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The world’s best home made mince pies

Summer Christmas for us in New Zealand! The weather has been lovely, although a summer Christmas still seems SO wrong. However, I’m not going to allow the thermometer to dictate my festive foods. My brother has come out for a visit with his family, so we have a great reason to cook up a storm. They’ve been here two days and so far we’ve baked Gingerbread Christmas stars for the kids to decorate, easy banana muffins, eaten a lot of my traditional Christmas cake and some mince pies. Actually, rather a lot of mince pies. And they are amazing! This is not an exaggeration. My brother, who is a mince pie connoisseur, has rated these as the best ever. Considering he’s had our Gran’s incredibly yummy ones, and some also seriously posh British ones (from whence these originate), he is well placed to judge.

Some people like flaky mince pie pastry cases (eeurgh) and the people with really good taste prefer a good, short, crumbly sweet shortcrust. I’m sure you can tell which camp I fall into.

The filling I made using a recipe, highly recommended by a friend, from stuff.co.nz and includes figs, ginger and chocolate. Good mix. Great mix actually. I’m never making plain sultana mince ever again. Ideally you want to make this a couple of months before making the mince pies. For the pastry I combined a couple of recipes to make a short sweet pastry that I liked. I baked mine in small catering foil pastry cases because they help my pastry cases get nice and crisp. However, you can use a muffin tin for small muffins, simply don’t use the full height of the muffin holes. Christmas Mince Pies

The Fig, Ginger and Chocolate Mince Filling

Ingredients:

3 cups packed dried figs
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup crystallised ginger
150g dark chocolate
1 apple, peeled and grated
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup brandy

Method:

Chuck everything apart from the brandy and sugar into your food processor and roughly chop. Mix through the sugar and brandy.

Cover and leave in a cool place for two days, stirring occasionally.

Pack into two large sterilised jars and seal well. Leave to mature for at least 1 month before using.

Sweet shortcrust pastry (for approx 36 pies)

Ingredients:

450g cold butter cut into cubes
700g plain flour
200g golden caster sugar
1 jar of your mince meat
2 small eggs
around 4 tablespoons of cold water

Method:

Cut the butter into the flour. Try and use a pastry cutter if you can to keep the butter from melting. If you don’t have one, use a sturdy fork, or rub it in with your hands. Once the butter and flour mix resembles fine bread crumbs, stir in the sugar. Using a spoon, quickly stir through the eggs, and use a teeny amount of water to bind the pastry dough together. You are looking for a fairly dry and crumbly mix that only just holds itself together. I used 4 tablespoons of water today, but this can vary. Add a tablespoon at a time and see how you go. If you add too much, the dough will get sticky and be useless.

Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (fan). Roll the pastry out to approximately 3mm thickness. You want the pastry to be quite thin if you can manage it. Cut rounds slightly bigger than your  muffin tin openings so that you can form the base and sides of the pastry bases. Fill these 2/3rds full with your mincemeat. Cut a smaller round or a shape to top off the pie. If you use a solid circle for the topping, don’t forget to poke a cross with a knife to let the steam out. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Once cooled on a cooling rack, top with sprinkled icing sugar.

If you want to freeze these, do so before baking them.

 

 

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This year’s Christmas Cake

Its been a ridiculously long time since my last post. We’ve had a fabulous ski trip and moved to the other side of the world. Its taken us a while to settle down here. We’ve had to move into our rental, await the arrival of our shipping container, find a job each, settle the kids into child care and start house hunting. I can’t believe that we have been here for over 8 months!!!! This year has flown, and Christmas is only 2 months away….eeek!

I have been baking and cooking but struggling to find the time to upload blog posts and photos. Hopefully I can get back into it now.

Tonight I am making my annual Christmas cake. Over a month late!!! I can only hope that 6 weeks is enough time to mature it properly. I’m sure an extra application of brandy will assist the process.

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I’ve been baking some of Gran’s crunchies every week for the kids snacks. I also experimented with some condensed milk lemon biscuits.

