It's that time of year again… I've been in a baking frenzy this week, as I make special, once-a-year treats just to have, and prep things for the big day itself. I always give food gifts at Christmas, we don't give presents between the adults anymore, which I am completely on board with, but I do like to share something from my kitchen. Though this year, I've gone the savoury and preserve route (I can't share now in case any of my family read this), and I'm actually ahead of myself this year, having made them well in advance. However, the recipes I'm sharing here, four in all, are some of my favourites at this time of year, and they were all hits at my pop-up Christmas stall last year. A Christmas cake and mince tarts are non-negotiable for me, and gingerbread and panforte I'm happy to make if I have time. It's too hard to pick favourites really, I adore gingerbread, and I do love the panforte - a dense, spicy Christmas confection from Sienna - it works so well as an afternoon pick-me-up, but also as a make-ahead dessert served with port, Vin Santo or coffee. All of these keep really well too, and so are perfect for making in advance ready for when guests drop in, you need a gift for someone, or simply to have with a cup of tea or coffee while you go about your wrapping and other preparations. I hope you enjoy making and eating them as much as I did! Merry Christmas and peace to all.
Rich Christmas Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Fruit Cake recipe
Makes 1 x 20 cm cake
250 g prunes, pitted
250 g raisins
250 g sultanas
125 g currants
100 g dessert figs, chopped in half
Zest and juice of 1 large orange
140 ml brandy
175 g dark brown sugar
160 ml honey
175 g butter
2 T marmalade
1 t mixed spice
1 t ground cinnamon
¼ t ground cloves
¼ t ground nutmeg
2 T cocoa
3 eggs, beaten
165 g plain flour
75 g almond meal
½ t baking powder
½ t bi-carb soda
1 T brandy, extra
Place fruit, orange zest and juice, brandy, sugar, honey, butter, marmalade, spices and cocoa in a large saucepan.
Stir over a moderate heat until everything has combined. Let it bubble gently for 10min then remove from heat and allow to cool for 30min. In this time, you can prepare your tin and remaining ingredients.
After the fruit mixture has been cooling for about 20min, preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF). Prepare a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin by cutting a circle of non-stick baking parchment just slightly smaller than the diameter of the tine (so that it fits easily. Then, cut two longish strips of baking paper, fold up the bottom 2 cm and then cut into this fold at 1.5 cm intervals so that you end up with a fringe. Insert these two strips into the tin with the fringe forming a circle in the base of the tin, overlapping the two strips. Place the circle of parchment over the fringe. The base and sides of the tin should now all be covered with parchment. As the cake has a long cooking time, it needs insulation from the heat of the oven or the top will burn. To do this, fold sheets of newspaper or brown paper until they are about 8-10cm higher than the tin. Wrap a thickish layer around the outside of the tin, securing with kitchen string.
Once the fruit mixture has cooled for 30min, stir in the beaten eggs and sifted dry ingredients. Do this fairy quickly as the mixture will still be warm and you don't want congealed pieces of egg and flour in the batter. Having said that, mix only until combined and do not overheat the batter.
Pour cake batter into prepare tin and bake for 1 3/4 - 2 hours or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out damp but with no raw batter clinging to it. If you find the cake is getting too dark on top, cover loosely with a piece of foil. This will prevent further browning.
Brush the top with the extra brandy, then let the cake cool the cake in tin for at least 2 hours before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, wrap well in two layers of foil and store in an airtight container for up to a month.
Combine 320g sifted icing sugar and 1 – 1 ½ T boiling water until you have a thick, spreadable icing. Smooth over cake and allow some to drip down the sides.
NB. This icing will only look good for a day or two as the moisture from the cake will eventually start to seep through.
Purchase some quality whole glacé (confit) fruits and pile in the centre of the cake.
Use a paper doily or cut out shapes (stars, a tree, etc.) from a piece of baking paper slightly larger than the cake. Place doily or paper over cake and sift over icing sugar to create a stencilled design. Tie a length of ribbon around cake if desired.
