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Saturday, 24 December 2011

'tis the night before christmas...

'While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads'

Merry Christmas from  'Warm & Snug & Fat' and thank you for visiting during the year.


Thursday, 22 December 2011

home for christmas...

More is expected of the Christmas gingerbread biscuit than any other cookie dough. It must taste good and have a nice spicy kick to stand up to the sweet icing that it is often decorated with. It must last a long time when hung as a decoration and it must withstand being fashioned into architectural marvels without risk of collapsing.

I have made this dough a few times already in the last couple of weeks as it ticks all the boxes. They have been shaped, iced and dispatched as presents to the childrens' teachers, all prettily packed in little boxes. The gingerbread house has been made and is still standing proud even after being decorated by two of the clumsiest four year olds on the planet, a veritable Christmas miracle!

I like to eat them on their own without the icing and can (humbly) say that they are one of my favorite little biscuits of all time!

This recipe can be used to make a whole range of decorations, buildings, gifts and, of course, gingerbread people. Children love to help roll and cut out the dough and to decorate the biscuits. I buy the squeezy tubes of colored icing and let them go nuts with it. There is no need to chill the dough before rolling it.

Wholemeal Gingerbread Biscuits
(adapted from a Waitrose recipe)

125g unsalted butter
100g dark muscavado sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
175g wholemeal flour
150g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a couple of trays with baking paper. Put the butter, sugar and syrup in a medium saucepan and heat gently until everything is melted and smooth. Put aside.  Sift the flours, bicarb and spices together into a big bowl. Pour the melted mixture into it and stir well to combine. Dust a work surface with flour and roll the mixture out until about 5mm thick, or roll out between 2 sheets of cling film. Use a floured biscuit cutter to cut out shapes and place on the tray. Bake in batches for about 8-10 minutes - they should get slightly darker around the edges. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Make holes in them before baking with a cocktail stick if you would like to hang them and check to make sure that the holes are still open while they are hot.

Hannah's first ginger bread house - some room for improvement.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

short and sweet...

This Christmas the lovely ladies at the Irish Food Bloggers Association are hosting a Christmas biscuit recipe swap and I was lucky enough to get the talented Yvonne at Hey Pesto as my recipe swap partner. She kindly shared one of her favorite standby's with me. Her Vanilla Shortbread Biscuits, originally taken from the BBC Good Food Magazine, was her trade and lovely biscuits they are too - worthy of any festive tea-time plate.

The classic shortbread is a very basic recipe consisting of just five ingredients: butter, flour, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Shortbread is Scottish in origin, where it has long been a traditional holiday food, served on Christmas as well as the New Year's Eve festival of Hogmanay. Although these days we eat shortbread all year round, it's still closely associated with the Christmas season, with Danish Butter Cookies and  Petticoat Tails featuring on many peoples' Christmas shopping 'must haves'.

Home baked shortbread is easy to make, cheaper and far tastier than the bought kind. It stores very well for up to a month in an airtight container, so it's definitely worth adding to your baking repertoire.

This is definitely a biscuit, dainty and delicate, not a robust cookie. It is understated and elegant, rather like the recipe donor herself and for a little biscuit, they certainly deliver a big flavour.

Vanilla Shortbread Biscuits

175g plain flour
50g caster sugar
100g salted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

You need a moderate oven, preheat to about 170C. Mix all the ingredients in a food processor until the mixture comes together as a dough. Roll out using icing sugar and cut into required shape(s). Bake for 7-10  mins depending on thickness – you want a light golden brown colour when cooked.

To add to Yvonne's instructions I would recommend starting with the butter at room temperature, the dough comes together much faster. If you roll the dough out between two sheets of cling film and skip the icing sugar (the thickness of a euro coin is about right for these), it cuts down on any clean up time and makes transferring your shapes to the baking sheets much easier. You will get about 24 medium sized biscuits from this quantity.

Enjoy, and remember - shortbread is for life, not just for Christmas.

Friday, 16 December 2011

last minute christmas mincemeat...

