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.


Leek and Potato Soup

Leek & Potato Soup
Wotchers!

Who doesn’t love soup? Especially during the colder months. Sure, some of them, thick and hearty after hours of gentle simmering, can be a meal in a bowl.

But not all of them need take such extended preparation. Leek and potato soup is wonderfully comforting on a cold day, and only takes about 30 minutes to make from scratch, using simple ingredients that take little time to prepare. This one recipe can also be served in a variety of ways depending on whether you want a quick warming mug for lunch, or serve a striking and surprisingly economical special occasion starter.

Variations

Texture: Use of floury potatoes means this soup will puree to a wonderfully smooth and velvety texture. Nevertheless, I do like to have a little texture for visual as well as gustatory variety, so I hold back some of the cooked, cubed potato to add as a garnish.

Flavour: The soup is only simmered for a brief 20 minutes and this mellows the flavour of the leek. To lift the flavour, I like to briefly cook a little chopped leek in sme butter and then either stir into the whole just before serving, or just spoon over the top of the cubed potatoes.

Visual Appeal: The photographs don’t really reflect it, but this soup is a beautifully pale green colour. It really makes the buttered leeks (if you’re using them) pop. If you aren’t inclined to ‘faff’ buttering some leeks, you could always snip a few dark green chives into the bowls to serve.

Garnish: Grated cheese and/or bacon bits are especially fine.

My daughter recently declared this her favourite soup, even ahead of tomato soup. She likes it best with a melty cheese toastie cut into fingers to dip in. This is her helpfully holding a spoonful of delicious soup garnished with potato cubes and buttered leeks. Unfortunately, what she’s not so keen on is any of the things I thought added so much to the presentation, i.e. the aforementioned buttered leeks and potato cubes. So after this picture was taken, I just put everything back into the blender and whizzed it smooth and she was happy. The buttered leeks still add their pop of flavour, just with none of that pesky texture.

Leek and Potato Soup

2 tbs butter
1 large leek or 2 medium
450g potatoes – floury type (Maris Piper or similar)
350ml milk
350ml water
4 level tsp vegetable bouillon powder
salt and ground white pepper to taste

2tbs butter for buttered leeks, if using

  • Peel and dice potatoes into cubes – about 1.5cm.
  • Remove the outer leaves of the leek and shred finely using a mandolin or with a sharp knife. If you’re going to butter some of the leeeks, set aside 4-5 spoonfuls.
  • Melt the first lot of butter in saucepan and add the potato cubes and leek.
  • Stir over medium heat until the until leeks soften.
  • Add the milk, water and bouillon.
  • Cover and simmer gently until the potatoes are cooked (20 mins-ish).
  • While the soup is cooking, melt the remaining butter in a pan and cook the remaining leeks.
  • When the potatoes are cooked, remove about a cupful and keep warm. Puree the remainder, either using a stick blender or liquidiser.
  • Return to the pan and taste. Season using ground white pepper and salt.
  • Heat well before serving, but don’t let it boil.
  • NB You may need to thin the pureed soup if the potatoes are especially starchy. It should have the consistency of double cream/custard.
  • Add the potato cubes and buttered leeks to serve.

 


Sea Foam Fudge

Sea Foam

Wotchers!

This is another fantastic textured fudge recipe, but in a whole different way to the Condensed Milk Fudge.

It is made with whisked egg-whites and a hot sugar syrup, beaten to grain the sugar. The result is a dazzlingly white, almost marshmallow appearance. The magic, however, happens when you take a bite. Just like it’s namesake, Sea Foam Fudge melts away like a whisper.

It is positively ethereal. Which is why it needs a jolly great handful of cranberries, apricots and a few chopped nuts for zing and colour and a bit of texture. Some Yuletide flotsam, to be carried into your mouth on a cushion of sea foam, if you will. Or not. I tend to get a bit carried away with my extended metaphors.

ANYHOO….

In the US I believe this is called Divinity and lacks the fruit,  but also veers dangerously (for my not-very-sweet-tooth) towards the soft and nougat-y.

As with meringues, this will absorb moisture if left uncovered, so pack into a ziplock bag for personal indulgence, or shiny, crackly cellophane if gifting as presents.

This comes from a delightful book in my collection – Sweet-Making For All by Helen Jerome, originally published in 1924. Just as with Ms Nell Heaton, I have great confidence in Ms Jerome’s recipes which are always clear and straightforward. If you come across any of their books, I can highly recommend them.

