Monday, 28 December 2009


I'd never made Stollen before, and this was my first Fresh from the Oven challenge.

I'm definitely not an experienced bread-maker away from the bread machine, but it seemed close enough to a cake and it was a good first challenge. Stollen is a traditional German cake, usually eaten during the Christmas season, when it is called Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen. There is a roll of marzipan running through it which is supposed to represent the baby Jesus in the manger. It's amazing how these tenuous connections were formed.

The dough was incredibly sticky - I wondered if the egg should be added before the second kneading. Also, our temperamental oven started playing tricks, and the outside was slightly scorched, but inside it tasted really good. I have to admit I substituted ground almonds for the flaked almonds as I'm not very keen on things with a nutty texture, but I was glad I had a go.


based on a Simon Rimmer recipe

100ml/3½fl oz warm milk
6g (1 sachet) fast action yeast or 2 tsp dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast
pinch salt
1 tsp caster sugar
225g/8oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp ground mixed spice
200g/7oz mixed dried fruit (including glacé cherries)
25g/1oz flaked almonds
50g/2oz unsalted butter
1 free-range egg, beaten
250g/9oz marzipan

To finish
25g/1oz butter, melted
50g/2oz icing sugar


1. Place the milk and yeast into a bowl and mix well. Leave to sit for 5-6 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sift the salt, sugar, flour and mixed spice into a large bowl. Add the dried fruit, almonds and butter and mix well then stir in the yeasty milk and mix well.

3. Add the egg and stir to form a dough. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes, then cover and leave to prove for 20 minutes. Uncover the dough and turn out onto a clean, floured work surface. Knock the dough back to reduce the volume, then knead the dough for 3-4 minutes.

4. Push the dough out by hand into a flat oval shape about 23cm x 18cm/9in x 7in. Roll the marzipan into a sausage shape about 6cm/2in shorter than the dough. Place the marzipan into the centre of the dough, then fold over the sides of the dough to seal in the marzipan. Then fold in the ends of the dough to contain the marzipan and help give the dough shape. Place the stollen seal-side down onto a greased baking tray. Cover and place somewhere warm to prove for one hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 180C/365F/Gas 4. Place the stollen on the baking tray into the oven to bake for 40 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through.

6. To finish, remove the stollen from the oven, brush with the rum then melted butter and dust liberally with icing sugar immediately. Allow the stollen to cool, then serve in slices.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Cakes

This is a whole new experience for me: I've made a fruit cake before but never a Christmas Cake, and I've never marzipanned and iced a Christmas Cake before.

The cake is a boiled fruit cake, Nigella's Easy-Action Christmas Cake. I made the actual cake about three weeks ago, and it has been sitting in the tin waiting for me to ice it. It was incredibly easy to make, as you just chuck all the fruit in a big saucepan with the butter, sugar, chestnut puree, rum, orange and lemon zest and juice. It all melts down, and then you add the eggs, flour and spices. At this point the kitchen smelt incredible. That mixture of citrus and spice. I absolutely love the smell of cloves and oranges, and usually adorn an orange or five with cloves. I might even do that this afternoon.

The marzipanning and icing was easier than anticipated, because I found a wonderful product: ready rolled icing and marzipan! And then I cut out the stars from the left-over icing. What I did find tricky was cutting the icing around the bottom of the cake - it seemed to go all raggedy, and next time I will have to find some thicker ribbon to cover it with! The stars are covered in glitter for a bit of festive sparkle.

One thing that did make it easier was that we were given a Wedding Present of a rotating board - I think you're supposed to put chutneys and things on it and spin it round so that everyone can reach, but I sat the cake on it and it worked pretty well!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A Christmas Ham

I've never cooked a ham before, and we wanted something a bit Christmassy for dinner yesterday. So a quick check on recipes followed by a longer trip to Sainsbury's, and I was ready.

