It’s been quite a week; with the debilitating snow hitting the country, I think that it is something of a miracle that I have achieved anything and quite frankly, I believe that I deserve congratulations. Presents are now all wrapped in line with this year’s wrapping theme (they were all bought as well but then I decided to make my own crackers and I now find myself still in need of two additional tokens), Christmas chutney is made, mince pies baked, tiramisu cookies supervised and marshmallow, well, mallowed. In between all of this I still found the time to travel back to the 1950s for a most marvellous Christmas drinks party so you will forgive me if I sit here feeling just a little self-satisfied.
This year I abandoned what was fast becoming my old reliable staple Christmas chutney in favour of something daring, exotic and new. My traditional chutney is Apple and Cranberry; very nice and of course festive in appearance, yet this year it was cast aside for a Mango and Apple chutney – still a common ingredient though so there’s no need to panic just yet. I love making chutneys and jams, I find it most satisfying when you go out and pick the ingredients yourself but there doesn’t appear to be a ready supply of mango trees in central London so the supermarket it was. The chutney involved apple and mango, obviously, onion, fresh ginger, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, nigella seeds, chilli and white wine vinegar – I love the smell of gently cooking spices and fresh ginger, I think it is wonderfully aromatic and I love the way that the smell permeates the whole house. So you can imagine then that I was less than impressed when my boyfriend arrived and announced that the flat smelt funny. It actually smelt delicious and this particular chutney only takes a couple of hours to cook and can be bottled straight away so it is perfectly feasible to make it one evening after work. It is now labelled and sitting on my worktop waiting to be gifted and eaten with cheese or left over Christmas turkey.
I think that this week probably confirmed that I don’t have the patience to be a teacher. It was the final of my boyfriend’s bake off, surrounded by all of its X Factor style controversy, and we had drawn cookies or biscuits and had to move away from our so-far trusty chocolate caramel shortbread. Of course, shortbread in my mind at least, would come under the heading of cookies or biscuits but it felt to me like it would be cheating to bake the same thing for a third time. Plus, as I may have mentioned previously, I am not a one trick pony. We went instead for Tiramisu Cookies – grown-up, indulgent and delicious but as turns out, not a winning recipe. (Secretly I suspected all along that it would be difficult to win with cookies or biscuits especially when up against chocolate, sponge and wild card). I have to say that I was very proud of his efforts although once again it pushed my patience to the limit. It seems somewhat unfortunate that on each occasion when we have been required to bake I have started the process with less patience than normal… In fairness, the tiramisu cookies were pretty advanced and called for the use of a piping bag. When I watch him baking however, the concentration and the effort does make me stop and consider how naturally baking seems to come to me and I have perhaps started to understand how some people do find it very difficult although I am clearly not the best person to give the instructions! The biscuit base for the cookies is actually more of a crisp sponge disc sandwiched together with a mascarpone and coffee mix (rum as well if you so wish, it was lacking from my drinks cupboard), then all topped off with white chocolate and crushed pieces of chocolate flake. Just about as pretty a biscuit as you could ever have asked for. I personally think that a recount is in order…
I finally baked mince pies at the weekend. I must shamefully confess that I did not use my own mincemeat but I did doctor a jar from the supermarket adding fresh cranberries and a grated Bramley apple which I think nearly makes it my own (well sort of). I do make my own shortcrust pastry using 275g plain flour, 50g caster sugar, 140g butter, the zest of an orange (or if you don’t have one to hand then several satsumas), an egg yolk and a drop or two of water. I think that orange zest lifts the pastry but if you are not a fan of the humble orange then it can easily be omitted. I enjoy making mince pies and it is my belief that they taste infinitely better if they are homemade than if you buy them from the shops. I guess that my major complaints are: the sweetness of shop-bought mince pies and the pastry. I am not, despite what you may be thinking, a pastry fan. Traditionally shortcrust pastry is something that I dislike but in recent years I have developed a growing appreciation for good shortcrust pastry. I think that decent pastry should melt in your mouth and that you shouldn’t be too aware of it. I find that I am altogether too aware of the thick, often tasteless, sugary pastry found at the heart of the majority of shop-bought mince pies. Mince pies are so quick and easy to make that I really don’t think there is any excuse for not making your own. They can even be made in advance and frozen for when required although I often find that they are not around long enough to be frozen!
In addition to the mince pies I also made the marshmallow that will form part of the Christmas hamper that I am making for my boyfriend’s family. I find it very difficult to choose a suitable present for them so I am hoping that a hamper comprising largely of homemade goods will fit the bill nicely and that everyone will find something that they like in it. In my experience making marshmallow can either be tedious or therapeutic, it depends entirely on your mood, as it is rather time consuming. My marshmallow has just a hint of pink in it – I didn’t want it to be the same pink colour as mass-produced marshmallow but I also didn’t want it to be completely white. It is very simple to make, I first made it two years ago as the third element to a dessert that I made for my birthday dinner and have made it on a couple of occasions since. It uses just a few ingredients: egg white, granulated sugar, powdered gelatine and water. You also need icing sugar and cornflour to finish it. The texture is different to the marshmallow that you buy in the shops; it is much softer and lighter, I would also conjecture that it is less sweet. I am glad that I managed to make the marshmallow over the course of the weekend; there was a moment when all I wanted to do was to sit down and do nothing for a while but because it is already made, I am now under so much less pressure this week and can hopefully take the time to enjoy the build up to Christmas properly without having lots of things still to complete hanging over me.
Next week: hamper time! And festivities of course.
2 egg whites
25g gelatine powder
500g granulated sugar
- Grease a tin with vegetable oil
- Dissolve gelatine in 125ml of boiling water
- Put sugar and 250ml of water in a saucepan. Warm gently stirring from time to time until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat until boiling fiercely (a rolling boil) and then remove from the heat and stir into the gelatine mixture
- Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks
- Pour in the syrup in a steady stream and beat together with the egg whites until the mixture leaves a ribbon trail
- Leave to set but not in the fridge
- When firm, tip out of the tin onto a surface dusted with cornflour and icing sugar and cut into cubes. Roll in the cornflour and icing sugar mix to coat and store in a cool dry place