Monday 31 December 2012

Smokey Bean Chili

The weather has turned even colder, windier and wetter. Christmas is over and the leftovers have been eaten or turned into hashes or pies. As the New Year beckons, rather than stay huddled indoors, we have to venture out, returning home soggy and windswept. With weather like this I find myself craving warm, wholesome food and this smoky bean chili really hits the spot.

I always make it in a big batch and stash some away in the freezer for future meals. It’s a great freezer standby meal as it can be eaten on its own, spooned onto nachos and sour cream, served with rice or on top of a crisp fluffy baked potato.

Adding cocoa powder may sound like an odd ingredient, but it adds a slightly darker colour and enriches the earthy smoky flavour of the chili that’s delicious. It doesn’t taste of chocolate!

It’s warm, thick and comforting, healthy while still having substance. The beans add a nice creamy bite while the chili adds gentle warmth that lingers at the back of the throat. It would be great to have tonight, for anyone thinking of venturing outside to watch fireworks to see in the New Year.

Smokey Bean Chili
1 onion
2 carrots
1 parsnip
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans
1 x 400g black eye beans
1 x 400g chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 red chili
4 tbsp sweetcorn
½ red or yellow pepper
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chipotle chili powder (or regular hot chili powder)
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp cocoa powder
½ can water

Peel and dice the onion, carrot and parsnip. Finely chop the garlic and chili.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, carrot and parsnip. Stir, place the lid on the pan and cook for 5 minutes until they are starting to soften, but not brown.
Meanwhile finely dice the pepper. Drain the beans into a large sieve and wash under the cold tap to remove any brine.
Add the garlic, chili, pepper and extra herbs and spices to the pan and allow to cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
Add the extra herbs, spices, cocoa powder and tomato puree. Stir to combine before adding all the remaining ingredients, including the half can of water.
Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for a further 25-30minutes, stirring every 10minutes to prevent sticking.
Taste a carrot for doneness and add more ground chili or seasoning to preference.
Serve in big bowls with sour cream, nachos or cornbread if desired. Also great with rice or served on a crisp baked potato.
Serves 5 – 6

Thursday 27 December 2012

Daring Bakers December 2012 Challenge: Panettone! (Gluten free attempt)

The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread! I used to adore Panettone, all soft, sweet, buttery, light, flakey and fruity. I’ve not been able to taste one since being coeliac, and as they are rather an art form to bake, I’ve never even considered attempting my own. That was until this challenge presented itself.

When I read Panettone was this months challenge a felt a mixture of dread and excitement. Making a gluten free Panettone, a sweet bread that replies so heavily on its gluten structure for its unique flaky, buttery goodness seemed like an impossible task, but I decided to give it a go anyway.

The recipe involves many stages. A yeast sponge starter, a first dough, second dough, filling and prove. However, I have learnt from my many gluten free experiments that gluten free bread does not like being touched after its first prove. There is no gluten to hold the bread structure together and so purposely knocking out any air you have managed to create in the dough during a prove, is a bad idea. However, this did mean that I could condense the steps required, make one dough and then leave it to prove, meaning the process itself was quite quick. I didn’t have a Panettone mould so I used the base of my giant cupcake tin!

So how did my gluten free Panettone turn out?....well… was ok. It was more like a giant scone than a Panettone. It tasted nice, it reminded my strongly of Stollen rather than Panettone. It was quite dense, cakey and closely textured, and on day of baking it was soft and moist. However, by the following morning it had turned a little dry and very crumbly, making it seem even more scone-like.

I’m going to say it was a semi success. It had a good flavour, but apart from that it was nothing like a traditional Panettone. I may try it again in the future, but I think I would look for a gluten free Panettone recipe as my dough wasn’t right. I did add more water, but I think it needed more as the structure inside was not right.

I had fun attempting the challenge and as the saying goes, it’s the taking part that counts! Click here to see my fellow Daring Bakers delicious looking Panettone.  

Gluten Free Panettone
(Recipe loosely based on The Italian Baker by Carol Field)
4g active dry yeast
60ml warm water
35g gluten free plain flour

4g active dry yeast
30ml warm water
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
290g gluten free plain flour
100g caster sugar
150g butter, melted
1½ tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder (my addition)
1½ tsp xanthan gum

Fruit Filling
100g golden raisins or sultanas
50g dried apricots, chopped
50g dried cranberries
Zest of ½ orange, coarsely grated
Zest of ½ lemon, coarsely grated

Mix the yeast and water in a small bowl and allow to stand until creamy, around 10 minutes.
Mix in the flour, cover with clingfilm and allow to double in size for about 20 minutes.