The gammon was first boiled in a mixture of apple and cranberry juice, with onions, allspice and cinnamon in the pot. I had to watch it pretty carefully as our pan was only just big enough. After about two hours, I took it out of the pot and let it cook for a bit. Then I removed the skin, which wasn't nearly as tricky as I thought it would be, and criss-crossed the fat. This was trickier than I had anticipated - I did cut through to the meat once or twice - and put a clove into each intersection.

Next I made a glaze - nearly a whole pot of cranberry sauce, a touch of mustard and a teaspoon of honey were melted together and then poured over the clove-studded edge. It did look very pretty, I must say.

Then, when I had finally got the other bits and pieces of our dinner organised, being slightly held up by our boiler which decided to shut down on the coldest, snowiest evening of the year, the gammon went into a hot oven for 30 minutes.

The final dish was delicious.

Yes, we did have wholly unseasonal vegetables with it - I'm ashamed to confess that the spinach came from Spain and the Mange Tout came from Ethiopia. Back to the parsnips and sprouts for the rest of the week...

Friday, 18 December 2009

A bit of Christmas planning

So school has finally broken up and I am free to think about Christmas cooking... not that I haven't been thinking about it a lot recently. There is a plethora of cookery programmes on tv at the moment, and I have been quite inspired by Jamie's Family Christmas. I'm not normally a big fan of Jamie, being more of a Nigella girl myself, but his recipes on that programme do look pretty good.

I've not been doing much cooking this week due to several Christmas lunches and Tim cooking, but I have made the Christmas cake, which is sutting in a tin and ready to be marzipanned and iced next week. I also made some Christmas biscuits but I didn't ice them so I didn't think they were worth photographing.

I did, however, think it was worth photographing our Christmas tree - I am quite obsessed with it, and spend a good couple of hours decorating it last Saturday.

Over the Christmas holidays, I want to do lots of cooking. We are planning to have Goose on Christmas day, and have most of the normal trimmings - roast potatoes, sprouts, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, carrots, pigs-in-blankets... I do still need to make the Christmas pudding. Tim won one after doing an 11k run last Sunday, but I don't think it's quite nice enough! I love bread sauce, and I love making it, infusing the milk with a clove-studded onion, soaking the breadcrumbs... delicious. I should make it more often than just at Christmas!

But I also want to do some Christmas periphery stuff - braised red cabbage for the goose, a chestnut dessert, Christmas muffins, Christmas popcorn... Plus there's also biscuits for cheese, chutneys, pickles... Maybe I'm being a little ambitious.

There's a lot I want to do in the house this Christmas too as it will be our first Christmas as a married couple. We are at home for Christmas day, and so I want it gleaming and organised. The spare room has turned into a bit of a nightmare - as well as having our desk and laundry in there, it also houses boxes which have yet to be unpacked, and the cat is trying to take over the bed. So I want to blitz the spare room and also the stairs down to the cellar, which are very dark, dusty and a little bit spooky. This is the first school holiday I've had living here - we were on our honeymoon over half term - and I tend to put off home jobs until holidays!

Finally, I have to find some desserts for New Years Eve - we are having a murder mystery party, set in France at the end of WW2... so far I'm thinking of a chocolate mousse, but I also need something else. Suggestions please?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

All the food blogs...

I've just been trawling through the 'Next Blog' button on several blogs. And they're almost all about food! Allergy-food, Jewish food, 50s food, frugal food... I couldn't believe how many of them were all about food. And they were all fairly recently updated, which was good. It really annoys me when you find a blog that hasn't been updated for 4 years. You're taking up valuable space!

So while most people are blogging about Thanksgiving in America, baking for Christmas and so on, I have some catching up to do. My husband has complained that my blog is a bit too perfect, and has the potential to be annoying, so I need to blog about Hugh Fearley-Whittingstall's Pear and Almond Cake.

We saw this on the River Cottage programme and had some leftover pears. Tim is off Chocolate as part of his training for the London Marathon (follow his blog here) so I thought that this fitted the requirements.