Adapted from a recipe by Matthew Evans
Makes 24 patty pan-sized tarts
2 apples, coarsely grated
200 g currants
200 g sultanas
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
220 g brown sugar
120 ml Calvados
2 t mixed spice
240 g plain flour
160 g unsalted butter
¼ cup water
Milk and raw sugar (optional)
Start with the pastry. Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Roughly chop the butter into smallish pieces and add it to the flour. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resemble a coarse crumble. You don't need to go too fine as the larger pieces of unmixed butter will help create more crispness in the pastry as they steam during cooking.
Using a butter knife, mix in the egg and water. Bring the mixture together with your hands, it should mostly clump into one mass. If it is too dry, add a little more water, if it is too sticky and soft, add a little more flour. Tip the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface and bring to together quickly with your hands, bringing the edge that is furthest away from you over into the middle of the pastry, then smearing it away again from you in a rhythmic folding action. Don't overwork the pastry or it will become tough. Only knead until it comes together in a smooth ball. Pat into a thick round, wrap in clingfilm (or alternative) and refrigerate to rest and chill for at least 30min.
To make the fruit mince, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and stir over moderate heat for 10-15min. Allow to cool.
When ready to make the tarts, preheat oven to 180ºC (360ºF) and remove pastry from the fridge. Dust a work surface lightly with flour and roll out the pastry to approximately 3mm thick. Using a 6cm scone or cookie cutter, cut rounds of pastry and place in the patty pan holes. Press each disc a little so that it takes the shape of the hole. With remaining pastry, cut out stars, hearts, or other shapes to top each tart.
Place a heated teaspoonful of fruit mince in each pastry case, top with a pastry shape and brush each with a little milk and sprinkle over a little raw sugar, if desired. Bake for 20min or until golden and cooked to your liking. Allow the tarts to cool in the tin for 5min before removing to a wire rack to cool completely (if you leave them in the tin too long, any fruit syrup that has bubbled over will harden, making it difficult to remove the tarts). Once cool, store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.
Note: You can make the fruit mince up to a few months ahead. Just make sure you store it in sterilised jars and keep in the fridge to be on the safe side.
Makes approximately 30 biscuits, depending on size
170 g unsalted butter
180 g dark brown sugar
150 g golden syrup
2 egg yolks
470 g plain flour
½ t salt
1 t bi-carb soda
2 t ground ginger
1 ½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground cloves
½ t white pepper
½ t ground allspice
6 egg whites
480 g pure icing sugar
½ t lemon juice
Cream butter, sugar and golden syrup on medium speed in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix in the egg yolks. Sift all dry ingredients together and incorporate into mixture on low speed. Spoon dough onto a piece of plastic film and press to form a 16 cm long rectangle. Wrap and chill at least one hour (overnight is also fine).
If your dough has been in the fridge more than an hour, allow it to sit for 30-60min until it is pliable. Place a sheet of non-stick baking parchment on the work surface, place dough in top. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll out dough to a thickness of 3mm.
Using various cutters, cut out shapes and place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment. Place the tray in the fridge for 15min to chill before baking, this will help the biscuits to keep their shape. Gather together the scraps of dough and re-roll on the sheet of baking parchment. Transfer to the fridge to firm up again before cutting more biscuits.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 170ºC (340ºF). Bake gingerbread for 10-12min or until firm to the touch and a rich golden brown. Keep re-rolling, chilling, and cutting the dough until it is all used up. It is best to bake on tray at a time as this ensures even cooking. So while one tray is baking, you can prepare the next, making a production line!
To make the royal icing, combine egg whites, icing sugar and lemon juice in an electric mixer on low speed. Increase speed and beat until glossy and holding stiff peaks. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until icing is required (it will form a crust when exposed to air).