Grease a Panettone mould or large round, deep baking tin. About 5inches wide.
Mix the yeast and water in a large bowl and allow to stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
Mix in the sponge and beat well with a wooden spoon.
Stir in the eggs, sugar, honey, melted butter, extracts and salt. Beat well to combine.
Sift over the flour, baking powder and xanthan gum.
Mix together and beat well for several minutes, until a smooth and sticky dough is formed. Add more water if it seems too stiff.
Add the fruits and grated zests and mix into the dough thoroughly.
Scrape the dough into the prepared tin and cover the top with lightly oiled clingfilm.
Place in a warm spot and leave to prove for 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Place your panettone in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake for another 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat again to 160°C and bake for 30 minutes until the tops are well browned and a skewer inserted into the panettone comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes before turning out onto a rack and leaving to cool completely.
(I’ve found this gluten free panettone/giant scone is ok on day of baking, although like scones, it doesn’t keep well and so is best eaten on day of baking.)

Sunday 23 December 2012

Christmas Gingerbread Cookies – Two Ways

There are some foods and holiday baking traditions that are essential for helping me feel Christmassy. One is making my Christmas cake and another is making and decorating Christmas Gingerbread Cookies.

There is something so unique about the aroma of baking gingerbread that instantly makes me feel festive. The scent of warming spices and liquoricey treacle wafting through the house makes me feel content and happy. It’s also a great excuse to hunt out all the weird and wonderful Christmas cookie cutters that I’ve gathered over the years.

Once baked, the cookies look great as they are but I also enjoy decorating them afterwards. I took some of the undecorated cookies round my boyfriends and had fun showed him how to wield a piping bag. Something he’d never done before. He got quite good after a few attempts. Plus, it created the perfect excuse to eat any that were part of the trail and error decorating process. I also took some into work where they quickly disappeared. (Sorry for the quality of the photos, it was dark!)

The recipe below makes rather a lot of cookies. I only ended up using half of it to bake Christmas cookies. I hated to think of the rest of the dough going to waste and decided to try and make gingerbread crinkle cookies with the rest of it. I got the idea from the chocolate crinkle cookies I made recently, the dough felt similar so I thought it would work.

I rolled balls of gingerbread dough thickly in icing sugar and baked them. The cookie dough seemed to devour most of the icing sugar during baking which was a shame, but it did leave them with a thin crisp sugar crust, which was a nice touch.

The baked cookies were still soft and tender inside, a sort of cake-cookie hybrid. They reminded me a lot of German Lebkuchen ginger cookies, very tasty and the ideal way to use up the leftover dough.

Are there any holiday baking traditions you have to help give you the festive feeling?

Gingerbread Christmas Cookies
Ingredients185g butter
200g soft brown sugar
330g gluten free plain flour
1 egg
2 tsp ground ginger
1½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp black treacle
¼ tsp xanthan gum

To DecorateRoyal icing

MethodCream together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg followed by the black treacle.
Add the spices and sift over the flour and xanthan gum. Using a spatula, work the flour into the batter until a dough is formed. Use your hands towards the end to bring the mix into a dough. It will seem too dry as first but don’t be tempted to add any liquid as it does suddenly come together.
Kneed it gently until smooth. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and flatten slightly into a disc. Place in the fridge for 30minutes to firm up.
After 30 minutes, preheat your oven to 175C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Cut the dough in half and working with one piece at a time, roll it out on a floured surface until 4mm thick. Cut out a variety of shapes using festive cutters and place on the baking trays. They don’t spread so you can place them quite close together. Try and bake shapes of a similar size together, rather than having a mix of small and large cookies on the same tray, as these will bake at different times.
Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes (depending on size) until lightly golden and just starting to brown around the edges. They will be quite soft.
Allow to cool and firm up for 2 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
Repeat with the remaining dough.
Once cooled, decorate with royal icing and store in an airtight container.
Makes 45-55 cookies depending on size.

