I love the idea of making Christmas cake. Honestly, I do! But I never seem to manage to bake one in November or whenever everyone else is doing it, and even if I do, it then gets lost in a cupboard somewhere and I forget to feed it and take care of it (it’s ‘Fluffy’ the sourdough starter all over again). This lovely cranberry, apricot and orange Christmas cake recipe is full of delicious fruit, and even better, you can just make it the week before Christmas (or even Christmas eve) and it will be delicious and moist and scented and Christmassy, even if you do nothing at all to it.
How flipping lovely is Christmas baking? I’m never happier than when I’m in my kitchen, surrounded by twinkly lights, my new kitchen Christmas tree, and the delicious scent of Christmassy cinnamon wafting from the oven. I make so many mince pies over Christmas (Mr E is a big fan) that I tend to buy an absolute ton of mincemeat. However, it’s really lovely – and easy – to make your own. Homemade mincemeat makes great presents for friends and family and you’ll be surprised how delicious it tastes compared to the stuff from a jar (which I always zhuzh up with a load of booze and extra cranberries anyway).
I have a complicated relationship with biscotti. On the one hand, I love baking them (and eating them) but on the other hand, listening to people say ‘oh wow these biscotti are SO hard!’ makes me want to throw the aforementioned hard biscuits at their heads. Yes, biscotti are hard. That’s kind of the point. They’re twice baked and made to be dunked – traditionally in vin santo, but they’re also delicious dunked in coffee (or if you’re a coffee hater like me, hot chocolate, where they’re perfect for scooping out your melted marshmallows). I’ve made spiced chocolate and pistachio biscotti by adding a little Christmassy spice and using chocolate chunks and pistachio nuts, but feel free to keep it traditional with almonds, or add some dried fruit. Read more
Look, it’s the 28th November, okay? It’s basically the beginning of Christmas week’ isn’t it? We don’t generally do our decorations until the first weekend in December, but Christmas baking? I’m all over it. This weekend, it was time to bring out my favourite Christmas tree mould and create some new Christmassy treats in the shape of these little chocolate Christmas tree cakes. This is a fab, fun thing to do with the kids – basically smother the little sponge trees in melted chocolate and then go crazy with the decorations. Here’s how I did it:
I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but when Mr E was little, his favourite treat was his mum’s ‘pastry jammy cakey things’ – basically a jam tart with a cake topping. Over the years I’ve made these in various different forms, but he especially loves the Christmassy mince pie version. We’re Christmas lovers here at Number One, and Christmas starts basically as soon as Mr E’s birthday is over in mid-November (we just about manage to reach December 1st before the tree goes up). This year, I’ve added festive clementine and cinnamon to the cake mix, but sadly still not thought of a decent name for them, so ‘clementine and cinnamon cakey mince pies’ will have to do.
If you follow me on Instagram stories you’ll see that our mad whippet, Lyra, absolutely ADORES blackberries. I’ve been out picking with her several times and she’ll actually beg for blackberries (and pick them off the lower branches herself). Still, when I’m not competing with the dog for them, I’ve actually been able to pick quite a few. These honey and blackberry flapjacks came about after I offered to make some for Mr E’s work – he’s always complaining that everyone else brings in home made cakes, etc and I never bake anything. He then went on to say, but only do flapjack if it’s ‘full ‘fat’.
So as you read this, we’re on our family cruise around the Med on Celebrity Eclipse and are currently steaming towards Portugal (squee!). During the run up, as you know, I was eating really, really healthily (with the odd treat) and exercising daily. Mr E and I have been out cycling on our bikes and I’ve been walking a few miles with the dog every day, plus – an absolute revelation: I’ve been doing free weights, kettlebells and even sit ups at home, which I really enjoy. I really feel that my arms are more toned already and my jeans feel looser too. Bonus. I know they’re not for everyone but I’ve found a couple of the fitness tracking apps really useful motivation, and I’m watching my portion sizes (always an issue when you live with three strapping fellas). I’ve been fiddling about with this recipe for a while as, while I’m definitely not eating biscuits, sometimes I really crave something crunchy and sweet, and I thought it I could create a little treat that’s going to kill the cravings, but not derail the healthy eating, I’d be pretty happy. So I had a little experiment and created these relatively healthy little oatbran flapjack cookies. And then I ruined it by smothering them in chocolate.
Good morning, good morning! The sun is shining (well, it is at the moment – clearly if you’re reading this next November then it might not be) and this week’s Sunday baking has a lovely, summer strawberry theme, courtesy of Beko, who challenged me to create a perfect strawberry recipe, inspired by their Wimbledon strawberry recipes page (check out the strawberry, basil and goat’s cheese panini – yum). Our local pick your own farm has just opened again for the summer and the strawberries are ABSOLUTELY HUGE! I thought I’d do a bit of research into strawberry shortcakes and it seems they’re actually more scone-like than shortbread, so this one’s a bit in between: a shortbread mixture, but lightened up with baking powder and an egg. I love the little dots of green pistachio in there too – so pretty! Bash them with a rolling pin, but leave some big pieces which add a bit of crunch.
