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Sunday, 27 November 2011

comfort and joy...

I have always loved christmas and really start getting excited about it in September to be honest, I just wait for Holloween to be over with so I can start making plans.

It's a time for making new memories for the little people in your life. My own memories from Christmas growing up in a family of five were mostly of the fun of creeping out on Christmas morning with my brothers to see what had been delivered in the night. As in most Irish homes, the day itself revolved around the turkey which had been dangling upside-down in the cool basement with its head, wings and innards still intact. After my mother had dealt with it, the wings would be used to brush out the bottom oven of the range or fireplace for a while, while the innards would add a deep, rich flavor to the Christmas dinner gravy - but to this day I don't know what became of the head!

Dessert was always a choice of a trifle, fruit salad or yule log as standard, along with the traditional Christmas cake and pudding that had been made at the end of October. Not forgetting the mince pies in big (or so they seemed) glass jars in the corner cupboard. All very excellent Christmas Day fare. 

Now I am the 'mammy' and though tastes have changed there's still a great sense of tradition-making that I've inherited. I still make a cake and a pudding and maybe some mincemeat as well - but the demand for these types of heavily spiced confections seems to be over, and having never really liked them myself I can't miss them too much, but there's always room for invention in cooking!

So, for the last few Christmases I have made this ice-creamy dessert for after the meal itself. It uses all the things that mean Christmas to me - ginger bread, nougat, and the red cherries (that I tell the children are reindeer noses). All of these ingredients are easily replaced by other Christmas flavors, use crumbled Christmas cake or pudding in place of the ginger cake, put handfuls of nuts and dried fruits in as well. This dessert is one that can grow with the changing tastes of your family, and the big bonus is that mine is already made and waiting in my freezer for its time to shine, leaving me plenty of time to fuss over my dinner and still look like a effortless hostess presenting my dessert with a charming flourish!

When I use cream I really like to use the double cream (which my American readers call heavy cream). It's nice to work with, more stable and far more easy to find than even a couple of years ago, when I had to go to 5 different shops to find enough of the small purple Avonmore cartons to make my dessert. 

It's light, rich and tasty and even if you think you can't manage another morsel of food, you can easily eat a slice of this and maybe check your neighbors plate to see if there might be a little piece extra left over there…

Christmas Ice-cream slice

This ice-cream will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer

180g caster sugar
6 medium egg yolks
750ml Avonmore double cream
200g ginger cake crumbled, homemade or bought 
75g glacé cherries
100g good quality nougat

Decoration can be edible silver balls, plastic Santas, small robins or whatever your heart desires!

Line a 1.5 litre loaf tin with cling film, leaving a large overlap to cover it later.

Put the sugar and 4 tablespoons of cold water in a saucepan over a low heat to dissolve your sugar.
Increase the heat, bring to the boil and cook for about 3 mins without stirring until syrupy. (If you have a sugar thermometer this is will read just below soft boil) Take the pan from the heat, beat the eggs with a electric whisk until pale and thickened. Add the hot sugar syrup very gradually, whisking all the while so that the eggs don't curdle, until you have a thick mixture. Keep whisking until it has cooled.

In another bowl whisk the cream into soft peaks. Fold half of the cream into the egg mixture and the into the other half add your crumbled cake of choice. Fold the two halves in together with your cherries and nougat. Spoon into your prepared tin, level the top and fold over the cling film. Freeze for 6 hours or over night. Turn out onto a pretty plate - discarding the cling film, decorate to your liking and cut into slices with a knife heated in a jug of hot water.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

coffee & almond macaron cake

While friends, family and many fellow bloggers overseas celebrate Thanksgiving, on that date we here at the WarmSnugFat household have a much more important anniversary in mind. For it is the day of The Beloved Husband's birth, and must be suitably celebrated. Normally I'm the sort of person who couldn't care less if there was a cake or not for my own birthday, but I really enjoy inventing cakes for everybody else's birthdays based on their own particular taste. The Husband has quite sophisticated taste in cake, his preference being coffee and walnut cake, usually found at Rua. It's a nice light cake with butter icing and I think a hint of orange in the sponge. I didn't want to bother Aran to ask him for the exact recipe when he was so busy winning a Good Food Ireland award for his most excellent shop and deli (shameless plug for my child's godfather!) so I came up with something else, and he liked it… a lot!