Shopping here in New Zealand is interesting and very different to the UK. There is a LOT less choice. But what there is seems to be better quality, as long as you stick to seasonal produce, which I generally do. Good fresh fish is easy to find. And I am growing broccoli,  leeks, strawberries, tomatoes and loads of herbs in my little rental veggie garden.

We cannot wait until we move. We have bought a gorgeous house with a paddock and a big garden.  I’m planning some fruit trees for my birthday and Christmas present and a big vegetable garden. Tree-wise we are planning a lemon, lime, grapefruit, manderin, plum, peach, nectarine, apple, pear, loquat, kiwi and cherry. That should be enough to keep me busy. We will also finally get some chooks. Fresh eggs, hooray!!!! And a friend will put a bee hive in our paddock, so we will get home grown honey! We’ve also got enough space to raise a couple of lambs for the freezer every year. Or possibly a pig. Yum!

What plans do you all have lined up for Christmas? My brother and family is coming to visit from Australia for 2 weeks. I can’t wait. We’re going to do a roast on the bbq and go down to the beach.


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Ooo delicious chocolate pie!

WOW, I haven’t managed a blog post in absolute ages and ages! Life has been incredibly busy though, so I have an excuse. Since my last update a few (several) months ago *blush* I’ve packed up my entire house into a shipping container and sent it off halfway around the world, spent a lovely last week in Europe skiing, said farewell to London, flown halfway around the world with two small children, moved into our rental house with the bare minimum of borrowed camping gear,  unpacked the shipping container on its arrival, searched for and found a fabulous job, settled the kids into a lovely nursery school and started working…fulltime! So as you can see, I have good reasons for my recent silence. However, I’ve managed to scrape some time out of my busy schedule for a blog post.

Before I left the UK, my lovely chefy friend over at Colour Me Happy Kitchen very sneakily gave me some house warming spending money. Naturally I HAVE to spend this on kitchen goodies. So far I’ve bought a much needed non stick cooling rack. An extra large one! 🙂 its big enough to cool 2 of my large Christmas cakes at once. Or a super large batch of cookies. I also treated myself to some teeny weeny pastry tins, with removable bottoms. They are too cute, about 15cm in diameter. Check them out in the photos. And they worked perfectly for this chocolate pie.

There is currently a delicious tv show in New Zealand called the Hottest Home Baker. All of the dishes are amazing, and far beyond my skills. My workplace also has an annual competition at the time the show runs for the Stormwater Hottest Home Baker (yup, I work in stormwater engineering). I have no idea what the competition is like, but I’m told it varies wildly from incredible tasting to not so tasty but highly decorated and creative cakes. Apparently my boss even gets in on the act! Last year he created a bunt cake filled with blue jelly (jello) and modelled edible swimmers. Crikey! I’ve decided to go for the So-Incredibly-Delicious-It-Doesn’t-Need-To-Be-Pretty approach with my reliable standby,  Death by Chocolate Pie. The original version of my pie, while delicious, is cheap and nasty, and evolved during my student days. I’ve decided to pimp it up with some slightly more sophisticated ingredients (eggs, real butter, expensive chocolate and hand made chocolate pastry) and a subtle hint of coffee. I am spectacularly happy with the results.

Unfortunately I am still getting the hang of my new oven (and its a horrid one) so will be buying an oven thermometer to help me out. I guess I’ve been spoilt with top notch ovens for the last 4 years. This oven seems to have a massive draft that makes the temperature fluctuate wildly, even when I don’t open the door, very strange. In this case though, I ended up with a perfect, uneven bake, which was lovely. A crisp meringue textured crust and an oozy, fudgey delight inside. My pastry was slightly overdone, but I blame that entirely on my hot hands. My hot hands tip is to stick your hands in an ice water bath before handling your pastry dough and to work quickly with the minimum handling of the dough.

