Recently, an enormous box arrived at English Towers with a lovely note from the folks at Kenwood: ‘we know you love cooking, so would you like this beautiful Kenwood Chef Elite?’ Seriously generous, right? But I didn’t rush to open it, because, well, I’ve got a mixer already that I’ve had for ages and love, and on the box it looks all complicated and new-fangled, not homely and quirky like mine. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, though, and because everyone kept complaining that there was a huge box on the kitchen floor, I opened it up and popped it onto the kitchen counter. Well. Cue choirs of angels singing and all that jazz, because this thing is beautiful. Seriously, I sent a pic to Mr E and he replied ‘erm, wow. It really goes in our kitchen’. To give it a thorough test, though, and make sure it has brains as well as beauty, I attempted some Christmas crumble muffins with my sleek and shiny new baby. Here’s how I got on:
Stir-up Sunday is coming, people! I absolutely love this weekend as, for me, it properly signifies the start of Christmas. The kitchen is filled with the warming scents of orange and spice, and there’s lots of stirring and steaming: all my favourite things! If you fancy making your own Christmas puddings this year, I’ve added the ingredients list nice and early so you can make sure you have everything ready. Remember that, if you follow this recipe, you’ll actually need to start on the Saturday as I recommend steeping the fruit overnight – also, do remember that steaming the pudding takes about five hours, so don’t start everything too late or you’ll be steaming when you should be sleeping! So, for the Christmas pudding recipe 2017, I’ve kept it simple: no figs, no apricots, just a lot of cranberries and plenty of spice. Here’s how to do it:
So here it is, my very last post before Christmas! I’ve been writing this blog for 10 years now (I know!) and every year, I say the same thing: if you’re cooking the Christmas lunch – and getting stressed about it – remember it’s your Christmas too. I’ve got loads of tips here to make the day as stress free and laid back as possible for you, so you can enjoy your Christmas day with your family and friends. So find a quiet corner, Treat yourself to my perfect frozen whipped cream hot chocolate, grab a notebook, have a read through and take few minutes to make a plan. And remember, it’s basically just a big roast dinner, and this guide will help you do most of the work on Christmas Eve so you can spend as much time as possible with the family, and as little as possible in the kitchen on the big day!
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.
For me, this year has been all about Walt Disney World, and in particular, Disney’s Frozen. So when it came to decorating my Christmas cake, I knew it was going to have to have a Frozen theme. I’d seen the sugar glass (or ice) a few times on Pinterest but they were always American recipes and involved corn syrup and, frankly, unless you’re Buddy the Elf, it’s unlikely you’re going to come across this on your travels. I was worried that substituting golden syrup would taint the colour but it didn’t seem to at all (obviously if you’re aiming for clear ‘glass’ then this recipe won’t work for you’). I used colouring paste, but liquid will work too. These gorgeous little cake toppers are from Cake Decorating Store, as are the cutters. I cut out the ‘frozen fractals’ from leftover icing (sticking them on with a dab of boiling water) but decorate however you want, or just leave it plain and sprinkle with a bit of glitter (I love glitter).
Now Christmas is in full swing, I seem to be baking mince pies nearly every day. I always feel a bit sorry for Charlie, though, who doesn’t like mince pies and so tends to head for the biscuit tin instead. I decided to have a fiddle with my normal cookie recipe to come with something a little more festive.
The thing about home baking is that it should be a joy. My favourite times are spent in my kitchen – pinny on (Cath Kidston, a treasured present from my friend Taralara), oven on, flour everywhere, radio playing, people popping in and out for a chat or a quick taste – it’s my therapy. I’d go mad without it. Someone once told me that you should never bake when you’re miserable – nothing goes right – cakes don’t rise, things don’t taste right… it’s because the baking picks up on your mood, and I completely believe that’s true.
