Sunday, 23 December 2012

Gingerbread Layer Cake

This Christmas I decided to "pimp up" my gingerbread a bit, after a last minute inspiration. I saw a photo of this cake, literally a day before making the cake and decided it's an absolute must this Christmas.
I really like how the cake combines gingerbread and gateau type cake features, it's both presentable and delicious.

The cake (4 layers):

150 g honey (liquid)
200 g butter or margarine
500 g plain flour
3 yolks
4 tbsp milk
1 tbs purified soda
100 g sugar
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cardamon
1tsp ground cloves
a pinch of ground black pepper

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl - as it's really hard to do, you may be best off using dough whisks on a food mixer. Cover the bowl with cling film and put into the fridge for 24 hours.
After that time, divide the dough into 4 parts, place on a baking paper-lined baking tray and bake in 180C for about 15 minutes. Leave to cool.
The cream:

2 cups of milk (about 500 ml)
4 tbsp grit
300g icing sugar
250 g butter or margarine
vanilla sugar
vanilla extract

About 200g jam - plum or black currant  - to be spread alternatively with the cream.
Boil the milk, stir in the grit and sugar, reduce the heat and simmer stirring from time to time until it thickens. Leave to cool. Whisk the butter until fluffy, then gradually add cold milk and grit mixture (1 tbsp at a time), whisking all the time.

Spread the cream and jam on alternative layers of the gingerbread, then press the cake gently on the top. Cover with chocolate.

Chocolate spread: 

100g butter or margarine
150 g icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Melt the butter, add sugar and cocoa, simmer for a few minutes, stirring continuously, until the mixture is smooth and shiny, and begins to thicken. It's ready to spread on the cake.

The cake is best if prepared 2-3 days in advance. Store in the fridge.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread houses remind me of fairy tales. :-) I made my first "gingerbread winter village" a couple of years ago, and it's become an integral part of my Christmas preparation by now. You may say it's quite time (an labour!) consuming, but most of all - it's so much fun! OK, maybe apart from  the moment of sitting still and holding the walls and roof to "stick the house" together. :-)

Ingredients (enough to make a couple of houses)

2 and 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 egg
5 tbsp soft butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
3 ground cloves

Egg white
Icing sugar

In a large bowl mix flour, sugar, soda, and spices. Melt butter on a hob and add honey and stir until they blend, then pour into the bowl with other ingredients and crack in the egg. Knead until the dough is smooth. Cover the bowl with cling film and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Prepare a template for your house (front, back 2 walls and 2 pieces to make the roof). Roll the dough on a dusted surface and cut out the pieces of the house. Cut out the windows and place a boiled sweet into each - they'll melt into colourful "window panes". You can cut out the door, however, it needs to be done at the bottom of the "front wall" - if you cut the door out higher (leaving a threshold) it won't stick onto the house and you won't be able to give your houses slightly ajar door. That's what happened with my first houses, thus they lack doors. :-)
This tear I went for the "log cabin effect" - by making slight incisions on the gingerbread "walls", and created a small pile of wood in front of the house.

Bake the parts in 180C for about 10 minutes. Leave them to rest, then decorate the parts with icing before assembling the house. Leave the decorated parts to dry. Then stick the walls together with icing (and support them until the icing starts getting dry), then attach the roof.
My very first gingerbread house
my first gingerbread winter village
gingerbread log cabin

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christmas Cakes - Mince Pies Look-alikes

I got in the mood for making these cakes in the morning, and then it all started. Actually, the day started off with an argument, as I actually said I was gonna make 'mince pies' so it gave Sam all the wrong idea... as mince pies they are not! They look deceptively similar, but the filling (both in the original recipe, and my altered version is nothing like mince pies). They are both pretty and tasty, though they may be a bit tricky to make.
The main reason to try out these little goodies, was actually my latest kitchen equipment purchase - star cutters. I ordered them online, hoping the delivery would make it before Friday (as I planned baking my last batch of gingerbread cakes). With my luck the courier arrived at my door just when I put the last tray of cakes into the oven.
Well, what I could I do? Had to find a recipe for other cakes, and came across these little goodies. Looked nice, and the association with minced pies was immediate, plus the recipe looked simple enough to give them a go. It turned out that there are a few things to look out for while preparing them, but all in all they seem to be disappearing quickly, so I guess that's a good sign!

