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Mince Pies

By the time Christmas has been and gone I’ve worked out I will have made over 450 mince pies in some form or another. Thankfully not for my own consumption but made during the classes I was teaching and for friends and family. I usually make my own mincemeat, but this year due to some of my pupils being unable to come to classes due to illness I was left with nearly a kilogram of mincemeat to use up. To make shop bought mincemeat taste more like homemade mincemeat simply stir in a generous glug of sherry into the mincemeat. No one has to know.

I like using this pastry recipe for mince pies as the addition of orange juice helps shorten the pastry and give it a subtle taste. I don’t sweeten the pastry with sugar because I think the mincemeat is sweet enough. If you wanted the pastry a bit sweeter you could add a small amount of icing sugar to the pastry.

You can top your mince pies with the traditional full covering of pastry, but I prefer to cover with stars. 1) because I think they look nicer 2) you get more mince pies out of your pastry.

Mince Pies

Makes around 12 mince pies

200g plain flour

100g butter

orange juice

200g mincemeat

1 egg, beaten

Demerara sugar (granulated sugar will also work fine)

1) rub the butter into the flour until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs.

2) Add the orange juice 1 tbsp at a time until it forms a soft dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 min.

3) Roll out the dough until 5mm thick. Using a 9cm diameter cutter, cut out rounds and press gently into a bun tin.

4) Place a heaped tsp of the mincemeat on top of the dough

5) Top the mincemeat with a  pastry star. Brush  the star with beaten egg then sprinkle with Demerara sugar.

6) Bake at 180° for 15 minutes.

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Stirring up for Sunday – Whisky Pudding

The tradition to begin Christmas food preparation, inparticular the Christmas Pudding, begins on Stir up Sunday which is the last Sunday before advent. This year falls it falls on 21st November. The term Stir-up Sunday comes from the first verse of the collect for the day and has been adopted by the Anglican church.

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Usually I follow this tradition, but this year due to a hectic diary I made my Christmas Pudding a week early. Of all the traditional festive foods the Christmas Pudding is my favourite, it easily wins over Christmas Cake. Even after being full of a traditional Christmas dinner I can always make way for pudding. I can still remember as  child my dad walking in to the dining room with the pudding all alight.

Many people have traditions when making their puddings from stirring from east to west to represent the 3 kings, having a wish when stirring it and placing a silver coin in the pudding mix. In my case the traditions seem to be how much alcohol I can get in the pudding along with praying it will come out of the mould.

One of the main reasons I make my own pudding (and mincemeat for that matter) is that I’m quite a fussy being when it comes to festive fayre. I’m not a big fan of suet being used it in sweet dishes but use grated butter which works just as well. If it says there is alcohol in it I want to be able to taste it and it must be jam packed with fruit. I also like to experiment with flavours and making these foods heralds the beginning of the festive season for me.

Thanks to my lack of Whisky knowledge, sorry Hubs, this may be one of the most expensive Christmas puddings I’ve ever made. Previous years the fruit has been soaked in Guinness. This year I wanted to use whisky as I though Hubs had quite a collection and we could do with using some of it. I picked up the closest bottle to hand, sloshed a generous amount over the fruit then decided to read the bottle. I had only gone and picked up some of Hubs’ expensive whisky and used £15 of it in the pudding. I then had a sip of it and had used a peaty whisky. I will admit this does dominate the flavour of the pudding, but by the time it is served in December the intensity of the whisky should hopefully mellow a bit and the spices become more dominant. If you didn’t want to be so extravagant with the alcohol replace some or all with orange juice.

Since making my own Christmas pudding I’ve always wanted to try a spherical mould for curoisity and nostalgic reasons. Bizarrely it looks a bit like a cyberman. I now know from experience why these moulds have gone out of fashion. Eventhough I had buttered the mould I had a few tense moments getting the pudding out of the mould and did wonder if we were going to get two crumbled hemispheres. Due to the pudding being a sphere we also had a few hairy moments when the newly released pudding started to roll on the worktop, cue flashbacks of On Top of Spaghetti.  This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t use the mould again. It would work really well for other steamed pudding along with desserts like icecream bombe. The coking instruction below are for making it in a pudding basin rather than a mould.

Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up and bring it in… Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered — flushed, but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.” Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol

Whisky Christmas Pudding
makes 1x 2lb pudding

500g luxury mixed fruit
100g dates, chopped
250ml whisky
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 medium bramley apple, peeled and grated
100g cold butter, grated, plus extra for the basin
100g dark muscovado sugar, plus 2 tbsp
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
50g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 eggs , beaten

1) In a large bowl soak the mixed fruit, dates, orange & lemon zest and apple in the whisky for 24-48 hours.

2) Butter a 2lb pudding bowl then lightly coat the butter in 2tbsp of muscovado sugar by slowly tipping and turning the bowl.

3) Add the remaining ingredients to the fruit that has been soaking. Stir until well combined. Spoon into the basin and level.

4) Take a sheet or foil and greaseproof and make a pleat in the middle (this allows for the expanding pudding). Place over the top of the pudding bowl, greasproof paper side down, and fix in place with string.

5) Sit the pudding bowl on top of an upturned heatproof saucer inside a saucepan. Pour boiling water half the way up the pudding. Cover and steam for 6 hours. Top water up as required.

6. Once the pudding is cooked cover with fresh greasproof paper and foil. Store in a cool dry place. To reheat either cook in the microwave (minus the foil), on medium, for 10 or steam for a further hour.

Chorley Cakes

Chorley Cakes have been on my Must Bake list for while. Recipes for these lesser known cakes are quite elusive, even my trusty collection of vintage cookbooks couldn’t provide me with a full recipe, however as a teenager growing up on the Merseyside/Lancashire border it wasn’t unknown for me to make these in Home Ec so these are my version from what I can remember.

They are very much known as being a cake where each household had their own version but still remaining as a frugal bake with less ingredients than it’s slightly fancier cousin the Eccles Cake. The Eccles Cake is sweeter than the Chorley Cake and is made with puff/flaky pastry plus another regional variation is the East Lancashire’s Sad Cake essentially being a giant Chorley Cake that is cut into slices like pizza. The best way to eat Chorley Cakes is very slightly warm with a thin layer of butter and a small piece of crumbly Lancashire cheese.

I may us the Chorley Cake method for making mince pies this year, similar to when I’ve made Eccles Mince Pies in the past. It’s also likely I will make these with my pupils in the near future as it is good practice at making shortcrust pastry. The addition of baking powder to the pastry helps make the pastry lighter. As with any pastry remember to use chilled ingredients to stop the fat melting and separating from the flour.

Chorley Cakes
Makes 12 cakes

For the pastry

225g plain flour

110g cold butter, cubed

Pinch of salt

1 tsp baking powder

cold water

for the filling

25g butter

1 tbsp sugar (optional)

small amount of grated nutmeg

50g currants, sultanas or rasins

1 egg, beaten

1) In a bowl sieve in flour, salt and baking powder. Rub in the butter until you have a breadcrumb consistency then add the chilled water 1 TBSP at a time until you have a nice dough. Press dough into a disk, cover in clingfilm and chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2) Melt the butter then stir in the sugar, nutmeg and currants.

3) Roll the dough out until 5mm thick. Cut out a disk approximately 8cm in diameter.

4) Place 1 tbsp of the mixture in the middle of the disk and fold in the edges so the mixture is covered. Flip over so the seal is facing the surface then roll until the currants are beginning to show through the pastry. Place on a lined baking tray.

5) Once all of the pastry has been used, brush all the cakes with beaten egg then bake for 10-15 at 200°c until golden.

Long awaited Hot Cross Buns

I’ve been trying to bake the perfect Hot Cross Buns for the last few Easters and until now these doughy treats had eluded me. Past Hot Cross Buns have resembled rock cakes, the crosses had dribbled off or they were frankly inedible.

Deciding not to be beaten, this year I decided to consult my bread bible, Bread: River Cottage Handbook. I’ve used it for many recipes in the past including focaccia and bagels and never has it let me down. The reason I love this book so much is that not only does it produce great recipes, it isn’t patronising (like lots of bread baking books can be) and it advises how you can adapt the recipes and make them your own.