Instead of espresso feel free to use some strong instant coffee - you can split the sponges in two to make a four layer cake, in which case i would up the quantity of the frosting a little, and leave a little extra frosting for piling on top with some extra toasted nuts for your own birthday boy - it is a birthday, after all.

For the sponge
180g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g demerara sugar
3 eggs
200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
2 tbsp espresso

For the meringue
2 egg whites
2oz caster sugar
2oz ground almonds

For the frosting
8oz of cream cheese
4oz butter, softened
4oz caster sugar

150g flaked toasted almonds to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180C Butter and line 2 x 20cm sandwich cake tins.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and add the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition.
Sieve the flour and baking powder into the egg mixture and fold in with the espresso until everything is just combined.
Divide the batter between the tins and bake for 25 minutes checking for doneness with a skewer after this time. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes, then onto a wire rack to cool completely 

Turn the oven down to 120C 
Trace the outline of one of the sandwich pans onto a square of baking parchment 
Whisk the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl until they form stiff peaks, whisk in the sugar a tablespoon at a time then carefully fold in the ground almonds with a metal spoon. Pile the mixture into your circle template and bake for about an hour

Make the frosting by beating the cheese, butter and sugar together until light and creamy, add the coffee and mix well.

Assemble the cake: Slice the sponges in half horizontally to make four circles, sandwich them together with the buttercream frosting, spreading a layer on the top and sides also. Press the toasted almonds around the sides and top with the meringue layer to finish. Serve with cream and a coffee syrup if liked.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

a visit to france...

So there was a competition for one Irish-based food blogger to go along with Kristin of the Irish Food Bloggers Association on a trip to France, courtesy of Bord Bia, to represent the Irish at the popular Salon du Blog Culinaire. Bord bia wanted to show French bloggers what Irish food is all about! I was the chosen one - and it was a load of fun.

The name of the game was for the French to discover the quality of Irish food. Myself, Kristin and a few of the french bloggers rolled up our sleeves and got busy cooking up some quality Irish ingredients. Beef, lamb, crab and mussels all got a turn centre stage.

Chaperoned from the airport by the gorgeous Maeve from the Dublin Office, we arrived in Paris and traveled to the French office where we met the team and were whisked of for lunch and shopping by the excellent Noreen, a Tipperary native (Tipperary North that is). Having picked up the last of our ingredients for our demos in the Bon Marché we traveled onwards to Soissons with Bernadette Byrne, the Queen of Meat (yes, that is her official title). Bernadette was our guide, mentor and Mammy in all thing Francais. Lovely Hannah was there bright and early on Saturday morning to translate and help us prep our dishes.

Now, I feel to be entirely fair to these ladies I need to mention that, while they were gawgeaus and lovely, nice and entertaining, all of those good things, rarely have I come across a group of people so passionate and dedicated to their jobs, routinely giving up many weekends in a row, often getting up at silly o'clock in the morning to travel, and going constantly above and beyond the call of duty to get the desired results. I was impressed! Irish food seems to be in safe hands.

Then there was a whiskey leprechaun, room mix-ups and scary intruder stories, sitting in the dark, exploding deep fat fryers, rabbit ears, stalker photographers, fun fairs, McDonalds macaroons, fire alarms, angry shouting directors, charming chefs, rude sat-nav, good cheese & bad tea… but all of these are a story for another day.

Here is one of the recipes I made there.

Baked Crab Cakes with a Dill Tartare sauce

A saunter down to the docks in Galway gives me the choice of preparing my own crab or buying the meat already cooked and ready to go. Both the sauce and the crab mixture can be made ahead and left chilling in the fridge making this a very easy recipe to put together. Larger cakes make a lovely starter, smaller cakes make great finger food to serve with drinks. Sometimes I sauté a few crab claws in garlic butter, also lovely with the dill tartare and another lovely, almost effortless way with crab.

