Before I put the Christmas cookbooks away I thought I’d best try a few recipes. I’d planned to make the sticky gingerbread recipe from Nigella Christmas over Christmas but I couldn’t find any black treacle in the cupboard. This recipe really is very easy to make and delicious. I find Nigella’s recipes to be a bit more hit and miss than anyone else’s but she is consistently good on cakes. My tin was slightly bigger than she recommended so my pieces are flatter than her picture. I dusted my gingerbread with icing sugar before serving (the icing sugar had been absorbed by the left over gingerbread the next day).
- 250g butter
- 200g golden syrup
- 200g black treacle
- 125g dark brown sugar
- 2 tsp finely grated ginger
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp bicarb of soda, dissolved in 30 mls warm water (2 tbsp of water)
- 250ml full fat milk
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 300g plain flour
- Preheat the oven to 170c/150c fan/gas 3 and prepare a 20 x 30cm baking tray by lining it with baking paper.
- Place the butter, sugar, golden syrup, black treacle, cinnamon, cloves and the fresh and ground ginger in a medium sized saucepan and heat gently. When this mixture has melted take it off the heat and add the milk, bicarb of soda with water and the beaten eggs
- Sift the flour into a large bowl
- Pour the wet ingredients on to the flour and beat until well combined. I ended up with quite a few pockets of flour which I mostly beat out with a whisk.
- Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 – 55 minutes (The mixture will be very runny – don’t worry that’s what it should be like). Don’t overbake.
- When ready, remove from the oven and place the tin on a wire rack to cool. This recipe will cut into about 20 squares and will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight tin. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
I’ve already admitted to a bad cookbook habit so it won’t come as a great surprise I have several Christmas cookbooks. I thought I’d review my three general Christmas cookbooks.
- Delia Smith’s Christmas
Delia Smith’s Christmas is my oldest and most well thumbed Christmas cook book. It was the book I used every year to get turkey cooking times and after an unsuccessful attempt with classic mincemeat that went off I subsequently always used Delia’s method of melting the suet. The red cabbage recipe is a classic and whilst I’ve never used Delia’s countdown religiously it has always been useful guidance.
In the past I’ve made the roasted red peppers stuffed with fennel which was good and I make the mushroom risotto from this book regularly. I made her venison casserole this year and will be making that again. There are still many recipes in this book that I’ve never tried. I have often thought I must try her Irish coffee pudding so this time I really will make a note to make it soon.
It contains all the information you might need for successful food at Christmas. Recipes as well as lists, timings and advice. She includes several interesting vegetarian options for Christmas dinner. Justifiably a classic, some recipes may look almost retro but all look good.
The book is spit up into the following chapters:
Lists and More Lists
All kinds of Christmas Cakes
Talking Turkey…and Geese and Hams
Christmas Puddings and Mincemeat
Preserves, Pickles and Chutneys
Christmas on Ice
Canapes and Nibbles
A Party Selection
A Vegetarian Christmas
Ducks, Geese and Game
Roasted Meats and Cold Cuts
Winter Vegetable Dishes and Salads
Christmas Desserts and Sweet Dishes
Homemade Sweets and Chocolates
The Last 36 Hours
Supper Dishes and Left-overs
Mail Order and Home Delivery Suppliers (curiously old fashioned these days)
More About Turkeys
- Nigella Christmas
I like the Nigella Christmas cookbook, it conveys her love of entertaining combined with a ‘don’t stress it’ approach. Although even with my tendency to feed anyone who comes through the door I found the idea of a ‘Welcome table’ groaning with food just to greet anyone who turned up odd. One of my criticisms with this book is its footprint. It is too big to hold easily (in my opinion large format cook books only work if they are slim enough not to be too heavy). A number of the recipes in this book have appeared in previous Nigella cookbooks and it contains at least one spectacular failure – I tried her gingerbread stuffing the Christmas after I got this book and threw it away after one taste. Aidan made her yule log which was nice but nothing spectacular.
That said I make her spruced up vanilla cake from this book several times each year, it’s a very easy cake to make before visiting family and friends and is always well received as it looks special and tastes nice. Browsing through the book for this review I noticed she includes some nice ideas for winter dinner party meals that are not christmassy so I’ll try a couple more recipes before I put this book away for the year.
The book is organised as follows:
The More the Merrier Cocktails, Canapes and Manageable Mass Catering
Seasonal Support Soups, Salads, Sauces and Serve-later sides
Come On Over…Stress free suppers
The Main Event
Joy to the World Christmas Baking and Sweet Treats
All Wrapped Up Edible Presents and Party Preserves
A Christmas Brunch for 6-8
A Bevy of Hot Drinks
Dr Lawson Prescribes…
- Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas
Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas is the most inspirational book, with stunning photographs. Sarah’s planning for Christmas includes flowers and starts in September! It is the sort of book which makes you wish you had a large well stocked garden and lots of free autumn weekends to potter around since at least half of the book is floral and foliage decorations for christmas and there are a number of edible gift recipes. Although the recipes look lovely I’ve only made the christmas pudding ice cream so far which was delicious. I suspect if I didn’t already have Delia’s book this would be my guide to making Christmas dinner as it is thorough without being over complicated. This book is split into the following sections:
Planning Ahead which includes forcing bulbs for Christmas as well as homemade chutneys.