You can ice the biscuits any way you wish, using a piping bag with a small nozzle, or simply drizzling it over with a teaspoon. Feel free to add sprinkles, silver cachous or other decorations as you desire.
NB. You can freeze the leftover egg whites for several months. Use to make a pavlova or meringues.
Makes one 20cm cake
Equipment: candy thermometer
100 g hazelnuts
100 g macadamias
90 g dessert figs
55 g crystallised ginger
100 g plain flour
3 T cocoa
1 t cinnamon
½ t mixed spice
¼ t black pepper
75 g dark chocolate
125 ml honey
55 g caster sugar
icing sugar, extra
Preheat the oven to 160ºC.
Spray a 15cm springform pan with nonstick spray. Dust the inside with cocoa powder, making sure to get it up the sides. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the nuts, figs, ginger, flour, cocoa and spices. Use your fingers to separate any fruit that is clumping together.
Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Set aside.
In a pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 115ºC (240ºF). This is the soft ball stage. Alternatively, after the mixture has cooked for about 5min, test it by dropping a small amount of the honey syrup into a glass of cold water. If it sets into a soft, pliable ball, it is ready.
Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, and stir well, working quickly as it starts to firm up as it cools. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out with a spatula. Using damp fingers, press the surface to make it mostly smooth, but don't worry about a few lumps.
Bake for 20 minutes or until your finger comes away clean from the surface when you lightly press it. The panforte will firm up more as it cools. Leave it in the tin for 15min, then gently ease it out, using a knife if necessary and leaving the panforte on the bottom of the tin, and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Once cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Dust the panforte with icing sugar and rub it in with your hands.
To store, wrap the panforte in two layers of foil and store in an airtight container for up to six months.
Breakfast. Sorted. This is the perfect make-ahead breakfast for busy (or extra lazy) mornings, when even thinking of what to eat, let alone the effort of making something, is beyond you. Having a jar of this on standby makes life so much easier, and tastier!
Makes: a lot!
3 cups rolled oats (see note)
1/2 cup buckwheat
1/2 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 1/4 cup mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds)
2 t ground cinnamon
2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 tahini (hulled or unhulled)
1/2 cup raw honey
1/2 cup olive oil
I apple, grated (optional)
Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and line two baking sheets with non-stick baking paper.
Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.
Combine the tahini, honey and olive oil in a microwave safe jug or small saucepan and gently heat either in the microwave or on the stovetop, stirring occasionally, until the tahini and honey have softened and the mixture has combined.
Add the tahini mixture and the grated apple to the dry ingredients and stir well, or use your hands to combine thoroughly. Spread the mixture over the two baking trays, trying to achieve an even layer with few gaps.
Bake for 20-30 min until toasted and golden. If desired, halfway through the cooking time, push the outer edges of the granola into the middle of the trays, and the inner parts to the edges. This will ensure a more even toasting, but is not absolutely necessary.
Allow to cool completely on the trays (this helps the granola to clump together), before breaking up and storing in airtight glass jars. The granola will keep well for several weeks, but it probably won't last that long!
Serving suggestion: This granola is delicious simply served with natural yoghurt and fresh fruit, but it is also a fabulous ingredient in cookies and muffins, or just as a snack on its own.
Note: I haven't provided gram weights as this recipe really depends on ratios. It doesn't matter what measuring vessel you use, as long as you follow the ratios above.
I've been making granola (or toasted muesli for the people at the back) for ages now. I've made it so often that I just wing it when it comes to how much of this or that I put in. However, I finally got around to paying attention to what I was doing and have hit upon out the ideal ratio of wet to dry ingredients. Hurrah! This recipe yields a super crunchy yet chewy, not-too-sweet, biscuity granola that is SO satisfying to eat, and obviously, is very good for you. As long as you have half the quantity of wet ingredients to oats, and then chuck in various nuts and seeds as desired, you can't go wrong. I'm forever varying the nuts and seeds depending on what I have to hand. I love linseeds and poppy seeds in this too, but if I stick to the ratios above, it always works out.
