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.