Crab Cakes
Up to 75g of mayonnaise, or good quality ready prepared 
2 tbsp soured cream
1/2 tbsp smooth mustard, I used Dijon.
1 small beaten egg
400g fresh white crab meat, drained and picked through carefully for cartilage or shell
Finely grated zest of a lemon and wedges to serve

Dill Tartare Sauce
I trimmed spring onion
6 cornichons
2 big sprigs of dill
2 anchovy fillet
tbsp homemade mayonnaise, or good quality ready prepared 
2 tbsp creme fraiche
Lemon juice - a little or a lot
Lemon weges and chopped chives to serve

Make ahead the dill tartare by chopping finely together the spring onion, cornichons, dill and anchovy. Put in a bowl and add the mayonnaise and creme fraiche. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Cover and chill.

Preheat the oven to 220C/fan200C Press the crab meat in a sieve to make sure as much as possible of the packing liquid is drained. Stir together all of the ingredients adding the mayonnaise last, a little at a time until a thick mixture is achieved, you may not need to use all of it. Spoon the mixture in heaped teaspoons onto a silicon lined baking tray and bake for 20 - 25 mins until nicely browned. Serve on a pretty platter, each cake with a spoon of the tartare sauce on top, a little chopped chive sprinkled over and lemon wedges on the side.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

a is for apple, b is for bramley...

I love the aromas of autumn, and coming from Clonmel, the home of Irish cider, means that the smell of apple is one of the most evocative smells for me. When the apples were brought in from the orchards and piled in huge mountains in the apple yards that aroma that hung over the town on a dark cloudy evening was something so special that the merest whiff of apple takes me back to 'the Narrow Street' behind the Friary in an instant.

Crumbles, pies, tarts and cakes or curries, stews, roasts and sauces. An apple can be in a supporting role or the star of both sweet and savoury dishes. There is such a huge variety of these most lovely of fruits, although to look in the supermarkets you would be forgiven for believing otherwise. Commerce dictates that only a few apples stock the shelves and this is a great pity. In our house a 'Pink Lady' from the salad drawer of the fridge is a favourite afternoon snack, a crisp 'Granny Smith' will liven up a homemade coleslaw and a 'Coxs Pippin' from one of our own apple trees is a seasonal delicacy. However, it is the big 'Bramley' that's the most versatile when baking. Everyone seems to love a 'Bramley' apple tart and this is my portable version, tucked into a lunch box or squirreled over to the office with a steaming cup of tea - it needs neither plate nor cutlery, and leaves not a trace.
I nearly always use pecans for this topping they go so nicely with the cinnamon and apple, but walnuts or hazelnuts work well also…

'Apple Pie' Muffins

For the topping

2oz of nuts, chopped coarsely 
2oz light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
handful of the chopped apple, see below
two tablespoons of icing sugar

For the muffin batter

14oz of plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
4oz of butter softened
6 oz soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
9oz finished weight of brambly apples, peeled, cored and chopped

200ml sour cream 
25 ml regular milk 
1 egg beaten

Liberally butter a 12-hole muffin tin and preheat the oven to 180C.

Make the topping by putting your chopped 'Bramleys', about one quarter of the finished flesh, in a bowl with the cinnamon, nuts and sugar and set aside.

Make the dry mixture, putting the flour, and baking powder into a bowl, and rub in the softened butter. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon and lastly the remaining apple flesh.

Make the wet mixture, mixing the sour cream, milk and egg together.

Add the wet to the dry mix, stir well to combine - being careful not to over mix. Spoon the batter into the buttered muffin tin and sprinkle the topping generously over each one. Bake for 25 mins, leave to cool slightly in the tin before removing to a wire rack. Dissolve your icing sugar with a little drop of water and drizzle over the top when completely cool. If I am to be honest here, I must admit that I only ever drizzle eight muffins with icing as 4 are always devoured hot from the oven.

Monday, 7 November 2011

lilly's rocky road brownies

I had put Lily Higgins' new book 'Make Bake Love' on my Christmas wish list, but alas, I am weak and having spied it in a book shop last weekend, I couldn't wait until Christmas and so it followed me home. My new reason is that I wanted to get it for a couple of friends as a present and it would be irresponsible of me to not have tried it out first. Well, that's my excuse anyway! 

The first thing about the book is that because of the heavily printed, patterned pages, it has the most intense, inky, new book smell - one of my favorite smells in the world. The next thing is that it has a story and picture for every recipe which is right and proper (and those pictures are very adorable). 

