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For the letter 'B' I decided to do a version of a traditional Bulgarian Christmas loaf. I had originally intended to make it over Christmas but I didn't find time to do any baking, and since we had lots of cakes and chocolates to eat, we didn't really need more bread.
(For the bread)
- 2 cups of bread flour
- 2 tsp yeast
- 2 eggs
- 50g softened butter
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tablespoon honey
(For the glaze)
- 1 tsp of honey
- a few drops of water
Mix the water and honey a few drops at a time until the honey is a pourable consistency.
I put all the bread ingredients in our food mixer, with the dough hook, and let it mix for a few minutes. Since this a brioche type bread, the mix was very wet and a bit sticky, which made it difficult to handle and shape.
I broke the dough into equal weight pieces, rolled them into balls and put them in a round tin to prove.
After they had risen, I carefully brushed them with the honey mixture. It was baked in a pre-heated oven (gas mark 5) for half an hour. I started it off covered in foil, but took the foil off after the first 15 minutes.
Verdict: a soft slightly sweet brioche with a honey flavoured crust. Definitely one to try again.
I went back to the German Market again and picked a random stall to buy my lunch. This time it was one of the Pretzel stalls. The salami pretzel sounded good so I bought one of those.
The pretzel was pretty much what you expect: soft, chewy and very salty on top. I had change left so I thought I would try a dessert next. The choice of desserts was reasonably wide and included pancakes, sweets, cakes, marshmallows or chocolate coated fruit kebabs. The dice took me to a marshmallow stand.
I chose an orange and a gingerbread one. The marshmallow is softer and stickier than the sort you get in bags, and sits on a small waffle or wafer-like disc.
The German Market is in full swing in Birmingham and I am still using the random number app to choose my lunch.
The dice took me to a schnitzel stand which offered a choice of different meats. I let the dice decide and came away with a chicken schnitzel. I also got some chips to go with it.
I had asked for the mushroom sauce and I think they gave me the curry sauce but it was still good, and went well with the schnitzel.
Half metre sausage
The choice was a bit easier this time. The dice chose the half-metre bratwurst stand so I didn't have any extra choices to make. I didn't let the dice choose my condiments, I added half ketchup and half mustard.
The sausage was fine but the bread was a bit chewy. Although it looks a lot of food, I still felt hungry afterwards.
The German Christmas Market returned to Birmingham last week. We popped out for an inaugural pint or two when it opened but this week I decided to get some food. Instead of using the Wheeldecide website, I used a random number generator app on my phone to choose which of the many food outlets to choose.
I found myself in front of a chalet-style take-away which had a range of different menu items all based around burgers, potatoes and mushrooms. Instead of letting the dice choose how much I ate, I went for the full menu since I didn't want to end up hungry.
The garlic sauce was a bit too strong but the meal itself was good, as was the wheat beer.
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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.
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.
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.