Archives for category: Tea time

Mince Pies are, for me one of the joys of the Christmas season. 1st December heralds the green light to start baking batches both for the freezer, ensuring that we won’t run out over the big day but also for myself and anyone who shares what could be described as a minor addiction to something not entirely healthy but oh so delicious.

If you are going to go the trouble of making your own then please do make your own mincemeat. Nothing in the shops can ever compare to the flavour and fragrance of a good homemade; I find the commercial brands far too acidic and faintly unpleasant in comparison. Mincemeat is surprisingly easy to make; some recipes call for it to be gently heated before storing in sterilised jars. Some simply stir all the ingredients together. I favour the heating option; I feel the flavours combine better and the mincemeat stores better due to the fat clinging around all the fruits. A good dollop of alcohol will help with the preserving but it is not absolutely necessary. If you prefer not to use brandy or rum then just replace with extra orange and lemon juice; the former is less acidic but I like the tang that lemon adds and so tend to hedge my bets and add some of both, in my case along with a good soaking of both brandy and amaretti liqueur.

The quality and freshness of your dried fruits is imperative. Old bags of stuff that have been open for a while won’t really cut it – like spices, best to buy just before you make your mincemeat or use from unopened packs!

Mincemeat should keep well for at least six months and improves with keeping. I often use jars that I made the year before and have never experienced any problems; on the contrary these left over jars tend to have even better flavour and a lovely mellowness about them.

Makes about 4 or 5 jars

5 sterilised jam jars

200g currants
200g plump raisins
200g sultanas
125g good quality mixed peel
125g chopped apricots/dried figs/prunes/dried cranberries/sour cherries
1 Bradley apple, peeled and finely chopped
250g dark brown sugar (or a mix of light and dark)
75g blanched almonds, finely chopped
150g suet (vegetarian or beef)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons mixed spice
Grating nutmeg
Dash of vanilla extract
2 lemons, rind and juice
1 orange, rind and juice
50ml amaretti liqueur
150ml brandy

Mix everything together in a saucepan except the brandy and amaretti. Heat gently and then cook, stirring every now and then for about fifteen minutes. The fat will melt and coat all the other ingredients. Leave to cool.

Add the brandy and amaretti, or whatever alcohol you prefer and then spoon in to sterilised jars and seal. Store in a cool place until you need it.

When ready to use, add another good grating of orange rind and some more amaretti or brandy.

A fresh apricot is one of the joys of summer, especially if you happen to be somewhere properly hot and can rely on them being consistently flavoursome and ripe.
In this country it is a bit more hit and miss and I find myself more often than not roasting, poaching or using them, as here in a cake or tart. Cooking them really does intensify the flavour and turns even the most insipid into something special.
This easy cake makes a lovely finish to a summer lunch. It is extremely quick to make and although is something of a one day wonder can be very successfully refreshed in a hot oven in the unlikely event that there is any left over.
Those who are gluten intolerant can just use all almonds.
Serves six

140g unsalted butter, softened
140g caster sugar
70g ground almonds
70g self raising flour
Rind of an orange
Dash of vanilla extract
2 large eggs
About six ripe or almost ripe apricots, roughly chopped and stones removed.

Line a rectangular baking pan (approx 35cm X 12cm) with baking parchment.
Pre-heat oven to 180 or 170 fan. Or baking oven of an aga.

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the orange rind and vanilla. Whisk the eggs and beat them in one by one taking care not to curdle the mix. A little flour/almond added at the same time will help.

Whisk the flour and almonds together and fold into the mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared tin and sprinkle the apricots over the top.

Bake for about 40 – 45 mins until golden brown and springy to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack. It is easiest to just leave it on the baking parchment but I take it out of the tin.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with cream, Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche. 91B507F7-D1B2-47E1-9C05-B28C5A1C31D9

Its a pretty miserable time of year – Spring seems rather far off and the Christmas celebrations are a distant memory, the only reminder being stray pine needles that seem to take up permanent residence under the sofa and the occasional discovery of a forgotten stocking filler.
Lent looms in February and so quite honestly I think we can all be forgiven for indulging in the occasional treat. A homely slice of cake comes under my mantra or ‘all things in moderation’ and as long as you don’t tuck into the whole thing in one go, or perhaps just save it for the weekend I look upon it as a medicinal necessity! Especially if like us you are spending a lot of time clearing garden debris, making bonfires and generally getting rid of the old to make way for the new that is presumably even as I type gearing itself up to pop up over the next few months.
This cake is perfect for this. It’s dense, delicious and keeps for ages in a tin. It can be used as a pudding, with perhaps a toffee sauce, ice cream or just some cream whipped up with orange rind and ginger syrup. Or it is just as good plain, with a dusting of icing sugar (that feels sensible and less indulgent) or with a generous spread of orange & ginger butter icing on top. I particularly like to use the organic, unsulphured dark apricots that don’t look nearly as exciting as the bright day-glo orange variety but my goodness, they certainly deliver on flavour and I think make for a far more interesting and sophisticated flavour. You can vary the date/apricot/ginger combination to suit what you have available.