I’m a huge fan of rapeseed oil. The fields surrounding the house are ablaze with yellow every summer, and we have great local producers, Chiltern Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil, right on our doorstep. Rapeseed oil is really healthy – it has the lowest saturated fat content of any oil (6.6g/100g, compared to 14.3g for olive oil and 54.8g for butter), very high levels of Essential Fatty Acids (ten times the Omega 3 of olive oil) and is a natural source of vitamin E too. I use it for everything: roasties come out well as I think it’s quite pure so it heats to high temperatures quite well, it’s great for frying as it doesn’t smell too yucky, and I bake with it too. One of my faves is this rapeseed oil, lemon and almond drizzle cake – especially for dessert on a Sunday.
A lovely new friend came for a cup of tea yesterday. It’s a weird story, which I’ll tell you one of these days, but in short, Mr Tails, our Maine Coon cat, has decided he doesn’t really like us any more and has moved in with a neighbour round the corner. He seems to have fallen in love with their cat, and their love knows no bounds. Our neighbour felt terrible that Tails had abandoned us for his new love and was determined to move in with her and Fluffy, and popped in to see us. Since then, while she’s been trying to deter him, we’ve been in touch a bit, and she really is very sweet and funny. I’m hopeful of a fresh new friendship, which is always nice. Anyhoo, I felt bad yesterday, what with all the travel I’ve been doing, that I didn’t have a nice piece of cake to offer with the tea (not like me at all), and noticing the rather sad bananas in the fruit bowl (also abandoned, like my children, while I was away), I thought I’d bake a cake.
Okay, slightly cheating here as there’s no actual baking involved, but cheesecake is still cake, right? Anyway, yesterday was Charlie’s 18th birthday. How I came to be the mother of an 18 year old when I’m such a youngster is beyond me, but anyway it happened, and as usual, the Birthday Big Cheese got to choose the birthday cake of his dreams. No surprises here as Charlie basically always chooses variations of the same thing (which is a welcome change from the others who tend to devise me a GBBO-style technical challenge for every birthday) and this time chose an Oreo chocolate cheesecake. To make sure your cheesecake is smooth and silky, make sure you allow the cream cheese to come up to room temperature first.
Recently, a very nice lady called Laura sent me an email and asked me why my blog post in which I explain how to make Bourbon biscuits at home had disappeared. Did you know that I’ve been writing English Mum for nearly TEN YEARS? I know! It’s testament to the fact that I’ve got an awful lot to say for myself that I’ve never once run out of things to write about. You’ll be pleased to know that I’m exactly the same in real life and can never shut up there either. One of the problems with this terrible affliction is the strain on poor Andy the web designer’s servers. Ten year’s worth of waffle and pictures takes up a lot of room, so recently we took the tough decision to archive the first five years.
Are you doing something lovely for your Mama this weekend (or indeed hoping to have something lovely done for you?). We’re taking my mum out to lunch at a local pub (very unusual – and difficult – to get all of us together, so it will be very special). The lovelies at Tesco asked me to pick a special bake to share with you all for Mother’s Day. If you fancy it, might I suggest something with blood oranges? They’re in season at the moment and I just think they’re the most gorgeous fruit imaginable. One of nature’s wonders.
I make brownies all the time. At least once a week, if not more. This means a) that I know the recipe off by heart, and b) that I was extra annoyed when Bournville recently changed their bar weight from 200g to 180g which now means I have to open a second pack. First world problems, I know, but it’s my favourite dark chocolate to cook with – just enough fruity tang that dark chocolate imparts, without the bitterness of some of the extra dark, 70%+ chocolate bars.
Last week I was lucky enough to attend Three UK’s Christmas party. It was excellent fun, full of wonderful cocktails and balloons, and a quite incredible smartie filled cake, created by Edd Kimber. Following research that discovered 76% of those born in December wish they were born in a different month (and who can blame them? All those ‘joint presents’ and everyone so focused on Christmas your birthday barely gets a mention?) Three asked the Great British Bake Off winner to create the Merry Birthday Pudding… a Christmas pud but with a wonderful surprise birthday filling!
While walking the dog today (she has an ouchy so we had to walk very slowly), we were talking about how we could update the mince pie recipe of 2014 with a new twist. Mr E was saying how much he likes Bakewell tarts, so I decided to create frangipane mince pies with a soft layer of delicious almond cream and a mincemeat topping. Don’t feel that you have to make the pastry. There are no rules to this homemade lark – it’s the thought that counts so if you use shop bought pastry (just look out for an all butter one), nobody’s going to judge you!
If you’re using shop bought mincemeat, it’s worth adding a squeeze of fresh orange or a splash of sherry or port to perk it up too.
- Entertaining over Christmas: my festive pie December 12, 2017
- A night out at the Gourmet Picture Company, Marlow December 10, 2017
- Weekend wishlist: festive fun with Love Layla Designs December 9, 2017
- Christmas crumble muffins with the Kenwood Chef Elite December 7, 2017
- Christmas gifts for the man in your life December 6, 2017