Wednesday 25 December 2013

Christmas Cake 2013: Penguins

It’s Christmas!
I hope everyone has a wonderful day. I drove back to my parents house last night and I can’t quite believe today is actually Christmas. It all seems a bit surreal, but in a very good way of course.

I wanted to share with you my decorated Christmas Cake. I always do a different design each year and this year it’s Penguins! The theme courtesy of my grandmother’s suggestion – thanks Grandma.

To make it, I covered my gingery Christmas fruit cake with a disc of marzipan and a layer of blue swirled fondant that I made by only half kneading in some blue food dye. The little igloo and penguins are all made out of fondant too. They were a little fiddly to make as their heads kept falling off.

The little penguins features I added by dipping a cocktail stick in black and orange food dye. I’m happy with the finished design though, I think it’s simple but effective.
Happy Christmas everyone!

Saturday 21 December 2013

Starry Mince Pies with Zesty Orange Pastry (& Choc Shot Giveaway Winner)

I can’t believe Christmas is mere days away; it’s probably close enough to start counting down in hours! I have been so busy recently that I am quite behind on my festive baking. Last weekend I realised with shock that I hadn’t yet eaten a mince pie this Christmas! Being coeliac means it’s not so easy to come across gluten free mince pies at social gatherings or in bakers shops and I hadn’t got round to baking my own. I decided this would definitely not do and set about rectifying this immediately.

To give my mince pies a bit of an extra festive touch I flavoured the gluten free pastry with some orange zest. This gave the pastry a nice golden hue and a little extra zesty freshness. I liked how I could see the orange strands speckled throughout the pastry too. I love the combination of fresh orange with the heady spices used in the sweet boozy mincemeat.

I also topped the pies with pastry stars rather than round lids, as I like to see the mincemeat poking out between the stars points. Once baked they were given a light dusting of icing sugar and they were good to enjoy – or should that be scoffed considering I ate three in one afternoon? Oh well, they say pastry is best eaten on the day of baking, and I needed to make up for lost time.

I used the leftover scraps of pastry to make some festive pastry shapes, which I baked and devoured while still warm straight out the oven. This is a little treat that my mum always used to allow us to do whenever she made anything with pastry. It always makes me feel nostalgic and there’s no point letting it go to waste.

How many mince pies have you eaten this year? Do you even like mince pies? If not, what’s your festive go to treat?
In case I don’t blog again before Christmas I hope you all have a wonderful fun, friend, family and food filled festive day!

Starry Mince Pies with Zesty Orange Pastry
200g gluten free plain flour blend
90g butter
1 egg
40g icing sugar
Zest of 1 orange
½ tsp xanthan gum
1-2 tbsp water
½ jar gluten free mincemeat (most is GF but always best to check)
2 tsp milk for brushing
2 tbsp extra icing sugar for decoration

Preheat your oven to 180C and have a 12 holed muffin tin to hand.
Mix the flour, 40g icing sugar, orange zest and xanthan gum together in a bowl.
Cut the butter into cubes, add to the flour and rub together using the tips fo your fingers, lifting the flour and butter up above the bowl and letting it fall back in as you squish the two together. Continue until the butter is broken down and coated in flour, it should look like chunky breadcrumbs.
Beat the egg, add to the bowl along with 1 tbsp water. Mix in using the tip of a round bladed butter knife. Once mostly incorporated using your hands to bring the mixture together to form a dough. Add a tiny bit more water if it seems too dry, but you don’t want a wet dough.
Knead the dough gently for 1 minute to ensure everything is well combined.
Roll out the pastry between two large sheets of clingfilm until 3-4mm thick.
Use a fluted cutter to cut out rounds to fit the wells of your muffin or tart tin. Gather up the off-cuts and re-roll them before cutting out 12 stars to act as pasty lids.
Fill the pastry shells with 1 heaped teaspoon of mincemeat and top each with a pastry star. Brush the tops with a little milk.
Bake in the oven for 18-22 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch.
Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before lifting out and transferring to a wire rack to cool.
Dust with icing sugar and enjoy while still warm.
Makes 12 mince pies
Note: Re-roll any leftover pastry scraps and cut out some festive shapes. Place on a baking tray and bake for 12-18 minutes (depending on size). Once baked, dust with icing sugar and enjoy while still hot.

Choc Shot Giveaway Winner
I’m also delighted to announce that the winner of the Choc Shot giveaway is… comment Number 5 – The Caked Crusader!
Her comment was picked by a random number generator. Congratulations Caked Crusader. I’ll be contacting you shortly for your address.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Choc Shot: A Review & A Giveaway

Choc Shot is a new liquid chocolate product developed by Sweet Freedom. They are well known for their ‘Sweet Freedom syrup’ products, which are made with natural fruit extracts giving them a lower GI compared to other sugar/syrup products. When they contacted me to ask if I would be interested in trying their new chocolate version I was more than happy to accept.

The product is described as liquid chocolate, but it’s more like a thick chocolate sauce. It comes in a handy squeezy bottle and is quite thick, yet soft and wonderfully dark and glossy. As the product is described as liquid chocolate and had a hot chocolate image on the front of the bottle, this seemed a good place to start the taste testing.