Decorations which includes ideas for decorating your Christmas tree and making wreaths
A Christmas Party which has more flowers and lots of canape recipes
Christmas Eve Recipes from breakfast through light lunch to 3 course dinner
Christmas Day How to do all the essentials including roast goose with interesting ideas and variants for basics such as stuffings
Boxing Day Lots of interesting ideas for using up leftovers
New Year’s Eve with winter dinner party recipes
This isn’t really a specific recipe as I use a standard 4 egg victoria sponge recipe. I started making number cakes when my boys were very young. Initially I hired the tins but the combination of a full time job and young children made it difficult to get the tins back on time so I started to buy the numbers as I needed them. Children love these cakes, especially when they are allowed to decorate them with sweets. I usually do chocolate with chocolate fudge icing as shown above but white icing and dolly mixtures also work well. The cakes are also popular with adults for significant birthdays. I made a ‘2’ and a ‘1’ for one of my nephews using chocolate fudge icing that I got as smooth as possible then dusted with gold dusting powder. I also made a ‘7’ and a ‘0’ for my sisters father in law with one number as a chocolate cake and the other vanilla sponge. The number ‘5’ above is for my youngest niece. As a busy mum one of the things I liked about using these tins is I didn’t need to spend too much time getting icing perfect.
The most time consuming/fiddly part is lining the tin!
Ingredients for Victoria Sponge
- 225g unsalted butter, very soft
- 225g caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
- 200g self-raising flour (if making chocolate substitute 4-6 tbsps flour for cocoa powder)
- 25g cornflour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (if using processor method)
- 3-4 tablespoons milk
Instructions for Victoria Sponge
- Preheat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4.
- To make this basic sponge cake in the food processor: put all the ingredients except the milk in the food processor and process till you’ve got a smooth batter. Then pulse, pouring the milk gradually through the funnel till your cake mixture’s a soft, drooping consistency.
Chocolate Fudge Icing
I’ve put the quantities for Delia’s chocolate fudge icing from her Delia’s Complete Cookery Course below, I usually make double for a number cake but have plenty left over, I could probably get away with 1.5 times.
Ingredients for Chocolate fudge icing
- 75g granulated sugar
- 75ml evaporated milk
- 100g dessert chocolate
- 40g butter
- 2 drops vanilla essence
Instructions for Chocolate Fudge icing
- To do this, combine the sugar and evaporated milk in a heavy saucepan. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, stirring frequently. When the sugar has dissolved and the mixture comes to the boil, keep the heat very low and simmer for 6 minutes without stirring.
- Remove the pan from the heat and, using a small balloon whisk, whisk in the chocolate, followed by the butter and vanilla extract.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl and, when it is cool, cover it with clingfilm and chill for about an hour to allow the mixture to thicken.
- Then beat again, and spread on sponge. Covering a number cake takes a while and you need to be careful to make sure all edges are covered as it’s easy to miss some.
- The first thing you notice about the tin is that it is open both sides so you need to place it on a baking tray to bake the cake. You need to start by greasing and lining the baking tray.
- Then cut a piece of baking parchment or greaseproof paper the size of the frame allowing at least a 2-3cm border all round.
- Cut strips of baking parchment or greaseproof paper wide enough to line the inside of the frame. You don’t need to do one long strip, you can do several which makes it easier to position them. Place the frame, making sure the number is reversed, on the paper and trace round the inside of the frame.
- Draw your cutting line around the tracing allowing at lease 2cm all the way round.
- Cut out carefully and then snip the border at about 2cm intervals from the outside edge to the tracing line. Where the shape changes direction make sure that you cut into the angle.
- Fold in the flaps. Where there is a curve it may be necessary to add a few snips.
- Grease the number frame and position it with the number reversed.
- Ease the tracing into the frame pressing the paper onto the greased surface of the baking sheet and the flaps onto the greased side of the frame.
- Press the paper strips onto the greased side of the frame, overlapping where necessary and using a little more butter to stick the overlaps.
- The frame is now ready to be filled with cake mixture. There is a little bit of a knack to filling the frame. It is less obvious on this tin but the cake mixture rises more in the middle of the wider parts of the tin so I dip the mixture a little in the middle with a slightly deeper dip the wider the tin.
Aidan made this as pudding for a big family party from Nigella Christmas: Food, Family, Friends, Festivities. He did really well, he’d never made a fatless swiss roll before and the sponge, rolling and icing were all done well (with a little help). He’d had to be patient whisking up the eggs as I only have an electric wand blender/mixer so it took a while. He particularly enjoyed making the butter icing look like bark with a cocktail stick.
It tasted nice, as my husband said a nicer version than a shop yule log but was not the most exciting flavour. I think I’ll try a yule log that includes chestnut puree next time.
