Tag Archives: mace

Nordic Inspiration

Today is a bit of a special offer, as I’m going to share not just one but two recipes on an autumnal theme. This all seems very fitting, as my morning walk to the local underground station had definitely changed from being warm or even just cool, and is now decidedly crisp with a little prickle of cold in the air.

I’ve been busy in the kitchen making cinnamon buns. I actually make them quite often, and took a batch to work last week for my birthday. I think they lasted less than three minutes, and I got five requests for the recipe. The lesson? If you’re keen to be a much-loved co-worker, fresh and buttery baked goods will always go down well. However, this time I’ve add a twist to my standard recipe. In addition to the buttery cinnamon filling, I’ve added a rich seam of apple jam running though them, with the seasonal flavours of apple and spice joining forces.

My inspiration came from an event at the Nordic Bakery in London a few days ago. In celebration of Cinnamon Bun Day on 4 October, they are offering five daily specials over the course of this week. I think it’s a great idea to put a twist on the classic, and I find it rather amusing that the Swedish idea of celebrating them for one day has been taken by people from Finland, extended to a week, and thereby made better. Below you can get a bit of an idea of their tasty Finnish wares from a visit to their branch near Piccadilly Circus during summer.

Nordic Bakery 1

The five flavours on offer are lemon and raisin, blueberry, almond and custard, apple jam and finally chocolate buttons. As we’re just heading into day five of five, I’m afraid you’ve missed most of them, but you can still nab the apple jam version on Friday.

I also had a chat with Miisa Mink, the lady behind the Nordic Bakery, and she shared her ideas about selecting flavours. The apple jam ones were a traditional Finnish ingredient and a favourite of her father. My verdict on the five flavours was that the blueberry and chocolate versions were good, but the apple jam was a bit of a star for me (maybe something to do with a strategic selection of the piece that had the largest pieces of jammy fruit peeking out from between the layers of pastry?). You can see some of them below – yes, they’re cut into pieces, but really, who could eat five whole buns and remain standing at the end of it all? I mean, I tried my best, but I did have to admit defeat eventually!

NordicComposite

So, if you’re a cinnamon bun fan and want to try these specialities, head to the Nordic Bakery. Otherwise, do as I did, and draw on them for a bit of inspiration.

Yes, after I had tried those apple jam buns, I decided that I would try to make something similar. My first task was to make the most of a few organic apples that were languishing in my kitchen and starting to look just a little bit forlorn. OK, that is perhaps a bit harsh – they actually looked more like real apples should look, with varying colours, sizes and a few little bumps and bruises.

autumnapples

Unlike some of the other jams that can involve a fair bit of work to prepare the fruit, this one was easy. Peel, core, chop, add sugar and boil. Very easy, and the apples were transformed into something sweet, sticky and delicious with a rather pretty soft pink colour. If you’re only looking for a way to use up apples, then you can just make the jam, and look to flavour it with whatever spices you like – cinnamon and apple is classic, but you could get good results with cardamom, star anise or cloves (just be sure that you get the amount of spice right – with cloves in particular, a little goes a long way!). And there you go…first recipe of the day!

However, the real fun comes when you add the apple jam as a filling into cinnamon buns. I tweaked my standard recipe by omitting the cardamom that usually goes into the dough, and replacing it with nutmeg. I also swapped out the white sugar for soft brown sugar, and instead of the usual sprinkling of white pearl sugar, I gave them a shiny coating of brown sugar glaze. The result? Pinwheels of warm, delicious, apple-infused goodness.

applejamcinnamonbuns1

As you can see, not a bad result! And thanks have to go do Nordic Bakery for giving me the idea to have a go at them at home. I urge you to try them, but if you’re feeling a bit lazy/desperate but still want to get into the celebratory spirit of Cinnamon Bun Day, you can still hot foot it down there and nab the apple jam buns today!

applejamcinnamonbuns2

Full disclosure: I didn’t get paid for writing this post. I just positioned myself next to the table when the five types of bun were revealed and ate A LOT of them during my visit!