There are a couple of things that make a difference to the final product, however. I do recommend chopping your almonds a bit, so that some are left whole, but you also have some smaller shards and dust. This helps the granola clump together later. The apple also helps with this, as well as adding a bit of sweetness, but the granola is also very successful without it. The most important thing to achieving those toasty clusters is allowing the granola to completely cool before handling it. The only problem is, it's pretty hard to resist having a sample or three as you break it up for storage. It's not only good for breakfast, either. I've been known to take a small bowl of this to my desk to snack on as I would nuts. The recipe can of course be upsized or downsized as necessary, but as it keep so well, I find it more useful to make a big batch less often. Let me know if you try it, I'd love to hear your feedback!
Recipe adapted from The Cook's Table
Impossibly airy but still moist sponge, heaven-scented rose and raspberry jam, and billowing clouds of softly whipped cream, this is a sponge cake recipe you will return to again and again.
for the jam (makes approx. 1 litre)*
4 T dried culinary rose petals
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
1/2 t rosewater (optional)
1 kg raspberries, washed and drained well
750 g caster sugar
juice of one lemon, husks reserved
sterilised glass jars (see note)
sterilised jam funnel (optional)
for the sponge cake
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
7 free-range eggs, separated
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (75 g) plain flour
1/2 cup (75 g) potato flour (or cornflour)
pinch fine sea salt
raspberry and rose jam (recipe below)
300 ml cream, whipped until soft peaks
pure icing sugar (optional), for dusting
dried culinary rose petals (optional), for decorating
* This recipe makes more than you need for the cake, but it keeps very well if stored properly. However, halve the quantities, by all means. You will need to make the jam at least 6 hours ahead of making the cake so that it has time to cool completely (the day before is ideal). Once cool, store in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. After opening, store in the fridge and use within a month.
raspberry and rose jam
Preparation time: 25-35 minutes
Make your jam. First, place a small saucer in the freezer (for testing the jam later).
Bring the rose petals and water to boil in a small saucepan. Boil for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced by half. Set aside to steep.
Combine raspberries, sugar, lemon juice and husks (seeds removed or husks tied in muslin for easier removal later) in a large, non-reactive saucepan over a moderate-high heat. Bring to a boil and let it bubble for 15 min before testing.
To test if the jam is set, remove the jam from the heat and place a small amount onto the chilled saucer, Return the saucer to the freezer for a few minutes, then test by dragging your finger through the centre of the jam. If it stays in two distinct halves, the jam is set. If it runs together, return the jam to the heat and boil for another 5 min and test again. Repeat until the setting stage is reached. It shouldn't take longer than 25 min.
Once the jam has reached setting stage, remove it from the heat and stir in the rose 'tea,' (including the petals). Spoon or pour into hot, sterilised jars, seal and invert immediately to create a vacuum seal. Leave until cool and then store in a cool dry place.
Note: To sterilise your jars and jam funnel (if using), first wash in hot, soapy water. Place the jars on a baking tray and place in an oven preheated to 130°C (270°F). Leave for 15 min and remove from the oven. To sterilise the lids and jam funnel, bring a pan of water to the boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove to the baking tray or a clean tea towel and leave to dry. Once you have sterilised your equipment, it's very important that you don't touch the inside of the jars, lids, or funnel. Use metal tongs and/or oven mits to manipulate them and be careful to only touch the outsides.
Preparation time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F). Butter, flour and line the base of a 26 cm springform cake tin.
Using an electric mixer or hand-held electric beaters, beat the sugar, egg yolks and vanilla at high speed until the mixture is pale and has tripled in bulk. Sift the flours and salt and fold in gently. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
Wash, cool and thoroughly dry the mixer bowl and the whisk. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Vigorously whisk one-third of the egg white into the stiff natter to loosen it, then lightly fold in the rest.