It tasted good, but did burn slightly around the edges. So, definitely not perfect. But still tasty.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

The new husband was having a cake sale to raise money for BBC Children in Need, and asked me to help hime provide cakes for it. Nigella recommends her Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes, saying that hers sold a pound a piece, but I'm sure there was the Nigella factor there - I would definitely pay a pound for s cupcake made by Nigella! But the husband liked the idea, so I said I would make them for him.

The cakes were quite expensive to make, and if I were to do it again I would put milk chocolate, not dark, into the icing as personally I found it a bit too bitter, but they looked very dramatic. Nigella said that hers made 12 but I made them a bit smaller and came out with about 40. I had a bit of drama as I put the batter into the cases, and had just put them in the oven when I realised I had forgotten to add the eggs! They were sitting, ready beaten, in their jug! I had to scrape the batter back into the pan and start again.

The husband did actually ice the cakes, I can't take any credit for that, but I did at least prepare the icing! Reports are that they sold well. We went away for the weekend so he left early and hadn't found out how much they had raised. I'll post an update when we know.

We went to Dublin for the weekend. Brilliant city, brilliant fun, lovely food. But we have eaten a little too much meat, so I'll be looking for some lighter veggie recipes that will still keep us warm. Any veggie foodie blogs out there?

Sunday, 15 November 2009


One of our most exciting wedding presents was the Panasonic Breadmaker. Yesterday I set it up so that we could have fresh-baked bread first thing in the morning.

I'd not made bread since I was a child, and had never had a breadmaker. To be honest, I was expecting a dense bready lump to come out. I was incredibly surprised by the resulting loaf: a crunchy crust, a light, even textured crumb and a delicious taste.

We ate the first slice hot with jam.

Wholemeal bread:

3/4 tsp dried yeast
400g wholemeal strong flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
280ml water
15g butter

Put all ingredients (yeast first, then flour, then liquid) into breadmaker. Programme. Wait.


Thursday, 12 November 2009

Cloud Cake

So my first post really did have to be about Chocolate Cake. And this was no ordinary chocolate cake. This was Nigella's Cloud Cake.

I had heard about this mythical cake first from my (now) Sister-in-law, Suzie. Then I read about it in the Newspaper. A light, airy yet decadent cake. But it wasn't in the Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame.

So, in a bid to reverse the downward trend of cake-baking brought about by the prospect of the Wedding Day, and much commented on by new husband (it was the topic of his Groom's Speech), I spent Sunday afternoon whisking this cake together.

The reason the cake is so light and heavenly (like clouds), is because of the eggs. The eggs are separated, the whites whisked and then the chocolate, egg yolks and butter are folded into the mixture. There is no flour in this recipe which means that it is suitable for those who need wheat-free.

I didn't do the whipped cream topping as I wanted the cake to keep for a couple of days, so I served the whipped cream on the side, which I preferred. Its a luxury cake, but it is heavenly, and deserves the accolades!


250g dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
125g unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs: 2 whole, 4 separated
175g caster sugar
2 tablespoons Cointreau (optional)
grated zest of 1 orange (optional)
23cm springform cake tin
for the cream topping:
500ml double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling for the cream topping


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

2. Line the bottom of the cake tin with baking parchment.

3. Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or a microwave, and then let the butter melt in the warm chocolate.

4. Beat the 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 75g of the caster sugar, then gently add the chocolate mixture, the Cointreau and orange zest.

5. In another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the 100g of sugar and whisk until the whites are holding their shape but not too stiff.

6. Lighten the chocolate mixture with a dollop of egg whites, and then fold in the rest of the whites. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35–40 minutes or until the cake is risen and cracked and the centre is no longer wobbly. Cool the cake in its tin on a wire rack; the middle will sink as it cools.

7. When you are ready to eat, place the still tin-bound cake on a cake stand or plate for serving and carefully remove the cake from its tin. Don’t worry about cracks or rough edges: it’s the crater look we’re going for here. Whip the cream until it’s soft and then add the vanilla and Cointreau and continue whisking until the cream is firm but not stiff.

8. Fill the crater of the cake with the whipped cream, easing it out gently towards the edges of the cake, and dust the top lightly with cocoa powder pushed through a tea-strainer.