To make Apple Jam Cinnamon Buns (makes 12):

For the apple jam:

• 450g peeled apples, finely chopped
• 250g jam sugar (with pectin)
• 1 lemon, juice only

1. Put the apples into a saucepan with some water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until soft.

2. Add the sugar, and simmer gently until it is dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil, then cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, then test from time to time for a set. You want a slightly soft set – the fruit should be “jammy” but it should not be thick or stiff.

3. Once the jam is ready, put to one side and leave to cool.

For the filling:

• 70g butter, soft
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• all the cooled apple jam

1. Mix the butter and cinnamon until smooth, then fold in the apple jam.

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g brown sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour

1. First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

2a. If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2b. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, cardamom and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into the largest rectangle you can. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

4. Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp teacloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

5. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden. If they are browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

6. When the buns are done, remove from the oven and brush them while still warm with the hot glaze.

For the glaze:

• 50g soft brown sugar
• 50ml water

1. Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil for about a minute.

Worth making? Utterly delicious! These are like compact apple pies and add a whole new dimension to making cinnamon buns. I’m a convert!

Advertisements

19 Comments

Filed under London, On Location, Recipe, Sweet Things

Independence Day Cake

It’s the Fourth of July, so here is a little cake in honour of US Independence Day! It’s my take on a recipe for the late 1700s – based on a bundt cake, and finished with gold in honour of the big day.

independence_cake_2

independence_cake_1

There is a little bit of a story behind this recipe. I found the original in one of my cookbooks, which features cake recipes from around the world. Among them all was a gem of a recipe of Herculean proportions and with little by way of directions. The limited information was all down to the fact this recipe originated in the late 1700s. Rather than just updating it, the author cleverly presented in all its glory, with original directions as follows:

Independence Day Cake by Amelia Simmons (1796)

The Cake:

• 20 pounds flour
• 15 pounds sugar
• 10 pounds butter
• 48 eggs
• 1 quart wine
• 1 quart brandy
• 1 ounce nutmeg
• 1 ounce cinnamon
• 1 ounce cloves
• 1 ounce mace
• 2 pounds citron peel
• 5 pounds currants
• 5 pounds raisins
• 1 quart yeast

Topping

• crushed loaf sugar
• box cuttings
• gold leaf

Sadly, the temperature of the baking oven was not given, but I would imagine it would need to be cooked slowly. If you do try and succeed do let me know.

And you know what? It was that last sentence that got me. This was not a “tested” recipe of the sort we’re all used to…but…what if I were to take that recipe…convert into measurements that are not so voluminous, and try to make this into a cake? With that, a challenge was set.

Before I could convert this lot, I was faced with a few decisions that were going to test my culinary knowledge. First off, I had to get the types of ingredients right. The butter was pretty easy (it’s a safe bet that the butter we have today is not unlike the butter available back in the 1700s), but the sugar was less clear. Should it be white or brown? While I like to use muscovado sugar in baking, this was supposed to be a celebratory bake, so I opted for sparkling white caster sugar. Next, the flour. In cakes, it should be plain flour. However, when making yeasted doughs, I use strong white flour that gives a light, springy texture. I didn’t know which to go with, so given this was more cake than bread, it would be plain cake flour. Luckily the spices, citrus peel and dried fruit did not require much thinking, otherwise I would have been in the kitchen all day fretting!

The method also presented something of a challenge. I started by weighing everything out into bowls, and then I was own my own – pure guesswork territory. I creamed the butter and sugar, added the eggs, then the flour and the yeast mixture. After that, the fruit was worked into the batter, and I left the cake to rise for a few hours.

Sadly…the cake had other ideas, and decided that it didn’t really want to puff up as I had hoped. Instead, it remained dense. All in all, a bit of a failure.