Sea Foam

450g white granulated sugar
60g golden syrup or glucose[1]
180ml water
2 large egg whites
50g chopped nuts – pistachios are colourful, almonds keep things pale
50g chopped dried apricots
50g chopped cranberries – dried or candied

1tsp vanilla extract or 1tbs rum

  • Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment.
  • Put the sugar, syrup and water into a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Bring to a boil and continue to heat until the syrup reaches 130°C. Do not stir.
  • When the temperature of the syrup reaches 120°C, start whisking the egg-whites until stiff. The temperature of the sugar syrup will rise relatively quickly, so keep an eye on each. Or get a glamorous assistant to help.
  • Still whisking, pour the hot syrup slowly into the whisked egg-whites, as if making Italian meringue, and continue beating until the mixture begins to thicken and lose its gloss. Add the flavouring whilst whisking.
  • When the mixture has lost its high sheen and thickened slightly add the fruit and nuts and continue beating until the mixture has thickened further and becomes cloud-like. NB This might happen suddenly, so be prepared.
  • Smooth your Sea Foam into the tin. Alternatively, roll lightly into logs about 2cm in diameter Try not to squash out the air you’ve just whisked in as you do so. Wearing latex gloves or dusting your hands with cornflour, or both – will help.
  • Cover lightly and allow to cool completely. If you can enclose your tin in a large ziplock bag to protect from humidity, so much the better.
  • When cold, cut into squares and/or dip into tempered chocolate. Store in an airtight container.

 

[1] The glucose will keep the fudge dazzlingly white, the golden syrup will add a very pale golden hue.


Cheese and Potato Pies

Cheese and Potato Pies

Wotchers!

I love this recipe for lots of reasons: it’s Deja Food, it’s comfort food, is simple, cheap, quick to put together and it’s deliciously tasty.

I’ve included a couple of twists in this seemingly simple recipe that elevates it into something really special.

The pastry is a new version of shortcrust that I have adapted from a Victorian bakers’ book. It includes cornflour, which makes the pastry extra crispy, which isn’t always easy with an all-butter pastry, and it has a really smooth, dry feel which makes it very easy to handle. I’ve thrown in some rosemary to pump up the flavour in the pastry, and the filling is simplicity itself – just diced, cooked potatoes and cheese – but with a secret ingredient that makes these pies completely awesome.

I like chutney. I’ve always liked the sharpness from the vinegar, the spiciness, the touch of sweetness – and I’ve made my fair share of them too. The secret to a good chutney is time – leaving it for two to three months after it’s made so that the flavours can develop and the throat-catching harshness of the vinegar can mellow. Taste it too soon and everything is much too strong. Which brings me to the secret ingredient: Sainsbury’s Basics Tomato Chutney. Now, you know I love you, Sainsbury’s, but you’re just not aging your Basics chutney, are you? Pop that jar open and whoosh! The whiff of vinegar and spice is mighty powerful. However, if you bake a little of this chutney into these pies something magic happens: all the harshness of the vinegar disappears and just add a piquancy that breaks up the pastry/cheese/potato combo. Don’t worry if you don’t live near a Sainsbury’s – Basics Tomato Chutney seems to be a staple in most of the major supermarkets.

These pies are great for packed lunches and picnics or just a quick and comforting lunch at home.

Cheese and Potato Pies – makes 6-8 individual pies

225g plain flour
60g cornflour or rice flour
140g butter
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
ice cold water

4-5 medium cold boiled potatoes
strong cheddar cheese – grated
Basics tomato chutney

1 large egg, whisked

Individual foil pie dishes

  • Put the flours, rosemary and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Cut the potatoes into centimetre  cubes and put into a bowl.
  • Add grated cheese to your taste and season with salt and pepper.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180ºC Fan.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut off two thirds.
  • Roll this piece out thinly to a thickness of 3-4mm and line your greased pie dishes, making sure there is enough pastry over the sides of the dishes to allow for joining the lid.
  • Put a layer of cheese and potato into the bottom of each pie shell.
  • Add 2-3 teaspoons of tomato chutney and spread into a thin layer.
  • Fill the pies with the remaining cheese and potato mixture
  • Roll out the pastry for the lids. Wet the undersides with a pastry brush dipped in waterand press them onto the tops of the pies firmly.
  • Trim off the excess pastry with the back of a knife.
  • Crimp the pastry edges by pressing into them with the tines of a fork.
  • Wash over the tops of the pies with beaten egg and cut a small hole in the pastry lids to let out steam.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, depending on the size and shape of your pies, until the pastry is crisp and golden.
  • Cool on a wire rack.