Recipes

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas…

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Ah, the smells of Christmas. Many years ago, when pot pourri was still fashionable, I had a wonderful mixture that smelled of Christmas. I would put it out in early December, and each night when I got home from work, the spicy fruity smell would welcome me in the door.

The real thing, of course, is Christmas baking. The heady fragrance of the Boozy Christmas pudding mix that wafts up as you stir it. The warm smells of a rich and spicy Christmas cake as it slowly cools.

There are so many recipes for fruit cake, and I’ve certainly tried a few. But this one is my keeper. It’s a boiled fruitcake from Aussie cookbook author Belinda Jeffrey that was published in Australian Home Beautiful magazine a few years ago. The beauty of the recipe is its flexibility—the types of fruit included can be varied to include any combination of raisins, sultanas, currants, prunes, dates, apricots, and other dried fruits; similarly the liquids can be varied to include orange and lemon juice, brandy, rum, port, to your tastes.

One of the main ingredients in this fruitcake recipe is fruit mince, and I’ve included a recipe for a homemade version as well, although a good quality store-bought fruit mince will work just as well. This recipe also comes from an Australia cookbook writer, the beloved-by-many Margaret Fulton.

I’m not one for the traditional marzipan icing and fake holly leaves. I don’t even make a nice pattern of almonds and pecan nuts on the top of the cake. It’s all about the rich, dark, fruity, dense cake for me.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and all the best for a Happy New Year!!!

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Christmas Cake

Adapted from a recipe by Belinda Jeffrey, published in Australian Home Beautiful, December 2009.

Makes 2 Christmas cakes, 20cm diameter.

1 large lemon, zest finely grated, juice reserved
1 large orange, zest finely grated, juice reserved
495ml brandy or cognac
450g butter
540g dark brown sugar
1200g mixed dried fruit—for example, raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped apricots, chopped prunes, diced dates, candied fruit peel, glace fruit)
555g fruit mince (see recipe below)
3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 heaped tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cloves
3 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp almond extract
6 eggs
570g wholemeal flour
blanched almonds and pecan halves for decorating (optional)
extra brandy/cognac

Measure out lemon and orange juice and add 1/2 c water to it, then pour in brandy until mixture measures 900ml total. Add the zest and set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat in large saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until the mixture is wet and slushy. Add the dried fruit, fruit mince, bicarbonate of soda and reserved juice mixture and stir to mix. Increase heat to high and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then stop stirring and bring the mixture to the boil. Allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid the frothy mixture boiling over. Then turn off the heat and allow to cool completely in the saucepan.

Preheat oven to 150C. Grease 2 20cm round deep cake tins with butter and line with a double thickness of baking paper.

Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, cloves, vanilla and almond extracts to the cooled mixture and stir. Add eggs and stir in well. Mix in flour and stir to thoroughly combine, then allow batter to sit for a few minutes before scraping it into the two prepared tins.

If desired, decorate the tops of the cakes with almonds and pecans arranged in concentric circles.

Bake the cakes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, approximately 1.5 hrs. Check the cakes periodically during cooking, and cover with foil once the tops are a good rich brown colour.

Leave the cakes to cool completely in the tin, on a rack. Remove from the tin, and brush the base and the top with brandy/cognac, then wrap in cling wrap and foil. To prolong the life of the cake, store in the fridge.

Notes:

1. The boiled fruit mixture can be cooled overnight if that is convenient.

2. The top of the cake will feel firm when lightly pressed when it is fully cooked.

3. The cake will last in the fridge for at least a couple of months.

Fruit Mince

Adapted from a recipe by Margaret Fulton, published in Australian Home Beautiful, December 2009.

Makes approximately 4.5 cups.

1.5 c raisins
1.5 c currants
1.5 c sultanas
1/3 c blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1 apple, grated
3/4 c brown sugar
75g unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c brandy or rum
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 orange, zest and juice

Process dried fruit and almonds in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Spoon into a bowl and combine with grated apple, sugar, butter, brandy, spices and orange juice and zest. Mix well.

Cover and chill, stirring daily for at least 2 days before use.

Notes:

1. Fruit mince will last for several months in the fridge. Give it a stir now and then.

2. This recipe is actually half of the original recipe, but I find I don’t use it all up (I’m not one for making fruit mince tarts). I have enough left over after making the cakes to make a batch or two of fruit mince muffins.

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Recipes

Christmas is cooking …

photo credit: k e e k i via photopin cc
photo credit: k e e k i via photopin cc

Around this time of year, talk in my family turns to what we’re going to eat on Christmas Day. If it’s my side of the family, our preference is to have one big meal that stretches out for most of the afternoon—perhaps some nice nibbles to start with, some BBQ’d seafood (we ARE in Australia after all, what’s Christmas without a BBQ?) for a first course, then maybe a whole fish (again, cooked on the BBQ) and a turkey breast or some slow-roasted lamb, or a beef fillet, with some salads and maybe some asparagus and of course roast potatoes!