I was deflated but not defeated. A few days later, I had another go at the cake, but this time embraced the fact that the world of baking has moved on since the 1700s, and we now benefit from a magic substance called baking powder. I could skip the whole yeast thing, and instead rely on the white stuff to do the job. And this time, the cake worked like a dream. The crumb is tender and moist, and the cake has a rich, velvety texture that works very well with the spices, citrus peel and dried fruits.

independence_cake_3

independence_cake_4

Now, we also need to keep in mind that this is a cake to celebrate Independence Day. The original recipe suggests loaf sugar, box cuttings and gold leaf. I’ll freely admit that I have no clue was is meant by box cuttings (leaves from the box hedge plant?), and I didn’t have loaf sugar to hand. So again, I improvised – a simple glaze, drizzled in loops on top of the cake, and then finished, as was intended, with some flakes of gold leaf. Very celebratory!

So what do you think? Suitably impressive for the Fourth of July? I’d like to think so, and I hope that Miss Amelia Simmonds would too.

To make an Independence Day Cake (modern version!):

• 4 tablespoons rum
• 60g citrus peel, chopped
• 90g currants
• 90g sultanas
• 190g butter
• 280g sugar
• 2 eggs
• 350g self-raising flour

• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon mace
• 150ml milk

For the glaze

• 85g icing sugar
• 4-5 teaspoons double cream
• gold leaf

1. Put the rum, raisins, sultanas and citrus peel into a bowl. Mix, cover and leave to sit overnight (or if you’re in a hurry, heat quickly in the microwave and leave to sit on the kitchen top for an hour).

2. Prepare a cake pan. If using a bundt pan, brush with melted butter, then dust with plain flour. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

3. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the spices and mix well.

4. Combine the flour and the baking powder. Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter, and mix until smooth. Repeat with the rest of the flour and the milk. You should have a smooth batter that drops slowly from the back of a spoon.

5. Finally, fold in the currants, sultanas and citrus peel.

6. Spoon the mixture into the cake pan and bake for around 45-60 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Once baked, remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

7. To finish the cake, make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and cream. Mix until smooth – it should be soft, but not runny. Drizzle on top of the cake, then add flakes of gold leaf to finish the cake.

Worth making? In spite of all this history and the fact I’ve had to convert this cake into modern quantities, this is a great cake – spicy and fruity, but not heavy. This would make a great and lighter alternative to traditional fruit cakes.

8 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Winter Slaw Salad

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been trying to empty the fridge and cupboards after the excesses of Christmas. This often prompts a strange array of dishes with a random festive ingredient, or what can seem like an endless supply of Clementine juice…and there is that stray jar of mincemeat that needs to be used up…somehow!

Today’s recipe addresses this, as it allows you to use up a few winter vegetables to make a colourful and healthy coleslaw salad, full of raw vegetables with lots of fibre, which makes for a comforting side dish. The sort of thing that works very well alongside baked potatoes with butter. It is, after all, snowing outside, and that’s not the sort of weather that you want to eat only cold raw veggies, is it?

winterslaw3

I have to fess up to the fact that I’ve seen a few versions of winter slaw around recently, so this is something of an amalgam of those ideas. However, I’ve made this recipe based on what I had in the cupboard (I’ve tended to buy very little since Christmas other than milk and bread!), and lends itself to endless tweaking based on what you have to hand. I’ve just used some red cabbage, Brussel sprouts, fennel, carrot and apple, and the sauce is made from mayo and sour cream that has been enlivened with some spicy harissa paste and allspice. Sometimes just going with what you have to hand is a great way to come up with exciting flavour combinations. But you might just want to stop short of crumbling some left-over Christmas pudding on top, eh? The only thing I would suggest you make sure you do is to shred the veg as finely as you can – it means all the sauce will get mopped up, and of course it looks all the more dramatic on the table. If you want to go even further, top with some chopped fresh herbs (dill being a bit of a seasonal favourite at the moment) or some chopped toasted almonds or pistachios.

winterslaw2

winterslaw1

To make winter slaw:

For the slaw:

• 1/2 small red cabbage
• 1 small fennel bulb
• 2 large carrots
• handful of Brussel sprouts
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/2 lemon, juice only

For the sauce:

• 2 large tablespoons mayonnaise
2 large tablespoons sour cream
• 1/4 teaspoon harissa or chilli paste