Turn the batter into the cake tin. Bake for 50 minutes or until the cake is light golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Turn off the heat and leave the cake to rest in the oven with the door propped open for 10 minutes. Remove and leave to cool in the tin, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Split the cake in half horizontally by carefully working around it with a large serrated knife. The easiest way is to hold the knife still and turn the cake, slowly working towards the centre of the cake as you turn until you have cut all the way through. Spread with the raspberry and rose jam (enough to thickly cover the cake) and then dollop over the softly whipped cream. Place the top half of the cake carefully over and refrigerate one hour before serving to set a little. Remove the cake from the fridge half an hour before serving, dust with icing sugar and scatter with dried rose petals, if desired.
When spreading your jam and cream, don't go all the way to the edges, as the weight of the top cake will mean they spread a little more.
This is a cake fit for a celebration. There are a number of things to celebrate in life at the moment: the relaunch of this blog (still a work in progress), under a different name, the completion of my PhD in September of this year, (pending some revisions, but close enough!), and, as ever, the daily miracle that is my darling daughter, who gives us reason to celebrate every day and for whom this very blog exists. I had plans for another cake for this first post, but I haven't yet got the recipe quite right, and after feeling like I should chuck it all in, remembered this gorgeous cake, which I have already made several times since buying The Cook's Table a couple of years ago. It has served me very well for a few celebratory occasions. It's very fitting actually, as I consider Stephanie Alexander to be one of Australia's many culinary 'mothers,' which is to say, a pioneer, trail-blazer, and role model. Anyone who cooks in this country, whether they know it or not, owes something to food legends like Stephanie Alexander. We are all her progeny in some way! So, as one of the many (culinary) 'daughters' of Stephanie, I pass on this beautiful sponge cake, hoping that you, too, may share it with your family, whether for a celebration or a just comforting afternoon tea.
As Stephanie describes it in The Cook's Table, this recipe produces a sponge "with a rather substantial texture compared with the usual feather-light style sponge cake." Since making this cake, I have to say I really prefer this to other sponge cakes, which can be a little dry for my taste. As Stephanie also notes, it keeps really well in the fridge for several days, so you can justify making this if it's only two or three of you eating! Sponges have always scared me, there's so much mystique around them! Reading some of the traditional recipes can be enough to turn you off making them entirely. This cake, in contrast is really easy to make if you have some experience with baking. Even if you don't, give it a go, the main things to remember are to really beat your egg yolk and sugar mix till it really has tripled in bulk, and then to be very gentle with your whisked egg whites. Handling the eggs properly are what will ensure a sponge with the perfect texture. Stephanie's recipe calls for the addition of rose-geranium leaves, which you place on top of the cake before it bakes. Rose geranium, as its name suggests, has a distinct rose scent and flavour. Unfortunately I couldn't acquire the leaves when I first made the cake and have yet to try it, though am dying to! The rose geranium, however, inspired the rose and raspberry jam. So while I have departed from the original recipe, I hope my version at least respects it's essence. I believe recipes should have room for interpretation, cooking is a living art, so it goes without saying that if roses and raspberries are not your thing, or are not in season at the time, go ahead and make it your own! For a birthday once I filled the sponge with lemon curd and cream, which was also divine. Without doubt, this is my go-to sponge recipe from now on, a template that can be moulded to personal tastes, ingredients, and occasions.
Thank you for reading, and do let me know of you make this cake. If you love it, seek out more of Stephanie's books and recipes, you won't be disappointed. Her years of experience cheffing and cooking, as well as her genuine love of food and the art of hospitality make her both a reliable source of recipes, and a warm, comforting presence in the kitchen as you cook along with her, her witty and perceptive anecdotes adding to the richness of the experience. As we cook, we connect with the traditions and the people who have passed on their knowledge, whether we know them personally or not. This sense of continuity, of passing down rituals and recipes, tales and traditions, is the driving motivation behind The Daughter's Table. I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I and my loved ones did.