Nuts! It’s the first day back to work. Well what better way to keep hold of that festive mood than to make some festive nuts. I gave these away as pressies for Christmas but they’re equally lovely as New Year treats or to chomp through during Dry January. This is a Jamie Oliver Honey-Roasted Nuts recipe which went well. I bought most of the nuts from Asda and a few from Sainsburys and I bought Kilner Jars from Robert Dyas (350ml ones). I doubled the recipe to make four jars. The nuts I used were pecans (they burn more easily than the others so keep stirring the nuts at regular points), unsalted cashews, peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts (cut up in to halves), and almonds etc. 20mins was plenty of time in the oven. I used twice as much smoked paprika and it turned out really tasty. Jamie says use sweet smoked paprika but I couldn’t find anything saying ‘sweet’ on the label. Other tips? Personalise with this NotontheHighStreet ‘baked with love’ label maker and some festive ribbon. Nom nom nom.
For Christmas pressies, I decided to make homemade vanilla extract. I can now write about them since I have given the pressies away 🙂 I was given a jar by my sister-in-law as a present last year and I thought it would be a great gift idea for me to replicate as I use the jar all the time! It’s super easy and is a nice pressie that is practical and will last for ages. I bought my little jars from a shop called Tiger. The only ingredients you need is vodka – I used Smirnoff – you don’t need anything too fancy plus high quality vanilla pods – 1 per jar. I had good customer service from Vanilla Mart and you can buy the pods in all sorts of different types and quantities.
- Cut lengthways down the vanilla pod, leaving 1 inch connected at one end.
- Put the vanilla pod in a preserving jar – it needs to have a tight fitting lid.
- Cover with the vodka to the top of the jar and give it a shake.
- Store in a cupboard for 2 months and hey presto you have your own vanilla extract for baking with!
- The vanilla extract lasts for years – you just keep topping it off with the vodka.
I got some good tips from this recipe on Simply Recipes. I was intrigued to learn that each vanilla pod comes from an orchid that has been pollinated by hand. Once the vanilla seed pod has developed, it must be hand picked as well. Who knew!
This is a cracking little recipe for Christmas, New Year, or anyone wanting that little reminder of Christmas in January. This is a picture of my sister-in-law’s Christmas pudding ice cream which she made for our family on New Year’s Eve. It looks very impressive, a great alternative to the traditional Christmas pudding and can be made in advance. The recipe is from the BBC Good Food website and dare I say that this photo does the recipe a lot more justice than the BBC’s photo! I can’t say this is the healthiest dessert at a whopping 675 calories per serving but it tastes darned good. The boozy fruit in the ice cream is complemented nicely by the cranberry compote which is drizzled on top. It makes a fabulous and dramatic contrast too. Enjoy!
This weekend I made a Frosty the Snowman cake and surprised my boyfriend with it as part of his Christmas present. The cake is made with the Hummingbird Bakery red velvet cake recipe (same as the cupcakes) and their cream cheese frosting. I used a six inch cake tin for the head and a 10 inch cake tin for the body. I found TK Maxx and department stores like House of Fraser are good for finding cake tins of varying sizes.
The Hummingbird Bakery recipe says to use Dr. Oetker red food colouring as this gives a deep red colour for the sponge. I used Dr. Oetker’s artificial cochineal food colouring as I couldn’t find the recommended one in my local supermarkets. I would be interested to know if it made a difference to the taste. It did give a great colour to the sponge as you can see from the photo but personally, I think this could taste a bit more chocolatey and less bland. I suggest adding 1-2 extra tablespoons of sifted cocoa powder to taste. The cream cheese frosting tasted sweet and complemented the sponge well. I did get a few lumps in the icing so I would suggest that, however difficult, try mixing the butter and icing sugar as much as possible before you add in the soft cream cheese.
For the decorations I used smarties for the eyes, nose and buttons and mini smarties for the snowman’s scarf. For the lips I used fizzy strawberry laces from Sainsburys. The cake turned out well but personally I think this would taste better with a chocolate sponge. You could also increase the recipe size slightly to give the sponges a little more depth. The cake certainly went down well with my boyfriend and he ate atleast half the snowman in two days with a little help from me!
Now this isn’t the strictest of tests because my boyfriend made the first batch of mince pies last week and I made the second batch last night. We put to the test this BBC Good Food recipe and the tried and tested Delia Smith recipe from her famous cookery book. Both of us were unarmed with a rolling pin but last night I had a wine bottle spare so wrapped it in cling film to roll out the pastry nice and thin.
The main difference between these mince pies is the pastry – the Good Food one uses a sweet pastry but it did lack structure and actually rose and bubbled a bit (looking back this could be because the beaten egg was missing from the pastry). Delia’s recipe uses shortcrust pastry and this was much flakier but with a decent structure. Although the Good Food ones were crumbly, they tasted delicious but perhaps too sweet with the mincemeat. The Delia pastry didn’t have any sugar in it so I’d say the balance was a little better.
The only comment my boyfriend made about the mince pies I baked was that they were very small! He just ate a larger quantity to make up for the mini mince pies though and they seemed to go down well with my temporary housemate too! The Delia recipe says to use 3 and 2.5 inch cutters but I’d actually suggest making these with 4 and 3 inch cutters instead. Do you have a tried and tested recipe which you bring out each year? If so, let me know!
Whilst browsing in Marks and Spencer yesterday morning, I came across this great cake mould in the shape of a Christmas tree! Each year I like to do something a little different from the traditional Christmas cake. Last year I made chocolate cupcakes in Christmas cupcake cases and then decorated them with miniature puds, Father Christmas and snowmen. You’ll be glad to know they’re selling them again this year at Sainbury’s – just search for Fiddes Payne Festive Fun Royal Icing, Cake Decorations on the Sainbury’s website. Back to the Christmas tree mould – I am going to make a chocolate cake and decorate it with Smarties for the baubles! I will keep you posted on the adapted cake recipe for the Christmas tree mould so you can try it for yourself. If you’ve got any alternative ideas which you like to do at Christmas, please feel free to comment on the blog!