Saturday, 23 December 2006

Mince pies

This week's Christmas preparations included baking mince pies and apple pies (for he-who-does-not-like-
Christmas-pudding, namely Tevye). The less said about the apple pies the better, as I forgot to set the timer to remind me to turn the gas down part way through cooking them and they got frazzled. Tevye assures me he will still enjoy them, but I'm afraid they are only just the right side of the fine line between edible and inedible. Fortunately the mince pies came out well.

The recipe I use for mince pies comes from Cooking for Your Freezer by Mary Berry (one of a series of slim volumes sold by Marks and Spencer many years ago) ...

1 lb (4 cups) self-raising flour
4 oz (½ cup) butter
4 oz (½ cup) hard margarine
2 oz (¼ cup) lard
1 egg, separated
1½ lb mincemeat
A little castor sugar

Sieve flour into a bowl (I don't bother with the sieving)
Add butter, margarine and lard cut in small pieces, then rub into the flour until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
Add the egg yolk with enough milk to make a firm dough
Knead until blended then chill dough in refrigerator for 20 minutes
Roll out half the dough thinly. Cut out about 35 circles 2¾ inches in diameter and use to line pie tins. (I use slightly larger cutters and get about 30 pies)
Fill with mincemeat
Roll out remaining dough and cutout 35 circles 2¼ inches in diameter for lids
Wet edges of the dough circles in the tin and press the lids on gently to seal.
Brush tops of pies with beaten egg white, dust with a little sugar.
Bake at 400ºF / 200ºC / Gas Mk 6 for 20 minutes, or until pastry is crisp and golden brown.
Leave to cool in tins.

Pies can be frozen. To serve hot (from frozen) replace in tinsand reheat at same temperature for 25 minutes.

I have made my own mincemeat, but decided the ready-made version was just as nice and much easier. It is widely available here, including various luxury varieties. If you want to make your own, this recipe should do nicely. I haven't tried it myself, but it comes from a reliable book - 1000 Freezer Recipes ed. Carole Handslip and Jeni Wright. I bought this used for £1 years ago, and it has become my most used cookery book. Recipes are simple and they work. It also gives both British and American measures, making it a very useful source for kitchen-type translations.

1 lb (4 cups) seedless raisins, finely chopped or minced (ground)
½ lb cooking apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped or minced
4 oz (2/3 cup) candied peel, finely chopped or minced
3/4 lb (2 cups) currants
½ lb (1 1/3 cups) sultanas (seedless white raisins)
6 oz (1 cup, firmly packed) shredded suet
½ teaspoon ground mixed spice (or ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg and ¼ teaspoon of a mixture of ground allspice and cloves)
finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
1 b (2 2/3 cups) light brown sugar
6 tablespoons dry cider (dry hard cider)

Put all ingredients in a bowl and stir well to mix. Cover the bowl, leave to stand overnight, then spoon into small rigid containers or freezer-proof jars.

If frozen, thaw at room temperature for 3 hours, then store in the refrigerator. Makes about 5lbs. That would fill an lot of mince pies (about 100). I would only make half quantity.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006


It is the festival of Hannukah, when Jewish families remember how a tiny remnant of oil kept the light burning in the Temple of Jerusalem for eight days. It is traditional to celebrate with food cooked in oil ... typically latkes and doughnuts. Everyone in our family considers latkes a huge treat, so I always try to cook them at least twice during the eight days of Hannukah. The recipe I use is a recipe for children included inTevye's synagogue newsletter a few years ago.

4 large potatoes
3 tablespoons plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

Peel and grate the potatoes. Drain off excess liquid.
Beat the eggs.
Add all the other ingredients to the potatoes and mix well.
Heat oil in a frying pan (skillet?) - I use oil about ¼inch deep.
Drop mixture into pan by tablespoons and flatten slightly.
Fry on both sides until brown.
Drain on paper towels.

Traditionally served with apple sauce or sugar, though some people prefer tomato ketchup! Great with salt beef.

Rebecca posted a recipe for German potato pancakes on her Heart of the Kitchen blog a while ago, and the recipes are very similar ... definitely central European comfort food.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Cake decoration ... and an egg bomb!

We belong to a small, local, Christian homeschooling group that organises an activity once a month. Today's was cake decorating. We had to take along our own cakes ... Star opted for a chocolate sponge she made herself, and I made a plain sponge for Angel, who is kitchen phobic (a less kind but more accurate description might be lazy!). This is what the kitchen looks like when Star bakes:

Note particularly the drainer, where it appears an egg explosion had taken place.
Star normally gets me to crack eggs for her, but as I had a sleeping baby on my lap she tried to do it herself. According to Angel her method was more crushing than cracking, which explains why the first egg-and-a-half missed the bowl entirely. After that Angel graciously consented to do something cookery-ish and cracked them for her.

