The recent snap of cold air has jerked me out of my complacency and reminded me how close we are to Christmas, time to get started on Christmas baking and store cupboard goodies for edible presents.
Despite the uncertain times many people welcome the fact that the festive season is less likely to be as flamboyant and excessive as it has become in recent years. In just a few short weeks frugality has become cool – it’s all about competitive thrift. People are vying with each other to come up with ideas and schemes to save energy, money and food. My friends in California are all into bartering with food and services – “I’ll babysit for you in exchange for some of your surplus heirloom apples or whatever”
Back to Christmas baking – it’s all about getting really good quality dried fruit, fat Lexia raisins, plump golden sultanas and moist crinkly currants.
The quality of the candied peel really matters too. It may seem like a step too far to suggest making homemade candied peel but you might want to give it a little consideration because it is so worth it terms of flavour and texture. Plus there’s also the feel good factor – instead of chucking them into the bin – you put your citrus peel to good use rather than paying the corporation to take them to land fill
When I was a child growing up in a tiny village in Co Laois, our family ‘owned’ the local post office, I remember the excitement when eagerly anticipated parcels arrived from the yanks in America for local families; they often contained the makings of the cake! For many, at that time, dried fruit was a luxury. Baking the Christmas cake was a very serious business. How the cake turned out was the subject of much discussion after Mass on Sundays. Much was at stake, the precious expensive ingredients mustn’t be wasted yet one only got one chance in the year to practice and it was another whole year before one could correct a mistake. Lastly everyone in the neighbourhood would know how your cake turned out!
The Ballymaloe mincemeat recipe is gluten free so is suitable for coeliacs and those on a wheat free diet also. This recipe makes juicy and delicious mincemeat which keeps for over a year. Pot it up in pretty jars with labels and then you’ll have a handy source of Christmas pressies.
Limóncello is also worth making, when chilled it makes a deliciously refreshing aperitif and a much sought after pressie. (Fool Proof Food). Have fun.
Darina Allen’s Christmas Cake with Toasted Almond Paste
This makes a moist cake which keeps very well. I have a passion for almond icing so I ‘ice’ the cake with almond icing and decorate it with heart shapes made from the Almond Paste. Then I brush it with beaten egg yolk and toast it in the oven – simply delicious!
225g (8 ozs) butter
225 g (8 ozs) pale, soft-brown sugar or golden castor sugar
6 organic free-range eggs
285g (10 ozs) flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
65 ml (2 1/2 fl ozs) Irish whiskey
340 g (12 ozs) best-quality sultanas
340 g (12 ozs) best- quality currants
340 g (12 ozs) best-quality raisins
110 g (4ozs) real glacé cherries
110 g (4ozs) homemade candied peel
55 g (2 ozs) ground almonds
55 g (2 ozs) whole almonds
rind of 1 organic unwaxed lemon
rind of 1 organic unwaxed orange
1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated
Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23 cm) round, or an 8 inch (20.5 cm) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper.
Wash the cherries and dry them out. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4 and cover with a sheet of brown paper.
Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and a pinch of salt and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).
Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Lay a sheet of brown paper over the top. Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160C/325F/regulo 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean, 3-3½ hours in total. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.
Next day remove from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required. Almond paste or ice closer to Christmas.
450 g ground almonds
450 g castor sugar
2 small organic free range eggs
A drop of pure almond essence
50 ml Irish whiskey
Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond essence, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all of the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.
To Brush on the Cake
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 egg yolks
Remove the paper from the cake. To make life easier for you, put a sheet of greaseproof paper onto the worktop; dust with some icing sugar. Take about half the almond paste and roll it out on the paper: it should be a little less than 2 inch (1 cm) thick. Paint the top of the cake with the lightly-beaten egg white and put the cake, sticky side down, onto the almond paste. Give the cake a ‘thump’ to make sure it sticks and then cut around the edge. If the cake is a little ‘round shouldered’, cut the almond paste a little larger; pull away the extra bits and keep for later to make hearts or holly leaves. With a palette knife press the extra almond paste in against the top of the cake to fill any gaps. Then slide a knife underneath the cake or, better still, underneath the paper and turn the cake right way up. Peel off the greaseproof paper.