I heated some milk and stirred it into about 2 teaspoons of the Choc Shot sauce. This produced a wonderfully dark milky drink that smelt rich and inviting. I took a sip and found it was sweet but not in a sickly way, and the rich cocoa flavour really came through. It reminded me of a traditional hot chocolate made with cocoa, rather than the sugary, milk powder, slightly fake hot chocolates you often encounter these days. It was very comforting, a nice reward after putting up my Christmas tree.

Next I tried using the Choc Shot on some toast, in a chocolate spread style. It’s quite thick when you squeeze it out of the bottle, but on the warm toast it soon melted into a dark glossy spread. I found eating it this way was too intense. It was too sweet to use in such concentrated quantities and it reminded me of chocolate fudge sundae sauce, nice but not something you would normally spread on your toast.

Finally I tried it on some rice pudding. This worked well as even though it was still quite concentrated, the milky creaminess of the pudding helped tone it down and it was a delicious treat.

I think it would be fantastic drizzled over pancakes or ice cream but I most enjoyed it as hot chocolate. Having the sauce ready in the squeezy bottle meant it was super quick to make and very convenient. I love how its gluten free, suitable for vegans and low GI, meaning you don’t get a sugar rush/crash from eating it. Even though it’s sweet, the rich dark cocoa balances this out nicely and makes it taste indulgent without tasting cheap or sickly.

Oh and if you needed even more of an excuse to indulge, it has 85% less fat and only around 15kcal per teaspoon. The perfect rationale for hot chocolates all round this Christmas!
Now the Giveaway!
The lovely people at Sweet Freedom have agreed to send a bottle of Choc Shot to one lucky person. All you have to do if leave a comment below telling me how you would most like to try using the Choc Shot. Please make sure to leave a way for me to contact you should you win. The competition runs until 12 noon on Friday 20th December. Open to UK residents only, only one entry per person. The winner will be chosen at random from the list of entries. Good Luck!

Sunday 1 December 2013

The New Moor Market, Sheffield

Last weekend was the grand opening of the much anticipated Indoor Moor Market in Sheffield. This 18 million pound project takes the place of the old famous Castle Market which, after 54 years of trading, had become a bit rundown. Despite that, I used to love popping into the Castle Market in my lunch hour and picking up a bit of fruit and veg for dinner, where else could you get 8 nectarines for £1. I’m going to miss doing this, but agree the building itself had certainly seen better days.

Yesterday I decided to go and investigate the new Moor Market, placed down the far end of the Moor (what a surprise) to see the improvements for myself. As you get closer a large glass fronted building comes into view, with a sweeping curved wooden entrance that reminded my strongly of Sheffield’s Winter Gardens entrance. I liked that this was in keeping with the current architecture designs within the city.
The building was certainly impressive from the outside and stretched quite a long way down, making it seem very large, and yet it didn’t look out of place. Just very sleek.

Once inside it opens up into a very high roofed space, dotted with a wide variety of stalls arranged rather haphazardly in diagonal lines. I wasn’t too sure what the large yellow pipes were for, or why they had drawn your attention to them by painting them yellow. I suppose they were meant to be part of the architecture, but they reminded my strongly of those tunnel slides you used to get at swimming pools.

The stalls themselves were a wide variety of new and past traders from Castle Market. Wandering around I encountered shoes, fruit & veg, butchers, bakers, a nail salon and a book store. There were also some new highlights for me – all foodie things of course – were:

Make or Bake: A cake decorating shop – something previously missing from Sheffield to my knowledge.

CakeLicious: A fancy pastry counter serving delicious looking French tarts and desserts. I loved the choux swans, but my eyes were drawn to the caramel and pear mousse dessert. Sadly nothing gluten free, but it was nice to look.

The big thing I was/am most excited about is near the main entrance where they have made a little square for pop-up producers. The idea is each week 2-3 local businesses can have the stall to show their wares, then the following week it will be someone new. I think this is a brilliant idea as not only will it give local producers a chance to make us aware of who they are and what they make, but it will keep people coming back to see what that weeks special pop-up stand is. When I visited yesterday there was a Brazilian stall (I think) selling flavoured honeys and little pastries and #Brownies, who I have vaguely heard of.
Their stall looked so tempting with a delicious array of brownies and layers cakes. I had a chat to the friendly guy manning the stall who said their brownies were flourless but he couldn’t call them gluten free as they did use flour in other cakes and bakes. The brownies all sounded amazing, chili & lime, snickers, Turkish delight and cherry & bourbon.

Set across one wall was a little café area with a variety of tables and 5 or 6 little serving stations selling teas, coffee, cakes and a similar assortment of jacket potatoes etc. It would have been nice to see a deli or something selling gourmet salads, something a bit different/more interesting and healthy than the usual café food, but its only week one after opening so one may turn up.

My only criticism of the market is that the stalls didn’t seem to be arranged in any sort of order, it was more luck than planning what you stumbled across next. Some of stalls were down quite narrow lanes, which meant it got a bit crowded with so many people milling around, not that it being popular is a bad thing.

Overall I think the new market is very impressive and with the new addition of a few different stalls and the local producers pop up section it should persuade more people to visit. If this encourages more people to start buying local produce and supporting local businesses then I’m all for it!