• squeeze runny honey
• 1/2 teaspoons mustard
• 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
• 1/8 teaspoon allspice
• pinch ground mace
• salt and pepper, to taste

1. Start with the sauce – put everything into a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.

2. Prepare the slaw – put the olive oil and lemon in a large bowl (you’ll add the vegetables as you go, and tossing in the lemon juice will stop them from getting brown). Peel the carrots, then use the peeler to slice the carrots into thin pieces. Trim the fennel and cut lengthways into very thin pieces. Peel and core the apple and finely slice. Peel the sprouts and shred. Last of all, finely shred the cabbage as thinly as you can. Put everything into a large bowl with the olive oil and lemon juice, and toss gently to ensure the vegetables are coated.

3. Just before serving, pour the sauce over the slaw and toss gently to make sure all the vegetables are coated.

Worth making? Nice and easy, and a great way to use up a glut of veg. The sauce is the place where you can get very creative – allowing you to make sure the slaw sits well with other dishes.

1 Comment

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

{10} Panforte

As we get close and close to the big day, the Christmas baking gets grander and grander. I’m not going the whole hog and making a Christmas cake, but the Italian panforte gets pretty close. This is a real step up from small biscuits, and looks, smells and tastes amazing!

panforte_2

Panforte, Italian for “strong bread”, is not much more than lots of toasted almonds and hazelnuts paired with candied citrus peel and fruit, flavoured with spices and then bound together by a sugar and honey syrup. The result is rich, incredibly rich, but it really does have a flavour that can be described as the essence of Christmas. It’s also the sort of thing that you can have sitting somewhere, so you or guests can cut off the occasional sliver to enjoy with coffee or as an evening treat with a glass of liqueur.

This cake is a tradition from the Italian city of Siena. There are two versions, essentially white (as I’ve made here) and black, which is made with more dried fruits (such as figs and sultanas) and cocoa. It’s just a matter of personal choice which you prefer, but I like the former.

I’ve seen some recipes that say panforte should contain seventeen ingredients. This is said to link back to the number of districts within the city walls of Siena, and I quite liked the idea of trying to do this. It means you’re forced to add a bit of variety in terms of the ingredients. In my recipe, if you ignore the water in the syrup, but count the mixed peel (orange, lemon and citron) as three different ingredients, I did indeed get to the magic number. What does matter, however, is that if you’re going to make one of these, you need to go with the right ingredients, and try to use good nuts and candied peel. Almonds and hazelnuts are traditional, but I’m sure good pecans or walnuts would do the trick, but I’d  perhaps draw the line at putting peanuts in there! The candied peel is a must though – I used part candied peel and part papaya for the fruit, and while you could skip the papaya and instead use pineapple, apricots or even preserved pear, you should not miss out the citrus entirely. It’s such a fundamental part of the flavour.

You’ll see a lot of versions of panforte, from thick and even cakes in stores to my more “rustic” version. The rougher look is due to using whole nuts, rather than chopping then. You can chop the almonds and hazelnuts, but if you do, you don’t get the amazing look when you cut the slices. In addition, as the cake is so rich, I’ve kept it thin. When you taste how rich it is, you won’t feel the need to make a deeper panforte, as a little really does go a long way!

So there you have it – an Italian option in place of Christmas cake, and it’s not too late to make this – 20 minutes to prepare, and 30 minutes to bake. You’ve still got time!

panforte_1

To make Panforte:

• 100g almonds, skinned
• 100g hazelnuts, skinned
• 100g candied citrus peel (I used orange, lemon and citron)
• 135g candied fruit (such as papaya or melon)
• 50g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
• 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
• pinch black pepper
• 50g honey (I used orange blossom)
• 150g white sugar
• 25g butter
• cold water

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a 20cm (8 inch) loose-bottomed tin with butter. Line with rice paper (if using).

2. Put the hazelnuts and almonds onto another baking tray and toast in the oven until just starting to colour. Remove from the oven and put into a large bowl.