The pastry:

2 cups of flour
2 yolks
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 pack vanilla sugar
150 g soft butter

Start with whisking the yolks and sugar until fluffy. In a large bowl mix flour, vanilla sugar and butter, add whisked yolks and knead until you get smooth dough. If it keeps breaking apart add a bit more butter. Put into the fridge for 30 minutes. Then, leave 1/3 of the dough aside (it will make the stars on top. Flatten the remaining part of the dough onto a floured surface and cut out circles (I used my large tea cup for this, which happened to be just the right size). The dough may break in places while being rolled, just keep rolling or try patching the holes with more pastry and roll flat.

Grease the muffin baking tray with butter and fill each form with pastry - and that's where it gets tricky. The pastry may be a bit brittle, and there's no way to put your pastry circle inside the form without breaking them in places - it doesn't really matter though, so long as you 'mend' the breaks with extra bits of pastry - make sure there are no holes. Roll the rest of the dough and cut out stars.

The filling:
This is where I amended the original recipe to such extent that you may actually say it's my own creation - yay! ;-)

1 handful of dates
1 handful of prunes
1 handful of dried figs
1 handful of candied orange peel
1 handful of chopped almonds
1 handful of raisins
2 tbs honey
2 tbs brandy

Chop the fruit and mix with almonds and honey in a small pan. Put on a low heat for about 5 minutes, at the end stir in brandy. The filling should be warm (not too hot or too cold) when you place it in the cakes.

Put filling into each cake and place a star on top. Bake in 180C for about 20 minutes. Take them out of the oven and leave to cool still in the baking tray. Then, gently remove each cake from the form - careful here as they are really brittle, so it may take a few attempts to take them out. Sprinkle icing sugar onto the cakes and serve. They taste great served both cold and hot, and there certainly is a Christmas feeling about them.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Christmas Baking Season Officially Open!

The first batch of edible season decorations is ready, and I must admit that the temptation to eat them rather than put up, is really strong! After long hours of kneading, cooling, and rolling the brittle gingerbread dough, which was incredibly adamant in falling apart, there was a fair bit of icing and decorating, but it was worth it. So far, the flat is filled with Christmas smell, and I can't wait to put the cakes up!

To make gingerbread cakes you need:

2 and 1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 egg
5 tbsp soft butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
3 ground cloves
1 tbsp cocoa powder (if you wish for a darker shade)

In a large bowl mix flour, sugar, soda, and spices. Melt butter on a hob and add honey and stir until they blend, then pour into the bowl with other ingredients and crack in the egg. Knead until the dough is smooth. Cover the bowl with cling film and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
On a floured surface flatten the dough with a flour-dusted rolling pin. Cut out shapes and place on a baking tray covered with baking paper. Leave spaces between your cakes, as they will grow during baking. If you want to hang them on the Christmas tree, make a hole on top of each cake - plastic straws are best for that, but a toothpick can do the job too. Bake the cakes in 180C from 7 to 13 minutes (depending how thick they are). When they're ready place them on a rack to cool.

For the icing you need:
1 egg white
about 1 cup icing sugar 
cake sprinkles or other decorations

Separate an egg white into a bowl, add icing sugar and stir vigorously until they combine into a thick, smooth liquid. I find whisking most effective at this stage. It usually is quite runny, so you shouldn't cover the entire cake, but leave the edges free, otherwise the icing will leak off them. If your icing is too runny stir in more icing sugar. Distribute your icing on the cakes with a brush, sprinkle the decorations and leave to dry. Then the big question comes - to have the cake or eat it? ;-) As you can see in the last photo, at least some of my cakes made their way onto the tree.
The good thing about gingerbread is that it keeps so well, and apparently, it becomes better, the older it gets, so the cakes will be even better when you take them down, after Christmas!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Breakfast Butter Crescents

I got around to making my breakfast butter crescents by accident. I got this sudden craving for croissants when we had no French pastry in the freezer. A quick research and I came up with a recipe that looked promising. The crescents, though totally different from French croissants, but yummy nonetheless! In fact, we've got to like them so much that they've become an indispensable part of out lazy weekend breakkie. Though, knowing me and my faddy nature towards food, I'll switch to something else in a few weeks time. Before that happens, I'll share the crescent recipe, as it really is worth trying!


