Sunday 24 November 2013

Christmas Pudding for Stir Up Sunday!

Today is Stir Up Sunday – the official day to stir together a delicious mix of dried fruits and spices to make your Christmas pudding. Every year the last Sunday in November, the last Sunday before the start of advent, is the official day to make your xmas pud. It is a tradition that has been going on for decades, possibly centuries, and one I hope continues for many more to come. I love the thought that today people all over the country are today making a pudding for their friends and relatives to eat and enjoy on Christmas day. It’s the kind of unity and homely food based tradition that I love.

Christmas pudding is not too dissimilar to Christmas cake. Your soak your fruits in alcohol before using them, like a Christmas cake, but then combine this mix into a spiced breadcrumb and suet batter. I always made my own breadcrumbs from crumbling up some gluten free bread and use frozen grated butter in place of the suet (which is usually coated in wheat flour). This fruity, spicy mixture is placed into a pudding basin and part boiled, part steamed for several hours to create a densely fruited, rich, spicy and incredibly moist fruit pudding. It has all the flavours of Christmas cake only in a squishier, softer and more intense 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. You get the added bonus of it filling the house with a fabulous rich and spicy Christmas scent as it happily simmers away.

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 it alight! However, the actual 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. It’s quite relaxing pottering around the house and listening to it gently simmering, filling the kitchen with the warm spicy note of Christmas. I always like to line the base of the pan I steam it in with some paper. This protects the pudding from the direct base heat of the pan and stops it making too much noise from the pudding basin hitting the side of the pan as it simmers. It’s a great way to make use of some of the tedious junk mail and unwanted catalogues that always get pushed through the letterbox at this time of year.
This year I decided to place a thin slice of orange at the base of my pudding, which I hope will give a pretty top when turn out. I’d only got the one orange and when I came to slice it I found it was rather a unique orange in that the inner segments formed more of a random mosaic pattern than the usual triangular segments! While not quite the effect I was after, I think it will certainly look pretty on the pudding so I used it anyway. I’ll let you know how it turns out! Right now it’s wrapped up tight and awaiting its final steam on Christmas day.

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 Amaretto)
20g chopped pecans
50g grated frozen butter
30g gluten free brown breadcrumbs (crumbled from 1 slice of GF bread)
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 or spatula until everything is evenly combined.
Place a small disc of parchment paper in the base of a 1½ pint pudding basin. Place a thinly sliced disc of orange in the base (optional).
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 that you have folded a pleat into the middle of, 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 (or junk mail) 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, Brandy cream or custard once the flames have extinguished.
Makes 1 pudding, to serve 6 – 10 people

Sunday 17 November 2013

The Red Deer, Sheffield Review

The Red Deer is located just off West Street in Sheffield City Centre. My boyfriend A and I were trying to think of somewhere new to try for dinner and a quick internet hunt revealed the Red Deer as a good place to try.

The pub is quite traditional and olde-worlde inside, a wooden bar, little stools nestled around wooden tables and a range of local ales. Instead of feeling dated, this gave it a relaxed and cozy atmosphere.

The menu consists of a range of classics – fish & chips, sausage & mash and burgers, but with a few more modern dishes thrown in – sweetcorn fritters and crab linguine. Their menu mentioned gluten free bread, so I was sure they would have some awareness of coeliac disease. I talked through the menu with the bar staff who checked with the chef what could be made gluten free. I was thrilled to discover that their chips/fries were gluten free as they had their own separate fryer! I knew instantly I wanted some, as it’d been months since I’d had proper chips. The lighter bite options included nachos topped with a bean chili, which always used to be a favourite of mine. Sadly the nacho chips themselves weren’t GF, but they were more than happy for me to have the bean chili with chips instead of nachos.

While we waited for the food I noticed they had a stack of board games set to one side, which people could help themselves too if they wished. Indeed, a group of students behind us were enjoying a heated game of Risk, stopping only for beer refills and extra chips. I thought this was a lovely idea.

When our food arrived I was delighted to see that they had layered the chips with the bean chili, cheese and spicy jalapenos just as if they were nachos. I was expecting chips, on one side and chili on the other but this was much better. It also came with all the usual accompaniments of sour cream, salsa and guacamole. I was one happy girl and the chips were lovely. I admit not a patricianly healthy meal, but for a treat it was delicious. I mentioned to the staff when he came to collect they plates that they should offer chip nachos on their menu, and he said the chef had said the same!

