Monthly Archives: December 2012

Worth the wait

You beauty!

Well ladies and gentlemen, there she is! After being tucked away carefully in a drawer for five weeks, unwrapped only briefly for weekly (and, I have to say, somewhat ample) ‘feedings’ of brandy, the family Christmas cake emerged perfectly moist and rich.

Just the smell takes me straight back to Leeds, and the taste takes me immediately to my Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve, when we would enjoy this long awaited treat with a slice of very mature cheddar and a tiny glass of crisp, dry sherry.

Two traditions

There could be improvements – a touch more spice for instance – but I think my Grandma, and in fact my Great Grandma, would both have been proud of my attempt. And it’s up to me now to make sure this cake stays on top of the list of my very own family traditions.

A perfect slice

Wishing you all a very Happy (and delicious!) Holidays and a peaceful New Year.



Nuts over Gingernuts


Christmas cookies, or “biscuits” I should say, are not a big thing in the UK. Mince pies and slivers of Christmas cake are the usual holiday indulgence. But biscuits in general are a big thing. A mainstay of the 11am pick me up alongside a cup of tea. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that we measure a biscuit’s worth by its ability to hold up to a good dunk in the steaming beverage. No one likes to find a mound of sodden crumbs at the bottom of their cup!


Of all the biscuits, the king of the tea-cup dunk is by far the glorious gingernut. It holds its shape well so if you dunk one entirely into your tea then it will come back out in one piece; always a bonus! But there’s more. The heat of the tea (or coffee if you’re a non-purist) gently melts the sugary interior and transforms the biscuit from one that is somewhat brittle to one exuding soft and chewy mollasses-y goodness, with a deep flavor of warming ginger.


Since my return home from the UK I have become very aware that we do not own a biscuit tin (aka cookie jar) and we rarely have biscuits in the house. The realization that my cupboards full of chocolate covered almonds are simply not going to satisfy my yearning for the comforts of home has sent me into rather a biscuit-making craze. And inspired by the holiday season, and some rather stunning crystalized ginger I came across in my local store, there really was only one place to start.


Most importantly, these biscuits passed their tea-cup dunk test. Leaving me only to sit back, close my eyes, and let their warming sweetness dissolve in my mouth while dreaming of the gray December drizzle of home.

Gingernut biscuits (aka cookies)

Makes 20-24, depending on the size of your biscuit.

Preheat the oven to 180/350/Gas Mark 4.

Soften 5.5 oz butter and add to a large bowl with 8 oz dark brown sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Beat until well combined.

Add 1 egg and beat again until light and fluffy – about 2-3 minutes.

Add 6.5 oz all-purpose flour, 3 tbsp finely minced candied ginger, 1 tbsp ground ginger, and 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda. Beat until a smooth dough forms.

Take tablespoon amounts of the mixture and roll them in coarse demerara sugar. Place the rolled balls of dough onto a lined baking sheet, allowing enough room for them to spread. You will probably need two baking sheets, or to work in batches like I did.

Bake for 12 minutes until the edges start to turn golden. When you remove them from the oven allow them to sit for a minute before transferring to a cooling rack – this will help prevent breakages.

When cool, dunk in tea and enjoy!


Very merry mince pies

Bite of Christmas heavenGetting ready for Christmas has never been so much fun! And no, I don’t just mean because there are even more excuses for a tipple of brandy or port, but because writing this blog is making me try things I never have before. The result is that I’m getting into the festive spirit much earlier than usual.

This week, I’m keeping with the traditional theme of the past few posts and making my own mince pies. In England, mince pies are a must at Christmas. In fact, we hold them in such high esteem that we even leave one out for Santa on Christmas Eve, along with small glass of brandy (although in our household it was sherry… my mum never did take to brandy… wink, wink), and a carrot for dear old Rudolph. Funny thing is, the carrot never did get eaten in its entirety, but for some reason Santa always managed to finish off the mince pie, leaving only a few evidentiary crumbs!