250 g plain all purpose flour
70 g soft butter
15 g yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
3 tbsp icing sugar
1 yolk
1 egg

Combine the yeast with milk, add flour, sugar, yolk and egg. Knead into a dough and leave in a warm place to rise.When it doubles in size, flatten it with a flour dusted rolling pin, on a floured surface. Spread 1/3 of butter on top of the dough, wrap the butter inside and flatten with the rolling pin. Repeat twice (with the rest of butter). Leave it in a warm place to rise again. Then flatten with a rolling pin and form a thin circle. Divide the circle into 8 parts. Take one part and roll it from the wider bit towards the tip, then bend the sides to obtain the crescent shape.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper, arrange the crescents on the tray with a bit of space between them, as they'll grow. Spread the yolk mixed with milk on top of each crescent, if you want them shiny. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, until they turn golden brown. Serve with a spread of your choice - they work great with jam, marmalade, honey, peanut butter, chocolate spread, as well as with plain butter.

By the way, the recipe makes a lot more crescents than the pictures show - the photos were taken after breakfast :-)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Plum Tart

It's probably last chance to take advantage of the seasonal fruit, so I used my midday break today to make a plum tart. One of the great things about it is that the plums are so fragrant that they fill the house with their wonderful scent while baking, it's better than aromatherapy!

For the pastry you need:

3 cups plain, all purpose flour
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp margarine
3 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 pack vanilla sugar
a handful of chopped almonds
icing sugar to dust

The filling:

1 kilo plums
1-2 handful chopped almonds (optional)
2-3 tbsp caster sugar

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, vanilla sugar, and baking soda. Crack in the eggs, add butter and knead into smooth pastry. Cover the bowl with cling film and put into the fridge for about 30 minutes. Grease the baking tray and line it with breadcrumbs, so as the cake doesn't stick to the tray while baking. Place the pastry onto a slightly floured surface and with a slightly floured rolling pin flatten it to about 1-1.5 cm thick. Line the baking tray with pastry. The pastry is very brittle and it'll probably crack and break apart when rolled flat and moved into the baking tray - it simply needs to be smoothed later.
Wash and stone the plums, then you can cut them in smaller pieces, or leave them in halves and arrange them on the pastry, sprinkle caster sugar and almonds onto the plums.  Alternatively, you may stew the plums with sugar to get a jam filling.

Place the remaining part of the pastry on a floured surface, remove a piece and roll it into a long stripe. Then flatten it a bit with a rolling pin and place the stripe onto the cake. Make a few more stripes like that and arrange a grid on top of the cake.

Pre-heat the oven to 170C and bake the cake for about 45 minutes. If the cake turns golden brown slightly earlier, remove it from the oven then. Leave the cake to cook and dust icing sugar on top. Yummy!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Pumpkin and Sage Tortellini

I really wish it was possible to make pumpkin dishes year round, but then again, it might be their seasonal nature that makes them all the more special?
With the pasta maker at hand, pumpkin-filled ravioli and tortellini have now taken over pumpkin soup and became the new favourite of the season. Pumpkin and sage filling, wrapped into spinach pasta is an absolute hit!

You need:

1 portion of green and white pasta (the recipe is in the Pasta Frenzy Continues)
 about 1 kilo pumpkin
3 tbs oil
2 tbsp dried sage
1 egg yolk, beaten
25 g grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp grated nutmeg
a handful of fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper


Begin the preparation with the pumpkin. Peel and dice the pumpkin, then place it on the baking tray greased with  3tbsp oil, season and sprinkle dried sage on top. Put the pumpkin into a the oven and bake it for about 40-45 minutes in 180C, until pumpkin is completely soft. Leave to cool, move the pumpkin to a large bowl and squash it with a fork, add the egg yolk, nutmeg, grated Parmesan and chopped sage leaves. Season to taste.
Flour the surface, roll the pasta dough as thin as possible, if you're using a pasta maker roll the dough through number 9 setting. Cut the dough into small squares (remember that they will swell up during cooking) and place a teaspoon of pumpkin filling leaving the edges clear. To make the edges stick together better, they may be brushed with a tiny amount of water. Put the edges together diagonally, so as you form a small triangle. Press the edges together, careful not to let the filling spill out. Then pinch together the two corners on the longer side.


Fill a large pan with water, add a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of olive oil, bring to boil. Put in the tortellinis, reduce the heat and cook until the tortellini start floating. Drain and serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Alternatively you may pour sage butter or tomato sauce on top of the tortellini.