, and too ill at the end, but I managed to catch up today. Since we are now in december, I have decided to do some festive recipes in the run-up to Christmas.
The first is a nice quick one from the Hairy Biker's European baking book. Janhagels are a kind of spiced shortbread topped with nuts and brown sugar. I decided to have a go at making this using our new food processor, to speed up the mixing a bit.
I started with 300g of flour, 200g of light brown sugar, 200g of cold diced butter, a generous pinch of salt, a generous teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ a teaspoon of mixed spice. This went in the food processor and was pulsed until it had mixed together to form breadcrumbs.
This then got tipped into a bowl and a beaten egg was mixed in to form a dough. This got pressed into a greased and lined baking tin. The topping was made from 50g of sliced almonds and 50g of brown sugar, which was mixed together and pressed into the top.
The mix was baked at gas mark 4 for about 35 minutes. I'm not sure how similar these are supposed to be to traditional shortbread (which I do really like) but these had a slightly softer texture. The spice mix did give them a nice christmassy taste.
Now I've got last week's recipe sorted, I can start thinking about this week.
The Christmas Lights were switched on in the city centre tonight. Unlike previous years, when they have had celebrity musicians present (such as Roy Wood last year and The Hoosiers a couple of years before that), this year the council tried to save a bit of money and had some local bands performing instead. As usual, the festivities took place in Broadgate.
We decided to go on a short Christmassy bread to Butlins. We were there for 3 days and there really wasn't any need to leave the site. We had a brief walk along the seafront towards town but the rest of the time was spent playing the arcades (mainly the 2p waterfall games), watching shows, going swimming or going on the fairground rides.
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We received a lot of food related presents for Christmas, including some fancy multi-coloured pasta. Here we served some of it with a home-made chicken and kale pesto.
- Chop and fry 2 cloves of garlic
- Finely chop 2 handfuls of kale and add to the pan with the garlic. Fry until it wilts.
- Put a tablespoon or so of pine nuts (or a similar seed mixture) in a food processor and blitz to a fine powder.
- Add the garlic and kale to the food processor and blitz to a paste.
- Add a tablespoon of cream and a couple of spoons of grated parmesan
- Season to taste.
- Mix in some sliced cooked chicken and serve with the pasta.
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Since it is Christmas, there has been a lot of unhealthy (but very tasty) foods being eaten. We made (and ate) 3 different desserts, which I will describe here, and not a single Christmas Pudding in sight.
For breakfast on Christmas Day, we had waffles with fresh cream and ganache. This was accompanied by the traditional bucks fizz, only we made a red bucks fizz using sparkling rose and an orange and raspberry juice.
The next two desserts were larger which we shared when we went to visit friends and family.
Pear Syllabub. The pears were peeled and sliced and poached in a sweet dessert wine. The cake was a simple microwave sponge cake. The syllabub itself was creme fraiche, double cream, icing sugar, the wine from the poached pears, and the juice and zest of 1 lemon, all beaten together. We layered the sponge, pears and cream mixture in a bowl and put it in the fridge overnight.
The roulade recipe was from the Daily Mail 'Weekend' magazine but was similar to a recipe on Delia's website.
The Coventry Christmas Lights were switched on this evening. The entertainment started mid-afternoon but we got there around 5pm, in time to watch the lights being switched on and to catch the headline act, The Hoosiers. They played about 6 songs, including favourites from their first album (including Goodbye Mr A), and a few songs from their new album.
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Christmas brings out the usual crap drivers. While we were away we saw one idiot on the A6 south of Stockport. He was driving along perfectly normally then, without warning, he would swerve violently from left to right for a few seconds, then get back to driving normally again. It looked a bit like when racing drivers swerve to warm their tyres before a race. We couldn't decide whether he was a moron, was drunk, or just thought it was funny.
On Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson has commented on how 'cocks' have started driving Audis instead of BMWs. We saw a prime example of this too. We were driving through a village where there was a 40mph speed limit. A knobhead in a black audi decided that the speed limit didn't apply to him, and he was swerving past the other cars in his haste to get past everyone. We saw a similar moron on the motorway driving a silver Ford Focus, changing lanes every few seconds because he didn't want to drive sensibly behind people at a junction.