3. As the nuts are cooling, cut the peel and papaya/mango into chunks (aim for pea-sized pieces). Add to the nuts.

4. Mix the flour and spices in a bowl. Sieve into the nut/fruit mixture, then stir briefly.

5. Make the syrup – put the honey, sugar and butter into a saucepan with some water. Warm on a medium heat until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (113°C/235°F). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, then drop a little of the syrup into a bowl of very cold water – it should form a soft ball!

6. Pour the hot syrup onto the other ingredients and stir with a spoon until combined. Transfer to the prepared tin. Flatten the mixture with a buttered spoon (or if you have asbestos hands, but butter on your palms and pat the mixture into shape).

7. Bake the panforte for around 30 minutes until the syrup is bubbling. The mixture will firm up when the cake cools. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then transfer to a plate to cool completely(*).

8. When the panforte is cool, dust with icing sugar, and rub lightly with your fingers so a bit of the fruit and nut details are clear. Serve in small slices with coffee or liquer after dinner. Or any time!

(*) If the panforte is difficult to remove from the tin, put it in a warm oven to soften slightly.

Worth making? This is a superb cake, and unbelievably easy compared to just how good the final result tastes.

6 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{2} Queen’s Gingerbread

Earlier this year, we enjoyed the damp festivities of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. At the time, I saw this recipe by Dan Lepard for gingerbread that I wanted to have a go at there and then, but I felt that it really ought to be saved for Christmas. I’ve gone back and looked at it several times since, but finally, finally, it’s time to dust it off and give it a try.

Even before making this recipe, I thought it looked delicious – rather than the light, soft, cake-like gingerbread we’re used to, this looked light something dense and rich, more like Italian panforte. However, as always, I could not resist the urge to make a little tweak, and dropped the dried apricots in place of dates. I though they would add a touch of the exotic to go with the spices.

I was also keen to give this recipe a try early in December to see how the flavours developed when stored. There is certainly a heroic amount of spice in the recipe, and I opted for a robust heather honey that would not be overpowered by the ginger, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon. As of today, it’s a very rich treat, and it does have a very “traditional” flavour that is very welcome on these chilly days. It’s also a nice alternative to very sweet, chocolatey treats that are ubiquitous at this time of the year!

One tip – if you use a pan as per Dan’s recipe, the pieces are around an inch high. If you want smaller pieces, I suggest using a larger pan and adjusting the cooking time accordingly. However, I quite like my diamonds, cut small, yet somehow towering on a plate.

Dan’s recipe refers to this as something the Elizabethans would have called a sweetmeat. This certainly strikes me as something that would, in another time, have seemed like the utter height of luxury. There is a decadent, almost obscene, amount of spice in this recipe, as well as treacle and honey and dried fruit. In the era of Gloriana, this would have been something that only those with rather a lot of money would have been able to afford. The access we have to ingredients these days – we are very blessed indeed!

To make Queen’s Gingerbread (original recipe here):

• 450g plain flour
• 5 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon ground mace
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 150g unsalted butter
• 250g caster sugar
• 150g honey
• 150g black treacle
• 75g candied citrus peel, chopped
• 75g dates, chopped
• 75g preserved ginger, chopped
• 100g unskinned almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line the based of a 20cm square tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Stir well, then sieve to make sure everything is properly mixed.

3. Put the butter, honey, treacle and sugar into a large saucepan. Heat gently until combined and the sugar has melted. Stir in the citrus peel, dates and ginger. Allow to cool until only slightly warm (if too warm, the baking soda will start to react).

4. Add the flour mixture to the saucepan and stir to a thick dough. Press the dough into the tin (you’ll find this is easiest with damp hands).

5. Cut the almonds in half, and sprinkle evenly over the top (some with the white side showing, some with the skin showing). Press lightly into the dough.

6. Bake for around 25 minutes – the dough will be puffed up. Remove from the oven, leave to cool, then cut into diamonds. Store in an airtight container.

Worth making? I love this recipe! In spite of all that sugar and honey, the result is not too sweet, and lends itself to a rich snack with a cup of tea. So far, it seems to keep well, and the flavour is actually nicer after a few days (but also very tasty right away too).