My boyfriend A had chosen a burger, topped with a large field mushroom. He too was pleased with his freshly cooked chips and bowl of chunky coleslaw. He was also highly impressed with the bun the burger in; it was a slightly toasted good quality white roll, rather than the usual pappy sugary burger bun.

We stayed chatting for over 2 hours and at the end of the night we agreed we’d be making many a return visit. The food, like the surroundings, is simple and rustic but simple things done well are always highly enjoyable.
(Apologies for the quality of the photos, it was dark and they were taken on my phone)

And Now For Something Completely Different
* It’s Stir Up Sunday – Christmas Pudding making day on Sunday 24th November, so get preparing! Here is a link to my GF ChristmasPudding that I make every year.
* Also, don’t forget to feed your Christmas cake with a bit of booze and tuck it away again for another fortnight.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Banoffee but not as you know it! Banana & Coffee Bundt Cake

Did you know that 15th November is National Bundt Cake day? One of my fellow bloggers Mary of The Food Librarian is posting a different Bundt cake recipe every day in the run up to 15th. It’s an amazing (not to mention delicious) feat to undertake and she has done similarevents in previous years. Seeing so many Bundt’s got me wanting to bake my own and join in the baking fun and so I give you my Banoffee Bundt Cake!

Banoffee is instantly associated with banana and toffee, but I have often wondered ‘why does it have to be toffee?’ Banana and coffee combined would also be Banoffee, although I admit slightly less conventional. Some people may not like the sound of banana and coffee together, but let me assure you it works. Bananas are naturally very sweet and although often associated with other sweet toffees and caramels, they go equally well with darker, more bitter flavours – who doesn’t love bananas and dark bitter chocolate together? Well coffee works just the same!

This recipe is jam-packed full of banana, 4 whole large bananas in fact. It also contains no butter but instead relies on a little oil and Greek yoghurt, not to mention all that banana, for moistness. This also means it would be very easy to make this cake dairy free if needed, by simply using a non dairy yoghurt (check your dark chocolate is dairy free too, most good ones are).

The cake has quite a close texture, dense but not stodgy or heavy, more like a pound cake. It’s moist and tender from all the banana and not overly sweet, as there is not too much added sugar, the main sweetness coming from the bananas themselves. I wanted the banana flavour to really shine and so resisted my urge to pile in the spices and instead used only a little vanilla and some dark chocolate chips, which I always adore in banana cake.

The coffee element is present as a coffee glaze, which adds both sweetness and then a slight smoky bitter coffee note which works surprisingly well with the sweet banana and gooey dark chocolate chips. It makes it just that little bit more sophisticated and adds a note of interest.

There is something homely and comforting about banana cake, I ate one slice and promptly went and cut myself another. As this recipe quite low in fat I didn’t feel too guilty. Feed it to your friends and see if they can work out what the Banoffee twist is! I plan to submit this post to Mary for her Bundt cake round-up. Will you be baking a Bundt cake for National Bundt Cake day? What would be your chosen flavour?

(Banoffee) Banana & Coffee Bundt Cake
400g (3-4 large) overripe bananas, peeled weight
2 eggs
70ml vegetable oil
125g soft brown sugar
80g dark chocolate chips
90g thick Greek yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla
240g white rice flour
40g potato starch
20g tapioca starch
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Coffee Glaze
1 tsp instant coffee
1-2 tbsp water
150g icing sugar
Banana chips to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180C. Oil a 9-10inch wide Bundt tin and set aside.
Mash the bananas with a fork until very soft and mushy.
In a clean bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar until combined and starting to go slightly paler and bubbly, about 1 minute.
Stir in the banana mush, yoghurt, vanilla and chocolate chips.
Sift the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, rice, potato and tapioca flour over the batter and fold together using a spatula until a sloppy but thick cake mix is formed.
Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake for 45-50 minutes until well-risen, golden brown and cracked along the top. Test the middle is cooked using a skewer, but be careful not to hit a chocolate chip.
Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Coffee Glaze
Dissolve the instant coffee in 1 tbsp water. Add the icing sugar and mix together well until a thick, yet pourable icing is created. Add a few more drops of water if necessary to create the desired consistency. It should be spreadable without being runny.
Drizzle the icing over the top of the inverted, cooled cake, letting it slowly drizzle down the sides of the cake.
Decorate with a few crushed banana chips if desired.
Eat and enjoy.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Gluten Free Ginger Christmas Fruit Cake

It’s that time of year again, time to bake the Christmas cake!! I’ve always baked my own Christmas cake, even in my pre-coeliac days. There is something magical and special about preparing the fruits, soaking them in booze and then baking them into a dark spicy cake that is so traditional and ritualistic that I always look forward to it. Plus as the cake bakes you get the most divine aroma of warm fruits, black treacle and spices wafting through the kitchen that it instantly makes me feel all warm and cozy. Knowing that you are preparing food for your family to share and enjoy, and the love and time that goes into making it make it all the more special.