The one thing I accidently missed out of the recipe was the egg, this is added to enrich the dough. Given I forgot it, the buns still tasted delicious. Especially warm from the oven, split and slathered in butter. I think this recipe may be making appearance outside the Easter season minus the crosses. But then again, if the supermarkets are anything to go by it’s Easter all year round. Trust me, these homemade versions are worth waiting for.

Hot Cross Buns
From Bread: River Cottage Handbook – Dan Stevens
Makes 8 large buns

250g strong white bread flour
250g plain white flour
1 tsp mixed spice
125ml milk, at room temperature
125ml water, at room temperature
7g fast action yeast
10g fine salt
50g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g butter, softened
100g dried mixed fruit

For the crosses:
plain flour
water

For the glaze:
2 tbsp apricot jam (you could also use marmalade)
2 tbsp water

1) Combine all of the dough ingredients and knead for 10 minutes until you have soft, elastic dough. Shape into a round and leave to rise until doubled in size. In our house this usually takes 1-2 hours.

2) Once the dough has doubled in size knock back the dough and divide into 8 equal pieces. Shape into buns and leave on a floured board, covered with a clean tea towel, to prove for 30 min.

3) Preheat oven to 200°c. Transfer the buns onto a floured baking tray. Mix together a small amount of plain flour & water until you have a thick paste. Pipe the crosses onto the buns. Bake for 15-20 min until risen and golden.

4) While the buns are still hot, mix together the two glaze ingredients then brush over the buns. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Derbyshire Fidgety Pie

This pie has been in the planning for a while. To celebrate British Food Fortnight I knew I wanted to bake a traditional Derbyshire dish, ideally savory and with pasty. Inspiration came from the most random of places – the latest East Midlands National Trust newsletter. In the newsletter it mentioned the traditional Derbyshire Fidgety Pie. Not a pie I had heard of before, but gave me more of a challenge to try it. Another reason for wanting to use pastry was so I could use my Made in England rolling pin. I don’t use it as much as my wooden or marble rolling pin as it is quite delicate, but I love it!

Hubby’s family originate from South Derbyshire where this pie has its roots. There are various variations of this pie throughout the Midlands, where they are usually called Fidget Pie. Some with cider, some with ham, some with gammon along with some additional ingredients.

This pie is a traditional dish served to people working in the field through harvest. Essentially it is the Midland’s version of the Cornish Pasty as it is a portable, filling meal. It is thought to have got its name from the fact it traditionally was fitched (5-sided) in shape. The key vegetables in a fidgety pie is apples and onions which are plentiful during the harvest and of course these vegetables go well with pork. This version should have raisins in it, but I left them out as I don’t like them in savory dishes. Given this ingredient not being used it still made a surprisingly hearty & flavoursome dish.

Rather than baking a pie with both pastry on the top and bottom (trying to make it slightly kinder to the hips!) I baked it in aMason Cash pie dish (made in Derbyshire). In keeping with the South Derbyshire theme I also used smoked bacon from the best butchers around – Chantry Farm Shop in Kings Newton near Melbourne. If your ever near I beg you to pop in. Their meat is second to none and well worth the trip. Hubby & I really enjoyed the pie and I was surprised as to how tasty it was. Perfect for these Autumnal evenings.

Now, you can truly say that this pie has been Made in England.

Derbyshire Fidgety Pie
Makes 2 individual pies

225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
110g butter
cold water
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 small/medium potatoes, thinly sliced
1 apple, cored and finely sliced
4 rashers of bacon
400ml beef stock
thyme
seasoning
1 egg

1) First get started on the pastry. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

2) Add the chilled water a small amount at a time and mix with a knife until you have a good dough. Roll into a ball, cover in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 min.

3) Preheat oven to 190oc. Fry off the bacon. At the bottom of each individual pie dish line with a layer of half of the sliced potatoes, then all the onions and apple. Sprinkle with black pepper and thyme then layer with the bacon and the rest of the potato. Pour over the beef stock (200ml per pie dish).

4) Roll out the pastry until around 5mm thick. Top the pie with pastry and trim to fit. Make 2 slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape then brush with egg.

5) Bake for 20min until pastry is golden and filling is cooked. Traditionally it is served on its own, but would go well with a side of vegetables.

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