19 November 2015

Christmas Cake Recipe for Stir Up Sunday and beyond!

I made our Christmas cake yesterday because my real man gets a bit anxious this time of year in case we don’t have enough tonnage of food for the two of us to eat!

This is the recipe I use which, by making adaptations to various recipes through the years, is apparently getting close to what my real man’s Mam used to make. Also it is delicious. 

Christmas Cake Recipe

This is for a 23cm (9”) round cake tin –probably easier to buy a new pan than try and calculate for smaller or larger cake tins!

1 kg mixed dried fruit (mine included cranberries which is extra Chritmassy)
120g glacé cherries – cut into quarters
4 tablespoons brandy


~   Mix all of the above together and leave overnight to soak.

The next day …

275g soft dark brown sugar
275g soft butter
275g plain flour
a very generous pinch of salt – maybe ½ teaspoon
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
60g ground almonds
5 large eggs
grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup
a generous amount of brown paper
a length of string


~   Preheat the oven to 140ºC/275°F/120ºC fan/gas 1.
~   Grease the 23cm cake tin, line with baking parchment and grease again.
~   Cut two long strips of brown paper sufficient to tie a band round the cake tin plus cut a circle of brown paper the size of the cake tin and cut 3cm hole in the middle.









~   In a large bowl cream together the sugar and butter until really fluffy and well combined.  Don’t stint on this.



~   In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt and mixed spice.  Then add the ground almonds.
~   In another bowl beat the eggs together.

~   Stir the zests and the golden syrup into the fruit and brandy mixture.
~   Gradually, a little at a time, whisk the beaten eggs into the creamed butter and it is a good idea to add just a spoonful or so of the flour mix at the same time – this will prevent curdling.
~   When fully combined fold in the rest of the flour mixture. When I say fold I mean fold in, not stir– see below.








~   Now stir in the fruit and all its juices – I know it seems a lot, I am perturbed every year but it works.




~   Decant into your prepared cake tin, level the top and tie the bands of brown paper around the cake tin, place the piece of paper with a hole on top and then put it in the oven.

~   Make a cup of coffee (or tea I suppose) and scrape the bowl.  For this reason it is best to make this when your family is out.
~   The cake will take 4½ - 5 hours and ignore for at least 4 hours.  It is really when a cocktail stick or similar inserted into the centre comes out clean.
~   Cool for a little while in the pan then carefully remove and finish cooling on a rack.


Store the cake wrapped in parchment in an airtight tin and every now and then pour a spoonful of brandy into its bottom till Christmas.

Folding In

Although it is difficult to explain an action in words, for those of you unsure of how to fold in I’m going to give it a try because it is important - you want to retain the air that has been whisked in and even to fold in a tad more.

Using a large metal spoon or a spatula cut across the middle of the mixture, slide the spoon or spatula under it to the edge of the bowl and fold that portion over the rest.

It’s quite easy to do, just hard to describe. Keep cutting and folding from different angles, rotating the bowl, till everything is merged together in a light and airy way.


In Other Related News ...

I have just published my Christmas book in paperback as well as the original ebook. In it I give 50+ (much easier and quicker than above!) recipes to make cooking for Christmas a doddle!   









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1 November 2015

It’s British Leek Season – Hurrah!

Did you know that today marks the start of the British leek season which runs all the way through to April?

Jolly good too because leeks are seriously one my favourite vegetables and not just in an accompaniment kind of a way.  For me leeks are a delicious and important main flavour in numerous dishes. I almost always have a leek about the place and I recommend you do the same!

To mark this auspicious occasion I have been asked to write a little about these delicious alliums together with one of my favourite recipes so do please read on.

Firstly and importantly leeks do tend to have a little grit and dirt between their leaves so here is a good way of washing them …

How to Wash Leeks

The easiest way, I find, is to prepare and cut your leeks and then put them into a large bowl with PLENTY of cold water so that the chopped leek floats. Swirl about a bit, let the water calm down and then carefully lift the leeks out so that the soil and grit, which has sunk to the bottom, stays in the bottom where it belongs. Do not strain them.
Secondly here is a great way of cooking leeks which makes them sweet and tender and concentrates their flavour.

A Great Way to Cook Leeks

~   Top and tail the leek(s), remove the outer layer, cut in half lengthways, slice as you wish and then wash thoroughly as above.
~   Heat a knob of butter (or olive oil or bacon fat) in a saucepan with a lid and toss and separate the washed and drained leeks in the fat to coat.
~   Sprinkle with a little salt.
~   Press something appropriate (a piece of foil, a piece of baking parchment, greaseproof paper or a butter wrapper) directly onto the leeks to cover completely. Try not to burn yourself on the side of the pan.
~   Turn the heat down to low and put the lid on the pot; the leeks should not so much fry in the butter as gently steam in it.
~   Cook slowly until they are very tender – you can stir once or twice during this time and they should take about 20 minutes.

Leeks cooked this way are really useful being great in everything from soups (see here for details of my genius soup recipe) to lovely mashed potato, posh cheese on toast, Alfredo Sauce (for pasta and lots of other things), stirred through cooked peas and even in baked things such as scones or on pizza.  They are, however particularly good with seafood.  I often have them with salmon but a very delicious dish I ate in France a few years ago and then replicated at home is …

Breton Scallop & Leek Galettes

"Galettes" (Galettes de Sarrasin to use their full name) in Brittany refers to a particularly delicious (and, as a bonus, gluten free) type of crèpe made of buckwheat. They are light and crisp with a slightly nutty flavour. The galette recipe is below but if you haven’t got any buckwheat normal crèpes will stand in pretty well.

The main subject of this post is the scallop and leek filling – aha, we get to it at last!

Scallops in a Creamy Leek Sauce

Use either the little queen scallops or the larger ones, in which case slice them before cooking.

2 small leeks – cleaned and thinly sliced
30g butter
50ml dry white wine
150ml double cream
300g raw scallops
salt and pepper

~   Prepare and cook the leeks in the butter as above.
~   Add the wine or stock and allow to simmer for a minute or two.
~   Stir in the cream, bring to a boil then turn down the heat and simmer a few minutes.  Taste and season.
~   At this stage you could set the sauce aside to later.
~   To cook the scallops just reheat the sauce to boiling, turn down to a low simmer, add the scallops and leave on the heat just till the first bubble appears on the surface of the sauce. Set aside, covered, to finish cooking in the residual heat of the sauce. Scallops are very delicate chaps and any more cooking could toughen them.

Divide the creamy scallop and leek mixture between the hot pancakes, fold over the tops and enjoy.




Oh – I’ve just thought of another good leek idea; this is a fancy garnish I used to do a lot when cheffing …

Frazzled Leeks

Cut a leek into long thin strips, rub a little cornflour through them (this makes them crunchy) and deep fry for a few minutes till they are golden. Lift out of the oil with a skimmer and drain on kitchen roll. Sprinkle with a little crunchy sea salt.

Buckwheat Pancakes – make 4 large pancakes or more smaller ones, obviously!

100g buckwheat flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
300ml milk
50g butter – melted

~   Stir together the salt and the flour and make a well in the middle.
~   Break the egg into the well and start whisking it in gradually adding the milk till a batter the consistency of single cream is achieved.
~   Chill for a couple of hours then stir in the melted butter.
~   Proceed to make pancakes as per usual, ie. lightly grease a frying pan, bring to good heat and ladle in about 2 tablespoons of batter. 
~   Roll the pan to spread the batter thinly and cook till the underside is golden.
~   Turn with a deft flip of the wrist or more carefully with an implement.


So that's it from me but for lots more recipes, tips and info on British leeks go here.


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