Each year I try and give the cake a bit of a different twist. Last year I replaced the brandy with rum and use some ground cardamom in the spices, this year I decided to give it a warming twist of ginger. I stirred a generous amount of crystallised ginger into the fruit mix and upped the ground ginger in the cakes spice mix. I also used satsuma zest and juice in place of my standard orange and replaced sultanas with dates. Ginger itself adds a peppery warming heat, which I felt would work well in a Christmas cake. I can’t wait to taste it on Christmas day and find out if it comes through.

I left my fruits soaking for a whole week, preparing them one weekend and baking the cake the next. During this time they soaked up the booze and fruit juice and became wonderfully plump and glossy. The zest, fruits and brandy created quite a heady aroma that I was half tempted to forgo the cake and eat spoonfuls of the fruit mix on its own but I managed to resist.

My cake is now snugly tucked away and awaiting its first feed of brandy in a few days time. Nearer Christmas I have the fun challenge of decorating it. I was stuck for ideas this year, but my grandmother has suggested a penguin which I think it a lovely idea. I’ve not planned a design yet, you’ll have to wait until nearer the time to find out if I managed it.

Do you bake your own Christmas cake? Are there any special family traditions you MUST do around this time of year to get into the festive feeling?

Gluten Free Ginger Christmas Fruit Cake
Ingredients – Soaking Mix
170g raisins
100g dates
65g dried apricots
50g crystallised ginger
50g dried cranberries
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 satsuma (or ½ orange)
50ml brandy
40ml satsuma or orange juice

Ingredients – Cake Mix
140g gluten free plain flour
15g tapioca starch
20g ground almonds
120g dark soft brown sugar
120g unsalted butter
1½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
40g black treacle
2 eggs
(pre soaked fruit mix – above)

30ml brandy once baked & additional for feeding

Soak the Fruit
Place the raisins and cranberries into a bowl. Chop the dates and apricots into pieces the same size as the cranberries and slice the crystallised ginger into small cubes.
Grate over the zest of the lemon and Satsuma. Squeeze the juice from the satsuma and add to the brandy. Pour the liquid over the fruits and stir to coat.
Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the fruit to soak for at least 24hours and up to 1 week, in a cool place to allow the fruit to plump up and absorb the brandy and fruit juice. I left mine for 5 days and stirred it twice in this time.

Bake the Cake
Lightly grease a 6.5inch/15-16cm deep round spring form tin. Line the base and sides with greaseproof paper, letting the paper rise about 1 inch above the rim of the tin. Preheat the oven to 140C or 120C fan.
Weigh all the cake ingredients, expect the pre soaked fruit, into a bowl and mix with a hand mixer until well combined.
Add the pre soaked fruit, including any remaining juices and fold together using a spatula.
Spread the mix into the tin, pressing down gently. Create a small dip in the middle of the cake to allow the mixture to rise into a flat, level surface on baking.
Bake in the oven for 2hours 10minutes until browned and quite firm to the touch. Allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before pricking the surface of the cake and drizzling over 30ml more brandy. Cover the cake and leave to cool in the tin before unmolding. Leave the greaseproof paper round the cake and wrap it tightly in clingfilm. The longer the cake has to mature the more developed in flavour it will be.
Every 1-2 weeks carefully remove the clingfilm from the cake and drizzle over a little more brandy. This is known as ‘feeding the cake’ and will ensure a richer and moister flavour and texture to the cake. (This is non essential though)
Makes 1 x 6.5ch cake

When Ready to Decorate
Ingredients - Decoration
500g fondant icing
250g marzipan
2 tsp brandy
Food dye to decorate

Trimming and 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.
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.
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 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. Smooth the edges and top with your hands or cake smoother if you have one. Cut off the excess fondant from around the base.
Gather up the off cuts of fondant and dye as appropriate for decorations. Decorate the cake as desired and secure a ribbon around the bottom edge of the cake.
(I don’t have any photos of my finished cake yet, as its still in the ‘feeding’ stage)