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Nut-ella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh…

After another night of snow showers today is yet another Snow Day. I have been to work this week, honest! This inturn lead to a slight Nutella crisis. Today is officially World Nutella Day and it is paramount I eat Nutella on this important day. World Nutella Day this year is being hosted by Sarah from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso.

Now, usually I have always have jar of the sweet chocolatiness in the cupboard for those spoon-straight-in-the-jar emergencies but after making Nutella & Peanut Butter Brownies for Hubby’s workmates I forgot to pick up a jar. Snowed in and a 2 hour walk for Nutella I decided to see if it is possible to make Nutella from scratch. Lo and behold Su Good Sweets came to my rescue.

Now, the major difference between Nutella and my version was that I didn’t have any hazelnuts in, so instead used cashew nuts and almonds. I also used rapeseed oil as it has a pleasant nutty taste. Although I think I may have nearly killed my food processor in the making of this nutty chocolate butter it was worth it. It’s not quite a smooth as tradition Nutella, but just as delicious. It was interesting watching the nuts turn from the whole nuts into a paste. My home-made Nutella certainly helped the with Nutella craving that was going to go unsatisfied otherwise. I’d be interested to try it again with hazelnuts.

Vegan & Gluten-Free Mince Pies

We are entering one of the dreaded weeks for people who work in education. As one colleague calls is “Nativity & Glitter Week”. The kids are on a high, nothing gets done, Joseph gets stage fright, a shepherd will pick his nose then eat it, the recorders are as squeaky as ever and Mary suddenly discovers a penchant for sucking her toes…mid nativity.

Rather than giving presents out to fellow workmates I usually make a batch of festive goodies. As it was Xmas and not all my workmates can eat my eccles mince pies, I decided to have a go at making vegan, wheat-free mince pies. Not only the pastry had to be vegan, but also the mincemeat. It just so happened that the brand of cider & rum I used in the suet-free mincemeat I made a few weeks back was also vegan. This was a new departure in baking for me. Before now the only vegan baking I have ever had the courage to attempt is flapjacks.

The first task was to find a gluten free flour alternative. Sainsburys came to the rescue when I noticed they sold Dove’s Farm Gluten Free Flour Blend. I was anticipating me having to make my own flour blend. It has a slightly different texture to conventional plain flour, in a kind of way squeakier. The butter replacement was easy, Pure Sunflower Spread. I’ve used it in cooking before with no problems and it is readily available.

One tip I picked up while reading around about using gluten free flour is that at first it looks gloopy, resist the urge to add more flour because once it has rested for a bit the flour absorbs the liquid and it magically turns into the right consistency.

I have to admit these mince pies were a triumph. I don’t know why I had been so scared about them. The pastry was perfect and my non-vegan friends also really enjoyed them. I’ll certainly be making this pastry again.

Vegan & Gluten-Free mince pies
Makes 12

200g Gluten-free plain flour
125g Vegan spread/butter substitute
1 tbsp icing sugar
4 tbsp orange juice
200g mincemeat Suet-free mincemeat (just make sure you use vegan cider. All rums are considered vegan)

1) Rub the spread into the flour until you have the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Stir in icing sugar, then orange juice and combine until you have a soft dough. Don’t worry if it looks too wet at this stage.

2) Press the dough into a thickened disk shape, cover in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 min.

3) Preheat oven to 180oc. Roll out pastry until it is about 4mm thick. Using a 9cm biscuit cutter, cut out rounds and press gently into a regular cupcake tray. Fill each pie with around 1 dsp of mincemeat.

4) Using the remaining pastry cut out shapes and place on top of the mincemeat. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 min, until pastry is golden. Allow the pies to cool in the tin for a short while before placing on a wire rack.

Suet-free mincemeat

It’s official, I now feel Christmassy. First thing this morning we were in Derby for Hubby to do an exam so I took the opportunity to visit the huge new shopping center there and found a fab cook shop, so naturally had to buy a new sieve and silicon pastry brush. I could have spent a great deal more if Christmas wasn’t just around the corner. The Salvation Army band were playing Christmas songs which gave a great festive air.

On the way home we picked up our Christmas tree…which strangely smells of Gin & Tonic (not that I’m complaining!) and decorated it while drinking mulled wine.

Then this evening, at our local National Trust park, they had an illuminated Christmas tree trail. During the day families had decorated various trees with decorations made from recycled products (e.g. CD’s, plastic bottles) then as night fell candles were lit everywhere. It looked beautiful. I didn’t take my camera as usually photography isn’t allowed, but I noticed loads of people were taking pics so I might go back with my camera Sunday night.

Today I eventually got around to make my mincemeat ready for the marathon Christmas baking fest on Sunday. I don’t know why, but I’m funny about suet in mincemeat so I was really happy when I came across this recipe in Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess a few years back. The only alteration I made was to add cranberries.

Hettie Potter’s suet-free mincemeat
Makes about 2kg

250g soft dark sugar
250ml medium dry cider
1 kg cooking apples, peeled, halved and quartered
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
250g currants
250g raisins
250g cranberries
75g glace cherries, roughly chopped
75g blanched almonds,
finely chopped rind and juice of 1/2 lemon
6 tbsp brandy or rum

In large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the cider over a gentle heat. Add the roughly chopped apples to the saucepan. Add all the ingredients, apart from brandy/rum and simmer for around 30 min until everything has a pulpy consistency. Take off the heat and when it has cooled slightly stir in brandy/rum.

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