There’s nothing quite like that first mince pie of the season, is there? Yesterday I popped to TK Maxx and picked up a couple of bits including this AMAZING ceramic bun tin and a cute little freeform bowl. Time for some baking, then:
So have you seen the Waitrose Christmas advert? We love the story of little Ellie, the reluctant baker, who ends up mastering the art of gingerbread baking for her school fete.
Waitrose have challenged me to get involved with their #bakeitforward campaign, to spread a little love and Christmas cheer to some people I really care about by baking them a special treat. I love decorating biscuits, it’s so Christmassy – so here are my cute little chocolate Christmas tree biscuits. This dough is perfect for cutting out shapes as it doesn’t spread in the oven – it’s really easy to make too.
I ADORE making Christmas pudding: it’s my first real Christmas job (because I’m lazy with the Christmas cakes) and the house just smells divine. Actually, because I soak the fruit overnight, I tend to start on Stir-up Saturday (what? it’s a thing, honestly), but you could start in the morning, soak the fruit all day and make the pudding in the evening too…
Okay so last time we saw your Christmas cake it was stashed somewhere wrapped in parchment or foil and being occasionally ‘fed’ with a bit of booze. Now it’s time for the fun bit… the decoration!
You will need:
Making your own marzipan (or almond paste) is really easy. There are recipes everywhere so I won’t bore you with that bit. Or just pick up a block of marzipan at the supermarket).
Jam or marmalade
Basically you need something sticky to adhere the marzipan to your cake. Traditionally, apricot jam is used, but frankly I find it a pain as it’s often lumpy and my Christmas spirit doesn’t run to pushing jam through a sieve. I use rindless marmalade, which is kind of like jelly so it’s much easier, plus the flavour echoes the orange in the cake. Tradition also says that you should ‘boil’ your jam, but really you just need to melt it. As far as I can work out there’s no actual benefit from boiling it (maybe thickening it? But then why add the water? I read somewhere that it’s supposed to inhibit bacteria development but I’m not sure why bacteria would decide to run rife around your Christmas cake anyway) plus it spits everywhere, makes a mess and HURTS (I’m speaking from experience here) if it splashes you.
You can buy this in packs, and I think ready rolled as well. I was really tempted by a hot pink colour in my local cake decorating shop, but resisted the urge and went for traditional white!
To marzipan and ice your Christmas cake:
Just put two or three spoonfuls of whatever sticky stuff you’re using and pop them into a saucepan with a splash of water.
Splodge the warm jam or jelly liberally all over your cake (brush or spread, whatever you like), then just roll out your marzipan (it’s helpful if you squish it into a rough circular shape before you start – use a dusting of icing sugar instead of flour) until it’s big enough to flop over the cake. I roll mine out on clingfilm, then you can just pick the whole thing up and flop it over the cake, smoothing it down over the sides.
Cut off the excess, tucking it in a bit underneath the cake and you’re done.
It will need to dry out now, so put it back in the tin (or if it’s on a cake stand, cover it with a piece of baking parchment or something) for at least a few days (you’ve still got time!).
When it’s dry, it’s time for the fondant icing.
Repeat the process of shaping and rolling out the block of icing. Give the marzipan a brush over with some boiled water to give the icing a ‘key’ to stick to, then just flop the icing over the cake, again smoothing it down as before. My cake wasn’t perfectly flat on top, but hey, I’m a home cook and I can’t stand the thought of cutting the top of the cake to make it straight. Feel free if you want to though.
Now for the fun bit! You can see how I decorated my cake with a Disney’s Frozen theme here, but feel free to decorate it however you like!
Once finished, pop your beauty back into the tin until you need it. If you want to leave out the marzipan layer, it’s best to do the fondant as soon as possible before you intend to eat it, as the cake tends to stain the icing without a marzipan layer.
And that’s it. Give yourself a pat on the back and possibly a gin. You deserve it.
Oh, and here’s the whole lot again in pictures:
(Note: this post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated – mostly because both my photography and cake decorating skills have improved a tiny bit!)
- 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