- 6 eggs, separated
- 150g caster sugar
- 50g cocoa powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2-3 tsps icing sugar to decorate
For the icing
- 175g dark chocolate broken into pieces
- 250g icing sugar
- 225g soft butter
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4
- In a large clean bowl whisk the egg whites until thick and peaking, then, still whisking sprinkle in 50g of the caster sugar and continue whisking until the whites are holding their peaks but not dry
- In another bowl whisk the egg yolks and the remaining caster sugar until the mixture is moussy, pale and thick/ Add the vanilla extract, sieve the coca powder over, then fold both in.
- Lighten the yolk mixture with a couple of dollops of the egg whites, folding them in robustly. Then add the remaining whites in thirds, folding them in carefully to avoid losing the air.
- Line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment, leaving a generous overhang at the ends and sides and folding the parchment into the corners to help the paper stay anchored.
- Pour in the cake mixture and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Let the cake cool a little before turning it out onto another piece of baking parchment.
- To make the icing, melt the chocolate (in a heat proof bowl over hot water) and let it cool.
- Put the icing sugar into the processor and blitz it to remove lumps then add the butter and process until smooth. Add the cooled melted chocolate and the vanilla extract and pulse together to make a smooth icing.
- Sit the flat chocolate cake on a large piece of baking parchment. Trim the edges of the swiss roll. Spread some of the icing thinly over the sponge, going right out to the edges.
- Start rolling from the long end facing you taking care to get a tight roll from the beginning and roll up to the other side. Pressing against the parchment rather than the cake makes this easier.
- Cut one or both ends at a gentle angle reserving the offcuts and place the swiss roll on the long plate or board. Place the offcuts at an angle to look like a cut off branch or two.
- Spread the yule log with the remaining icing covering the cut off ends as well as any branches. create a bark like texture by markign along the length of the log with a cocktail stick.
- Dust with icing sugar.
Despite my copy of Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking looking well used I’ve not tried that many recipes from this book, it’s just that I have baked my favourites many times. I still had 300g raspberries left after making the torte in the previous post and found this recipe and baked 24. The muffin batter is quite quick to mix up and is reassuringly fluffy when all the ingredients are combined.
I rather suspect these muffins are going to become a new favourite whenever raspberries are in season, the combination of lemon and raspberry gives them a very fresh flavour and there is so much fruit they almost feel healthy .
- 60g butter
- 200g plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 150g caster sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- juice & finely chopped zest of 1 lemon
- approx 120ml milk
- 1 large egg
- 150g raspberries
- Line a 12 bun muffin tray with paper cases
- Preheat oven to 200c.
- Melt the butter & set aside to cool.
- Stir together in a large bowl, the flour, baking powder, bicarb, sugar, salt & zest.
- In a measuring jug, pour in the lemon juice, then enough milk to come up to the 200ml mark, then beat in the egg & butter.
- Pour into the dry ingredients & stir briefly, the batter should scarcely be combined.
- Fold in the raspberries, spoon the mixture into the muffin cases & bake for about 25 minutes.
- When cooked, the tops should spring back to your touch. Leave in the pan for 5 minutes to cool slightly, then sit them on a rack to cool for a further 10-15 minutes.
Thought I’d give the Nigella Express cookbook another go and wanted something very easy for lunch. Basically this is a cheese toastie with quick coleslaw – I think it’s a bit of a cheat to fill two pages of a cookbook with this (unless it was a cookbook for beginners) when the recipe could be condensed into:
Make a cheese and tomato toastie and quick coleslaw
– use Chinese leaf instead of white cabbage and mix a little mango chutney into the mayo for your coleslaw.
– mix a little worcestershire sauce into some mayo and use in sandwiches instead of butter
I was going to follow her instructions for the cheese toastie as I do have a griddle pan but decided weighing it all down and removing it all to check when it’s cooked was too much of a faff so I used my toasted sandwich maker instead. The conclusion from our teen who is very fond of mango chutney was that it was too overwhelming in the slaw and he actually left his (my boys almost never leave food so he really wasn’t keen). Jon and I quite liked it but concluded 1 teaspoon of mango chutney rather than a tablespoon would be better. And what’s not to love about a cheese toastie 🙂
Nigella’s Sandwich Slaw
- 1 red apple, cored and julienned or coarsely grated
- 1 carrot, julienned or coarsely greated
- 100 g Chinese leaf, finely shredded
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp mango chutney
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Toss together the vegetables & fruit.
- Mix caraway seeds with mango chutney, lemon, mayo and salt, and pour this over the veggies.
- Mix carefully, then serve.
I’m not going to bother typing up this recipe as I really won’t be making it again. It was perfectly edible but considering I like all of the ingredients it really wasn’t worth it. I felt I could use the same ingredients and make a nicer meal in the same time. The rice wine overwhelmed the salmon and the dressing didn’t really work for the salad, just lemon juice on the salad would have been nicer. Also Nigella calls for miniature sugar-snap peas! I don’t know what planet she lives on (mega rich with housekeepers to track down obscure ingredients across London presumably) but these are not stocked by my local very well stocked Waitrose (and my local store even has pea shoots available in the veg section).