We encountered our final knobhead of the season (so far) on our way back home, driving along Holyhead road towards Coventry. A moron in a crappy little Renault was tailgating me. I braked in an attempt to force him to slow down and increase the gap but it didn't work. We finally lost him at a junction where he went a different way. At our last sight of him, he was still driving like a knobhead, tailgating a taxi.
I think I'm being stalked by unfunny Christmas Cracker jokes. I was at a Christmas Dinner last week and all the crackers had exactly the same joke. The very same joke turned up again today:
Q: How do you make an apple puff?
A: Chase it round the garden.
It wasn't funny first time around.
Watching crappy films on TV is something of a Christmas tradition. Yesterday we watched the last of the Friends box set, so we're reduced to watching whatever films are on.
Right now, High School Musical is on TV. It's surprisingly bad, worse than I was expecting. I was expecting some level of naff cheesiness but I wasn't prepared for the painfully whiny singing voices and the really bad lip-syncing.
Other film's we've watched include:
- Elf. This was the first Christmas film we saw this year. It had some good moments but on the whole it wasn't as funny as it thought it was.
- Oliver Twist. There has to be at least one version of a Dickens story at Christmas. This was the 2005 film version.
- Alien Autopsy. The Ant and Dec film based on the hoax alien autopsy footage. It would have benefited from more Harry Dean Stanton and less Ant and Dec.
Before we decorated our tree, we decided to see what a Christmouse tree looked like.
The tree with proper decorations.
Tree with Mice.
We had a quiet night in for the new year. We watched TV, had a few drinks, opened a bottle of Cava to celebrate midnight. We were going to get some champagne but our nearest supermarket (the ever so classy Asda) didn't have any on offer.
They did have several cheese hampers half price. The one we bought had a posh bottle of cider, two cheeses (one mature and one smoked cheddar) and a jar of chutney. The cheeses and chutney will be added to the ones we bought before Christmas and haven't eaten yet. We didn't think we had bought too much food but we've got lots of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, cheese, chutney, party snacks, cake and mince pies left over.
We bought a lot of different drinks as well, because we knew we'd be having a lot of visitors. Thankfully it's all stuff we'll drink ourselves, although there is also a bottle of sherry (dry, not the awful sweet stuff). I had a few glasses of it in the run up to midnight and mentioned that I was getting a taste for it and might consider buying a better bottle to try next time. Emma muttered some comment about being gay... I'm sure you don't have to be gay to drink sherry. It's perfectly acceptable for men to drink other fortified wines such as port, but maybe that's because that's made from red wine and sherry is from white. It's well known that men drink red wine and women drink white...
After midnight we went outside to watch some fireworks which looked like they were coming from a neighbouring street. I had bought a skateboard for Emma for Christmas, so we also had a go on that in the street (while it was quiet and there were no cars around). I think more practice is needed. While neither of us fell off, we both looked fairly incompetent at it.
It's been a busy Christmas - the first one we've spent in Coventry, previous years we've driven up north to visit our parents.
My parents and my brother came down on Christmas Eve and stayed for 2 nights. We probably cooked too much food for Christmas dinner because there was plenty of turkey, veg and stuffing left over.
Emma's mum and her husband joined us on boxing day, so the house was a bit crowded for lunchtime, but my family went home after lunch.
We've got the house to ourselves now, so we can start finding homes for all the Christmas presents we've received - mostly chocolates and biscuits, so we don't need to buy any of those for a few months. Emma's Dad and his wife are stopping for lunch tomorrow but we'll be serving salad and sandwiches, so that will be a bit easier for us.
We went to take our recycling to the tip this morning but the traffic was queueing all the way to the main road. We took the glass and cardboard to the recycling point at the nearby Asda but that was getting full too. At least it showed that people were willing to recycle over Christmas rather than just throw things away.