Soft Gingerbread Cookies
Gingerbread cookie dough (above)
Icing sugar for rolling

Preheat the oven to 160C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Take heaped teaspoonfuls of the ginger cookie dough and roll into balls.
Place a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar into a bowl.
Roll the ginger cookie balls in the icing sugar, making sure they are thickly coated. Only do 2-3 at a time.
Place the cookie balls onto the baking tray and bake in the oven for 12 minutes.
They will be slightly flattened and still soft to the touch.
Allow to cool on the tray for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
Store in an airtight container and eat within 3 days.

Monday 17 December 2012

Christmas Cake 2012 – Oh Christmas Tree Oh Christmas Tree…

Last week was quite stressful. The hob over my oven developed a gas leek and had to be shut off from the mains (hopefully its getting fixed today), my boiler broke down and left me without heating or hot water and Thursday nights bad weather produced a layer of black ice so deadly on Friday morning, that I literally had to crawl on my hands and knees to the main road, trying to get out my driveway to go to work! I live down a long steep slope and there was no way I could even reach my car, let alone try and drive it. I kept falling over and two other people in my road tried to drive their cars and just slid backwards and crashed into other cars – I’ve never seen anything like it!

I got home on Friday feeling exhausted and ready for bed, only I couldn’t sleep. My mind just wouldn’t shut down. By 4am I had had enough and got up and decided to decorate my Christmas cake.

This proved to be a good idea as I spent a very tranquil couple of hours, rolling out fondant and marzipan and decorating the cake. I was listing to past downloads of BBC’s The Food Programme and Desert Island Discs while I worked, which I always fine fascinating to listen to. Before I knew it, it was 6:30am!

At the end I gathered up all the cake trimmings and had a little taste. It was sticky and fruity with a faint liquorice overtone. At first I was a little confused by this until I remembered that this year I had put some ground star anise in my cake mix. It really seems to have developed, giving a wonderful spicy liquorice note that was delicious against the subtle note of rum (the booze I used in the cake this year). I think its going to be the best Christmas cake yet!

I went for a fairly simple design this year. Christmas trees! I added a light sprinkling of gold glitter to add a little festive sparkle. Now I just need to get it down to my parents’ house in one piece to enjoy over Christmas. Can you believe Christmas is only a week away! Happy Holidays everyone.

To Decorate your Christmas Cake
500g fondant icing
250g marzipan
2 tsp Brandy or rum
Food dye
Icing sugar for rolling out

Trimming & Decorating the Cake
When ready to decorate, peel away the greaseproof paper and carefully level the surface of a cake using a bread knife. Fill in any tiny holes with fruit taken from the off cuts of cake (eat the remaining off cuts!)
Place the cake on a 7-8inch cake board that has a few dobs of royal icing on it, to keep the cake in place.
Dust a work surface with icing sugar. Roll out the marzipan and use the base of the tin to cut out a large circle. Brush the top of the cake with a little brandy or rum and smooth the marzipan over the top of the cake.
Roll out the fondant icing so that it is 2 inches bigger in diameter than the base of the cake. Brush the cake with brandy before covering with the fondant.  Drape the fondant over the rolling pin to help you lift it up onto the cake.
Smooth the edges and top with your hands and cake smoother if you have one. Cut off the excess fondant from around the base using a sharp knife.
Gather up the off cuts of fondant and dye as appropriate for decorations. Decorate the cake as desired and secure a ribbon or rope of fondant around the bottom edge of the cake.
Store in an airtight box until required.

Note: Click to see the link to this years Christmas cake recipe

Monday 10 December 2012

Office Christmas Meal at Silversmiths in Sheffield

Last Friday was our office Christmas meal. After work I dashed home for a super fast change and then met up with the rest of the team at Silversmiths in Sheffield. I have heard lots of good thing about this restaurant so was really looking forward to trying the food. It’s a modern yet quite small restaurant, which gave it a cozy and intimate feel.

We got to see the Christmas menu ahead of time so that we could place our orders. Being vegetarian often means I am lucky to get a single option on most set menus, so being both coeliac and vegetarian I thought was going to be a challenge. I was delighted to discover that Silversmiths can cater for both! I even got two choices from the mains menu – that were both vegetarian and gluten free without any adaption – I’ve NEVER had that choice before.

The food sounded amazing and not a boring mushroom risotto in sight! Here is what I had to eat on the night.