Then there’s a ham on the side for those that want it; the leftovers will keep us in sandwiches for the next week or so! That usually takes us through to late afternoon, and after a rest it’s time for dessert—something lighter and more summery like pavlova or summer pudding, as well as the more traditional Christmas pudding.

Christmas pudding has become a tradition in our family over the last 20 years or so. I don’t really remember it featuring on the menu when I was a kid, unless we were visiting our relatives, although I know it made the occasional appearance. But when I moved to the US in the early 90s and started teaching myself how to cook, I came across a recipe in The San Francisco Chronicle that was easy and delicious, and with some minor modifications I’ve been making it ever since!

It’s not too labour intensive, although you need to plan your cooking around your schedule as you need to start the fruit macerating the day before you cook the puddings, and the steaming time is several hours long. And here where Christmas meets Summer, I also have to keep an eye on the weather, as I don’t want to heat the house up more than I need to on a hot day.

My recipe makes two good-sized puddings— each one is plenty for a group of 12 as it is very rich—and they keep for a while, although I have made them as little as a week before the big day with delicious results. I think the longest I’ve kept a pudding is about a year—the quantity of alcohol is sufficient to preserve it well!

I’ve got a couple more Christmas cooking posts for you over the next few days, a great boiled fruitcake recipe as well as the most fantastic raspberry chocolate truffle slice, seriously it’s to die for!

(You’ll have to wait for a photo—there is absolutely nothing photogenic about a pudding in a tin mould!)

Boozy Christmas pudding

Adapted from a recipe published in The San Francisco Chronicle on 16 December, 1992.

Makes 2 puddings, each serving 8-10 people.

350g prunes, pitted and chopped
300g currants
225g dark raisins
125g mixed peel
100g dried apricots, chopped
zest and juice of large orange
zest and juice of large lemon
1 Tbs molasses
2/3 c Guinness stout
1/2 c brandy
1/4 c tawny port
1/4 c Cointreau
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, rounded
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, rounded
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves, scant
1 c plus 1 Tbs dark brown sugar
8 cups of breadcrumbs made from fresh white bread — about 500g
175g butter plus additional for greasing the pudding basins

Combine the prunes, currants, raisins, peel, citrus zests and juice, apricots, and molasses in a large non-reactive bowl. Add the stout, brandy, port and Cointreau and mix well. Stir in the spices, add the sugar and mix very well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally.

Take the fruit mixture out of the fridge and stand at room temperature for about an hour. Fold in the breadcrumbs in batches with a large spatula, until no white specks of bread are visible. The mixture will be quite stiff at this point. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes at room temperature. Melt the butter and thoroughly fold into the mixture. There will be about 9 cups of the pudding mixture.

Brush 2 pudding moulds, each about 2-2.5L capacity, with melted butter. Lightly pack the pudding mixture into each mould and smooth tops with a rubber spatula.

Butter 2 rounds of baking paper/parchment and press onto the surface of each pudding. Cover each mould with its lid, or with aluminium foil.

Place each mould into a stockpot with boiling water 3/4 of the way up the sides of the mould and cover pot with lid. Steam for 4 hours over low to medium-low heat so that water bath is at a gentle boil.  Replenish boiling water as necessary.

Transfer puddings to wire racks and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until day of serving. Brush them with brandy or Cointreau once or twice if desired.

To serve, let puddings stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then steam as before for 2.5 hours. Let cool on rack for a further 1.5 hours.

Run a knife around the edge of the pudding and invert onto a cake plate or stand. Decorate with holly sprigs and/or glace fruit if desired.

Pour about 2 Tbs hot brandy over the top of the pudding and light with a match. The flames will subside as the alcohol burns off. Slice and serve with whipped cream, vanilla icecream, custard, brandy butter or even a slightly sweetened natural yoghurt.

Notes:

1. You need at least 3 days to make the puddings from start to finish. But the longer the puddings have to mature, the better. I try to make mine in early December.

2. The original recipe called for Frangelico instead of Cointreau, so feel free to mix up the alcoholic flavours a bit! Grand Marnier would also be nice. Cognac can be used in place of brandy.

3. You could use glace fruits instead of mixed peel.

4. I use a good quality white sandwich loaf for the breadcrumbs, which I prepare using a food processor. Sometimes I use the crusts, other times I cut the crust away. What is important is making sure that the bread is in crumbs not chunks.

5. You could use several smaller pudding moulds or basins if you wanted smaller puddings, but make sure the bowls aren’t more than about  3/4 full. The steaming time remains the same.

6. Leftover pudding can easily be heated up in the microwave, and it’s nice cold too!