No-Bake Christmas Cake

No-Bake Christmas Cake

Wotchers!

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.

Delicious.

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.

Edna says: No Lumps!

ANYHOO…

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 raisins
75g sultanas
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[1]
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.

 

[1] 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.


Tomato Soup and a Toasted Sandwich

Tomato soup & Toasted Sandwich

Wotchers!

Simplicity is the order of the day with today’s post – the ultimate comfort food of tomato soup and a toasted sandwich. But just because it is simple, doesn’t mean there should be any compromise on flavour, and these recipes have maximum flavour with minimum fuss. Not as minimum as opening a tin, I grant you, but for just five active minutes of your time, this soup can be supped in just under an hour and is so simple, after the first time you won’t need to refer to the recipe ever again.

But do keep coming back to the blog, because I’d miss you otherwise!

Tomato Soup

This soup is extremely low in fat, gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan.

Tomato Soup and Oatcakes

Tomato Soup and Oatcakes – on a less gloomy day than the top photo!

Makes approx. 1.5 litres

2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – Aldi ‘Sweet Harvest’ are best for colour/flavour/value
2tbs vegetable oil
1 onion
3tbs concentrated tomato paste
1 litre vegetable stock or water + bouillon
1 large potato to make 300g once peeled/cubed
salt & pepper to taste.

  • Pour the chopped tomatoes onto a shallow ovenproof dish and spread out into a thin layer.
  • Place in the oven and turn the heat to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, stirring thoroughly after 15 minutes, or until no excess liquid is visible.
  • While the tomatoes are baking, peel and chop the onion.
  • Add the oil to a saucepan, then add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. The object is to concentrate the flavour through evaporation, without allowing the onion to caramelise.
  • When the tomatoes are done, scrape them into the saucepan with the onion, and add the tomato paste, stock and cubed potato.
  • Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the potato is cooked.
  • Use a stick blender to puree the soup.
  • Rub through a fine-meshed sieve for extra smoothness.
  • Return to the pan and warm through.
  • Taste & add salt and pepper as liked.

Variations

  • Add garlic: peel up to 6 cloves of garlic and toss them in the oil. Lift out and stir into the tomatoes to roast in the oven.
  • Spice it up: red pepper flakes, cayenne, paprika or herbs such as rosemary or basil.
  • Crunch time: Make some sippets by dicing bread into 1cm cubes and either frying them in a pan with oil or bake in the oven until crisped and brown.
  • Meatify me! : Make some little meatballs from beef or lamb mince, fry them in a pan, drain on kitchen roll and add to each bowl before serving.
  • Creamy: Add a little double cream or creme fraiche if liked, but in all honesty, it doesn’t need it.
  • Fast Forward: If you need this even more quickly, this can be ready in as little as half the time. Once the tomatoes are in the oven, put everything else in the saucepan and simmer while the tomatoes bake. When the tomatoes are ready, stir everything together and blitz smooth.

Toasted Sandwiches

Regular listeners will recall that over the winter I was without my oven, which included the grill I used for making toast. Yes, my kitchen is so small, I can’t afford to sacrifice the counter space for a toaster. So I used this method to make toast in a large non-stick pan, which makes delicious and perfect toast if you are prepared to wait the 10 minutes it takes to brown.

More usually, I use this method for toasted sandwiches because kitchen….small….no counter space…..etc, etc. but also because the toasted sandwiches it make are so much nicer than the ones I see made elsewhere AND it gives me a chance to have a bit of a rant, so here goes.

  • Butter on the outside of the bread.
    So greasy, and so messy too. I mean come on, people, we’re living in the 21st century with all its wonderful technological advances and more kitchen gadgetry than you could shake a stick at, which includes non-stick pans! There’s simply no need to go slathering on great schmears of butter on every available bread surface. Lay a slice of bread in a dry non-stick pan over heat, and it will brown, no fat needed.
  • Squished bread
    Whether by panini press or, if you’re old like me/in the UK/ both, by those electric sandwich makers, I’m just not a fan of bread being compressed and then welded together by melted cheese the temperature of LAVA. If you need industrial equipment to force your sandwich down to a manageable height for your mouth, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Squished fillings
    I like to savour every one of the additions to my melty cheese sandwich filling, which is tricky to do when it is squirting out the sides from being squished by some gadget.