Even though Christmas is nearly upon us, it's still not too late to make your own mincemeat. If you've never made this before it is one of the simplest things to make, but also very gratifying. There is very little work involved. After some weighing, a little chopping and grating, all you need to do is stir occasionally while your house fills with the smell of Christmas-ness.

My recipe is vegetarian, nut free and best of all, there are no horrible big lumps of candied peel - my own personal idea of Christmas hell! As you are making it yourself you can, of course, put the best of everything in… muscatel raisins, golden sultanas, etc. as they really make a big difference to the finished product.

I use butter in mine, as I prefer the flavor to the traditional suet and it also makes it suitable for vegetarians. It will, however, look a little cloudy in the jar, but that will melt away on heating. I also don't include any nuts, as there are a lot of nut allergies around these days. They can be incorporated in the topping instead for those who really love them, but feel free to add some to your own. About 50g of almonds for this quantity of mincemeat is about right, making sure to toast them first to bring out all of their delicious nutty flavor. You could also use brandy or rum in place of the sherry if that's what you have.  I also use regular salted butter but if you are using unsalted remember to add a pinch of salt to the mixture.

175g/6oz currants
175g/6oz raisins
175g/6oz sultanas
175g/6oz glacé cherries
1 small Bramley or other cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
125g/4oz butter
225g/8oz light muscovado sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
Grated zest of one orange
Grated zest and juice of one lemon
200ml/7floz of good quality sherry.

Weigh out your fruits into a large pan and add in the chopped apple, zests and lemon juice, butter, sugar and spices. Allow to melt together over a low heat, then simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. When the mixture has cooled completely, stir in the sherry. Spoon the mix into sterilized jars, seal, label (with love) and store in a cool place.

This makes four jars of mince meat. Use it to make traditional mince pies to feed the hordes of hungry carol singers calling to your door.

 "But what else can I do with it?" I hear you ask… Well, you can mix up your mince pie toppings with almond meringue piped on instead of a pastry lid. Or try a simple nutty crumble topping piled over. Or festive-up your regular ice-cream with a warm dollop of mix. Or even make a bread and butter pudding with slices of plain white bread or brioche sandwiched together with a generous spread of this as a filling before pouring over your custard and baking as usual. Mmmmm!

And of course, if you pack it into a pretty jar and tie a jaunty bow, they do make lovely homemade Christmas stocking fillers.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

coconut macaroons...

My last post was for the rich and creamy ice-cream slice that, some of the more observant of you may have noticed, called for six egg yolks. I have been known on occasion to let one stray egg white go down the sink uncooked. Very occasionally I may have let two go. But six egg whites… I could not in all conscience see them wasted. What did you do with the egg  whites then, Amee? I hear you all cry in unison. Well, let me tell you what…

Two egg whites were whisked up with sugar into a roulade, baked in a swissroll tin and rolled with toffee cream and slices of caramel apple. Ta-daaah...Toffee Apple Roulade -quick, simple and dee-licious!

The other four were used in my own favorite sweet treat, Coconut Macaroons.  This is more or less the home-made version of a 'Bounty Bar', (called 'Mounds' in America, as I am reliably informed by my friend Mona - my go-to-gal for all Americana wisdom).

With a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior, these can be eaten warm from the oven, or dipped in milk or dark chocolate at room temperature. You will need to chill the mixture before putting it in the oven, but you can leave them overnight in the fridge before cooking and they will not suffer in the slightest.

The Coconut Macaroons store very well. They will stay wonderfully moist and chewy even after a few days in the cookie jar.

Coconut Macaroons:

4 large egg whites, at room temperature
200 g granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
50g plain flour, sifted
10g corn flour
250g desiccated coconut

100g chocolate of choice, melted.

Place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and salt. When this mixture is warm to the touch and nice and creamy, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, flours and coconut. Cover and refrigerate for about two hours until firm, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 165 degrees C and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Place small mounds (very heaped teaspoons) of the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them several inches apart.  Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes and then place on a wire rack to cool. When cold, dip the flat bottoms in the melted chocolate - replace on the parchment-lined baking sheets until set then drizzle the tops of the macaroons with the remaining chocolate.

Makes about 2 dozen macaroons