You definitely want to try and eat this slightly warm, but its still very yummy cold the next day, if it lasts that long. And unfortunately, my little girl has a nasty tummy bug today, so I had to stay home with her. Which means I can’t enter the competition. Ah well, can’t let all that pie go to waste! 😉

Chocolate pie

Ingredients (for three itty bitty pies, double the ingredients for one very big pie):

Pastry:

115g plain flour

15g cocoa powder

75g cold butter cut into small pieces

15g caster sugar

around 3 tablespoons of cold water

baking beans or rice

Filling:

85g butter

175g dark sticky sugar (or substitute with light brown sugar, but replace a tablespoon of the sugar with strap molasses or treacle)

2 beaten eggs

2 tablespoons of sieved cocoa powder

75g of good quality dark chocolate (I use Lindt 70%)

150ml single cream

1 tablespoon of black coffee

Method:

Pastry:

Sieve together the flour and cocoa powder twice until well blended. Cut or rub the cold butter into the flour mix until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Stir in the sugar. Very carefully add your cold water bit by bit until you have a soft dough. You will need less water than you think, it needs to be just the damp side of crumbly. Stick the dough in the fridge for roughly 20 minutes to chill. While you’re waiting, grease those pastry tins, and make sure your oven is preheated to 190˚C or 370˚F.

Cut the dough into 3 equal portions, and press into your pie tins. You want to try get the pastry as thin and neat as possible. Remember, it will shrink, so its ok if it sticks out a little at the edges. Line with tinfoil and fill with baking beans or rice. Bake blind for 15 minutes, remove the baking beans and tinfoil and bake for another 10 minutes.

Filling:

Start melting the chocolate in a bain marie. While its melting, cream the butter and sugar. Once light and fluffy, gradually add the eggs and cocoa powder, alternating between the two. Add the melted chocolate, the coffee and the cream and beat till blended. Pour into your pastry cases and bake at 170˚C or 340˚F for 40 minutes. Dust with cocoa powder or icing sugar if you like. This is great warm and oozy with a side of good quality vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

 


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Simple Berry Muffins

I’m frantically in the process of emptying my pantry and fridge. I seem to have an incredible 13 varieties of flour, six types of sugar, three types of icing sugar and various other baking and cooking items that we cannot stick in a shipping container for three months. Please don’t tell my long suffering spouse about the 13 types of flour! He WILL kill me. I also have 2kg of mixed berries in the freezer. And less than 2 weeks to use them up! The toddler and I have just used some (not enough) of them up in some plain berry muffins. You can add white chocolate chips, and replace the oat milk with the ordinary kind. If you do that, you will probably need a tablespoon or so less milk.

Berry MuffinsIngredients (for 12 muffins):

275g self raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

220g light brown sugar

130ml vegetable oil

150ml oat milk (or 130ml ordinary milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

300g of berries

(Optional) a tablespoon each of demerara sugar and oat bran

Method (This is the EASIEST method ever):

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C

Mix your dry ingredients together.

Mix the wet ingredients together and add them to the dry along with the berries.

Mix until JUST combined, you can add a splash more milk if it feels too dry and thick.

Divide evenly into 12 large muffin cases, sprinkle with your sugar/oatbran mix and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Toddler and I enjoyed these straight out the oven snuggled on the couch under a blanket! There is still snow on our lawn!

 

 

 

 

 


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Apricot and Almond Tart

Some of you may have noticed my absence from blogging over the last month or so. Life has suddenly become very busy; we have an impending emigration looming, so I’ve been busy sorting, decluttering and partially packing things. Its very stressful and exciting at the same time, but isn’t leaving me much room for cooking anything decent. We’ve been relying on an embarrassing number of take out meals. Both sad, and boring!

As an added bonus, it has been absolutely freezing cold here. Last week we had a sprinkling of snow, just enough to disrupt everything. And today, at a chilly -4 degrees C, everything is frozen and covered in frost. It looks fairyland beautiful, but is definitely a day for perking myself up with a reminder that summer will be back, eventually.