If you wonder about the table lamp on the kitchen side, it is there because the kitchen light has broken. This is a huge irritation in my life, but has not yet been irritating enough for long enough to force us to call an electrician to fix it.

The cake decorating was fun, and went remarkably smoothly considering the wide age range of the decorators. They learned how to roll icing (frosting) and cover the cake neatly, and how to make marzipan fruits. Then they were given a free hand to decorate and trim their cakes. Angel's is on the left, Star's on the right.

Monday, 11 December 2006

All in the genes?

Not that I claim to be anything out of the ordinary as a cook, but if there is such a thing as a cooking gene, this is where mine comes from ...

My great-grandmother, Frances Elizabeth Dugdale. Born in a North Yorkshire village in the 1860s she went into service in her teens as a kitchen maid at Nunnington Hall. Later she became a cook, I believe at Harewood House near Leeds where she would have worked in this old kitchen.

This photo is another decluttering find. Would that there were recipes to go with it!

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Katie Morag's Porridgies

This afternoon Star and I made "porridgies" (flapjacks). Star used to enjoy the Katie Morag stories by Mairi Hedderwick. So did I ... they are nice gentle picture books about a little girl living on a Scottish island with her mother and grandparents, if I remember rightly.* Three or four years ago we borrowed a Katie Morag collected storybook (title long forgotten!) from the library which included this recipe, and have used it ever since. It is quick, easy and child friendly (though my tolerance for stickiness isn't high enough to let Star loose with the golden syrup!).


100g / 4oz butter
75g / 3oz soft brown sugar
30ml / 2 tablespoons golden syrup (light corn syrup)
200g / 8oz rolled oats (porridge oats)
pinch of salt


Melt butter in a large pan over a low heat.
Add sugar and syrup and salt. Mix well.
Stir in rolled oats. Mix very well.
Spread mixture evenly in tray with palette knife.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, till goldie brown.
Take out of oven. Let cool a little.
Mark in squares or fingers with knife.
Leave in tray till cold.
Put pieces in an airtight tin.

* One caveat: Katie Morag's parents are divorced or separated, though this is more apparent in some books than others.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

My Naughty Little Sister makes Christmas puddings

Have you met My Naughty Little Sister? If not, then I recommend her for small girls, from around age four upwards. She gets up to lots of mischief, but of a gentle, old-fashioned kind. And "big sister" who tells the stories is always suitable shocked. In one book little sister actually manages to be good, and one of the things she does while being good is help her Grannie to make Christmas puddings to take her mind of the firework bangs on Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes night, November 5th) ...
Grannie's big kitchen table looked just like a shop, there were so many things on it. There were jars and bottles and packets, full of currants and sultanas and raisins and ginger and candied eel and a big heap of suet on a board, and a big heap of brown sugar on a plate. There were apples and oranges and lemons, and even some big clean carrots!

There was a big brown bowl standing on a chair that had a big, big, wooden spoon in it. And on the draining board were lots of white basins.

Can you guess? My sister couldn't. She didn't know what all this stuff was for, so Grannie said, 'We are going to make the Family Christmas Puddings. I always make one for every one of my children every year. And I always make them on Bonfire night. It takes my mind of the bangs.'

My sister was very surprised to hear this, and to know that all these lovely things to eat were going to be made into Christmas Puddings.

Grannie said, 'You can help me, and it will take your mind off the bangs, too.' ...

... When all the things had been put into the brown bowl, Grannie began to mix and mix with the big spoon. She gave my sister a little wooden spoon so that she could mix too.

Then, Grannie said, 'Now you must shut your eyes and stir, and make wish. You always wish on a Christmas pudding mixture.'

And my sister did. She shut her eyes and turned her spoon round and round. Then Grannie shut her eyes and wished.

My sister said, 'I wished I could come and help you next Bonfire night, Grannie'

And Grannie said, 'Well, Missy, that was just what I wished too!'

Then my sister sat quietly by the fire while our grandmother put the pudding mixture into all the basins, and covered them with paper and tied them with cloth.
[From When My Naughty Little Sister Was Good by Dorothy Edwards]

Christmas Puddings - Errata!

If you are planning to use my Christmas pudding recipe, you need to know that they do not keep as long as I first wrote in the recipe post. Apparently, the reason they are still OK to eat at Easter is because my Mum keeps them in the freezer! She tells me that they will keep for about six weeks unfrozen.

Also, I forgot to add one vital piece of information ... when making Christmas puddings, tradition is that everyone gets to stir the pudding and make a wish. Can't miss that out!

Monday, 4 December 2006

The puddings are made!

Star and I made this "stir-up Monday" (a little license there!) and made our Christmas puddings.

Lots of ingredients ...

Measuring them out ...

A good stir (and don't forget to make a wish!) ...

Four puddings almost ready for the pot ...

Full steam ahead!