Starter: Cumin-Spiced Parsnip Soup topped with carrot crisps and “Sheffield honey” glazed toasted seeds. This was fabulous! Silky smooth, slightly sweet and delicately spiced. I loved the thin shreds of roasted carrot chips on top. They were packed with flavour and went deliciously chewy after sitting on the soup for a while. The perfect starter on a cold winter evening.

Main: Kings Cake: An Old English casserole of thyme, sage crisps, sautéed winter mushrooms, gold leaf infused oil. This was not quite what I expected. When I heard ‘casserole’ it makes me think more of a stew but this was a thick creamy mixture of beans, sweetcorn and mushrooms. Topped with crunchy sage leaves and onions. It was very tasty and I liked the different tastes and textures from the earthy mushrooms to the crisp sweetcorn. It was served with sprouts, carrots and roasted parsnips for the table.

Dessert: Mulled wine poached pear with candied orange ice cream. I didn't fancy the ice cream as I’m not a fan of candied fruits. I asked ahead of time if I could swop it for the chocolate cream that came with a Christmas Yule log. When it arrived it looked like a scoop of dark chocolate ice cream, but when I stuck my spoon in it turned out to be a giant golf ball sized scoop of chocolate ganache! It was like eating a huge truffle. Delicious dark chocolate, but so rich I couldn’t quite eat it all.

It was a fantastic meal. All the food was delicious and I didn’t see anyone with anything left on their plates at the end of the evening. I loved how the food was more unique and exciting than the usual Christmas or group meal offerings. It’s food for food lovers. Click here to see their full Christmas menu. It will probably disappear after Christmas though.

I was very impressed and would definitely go back. Another point I saw on their website, is that 100% of their food suppliers are Yorkshire based and 60% are Sheffield based. They also change their menus regularly to accommodate what’s in season and available locally. Extra brownie points, and it goes to show it can be done, and be done well!

Note: The restaurant did not know I am a food blogger, nor that I intended to write a review of my meal. I simply went to my office Christmas meal and enjoyed the food so much I thought I’d share it with you.

111 Arundel Street
S1 2NT

Monday 3 December 2012

Whole Clementine, Cranberry & Almond Cake

Clementines and fresh cranberries instantly conjure up images of Christmas and snowy winter days. They are only available for a few weeks of the year, so it’s important to celebrate them while they are here.

This cake is fabulously moist, with an almost frangipane texture and a fresh, sweet, citrusy flavour in each bite. It’s slightly unusual as it’s made using cooked and pureed whole clementines - peel, skin, flesh and all. This golden puree adds moistness and a wonderful fresh, zesty flavour to the cake.

A scattering of chopped fresh cranberries hide, nestled amongst the cake, shining out like vibrant ruby jewels when the cake is cut. Their tart zingy flavour adds a delicious contrast against the clementines natural sweetness.
The cake is quite cilosely textured, damp and incredibly moist making it ideal to serve for dessert as well as afternoon tea. I love how it also improve with age, becoming sticker as the ingredients mingle and meld together.

It’s also the perfect recipe to have in your repertoire as its naturally gluten and dairy free! Many people are nervous about gluten free baking, but this cake is made using natural familiar ingredients, so you don’t need to worry about buying any special ingredients. It’s the perfect example of how uncomplicated gluten and dairy free baking can be. The most exotic ingredient is the cranberries. More importantly it’s simple to make and amazingly delicious to eat.

Whole Clementine, Cranberry & Almond Cake
2 clementines, around 170g total
80g fresh cranberries
125g caster sugar
3 eggs
120g ground almonds
25g cornflour
½ tsp gluten free baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp icing sugar
1 clementine, zest
Few extra cranberries to decorate

Grease a 6 inch spring form tin with oil and line the base with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the fresh cranberries into a food processor and pulse briefly until roughly chopped but still chunky. Transfer the cranberries to a separate bowl and set aside.
Wash the clementines and place in a microwavable bowl, fill with water until the fruit is mostly covered. Loosely cover the top of the bowl with clingfilm and microwave on high for 7 minutes. (Alternatively, boil in a pan of water for 30 minutes, until soft).
Use oven gloves to remove the bowl from the microwave and drain off the water. Cut the clementines in half, remove the green stalk, any pips and chop roughly.
Place the entire clementines (peel and all), in a food processor along with the sugar and whizz to a pulp, scraping down the sides once or twice. A few larger shreds are fine.
With the mixer running, add the eggs, one at a time, and whizz until pale and foamy.
Sift in the corn flour and add the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and almonds. Whiz together until a smooth batter is formed. There will still be a few shreds of clementine visible in the batter, which is fine.
Fold in the roughly chopped cranberries and pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 40 minutes. It should be slightly risen and springy to the touch.
Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes in the tin, before turning out and leaving to cool completely.
To decorate, dust the top of the cake with icing sugar. Grate over a little extra clementine zest and decorate with a few extra cranberries.
Makes 1 x 6 inch cake
Serves 8