I brought my copy home and pored over it that evening, and left on the couch when I headed to bed. In the morning my littlest daughter, also Lily, had found it there and snatched it up. Pointing at the front cover she exclaimed, 'Look mummy, a princess!' (it is a very pretty cover photo) and then begged a story. I read her the story of Old Henry, an elderly dog in the Higgins household. Lily loved it. As she did the 'Rocky Road Brownies'.

Here is the recipe…for the brownies, not the dog story!

200g dark chocolate
250g icing sugar
200g softened butter
3 eggs
110g plain flour

On the top
200g chocolate, chopped
100g nuts, toasted
100 biscuits, broken
80g pink and while marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 170c. Line a 23x33cm baking tin with parchment paper. Melt the chocolate. Beat the sugar and eggs together in a bowl until light, add the eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition. Beat in the flour until just combined. Pour in the chocolate and mix in (taking care not to over mix). Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 30 mins.

Mix the topping ingredients together and scatter over the top of the brownie mixture, returning it to the oven for five mins until the chocolate has started to melt and the topping ingredients have melded together into a delicious squigy mess.

Once cool, cut into 12 - 15 squares and dust with a little icing sugar if you like.

If you have some very small people in your house it is best to keep the nuts separately for people to put on their individual portion. Lilly's recipe calls for Digestive biscuits, I have used animal biscuits here to add to the drama for my own audience - either way these don't last that long because the biscuits will get soft and unpleasant quite quickly. But I don't imagine that a bake this good will be hanging around for very long in any case.

Friday, 4 November 2011

walnut cookies, gluten free

We're lucky to work from home, albeit in a converted barn across the yard from our house. It's a thirty second commute to our office and that means that we can nearly always make it home for lunch. It also means that a few clients get some home baked treats if they happen to be having tea or coffee as a reward for trekking all the way out!

This morning, my book editor was dropping by to discuss a new project. He's very deserving, but he is also that most awkward of things. No! Not a vegetarian! A coeliac…

I had a broad understanding of the condition, but had never had to bake for one, and I really didn't want to kill him!

So, I threw it out into the Twitterspere. I wanted baked goods, preferably a biscuit/cookie that I wouldn't have to buy any 'special' ingredient for. There's really nothing worse than having a big bag of some special potato flour or strange thickening agent that you use once and watch creeping to old age in your fridge or cupboard. It reminds me of the Ben & Jerrys quote when Jerry was asked what he did with all the egg whites left over from making his egg-yolk heavy ice-cream base, he replied 'I put them in the fridge and cover them. Then after a month I throw them out'.

Help arrived in droves from the helpful, enthusiastic souls out there. A recipe was tested and found to be good! I like these cookies a lot and a big thanks to The Little Loaf who sent it to me. It's adapted from a recipe by Dan Lepard. The dates have been replaced by prunes as it's a bit early for dates in these parts as they only make a brief appearance in the shops at Christmas. I don't think the results would have been very different in any case.

Gluten Free Walnut Cookies
100g chopped, stoned prunes
100g softened unsalted butter
125g brown sugar
125g caster sugar
25g cocoa 
2 tsp vanilla
250g cornflour 
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda 
1/2 tsp baking powder
125g walnuts

Cover the prunes with 50ml boiling water and leave to stand for 10 mins until the prunes have softened.
Measure the unsalted butter, brown and caster sugars into a mixing bowl with the softened prunes and beat until smooth and light, and the prunes have broken down into the mixture. 
Add the cocoa and vanilla extract and beat until smooth again.
Add the cornflour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder. When everything is totally incorporated, mix in the walnuts.

Heat the oven to 170 C/335 F/Gas 3. Line a tray with non-stick baking paper and roll walnut sized nuggets of dough into balls with your hands. Then press them lightly onto the tray, spaced 5cm apart. Bake for 15 mins then remove from the oven and leave on the tray to firm up slightly before carefully removing to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining mixture, or keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. The rolled balls can also be frozen raw.

(Below is a photo of a Lemon Bunt Cake as promised to my friend Magda who blogs at Magda's Cauldron - one of my favorite places to visit - enjoy and I will try harder at the apple challenge!)