Christmas in a pot

Mincemeat is a mixture of chopped dried fruit, spirits, and spices that are cooked together and preserved like a chutney. Mincemeat traditionally included beef suet, and according to Wikipedia, sometimes minced beef or venison, although I’ve never heard of such a thing. To me, mince is sweet and boozy (this is the “very merry” part), and embodies all the tastes and smells of Christmas. Choose to make your own and I can guarantee that the very essence of Christmas – that wonderful quartet of cinnamon, ginger, clove, and brandy – will be wafting around your house in a matter of minutes.

A generous filling!

You can buy very good mincemeat in jars and I’ve seen a number of options in stores around New York. But I wanted to have a go at making my own. I did cheat a little bit by opting to follow the wonderfully simple recipe by Nigella Lawson that comes together in around twenty minutes. I can assure you that you do not lose out on any flavor this way. I also like this recipe because it’s heavy on fruit and light on other ingredients, such as candied peel, that tend to get stuck in your teeth and do a mince pie, or anything else in my opinion, absolutely no favors. And, on a more practical note, it’s vegetarian making it perfect for every guest at your Christmas party.

A light frost

Nigella opts for fresh cranberries which I’m sure would be wonderful, particularly with the orange scented shortcrust. As I could only find dried, I reduced the amount of sugar and balanced out the weight of cranberries to match the other types of dried fruit. It still turned out glorious! If you can get hold of fresh cranberries then Nigella’s original recipe is here.

My advice is to make these immediately and in multitude. They freeze very well, requiring only a quick defrost and warm through in the oven when guests arrive. Serve with a splodge of brandy cream for extra opulence!

Quick Christmas Mincemeat

Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson. Makes 1 pint.

In a large pan, dissolve 1.5 oz soft dark brown sugar in 2 fl oz ruby port over a gentle heat. I found it helped to swirl the pan over the heat a little bit to get the sugar to dissolve without the port evaporating too much.

Add 6 oz dried cranberries, 6 oz raisins, 4 oz currants, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp ground clove, and the zest and juice of 1 orange. Stir well until glistening.

Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 20 minutes or until the dried fruit has become plump and juicy. Then, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

Add 1 fl oz brandy, a few drops almond extract1/2 tsp vanilla extract, and 2 tbsp honey (I used golden syrup as it was what I had to hand). Mix well and mash together a bit with the back of the spoon.

You can then spoon the mixture into sterilized jars and keep in the fridge for about one month. They would also make a great holiday gift. I would, however, strongly recommend you use some to make mince pies, as described below:

Very Merry Mince Pies

Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson. Makes 12 individual mince pies.

Preheat the oven to 220/425/Gas Mark 7.

Sift 8 oz all purpose flour into a bowl and add 2 oz vegetable shortening and 2 oz butter, cut into small cubes. Shake to cover the fat with flour and place in the freezer for 20 mins to chill (to make the pastry tender and flaky).

Juice 1 orange into a small bowl and add a pinch of salt. Pop in the fridge to chill.

Remove the flour and fat mixture from the freezer and rub together lightly to make porridge-like crumbs. Gradually add the chilled salted orange juice, mixing with a knife until the it starts to come together.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead with your hands for a few seconds until a dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap and rest in the fridge for 20 mins.

Get a 12-mould tart tin ready. Roll the pastry thinly on a floured work surface and cut out circles to line each of the moulds, pressing the pastry down gently.

Spoon a generous amount of Christmas Mincemeat into each of the moulds (about 2 tsp) and then top with a smaller circle of pastry, pressing down gently on the filling. Using the tip of a knife, pierce the center of the top pastry circle and then brush lightly with milk to help the pastry turn nice and golden.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden. Turn out immediately onto a wire cooling rack.

When still slightly warm, dust with a light sprinkling of confectioners sugar, and serve.