My chefy friend L over at Colour Me Happy Kitchen, who did some epic jam making with me earlier in the year, came up with the MOST delicious Apricot Almond sunshine tart that just sings of sunshine! Her version is gluten AND dairy free, whereas mine is just dairy free. You could switch out the dairy free spread for butter if you are a butter only cooking snob, but honestly, this tart is delicious and light as is, so you really don’t need to.

This was very simple to make. We had this a few weeks ago as a dessert for a dinner party and while I was putting my kids to bed, my sneaky guests dished it up and gobbled it down so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to take any photos of it ready to eat. They were however, nice enough to leave me the barest sliver to eat. Thanks guys!

Apricot Almond TartAdapted from Colour Me Happy Kitchen’s All-in-one Apricot and Almond Sunshine Tart:

Ingredients:

75g dairy-free sunflower spread

100g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 beaten eggs

30g plain flour

75g ground almonds

a tin of halved apricots

Method:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C

Grease an 18cm cake tin with a loose bottom (I used a silicone tart case)

Mix the sugar and sunflower spread together in a bowl until well combined. Add the vanilla extract.

Beat in one egg till well combined, then add the other egg and beat till combined. Gently stir in the flour and ground almonds before spreading over the base of your cake tin. The dough is quite thick and you don’t need to worry about spreading it all the way to the edge.

Drain the tinned apricots and place them evenly all over the mix, rounded side up, without pressing them in.

Bake for about 25 minutes until the almond mixture has risen up around the apricots and turned golden brown. Let your tart cool in the tin for a few minutes before loosening with a knife and lifting out of the tin. You can cool it on a wire rack or on the tin base, but my dinner guests ate it pretty much straight out of the oven.

This goes brilliantly with a dollop of pouring cream or ice cream, but I enjoyed it on its own. A delicious shot of sunshine to brighten up a frosty winter day!


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Easy Easy Rosemary Pull-Apart Bread

Nothing knocks the socks off dinner guests like home made bread. The wonderful taste of fresh bread is just so much scrummier than anything from a shop. Add to that the “straight out the oven” warmth and you’re onto a winner. An added bonus, as well as wowing your guests, most bread is actually ridiculously easy to make

This bread is one of those super easy types and will impress even your most severe critics. I even got it right in an oven not my own,  always a risk when baking. Its also pretty adaptable. You can mix and match your flours, although don’t go more than 50% wholewheat or you may end up with a brick rather than a loaf. You could replace the rosemary with caramalised onions or thyme and grated parmasan, drool! You can bake this as a standard 2lb loaf, solo rolls, plaited loaf, the options are endless. The olive oil adds flavour and moistness as well as helping the loaf to last a little longer. Good luck with that though, mine lasted all of 30 minutes, followed by requests for, “More please!” and that is no exaggeration.

Using just seven ingredients, and a fair amount of hands off time,  I’ll explain how to make this so that you can still go out for the day and have it ready to pop in the oven for dinner.

Ingredients:
600g bread flour. I used a mix of half strong white bread flour and half a whole wheat malted seed flour. You can use whatever mix takes your fancy,  as long as roughly half is strong and white.
1 sachet of dried yeast (roughly 7g or a rounded teaspoon)
1 rounded tablespoon sugar (or honey)
A large pinch of salt (also have a course salt grinder on hand)
A tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves chopped (dried is also fine)
Olive oil
380ml of warm water (about a cup and a half)

Method:
First thing in the morning, put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well and tip in the sugar and yeast. Add the water and start drawing the flour into the center. At first it will seem like you don’t have enough water and then,  you may end up with what seems like a just too wet dough as it all comes together. Add more water or flour right at this beginning stage until you get one ball of dough that’s slightly sticky.

Knead for a good 10 minutes to develop the gluten. There are some great videos on You Tube for kneading techniques for slightly wetter bread dough. Don’t be tempted to add more flour unless it’s really not holding its shape. The dough will lose its stickiness as the gluten develops.
Once the dough starts feeling nice and elastic,  do the window pane test to check that it stretches thin rather than tears. If you’re happy with the gluten development,  form it into a ball and leave to rest on the counter.