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/regulo 7.
Next, measure the circumference of the cake with a piece of string. Roll out 2 long strips of almond paste: trim both edges to the height of the cake with a palette knife. Paint both the cake and the almond paste lightly with egg white. Press the strip against the sides of the cake: do not overlap or there will be a bulge. Use a straight-sided water glass to even the edges and smooth the join. Rub the cake well with your hand to ensure a nice flat surface. Roll out the remainder of the almond paste approx. 3 inch (5 mm) thick. Cut out the heart shapes, paint the whole surface of the cake with some beaten egg yolk, and stick the heart shapes at intervals around the sides of the cake and on the top. Brush these with egg yolk also.
Carefully lift the cake onto a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until just slightly toasted. Remove from the oven, allow to cool and then transfer onto a cake board.
Note: As I’m an incurable romantic, my Christmas cake is always decorated with hearts, but you may feel that holly leaves and berries made of almond paste would be more appropriate for Christmas! Basically, you can of course decorate it any way that takes your fancy.
Mummy’s Plum Pudding with Boozy Christmas Sauce
It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made. As children we could hardly contain ourselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seemed all the more delicious because it was our first taste of Christmas. The plum pudding was usually made about mid-November and everyone in the family had to stir so we could make a wish – I now know that it helped to mix it properly.
Its fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day.
This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings. The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8.
12 ozs (340g) raisins
12 ozs (340g) sultanas
12 ozs (340g) currants
12 ozs (340g) brown sugar
12 ozs (340g) white breadcrumbs (non GM)
12 ozs (340g) finely-chopped suet
4 ozs (110g) candied peel (preferably home-made)
2 cooking apples, diced or grated
rind of 1 organic unwaxed lemon
3 pounded cloves (2 teaspoon)
a pinch of salt
6 organic free range eggs
2 1/2 fl ozs (62ml) Jamaica Rum
4 ozs (110g) chopped almonds
Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish! Next day stir again for good measure. Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.
Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours. The water should come half way up the side of the bowl. Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary. After 6 hours, remove the pudding. Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper. Store in a cool dry place until required.
On Christmas day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further 2 hours. Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite. Serve immediately on very hot plates with Brandy Butter.
You might like to decorate the plum pudding with a sprig of holly; however take care, because the last time I did that I provided much merriment by setting the holly and my fringe on fire – as well as the pudding!
Boozy Christmas Sauce
This recipe is so delicious that people ask to have more Plum Pudding just so that they can have an excuse to eat lots of sauce. This makes a large quantity but the base will keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can use a little at a time, adding whipped cream to taste.
8 ozs (225g) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)
2 ½ fl ozs (62ml) port
2 ½ fl ozs (62ml) medium sherry
2 ¼-2 ½ pints lightly whipped cream
4 ozs (110g) butter
1 organic free range egg
Melt the butter, stir in the sugar and allow to cool slightly. Whisk the egg and add to the butter and sugar with the sherry and port. Refrigerate.
When needed, add the lightly whipped cream to taste.
This sauce is also very good with mince pies and other tarts.
Ballymaloe Mincemeat – Gluten Free
Makes 3.2 kilos approx.
2 Bramley apples
2 organic or organic unwaxed lemons
450g (1lb) beef suet minced (see Thrifty Tip)
pinch of salt
110g (4oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
225g (8oz) currants
450g (1lb) sultanas
900g (2lbs) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown)
62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey
Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4, for 45 minutes approx. Allow to cool. When they are soft, remove the skin and mash the flesh into pulp. Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater and squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp. Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly. Put into jars, cover with jam covers and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using. This mincemeat will keep for a year in a cool, airy place.