The good news is, you don’t have to suffer any of the above with my patent-pending, counter-space-saving, practically-foolproof method of toasty sammich creation! The outsides of the sandwich are crisp, browned and free from grease and the insides are warm and melty. And so without further ado, on with the method!

The Non-Gadget Toasty Sammich Method

  • Put a clean, dry non-stick pan on medium-low heat to warm up.
  • Take 2 slices of your bread.  Now it can be artisinal sourdough, or pre-sliced from a bag, no judgement here. This method will work beautifully with all types of bread.
  • Lay one slice on something that will help you transfer the sandwich to the pan – a palette knife if your balance skills are good, a cake lifter if they’re not.
  • Add a layer of butter onto the bread (optional). You can use other things such as mayonnaise or chutney if you prefer.
  • Whatever cheese you’re using, add half in a layer over the bread. Either cut it in thin slices or dice it in 5mm cubes. The smaller/thinner the cheese pieces, the more easily they will melt.
  • Add any additional flavourings. Purists maintain there is only ever cheese in a toasty cheese sammich (see top photo) but I am of the opinion that cheese is merely compulsory, not exclusive. There are some suggestions below for fillings that pair well with tomato soup. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
  • Finish with the rest of your cheese. When this double layer of cheese melts, it will gently cradle the rest of your sandwich ingredients and hold them together so that your sandwich doesn’t fall apart, even when cut.
  • Add the final piece of bread, buttered or not, as you like, and press down gently.
  • Transfer the sandwich to the pan.
  • To help melt the cheese effectively, cover your sandwich with a lid, preferably one that doesn’t press down upon the sandwich itself. If you non-stick pan has a lid, then use that. Personally, I use a lid from a small saucepan that sits snugly over the whole sandwich but is deep enough not to compress it. Ensuring the cheese is mostly melted before you turn the sandwich will help keep your filling where it is supposed to be – inside the sandwich. A lid will trap the heat underneath, effectively making a little oven and help to melt the cheese faster.
  • When the underside of your sandwich is browned, (depending on the heat of your pan, around 5 minutes), slide under your utensil of choice and gently turn it over. If the cheese is melted, then you can leave off the lid, which will also keep the toasted top of the sandwich from becoming soggy through trapped moisture.
  • Toast for a further 5 minutes until the underside is browned, then lift out of the pan.
  • Cut your sandwich with either a pizza wheel, or with a sharp, serrated knife: don’t saw at it, make a sharp, forward-and-downward motion with the knife. You can see from the picture below, how beautifully crisp, dry and unsquished the toast is, and how the filling is melted but still held between the bread.
Toasted cheese sandwiches

Smoked Brunswick Ham, Apple & Vintage Cheddar on Overnight Bread (L), Allinson Wholemeal Sliced Bread with Cheese & Brine Pickles (R)

Sandwich Suggestions

  • Overnight Bread, vintage cheddar. If you’re in the UK, I can recommend (black pack) Collier’s Welsh cheddar, Wyke Farms Vintage cheddar (in a green pack) or a newly-discovered favourite Welsh slate-cavern aged cheddar from South Caernarfon Creameries, available at Sainsbury’s deli counters.
  • Overnight Bread, diced Brunswick Ham, thinly-sliced Jazz/Braeburn apple, vintage cheddar.
  • Sliced wholemeal bread, mix of finely diced mature cheddar  & Gouda, thinly-sliced pickled cucumbers/gherkins. NB For best results, be sure they are brined and not in vinegar.
  • Bacon or Bacon Jam, mature cheddar, de-seeded, diced tomato (not pictured).
  • Cheese and chutney (not pictured).