Scrape any chunky bits out of the original mixing bowl (it must be a large bowl with room for the dough to more than double in size. Add a swirl of olive oil to the bowl and make sure it coats the base and sides. Add in your dough and flip it over once or twice so it’s all coated in olive oil. Cover with oiled cling film and pop into the fridge. Go to work, or the beach in our case.

When you get home in the early evening,  take the bowl out of the fridge and leave somewhere to come to room temperature. I did this while I fed the kids. An hour later,  get the dough out of the bowl,  it should have more than doubled in size after 8 hours in the fridge. Gently flatten it on the counter. It may feel pretty rubbery if still cold,  that’s just fine. Sprinkle the surface with rosemary and coarsely ground salt. Fold into thirds. Flatten gently and repeat twice more. Form into a sausage shape and cut into 9-11 equal pieces.

Shape each piece into a roll. There is a great video here on You Tube to show one way to do it. Place each of the rolls into a pre-greased, 28cm round cake tin. Once all the rolls have been crammed into the tin,  sprinkle on some more rosemary and sea salt before gently covering with some oiled cling film and placing in a warm spot to prove. An hour and a half should do it. Get those kids bathed and into bed.

Heat your oven as hot as it will go (260 for mine) and place an empty baking tray on the bottom rack. If you have a baking stone,  pop that on the middle shelf. If you don’t,  a Pyrex dish sans lid that will fit the cake tin will also work well. I did mine with neither and it turned out just fine. Boil your kettle.

Once the oven is nice and hot you need to do two things really quickly before GENTLY closing the oven door again. 1) pour the kettle full of water into that nice hot baking tray on the bottom shelf (be warned it will be very steamy) and 2) slide your bread in its cake tin gently onto the middle shelf. Close that door gently. Turn the oven temperature right down to 180. Bake for 30 minutes. Do NOT open the door.

After 30 minutes,  take out the bread,  turn straight out onto a rack and leave to steam while you get your soup poured into bowls etc.

Serve on a chunky wooden board and pull apart to get your piece. Delicious with a thick smear of butter or with soup. Enjoy! !!


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Plum Clafoutis

Ages ago, Wendy over at Chez Chloe made the most delicious plum cake. Now I make plum cake all the time, but hers was different, and her photos so delicious looking that I felt inspired to make something else with my plums.  I was planning on a nice scrummy plum clafoutis. The little Toddler has a great love of plums and kept eating them, so I never had enough to make the dessert. Eventually, about 10 days ago, I was frantically using up ingredients before we headed off on a little holiday. And I had a GLUT of plums that even the Toddler couldn’t finish in time. We enjoyed this with my in-laws who were out for a visit.

Clafoutis is a fantastic French recipe that is based on a simple egg custard. You can make it as a sweet dessert or a savoury light meal. The dessert version was traditionally made with whole cherries (presumably stoned), but it is equally delicious with blueberries, apricots or of course, plums. Supposedly you should chop up larger fruits into cherry sized pieces, but I’ve honestly never bothered. Halved plums with stones removed work really well. If you’re keen on savoury, I can really recommend adding a little sharp grated cheese and asparagus! Remove the sugar from the custard for the savoury version of course.

Ingredients:

3 eggs

2 and a 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons plain flour

200ml of milk or milk alternative (I used Almond milk)

Enough of your fruit of choice (stoned) to cover the base of your pie dish in a single layer. Tightly packed is ideal. This will be roughly 400g of cherries or about 8 plums, halved.

A tablespoon of icing sugar

Method:

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees C

Grease your pie dish and place your fruit in a single layer on the base.

Beat together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.

Gently fold in half the flour and milk and then the other half of the flour and milk to get a smooth batter.

Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for roughly 45 minutes until set.

Dredge with icing sugar while still hot and serve the clafoutis warm.

It goes really well with icecream!