Serves up to 10

Preheat oven to 170 fan

280g organic apricots
100g good quality stoned dates
3 balls stem ginger from a jar
300ml boiling water
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
90g softened unsalted butter
175g dark brown sugar (or light if you prefer, or a mix of the two)
Rind of one orange
3 large free range eggs
110g wholemeal plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
110g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch sea salt

Line a 9″/23cm springform tin with baking parchment.

Put the apricots and dates into a heatproof bowl with the bicarbonate of soda and pour the boiling water over. Leave to sit for five or ten minutes. Add the ginger and then blitz in a food processor until pureed but still lumpy.

Cream the butter with the sugar until pale and creamy and add the orange rind.
Add in the eggs, one by one. Whisk the flours, baking powder and spices together with a balloon whisk and then fold into the butter/egg mix along with a pinch of salt. Fold in the apricots, dates etc.

Turn into the prepared tin and bake for about fifty minutes until risen and a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Either eat as it is, enjoy with some ginger and orange cream (simply whisk some ginger syrup and orange rind into some double cream until lightly whipped) or spread this butter icing on top.

ORANGE & GINGER BUTTER ICING

100g unsalted softened butter
175g icing sugar, sifted
rind one orange
2 tablespoon ginger syrup from a jar

Whisk the butter well until really well whipped and creamy. Continue whisking in the icing sugar and really well blended and then add in the orange rind and ginger syrup. Spread over the top of the cake and finish with some finely chopped stem ginger, if liked.

Serves Eight

3 cooking apples
2 lemons
50g dark brown soft sugar
150g light muscovado sugar
150g softened butter
2 large eggs
85g plain flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
100g ground almonds
30g butter
25g dark brown sugar
50g flaked almonds

Pre heat oven to 180c

Line a 23cm springform tin with baking parchment.

Peel, core and chop the apples. Put into an oven proof dish,grate over the zest of one lemon and add the juice of two. Sprinkle over 50g of dark brown sugar and cover with baking parchment. Bake for 20 minutes until the fruit is soft. Leave to cool.

Cream the butter with the light brown sugar. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time until well mixed in. Whisk the flour and baking powder together with the mixed spice and ground almonds. Fold into the butter mix and then lightly mix in the apple.

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for thirty minutes. Five minutes before this time is up melt the 30g butter with the 25g dark brown sugar and mix in the flaked almonds. Spread over the top of the cake and bake for a further fifteen to twenty minutes until springy to the touch. Cool in the tin or serve warm, but not hot.

Ginger ice cream is good with this or double cream.

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Makes 10

225g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
50g unsalted butter
25g caster sugar
1 egg
Approx 100ml milk

Pre-heat the oven to 220c

Measure the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and whisk together.

Cut the cold butter into cubes and add to the flour. Rub in well using your fingertips and keeping it well aerated. The mix will eventually resemble fine breadcrumbs. Add the caster sugar.

Whisk the egg in a measuring jug and add milk until you have 150ml. Pour most of it into the flour mixture and using a knife, cut this way and that until you have a soft dough. You will have some milk and egg left over but just use enough until the dough is nice and soft but not too sticky.

Knead briefly on a very lightly floured work surface. Then gently roll out until about 2cm thick. Have a greased baking tray ready. Use a 2″ cutter and cut out rounds of the dough. Place on the tray. Keep the same way up all the time as you will get a much better rise.

Once they are all on the tray, brush the tops with some of the rest of the milk and egg. Bake for ten minutes or until they are golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Cool on a wire rack if you aren’t eating them straight away, warm! Top with clotted or whipped double cream and your favourite jam.

This recipe is a Mary Berry one and I have never found a better way to make scones.

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I recently spent some time helping out a few of the lovely nannies from Freckles Childcare Agency with some cooking skills. This cake was one of the recipes we made and I only wish I had come across it before. It is the model of simplicity – just throw everything in a bowl, whisk well and pop in the oven. Less than half a hour later you have a scrumptious cake, light as a feather and all that remains to do is the fun of whipping up an indulgent cream cheese icing. It’s a great recipe to have up your sleeve for those times when you want a really yummy cake but don’t have a lot of time to make one.

How you finish it is up to you but I suspect that no one will burst into tears at the sight of some good old fashioned chocolate flake liberally adorning the top. Alternatively, just fill the centre and finish with a sensible dusting of icing sugar.

This recipe uses an American cup measure – if you don’t have one a medium sized mug will do.

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 large egg

ICING

300g icing sugar, sieved
125g cream cheese (use philadelphia as it holds up better, some go a bit soft)
50g softened unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
(If you are icing the top of the cake as well you may like to make a bit more icing, eg 400g icing sugar, 175g cream cheese and 70g butter)

Pre-heat the oven to 180c

Grease and line two 8″ sandwich tins

Measure all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Whisk well until the mix is smooth. Divide evenly between the two tins.

Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until the cake is springy to the touch.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins.

While the cakes are cooling, whisk the icing ingredients together. If you like you could add cocoa powder to make a chocolate icing.

Either fill just the middle of the cake or use the icing to fill both the centre and put on the top. Sprinkle over crumbled chocolate flakes (two is about right) or dust the top of the cake with icing sugar.

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