10 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

Koninginnedag: Oranjekoek

You might have noticed that I’ve changed the blog header again. Do you recognise the famous figure?

If you’re still guessing, it’s Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Yes, we’ve reached that time of year again when we go all orange to celebrate the de facto Dutch National Day, Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day. We’ve seen orange-themed mini-cupcakes and boterkoek in previous years, and this time we’re taking it to the maximum – Queen Beatrix is  part of the House of Orange, so what could be more fitting than a cake named after them, the Oranjekoek?

So…Oranjekoek…that’s an orange cake, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s orange in the sense that it is named after the Principality of Orange (Oranje in Dutch) now located in France, rather than the fruit. However, to further confuse matters, it does contain lots of candied orange peel and orange zest, so it’s fair to say that it’s an orange Orange cake. Still with me?

The Oranjekoek itself originates in Frisia, the coastal region in the north of the Netherlands, and was traditionally served at weddings. And if you’re wondering, yes, Frisia is the place that gave the world the famous black-and-white Friesian cow.

In terms of texture, this is not a cake as we might think (soft, fluffy, clad in icing) but more like a firm traybake. You make a rather stiff dough, then knead in the orange peel and flavouring, and during baking, it puffs up a little. Traditionally it’s just the cake and a simple glaze, served with some cream. However, more modern versions also use marzipan in the middle, and I’ve got for this more bling-bling version.

So what do we put into Oranjekoek? I’ve mentioned the candied orange already, but another flavour is aniseed. Obviously you could use aniseed extract or powder, but you could get traditional and use gestampted muisjes (“crushed mice”). Now, rest assured this is less alarming that it first sounds. Muisjes are like sugared almonds, but much smaller and made with aniseeds. The stalk of the seed sticks out, so they look like mice. So these “crushed mice” will give the cake a light aniseed flavour. You may prefer to omit it, but I think the aniseed is essential to give the cake its flavour. Just the orange and marzipan would seem a little bit too much like a Christmas treat.

The glaze on top of this cake might look a rather shocking hot pink, but it’s actually all-natural thanks to a dash of beetroot juice. However, do be careful how much you use – I added a teaspoon of fresh juice, then discovered that it was concentrated. So keep that in mind, and aim for the traditional light pink, unless you’re a fan of the 80s neon look. And don’t worry – you don’t taste the beets.

When it comes to serving this cake, you need to go with tradition – cut into squares, then finish off with a squirt of whipped cream and a little candied orange peel. The Oranjekoek is fine on its own, but it’s even better with all that cream on top. Chances are you won’t make this often. So go with the cream.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, this is one of those recipes that is quite easy, but does take a little time, so I’ve posted it in the run up to Koninginnedag rather than on the day itself. So if you are tempted to make this one, you’ve got a bit of time to get organised. And while you’re at it, don your orange clothes and get celebrating!

To make Oranjekoek:

For the dough:

• 350 grams self-raising flour
• 225 gram caster sugar
• 25g butter
• 1 egg
• 50-100ml water (as needed)
• pinch of salt
• 2 teaspoons “gestampte muisjes” or 1 teaspoon ground aniseed
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 orange, grated zest only
• 75g candied orange peel

For the filling:

• 250g marzipan
• 3-4 teaspoons orange juice

For the glaze:

• 100g icing sugar
• few drops of beetroot or red grape juice
• water

To serve:

• 250ml double cream
• candied orange peel

Step 1: Make the dough.

Put the flour, sugar, butter, egg, water, nutmeg, salt and aniseed/crushed muisjes in a bowl. Knead with your hands until you have a smooth dough. Add the orange zest and candied peel. Mix well, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Prepare the Oranjekoek and bake it!

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and grease lightly with butter.

Roll out half the dough into a square and place on the sheet. Roll out the filling to the same size, and lay on top of the first dough square. Now roll out the rest of the dough, and place on top of the filling.

Bake the Oranjekoek for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to cool. This will catch the steam and help keen the top soft.