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Daring Bakers Challenge November 2012: Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

The Daring Bakers challenge this month was a great choice! Christmas is fast approaching and the Holiday season is the time for sharing and Peta of Peta Eats is sharing a dozen cookies, some classics and some of her own, from all over the world with us. Peta provided us with 12 festive cookie recipes and we got to choose which one to bake. It was a hard choice, but when I came to this recipe for chocolate crinkle cookies, I knew I had to bake them. These cookies have been on my ‘must bake’ list for literality years. I’ve no idea why it’s taken me so long to get round to baking them, so when they turned up on the list it seemed the ideal opportunity.

All I can say is – why on earth has it taken me so long! These cookies are amazing! I can’t believe what I’ve been missing out on all these months, years even! If you’ve never tasted them yourself, don’t delay and bake some soon, they are fabulous.

The cookies are made using a very soft dough that must be chilled, rolled into balls, coated liberally in icing sugar and baked. During baking the cookies puff up and crack, creating a crazy paving style surface of icing sugar with the dark chocolate cookie dough peaking through underneath.

The dough contains a generous amount of light brown sugar, melted dark chocolate and a few ground nuts, which all give the finished cookies a great flavour and wonderful soft and slightly chewy texture. The chew reminded me of a similar texture to a coconut macaroon. Although the cookies look like they will be crisp and crunchy, the outer shell is wafer thin and the inside is wonderfully soft and cakey with a pleasing chew in the centre. Almost brownie-like.

The recipe makes rather a lot of cookies and so I took some into work Monday morning to share with my colleagues. One colleague commented that they looked very festive, which made me smile, as that was exactly the intention of this months Bakers challenge. I hadn’t prompted her at all. When the cookies are first coated in the powdery icing sugar, they do look like fluffy snowballs!

I’m so pleased I finally got to bake these cookies and I will certainly be making them again. They would be great to have on hand for non mince pie lovers over Christmas. They would be ideal to bake with children too, as rolling the cookies into balls is fun, and your hands tend to get a little chocolate covered, and most children I know love getting a little messy, especially if it means they get to lick their fingers afterwards.

Thanks Peta for choosing such a great challenge. Click to see the Daring Bakers blogroll.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
80g hazelnuts, skinned (I used almonds)
30g caster sugar
175g dark chocolate, around 60%
330g plain flour (I used 300g gluten free flour)
20g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
100g unsalted butter, softened
300g light soft brown sugar
2 eggs
55ml whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used ½ tsp almond)
90g icing sugar

Make the Cookie DoughPut oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 170°C.
Toast the hazelnuts in a shallow baking tray in oven until skins split and nuts are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven (turn the oven off), then wrap hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub to remove any loose skins. Leave to cool completely, before blitzing the nuts with the 30g caster sugar in a food processor until finely ground.
Melt the chocolate, either over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave until smooth and set aside.
In a clean bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla (or almond), beating to incorporate.
Scatter over the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add the ground nuts on top and mix together using a spatula until well combined.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 2 hours, until firm.

Bake the Cookies
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line 2 large baking sheets with baking paper.
Sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and chill 1 half, wrapped in clingfilm.
Roll heaped teaspoonfuls of the dough between your hands to create 1 inch balls. Place them on the baking trays until you have used all the first half of the dough.
Roll the balls in the icing sugar, making sure they are very thickly coated. Carefully place the coated balls on the baking trays, leaving a 2 inch gap between each one. (I managed to get 12 to a sheet).
Bake, the cookies in the oven, switching the sheets half way through if baking two trays at once. Bake for a total of 12 minutes. The cookies should be puffed and cracked when cooked and still be very sot to the touch. They firm up on cooling.
All the cookies to cool on the tray for 3 minutes before sliding the cookies, still on baking paper, onto cooling racks and leaving to cool completely.
Repeat with the remaining half of the cookie dough.
Store in an airtight container once cooled.
Makes about 50 cookies. (Recipe can be easily halved)

Friday 23 November 2012

Stir Up, Stir Up! Gluten Free Christmas Pudding!