Homemade Candied Peel
Fruit should be organic if possible, otherwise scrub the peel well.
5 organic unwaxed oranges
5 organic unwaxed lemons
5 organic unwaxed grapefruit (or all of one fruit)
1 teasp. salt
3 lbs (1.35kg) sugar
Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juice. Reserve the juice for another use, perhaps homemade lemonade. Put the peel into a large bowl (not aluminium), add salt and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 24 hours. Next day throw away the soaking water, put the peel in a saucepan and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil cover and simmer very gently until the peel is soft, 3 hours approx. Remove the peel and discard the water. Scrape out any remaining flesh and membranes from inside the cut fruit, leaving the white pith and rind intact. (You could do the next step next day if that was more convenient).
Slice the peel into nice long strips.
Dissolve the sugar in 1 1/2 pints (900ml/3 3/4 cups) water, bring it to the boil, add the peel and simmer gently until it looks translucent, 30 – 60 minutes and the syrup forms a thread when the last drop falls off a metal spoon. Remove the peel with a slotted spoon, fill the candied peel into sterilised glass jars and pour the syrup over, cover and store in a cold place or in a fridge. It should keep for 6-8 weeks or longer under refrigeration.
Alternatively spread on a baking tray or trays and allow to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour to cool. Toss in castor sugar and store in covered glass jars until needed.
Fool Proof Food
Makes about 3 ½ pints (2 litres)
25 organic lemons, washed and dried
1 ¾ pints (1 litre) of vodka
1 ½ lb (700g) sugar
1 ½ pints (850ml) water
Use a swivel top peeler to pare the rind off the lemons in strips, just remove the zest not the pith. (Use the lemon juice for homemade lemonade or freeze it in ice cube trays for another use.)
Put the zest into a sterilized glass jar, cover with vodka, the zest should be submerged, cover the jar tightly, (we use a Kilner jar), and put into a cool dark cupboard for 48 hours.
Meanwhile, put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring to the boil for two minutes to stabilize. Cool and store. Two days later strain the zest from the spirit through a fine nylon sieve. Combine with the syrup and stir well.
The Limoncello can be used immediately or can be bottled and stored lightly sealed in a cool place. For optimum flavour use within 2-3 months. Serve chilled.
Local Free Range Pork
Noreen and Martin Conroy from Woodside Farm, have a small free range herd of pure bred Saddle Back and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs – both rare breeds – on their family farm in East Cork.
They produce a delicious range of pork products, joints of pork and bacon, sausages, including gluten free varieties, rashers including dry cure. And one of their best sellers, pork and apple burgers
Noreen and Martin have a stall at Douglas Farmers Market every Saturday morning.
087- 2767206 email@example.com
Outdoor Oven Workshop Nohoval
German born Ovencraftsman, Hendrik Lepel, is running a two day workshop at his home in Nohoval near Kinsale on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th of November, 2008. Learn how to build your own low cost earth oven and develop a good understanding on to apply your knowledge to any natural building project
Cost of the course is €150.00, this includes lunch and course book by Kiko Denzer, Build an Earth Oven.
086- 883 8400 firstname.lastname@example.org
Slow Food Christmas Cooking Demonstation
Slow Food East Cork is holding a Christmas Cooking Demonstration. Darina and Rachel Allen will be cooking some traditional Christmas favourites on Thursday 20th November 2008 at 7:30pm at Ballymaloe Cookery School, Shanagarry, Co Cork (021) 4646785.
€60.00 for non-members and €45.00 for Slow Food members. Proceeds raised from this event will go to the East Cork Slow Food Educational Fund, which links with schools to educate children about how their food is produced and where it comes from.
Ask your local butcher and ask for some beef suet to use for plum puds and mincemeat. It will cost very little or may even come free. Trim the meat of all the bloody bits. It will break apart naturally, remove the membrane and either chop finely, mince or whizz in a food processor. Fresh suet makes the best plum pudding and mincemeat.