Step 3: Glaze the Oranjekoek

Mix the icing sugar, juice and enough water until you have a thick but spreadable icing (add a little water at a time – a few drops make all the difference). Spread over the cake and leave to dry for an hour.

To serve:

Cut into squares, and finish with whipped double cream and a few pieces of candied orange peel.

Worth making? This is quite an unusual cake, but it’s actually rather easy to make. The combination of white cream, orange peel and pink icing also means the whole thing looks great when you serve it. I might even go so far as to say that it’s fit for a Queen. Or at least Queen’s Day.

14 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

{7} Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

It is so easy at Christmas to get obsessed with food. But it also has a fabulous cultural heritage which really makes the season special. This time of year has some of the most wonderful music, and one of my favourites if the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

It’s light, sparkling music that makes you think of flickering candles and glittering frost. It’s also a special, secret sort of music, very careful and measured, not in a hurry – lending itself to the idea of magical things happening when no-one is looking. That hint of sneaking downstairs to look at presents when everyone else is asleep.

While we all know the melody, one question remains: what exactly are sugar plums?

I have to admit, even here in jolly old Britain where we usually go crazy for just about any twee Victorian treat at this time of the year, they are not very common these days. I had a look in town, and while they could be found in the food hall of Fortnum & Mason (or online here) you don’t really see them anywhere else. Now…just compare that to the ubiquity of the mincemeat pie or mulled wine!

I find this quite puzzling. And the reason I find it puzzling is because the idea of the sugar plum is actually still very much a part of Christmas folklore, at least in the English speaking world – in the famous poem The Night Before Christmas the children are asleep “…while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…” and of course we know of the fairy and her famous dance. So does this mean that sugar plums are destined to be something that lives on only in stories and turns of phrase?

Well, a little more sleuthing also revealed something else to me – there are, in fact, two candidates masquerading for the title of sugar plums!

First, there are whole plums that have been preserved in syrup, dried and coated in layers and layers of crysallised sugar. A very time-consuming method which sounds just like the sort of thing people might prepare as a special festive treat.

The other is a mixture of chopped fruit and nuts, mixed with citrus zest and spices, rolled together into “plums”. This might sound like a healthy Christmas alternative to the richness of chocolates and cream puddings, but we should not just think with our modern minds. What would this have meant to people but 150 years ago? Dates, prunes, apricots, almonds, exotic spices, oranges – this was the stuff of sheer luxury, that would suggest the flavours of the Orient and other far away lands. In context, this latter version starts to sound like the more luxurious treat.

So, faced with this choice, which one should I make?

Well, lacking of a jar of plums in syrup made the first option rather difficult, and I quite liked the idea of the nutty, fruity version. My sleuthing also suggested to me that the version commonly referred to in poems is the fruit-nut confection, and therefore I will pay homage to that version.

Sugar plums are actually ridiculously easy to make. You just need some honey, spices, citrus zest and dried fruit. Work out what you want in there, chop things up finely, and start mixing. You can use pretty much anything – I used toasted almonds, but you could go for walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios. For the fruit, I plumped for juicy dates, prunes and apricots, but you can also add dried figs (whose seeds add a lovely “pop”), dried cherries, cranberries, sultanas, candied peel or preserved ginger. And the spice is up to you – I like the traditional cinnamon and allspice, but you could add cardamom, mace, ginger, aniseed, fennel or coriander. The honey can also be replaced by whatever type of syrup you like. All up to you! But once you’ve chopped and stirred, that’s it – no baking, and nothing more elaborate is needed to finish them off than to roll the mixture into balls and covering in icing sugar for a snowy look, or with caster sugar for a sparkling frosty appearance.

For all my gushing about how decadent, luxurious and delicious these sugar plums are, it’s also worth recognising that at this time of year, these “plums” actually make quite a welcome change from the heavy, buttery dishes we all get served. In fact, they are not a million miles away from those energy balls that have started to appear in health food stores. Surprising? Well, not really, when you think what they are made from – nuts, dried fruit, honey and spices. However, I’ll be bold, stick my neck out, and suggest that mine might, just might, be a little bit nicer. Maybe even enough to tempt the fairy to take a little break and indulge herself. It is nearly Christmas, after all!