This Sunday is officially Stir Up Sunday. It is the last Sunday before advent starts in December and is the day where everyone should stir up and steam their Christmas Puddings!

I have made Christmas puddings twice before, once pre coeliac diagnosis and once last year when I made it for the rest of the family, but couldn’t eat it myself. This year, as I’d been tasked with making it again, I decided it was going to be a gluten free Christmas Pud. Since moving out of my parents home a few months ago, my kitchen is a dedicated gluten free zone. No wheat or gluten is allowed through my front door!
I was having a chat about Christmas Puddings with my boss at work, who is also coeliac. We were discussing the recipes we use, and both of us were saying we had the best recipe. The next thing I knew an email had gone round the office saying that she and I were going to have a Christmas Pudding competition, and everyone is invited along to taste and vote for a winner! Yikes! No pressure then! (I somehow forgot to mention I’d never made a GF version of the pud before – but I’m never one to pass up a cooking challenge!)

Christmas Pudding is not too dissimilar to Christmas Cake. Your soak your fruits in alcohol before using them, like a Christmas cake, but you then mix these into a spiced breadcrumb and suet batter. This year I made my own breadcrumbs from some gluten free bread and used frozen grated butter in place of the suet (which is coated in wheat flour). This fruity, spicy mixture is placed into a pudding basin and part boiled, part steamed for several hours in a pan of simmering water. This produces a very moist and soft pudding, which has all the flavours of Christmas cake only in a squishier, softer form. The pudding mix doesn’t look all that appetising before it’s steamed, but it transforms into a lovely dark and sticky pudding after its steaming session, not to mention filling the house with a fabulous rich and spicy Christmas scent. It’s currently wrapped up tight and hidden away in a cupboard until its big reveal on Christmas Day.

Like Christmas Cake, the pudding is kept for several weeks to allow the flavour to mature and develop. Then on Christmas day the pudding is heated, doused in Brandy and set alight! The lights are quickly turned down and people ‘ohhh’ and ‘arrrrh’ as wispy blue flames dance around the pudding creating a spectacular end to the Christmas meal. There can’t be many foods that people look forward to intentionally setting on fire! The only other one I can think of is Baked Alaska and that’s more of a gentle torching rather than dousing it in a flammable liquid and setting light to it! However, the actually flames last mere seconds, so no harm comes to the pudding itself, its too moist to get scorched or burnt.

The pudding requires 5 hours of boiling/steaming, but don’t let that put you off. As long as you check the water level a couple of times during cooking, it can be left to its own devises. The actual making of the pudding is very quick and easy and the aroma of Christmas that fills your house as it happily steams away is sensational. My kitchen smelt all festive for 3 whole days. I’m really looking forward to Christmas now!

Gluten Free Christmas Pudding
230g raisins
125g sultanas
50g glace cherries (check they are gf)
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
100ml Brandy (I used 60ml Brandy & 40ml Amaretto)
20g chopped pecans
50g grated frozen butter
30g gluten free brown breadcrumbs
50g gluten free plain flour
90g dark soft brown sugar
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground star anise (or clove)
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten

The day before (or up to 3 days before), chop the cherries in half and place into a bowl along with the rest of the dried fruits. Grate the orange and lemon zest over the top and pour in the Brandy. Give everything a good stir, cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside for 24 hours (or up to 3 days) to allow the fruits to plump up and absorb some of the Brandy.
The next day, place all the remaining ingredients into a large bowl. Add the soaked fruits, scraping in any leftover juices. Mix together lightly with a wooden spoon until everything is evenly combined.
Place a small disc of parchment paper in the base of a 1½ pint pudding basin. Fill the basin with the pudding mix, pressing down lightly. Place another disc of parchment on top and cover the top of the basin with a sheet of foil. Fold a little crease into the middle of the foil to allow the pudding to rise during steaming.
Tie a long strip of string around the top rim of the pudding and then secure it over the top of the basin from one side to the other to form a string handle. (This will help you retrieve the pudding from the pan later without burning yourself).
Lay sheets of newspaper in the base of a large saucepan. (This protects the base of the pudding from the direct heat from the stove and stops it rattling around inside your pan.) Place the pudding on the papers before filling the pan with boiling water from the kettle, until it reaches halfway up the side of the pudding basin.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to the merest of simmers, cover with the lid and leave to simmer gently for 5 hours. It should be barely bubbling.
Every 2 hours lift the lid of the pan to check the water level. Add more boiling water if it’s looking low.
Once the 5 hours is up, lift the pudding out of the pan with the help of the string handle. Place on a cooling rack, remove the foil and leave until cool. Leave it in the basin and with the parchment disc still on top. Once cooled, wrap the whole pudding, basin and all, tightly in clingfilm and store in a cool dark place until required, the longer the better.
On Christmas Day, steam the pudding again for 2 hours to heat through thoroughly. Turn out onto a serving plate that has a rim. Carefully warm a ladleful of Brandy, then set light to it with a match or lighter and quickly pour it over the pudding to flambé. Serve with Brandy butter or custard once the flames have extinguished.
Makes 1 pudding, to serve 6 – 8 people

Tuesday 20 November 2012

The Cake Slice November 2012: Shoo Fly Cake

This month’s Cake Slice bake marks the start of our new cake book, that as a group we will be baking from for the next 12 months. I can now reveal that the book is…Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson. It’s got a great variety of different cakes to choose form: cupcakes, angel food cakes, bundts and layered cakes.

The books début cake is an intriguingly named Shoo-Fly Cake. It’s a sticky molasses spice cake with a crumb topping. According to the book, it originated in Pennsylvania and was so named due to the cakes sticky top surface which attracted flies, which had to be shooed away!

I used black treacle in my cake which lent a gorgeous deep dark colour and heady aroma. Whenever I smell molasses or treacle it always makes me think of sticky gingerbreads, and indeed this cake does contain some ground ginger. The most surprising ingredient in this cake is a cup of strong brewed coffee. This not only adds a further richness to the cakes mysterious smoky bitter flavour but also enhances the dark inky blackness of the batter.

Before baking the cake is topped with a simple crumb mixture. Strangely, during baking my cake swallowed half the crumb topping on one side of my cake. I’m not sure why this happened on only one side but it resulted in a sort of yin and yang symbol on top, quite fitting I though, a contrast between the dark cake and the lighter crumb topping.

The cake is meant to be eaten warm and it was indeed fabulous like this. Soft, moist and intensely flavoured. On cooling I assumed the cake would be more like a sticky gingerbread, but I found it to be disappointingly dry. When reheated briefly in the microwave it went back to being soft and light, but I wouldn’t recommend eating it cold. I even tried leaving it for 2 days to see if the stickiness would develop, but it only got drier, which was disappointing. However, as the recipe specifies to eat it warm, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

I also found the crumb topping to be a bit odd. When eaten warm it turned soft and was a bit pointless and when eaten cold, it simply crumbled and fell off the cake. All in all I enjoyed the flavour of this cake, but I probably wouldn’t make it again. I have another gingerbread recipe I much prefer, that tastes delicious eaten hot or cold.

Click here to see the Shoo-Fly Cakes the thoughts of my fellow Cake Slice bakers

Shoo-Fly Cake
(Recipe from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson)
200g caster sugar
170g butter
250g black treacle or molasses
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
350g gluten free plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
225ml warm strong coffee

Crumb Topping
70g light soft brown sugar
100g gluten free plain flour
60g butter

Method – Crumb Topping
Make sure your butter is at room temperature and cut it into small pieces. Mix the flour and sugar together in a bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture using the tips of your fingers, like you would if making a crumble.
Work until the butter is broken down and a few clumps of buttery crumbs have formed. Set aside for later.

To Bake the Cake
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 9 inch round deep springform tin and line the base with baking paper.
Mix the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and spices together in a bowl and set aside.
Melt the butter and pour it over the sugar, molasses and vanilla. Whisk the mixture until combined. (It will be slightly grainy, this is fine). Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.
Add a third of the flour and fold together. Add half the coffee and mix again. Repeat the process with more flour, coffee and the last of the flour.
Pour the batter into the cake tin (it will be runny) and scatter over the crumb topping.
Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until risen and firm to the touch.
Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes before serving warm.
Reheat slices of any leftover cake before eating. Best eaten warm as a pudding and served with custard.
Makes 1 x 9inch cake