Time, this week, for some festive baking!
If the mincemeat popcorn wasn’t enough to get you in the mood, these delightful pastry angels are sure to have you decking the halls with boughs of wossname and tra-la-la-la-laaa-ing about. Not least because with these, you’ll have oodles of time for decking and tra-la-la-ing because they have maximum impact with minimal effort and fuss.
All they require is a sheet of puff pastry and a little jam (or filling of your choice). If you’re feeling especially flamboyant, you can gild the lily as it were with some royal icing, but they’re equally delicious unadorned and minimalistic.
You can whip them up for breakfast or even offer them as a lighter, vegetarian alternative to mince pies but still with that festive feel. Or swap the jam for my vegetarian/vegan mincemeat and be as jolly as can be!
There’s real joy in these pastries, as much the speed with which they can be assembled as with the simplicity of flavours and contrasts in textures.
Puff Pastry Angels
For 6-8 angels
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry – treat yourself with a butter version
100g apricot jam
egg-white for glazing
royal icing (optional)
- Unroll your puff pastry onto a chopping board and pop it into the freezer for ten minutes to firm up.
- Remove it from the freezer and cut into squares. Depending on the size of your sheet and the size of your squares, you might get as many as eight squares from the one sheet.
- Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- For each square, follow the method displayed in the images below. Text instructions also below.
- Make diagonal cuts in the pastry from the corners halfway towards the middle.
- With a pastry brush, dab a little water in the middle and then spoon/pipe a circle of jam.
- Take the top right corner of the pastry and fold it down and into the middle. Make sure it’s firmly pressed, to keep it from coming free during baking.
- Repeat for the left side, thus making the hood/face of the angel.
- Take the bottom right corner of the pastry and fold it up and towards the middle. Press firmly.
- Repeat with the left corner, to make the angels arms.
- Cut a ‘book’ from the pastry trimmings and dab the underside with water, then press firmly over the joins.
- Arrange the finished angels on a baking sheet covered with parchment.
- Brush the surfaces of the pastry with egg-white to glaze. Avoid getting the egg-white on the cut surfaces, as this will prevent them fanning out during baking.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 12 minutes, to help with even colouring. During baking, the layers of pastry will puff up and add a very real sense of feathered wings and billowy robes.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- When cold, ice with royal icing if liked, picking out the details of face, book, wings and robe.
A rich, fruited cake at Christmas is traditional: crammed with dried fruits, candied peel and spices, and liberally doused with alcohol, before being encased in the equally traditional marzipan and white icing.
But there’s a huge elephant in the room when it comes to Christmas Cake recipes which no-one ever seems to mention – and that is the lengthy, fretful and agonisingly nerve-wracking extended baking time. And it IS just as stressful as it sounds, because the cake ingredients are not cheap, and so any mishap is going to prove expensive. If the oven is too hot, the outsides of the cake will burn and any exposed fruit will char to bitterness. If the oven is too cool, there’s a real risk of the inside of the cake ending up anything from gummy underdone-ness to out and out raw – and this is only likely to be discovered when the first slice is cut. And even if it is baked properly, failure to maintain sufficient moisture in the form of soaking it in alcohol between baking and consuming will result in an overly dry cake of sawdust texture. Not to mention the expense of having the oven on for so long.
So here I am, not just mentioning the elephant in the room, but naming/shaming/kicking it out.
Because this recipe requires no baking at all, and will only take maybe 15 minutes of your time.
Essentially, this is a fridge cake, with the wonderfully festive mix of fruit, spices and alcohol held together with biscuit crumbs and a little butter. It certainly looks the part and, as the photo demonstrates, it cuts beautifully – I do so love a clean, sharp slice! The biscuits should be Rich Tea – the rest of the ingredients need their dryness and plainness in order their flavours to shine. Sidebar: how much of a misnomer is Rich Tea? They’re the un-richest biscuit out there, just one step up from a water biscuit, and no hint of the taste of tea at all. Nevertheless, when you need a plain ‘canvas’ on which to display your more exotic ingredients, they can’t be beaten. NB Although breaking the biscuits into pieces is fine for recipes such as Chocolate Salami, the biscuits here should be blitzed to fineness in a food processor. This fineness is key in ensuring your cake holds together well with no unsightly air pockets, so please take the time over this one detail. Be more Edna.
Back to the cake. The texture is actually very close indeed to that of a well-moistened traditional cake, but the taste is extraordinary. In bypassing the hours and hours in the oven, the flavours of the fruit, peel and nuts are bright and fresh with no hint of dryness or burn. The alcohol is also more prominent, so if you’re planning on it being offered to children, perhaps reduce the quantity and substitute apple or pear juice to make up the overall amount of liquid.
There is also the freedom to make the mix of fruit, peel and nuts just to your liking. I don’t like angelica – or at least, the lurid dyed-green angelica found in the shops, so I don’t add it in. Glace cherries might be your absolute bête noir, in which case leave ’em out. As long as the overall weight is observed, the proportions can be made up of whatever you like. The mix below gives a ‘traditional’ flavour, but you could also choose a mix of, for example, dried mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut ribbons and white rum for a tropical flavour. The same goes for the spices. You might like them to be a little more robust that the quantities given. You’re only limited by your imagination. Go wild.
No Bake Christmas Cake
These quantities make a small, round, family-sized cake of diameter 15cm and a depth of around 5cm. A tin of larger diameter will result in a shallower cake. If you’re catering for only a few, consider halving the recipe and perhaps using a square or loaf tin for easier slicing, or even pressing the mix into cupcake or deep tart tins for mini individual portions.
For a Gluten-Free version, substitute GF Rich Tea biscuits.
For Vegans: Substitute the butter for the fat you prefer. It should be one that is solid at room temperature.
60g prunes – chopped
60g mixed, candied peel – chopped
75g glace cherries – halved or quartered
1/2 nutmeg – grated
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 rounded tbs liquid sugar
80g unsalted butter
75ml alcohol – a mix of cream sherry and brandy is nice, or 25ml each of these plus dark rum. Substitute fruit juice if preferred.
75g walnuts – chopped
250g fine Rich Tea biscuit crumbs
- Put everything except the nuts and the crumbs into a pan.
- Heat, gently stirring, until the butter has melted and the fruit is warmed through.
- Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside to allow the fruit to plump up (30 minutes-1 hour).
- Put the nuts and crumbs into a bowl.
- Add the cooled fruit mixture and toss to combine. The mixture should now resemble damp sand, and stick together when pressed. Adjust spices if necessary, and add more crumbs/alcohol/juice if required.
- Line your tin with plastic film.
- Pour in the mixture and press flat. I find the base of a glass tumbler is excellent at achieving a smooth surface.
- Cover the top with plastic film and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.
- Decorate with almond paste and icing as per a traditional cake.
 Ooh, a footnote! Haven’t done one of these in ages! The liquid sugar can be whatever you have to hand: honey, golden syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup, treacle or molasses if you’d like a dark cake, glucose if you don’t want to add another flavour to the mix.