To make sugar plums (makes around 35):

• 85g honey
• 1 teaspoon orange zest
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon mace
• 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
• 2 cups nuts almonds, finely chopped
• 1/4 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
• 1/4 cup prunes, finely chopped
• 1 cup pitted dates, finely chopped

Put the honey, orange zest and spices in a bowl and mix well. Add the chopped dates, nuts, prunes and apricots and mix well. If the mixture is too wet, add more almonds. If too dry, add extra honey or chopped fruit (if the fruit is moist).

Break off pieces of the dough and form into balls between your hands. The easiest way is to do this roughly first, then wash your hands, and while your hands are damp, re-roll the balls so you end up with perfect spheres.

Dust the sugar plums very lightly with icing sugar. Store in an airtight container, and re-dust just before serving.

Worth making? These are bursting with the flavours of winter – sweet, rich, nutty, spicy and citrussy. I’ll definitely make these again, using them as…eh…a healthy treat. Festive energy balls, you might say.

7 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{2} Speculaaskruiden

If you’re going to make festive biscuits, you need to get spicy!

Hence the second part of the “Twelve Goodies of Christmas” is a traditional spice mixture from the Netherlands.

Last year, I made a batch of German Lebkuchengewürz. Rather than trying more of the same, this year I’ve taken some inspiration from further west, and made a batch of Dutch speculaaskruiden (speck-oo-lass-krau-den).

My last mixture served me well over the past year, in everything from biscuits to fruit pies and compotes. So if you’re a little apprehensive about making a batch of mixed spice on the basis you won’t use it all, don’t worry. A little pinch of these sort of mixtures will add a lovely gingerbread flavour in place of plain old cinnamon.

I know that you would not normally arrange spices on neat little paper squares, but I found it quite interesting to see how the colours of each spice vary, and as you work with each, the different aromas will fill your kitchen with the most wonderful warm, woody smells. The warmth of cinnamon and ginger, pungent cloves, fresh cardamom and coriander and aromatic nutmeg, star anise and mace.

In making this, I used ground spices for a number of the ingredients – I’ve tried to grind cloves before, but they are tough little fellows, so you end up using a coffee grinder, and frankly – you’ll never get rid of the smell! Fine if you happen to like spiced coffee, but I don’t. So for the really tough ones, I buy pre-ground. However, I did grind some of them myself – the cardamom seeds were tackled with a mortar and pestle, while the nutmeg and star anise got the grater treatment. Just be sure to pass them through a very fine sieve, so you get rid of any woody bits of spice.

What you will notice when you compare the Dutch and German recipes is that they use many of the same basic spices – cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg – but in different proportions. And just as with so many spice mixtures, there are dozens of recipes and many people have their own ways of making them. So treat the list below as a guide, and adjust the amounts as per your preferences. For the authentic flavour, you need to add the cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger, but add or omit anything else that takes your fancy.

Now, the big question – what to make with this mixture?

Well, speculaaskruiden is the typical flavour in a number of biscuits – speculaas in the Netherlands, speculoos in Belgium and Spekulatius in Germany. As the names suggest, these are similar types of biscuit – they’re crisp, buttery, sometimes with almonds, and with lots of spice. While they are eaten all year round, they do tasty particularly festive.

That, or add it to cakes, muffins, carrot cakes, crumbles, compotes…whatever your imagination can come up with!

To make speculaaskruiden:

• 7 teaspoons ground cinnamon(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground cloves(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground mace(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger(*)
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds or star anise

(*) These are essential. The other spices are entirely optional

Put everything in a bowl. Mix well – that’s it! Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.

Worth making? This mixture is fantastic – different notes come out from the different spices, and adds a pleasant spicy note to many recipes. If you’ve got this to hand, it makes for an easy way to add a rounded spiced flavour to just about anything. Really recommended.

18 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe