Start your Christmas Culinary Countdown on Stir up Sunday

Stir up Sunday

Stir up Sunday? Christmas Culinary Countdown? What is that I hear you cry? Well this Sunday is thirty days before Christmas and a week before Advent. Advent, yes the thing with the calendar! Stir up Sunday is a Victorian tradition where the family gathered together to make the Christmas pudding or plum duff. The tradition is believed to originated from families listening to the collect for the day from the Book of Common Prayer for this particular day;

 ‘ 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. ’

Advent is observed in Christian churches as a time of waiting and preparing for the Nativity.  Advent is derived from the Latin for “coming”. So your pudding is bound in the Christian Christmas tradition. And you thought Advent was all about a calendar with little doors and chocolate. So this special time would seem good enough for me to be the perfect start posting my Christmas recipes.

A Christmas Countdown

I am going to post lots of recipes in the run up to Christmas. A collection of classic dishes and a few unexpected twists in case you don’t like Turkey, so that you will be able to cook up a cracker of a Christmas. In this post you will find lots of ideas for home baking this festive season.

Get your Christmas Bake On

Lets look at a couple of the iconic Christmas recipes the Christmas pudding and the fruit cake. Now you don’t have to be scared or be a baker capable of winning the Great British Bake Off to make a great Christmas pudding or cake. As you will see it is really about preparation and making in advance.

Just click on the dish name for the recipe.

Aunty Mary’s Christmas Pudding

“This recipe is from one of my culinary inspirations my Aunty Mary, a brilliant cook, it really is the best I’ve ever encountered with lots of dried fruits, citrus peel and good soaking in some good beer, and now I work for a brewery how the circle has turned. We used to spend most of the day sorting through the dried raisins and sultanas to make sure there were no small stones in the bags, then they would be left overnight in stout.”

Christmas fruit cake

“For those of you who like to be organised now is an ideal time to start to prepare your Classic Fruit Cake for the festive season and start preparing your Christmas pudding and your mincemeat. This is my go-to recipe for fruitcake, rich and flavoursome enough for a christening or wedding cake or our family Christmas Cake, it is a sufficiently sturdy bake to carry the weight of marzipan and icing and can be used in tiers.”

Sable pastry Christmas cookies
Sable pastry Christmas biscuits

Christmas Biscuits

“My Christmas biscuits or cookies are a definite family favourite. They are great if you want to make something with your children to decorate the Christmas tree. But don’t worry they are very tasty too.”

Mixed Jam Linzer biscuits
Assorted Linzer Biscuits

Linzer Biscuits

Linzer biscuits are made with sable pastry which is cut into rounds and baked. The top biscuit often has a small cut out which allows the jam or fruit preserve to be seen when two biscuits are sandwiched together with jam in between. The finished biscuits are dusted with icing sugar


Biscotti

“Biscotti or cantucci ( most commonly used in Tuscany ) are delicious twice-baked Italian biscuits. They are usually made with almonds. Traditionally they are served with a sweet Italian dessert wine called Vin Santo. You might also find them on the side of a cappuccino or latte. To be honest I’m very happy dipping them in nothing more than a mug of tea. We always make several batches at home, in December, as they are a wonderful handmade small gift at Christmas time.”

Sweet pastry mince pies

Homemade Buttery Mince Pies

“Mince pies are a peculiarly British individual pie now eaten across the English speaking world. They are traditionally served over the Christmas period. Although in America they are more likely to be made in large tart cases and eaten at Thanksgiving. It is thought the name is derived from mince meat and preserved fruit pies first bought back during the crusades. These would have been quite heavily spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. “

Apple and Bramble Crumble – be it ever so humble it’s hard to beat

Love British Food logo

Our recent family holiday in Devon was on a wonderful farm with very, very comfortable accommodation, a lovely little cottage, there were animals for the children to feed, amazing views and the best fresh eggs in the morning boiled and served with soldiers.

Freshly collected Eggs
Fresh Eggs at Lower Campscott Farmer

We the last of the summer’s strawberries with tubs of Farmer Tom’s delicious clotted cream ice cream, some wonderful Dexter beef ribeye steaks from our hosts herd at Lower Campscott farm and all the Devon cream teas daddy could ever wish for. Around the farm were some wonderful walks down through fields and woodland to the bay at Lee and a wonderful little nature walk.

 

Nature Walk

As we all went through the field with the Shetland ponies and Mummy, Lilly and Honeysuckle helped me pick a mountain of ripe, plump brambles which when we got back to Stable cottage we made into two crumbles, one for tea and one for Farmer Tony and Kathy who run such a wonderful holiday haven in North Devon.

The Ponies at Lower Campscott Farm
Shetland Ponies at Lower Campscott Farm

It is difficult to trace the origins of the crumble, the sweet golden-brown topped pudding, The Oxford Companion to Food suggests the recipe for crumble was developed in the second world war, as an alternative to pastry, using whatever fat was available. Crumbles can be made throughout the year and made with plums, rhubarb, greengages, gooseberries and most popularly apples or apples and soft fruits such as raspberries, blackberries, and brambles.

Crumble is best served hot with lashings of custard, clotted cream or ice cream.

Bramley Apple and Bramble Crumble
Bramley Apple and Bramble Crumble

Apple and Bramble Crumble

Bramley apples can discolour quickly when peeled, to prevent this from happening as you peel the apples, toss the apple in a little freshly squeezed lemon juice which slows down the oxidation and the browning. If you like nuts you can substitute fifty grams of the flour with ground almonds and add a small handful of rolled oats to the crumble mix.

500 gr Bramley Apples ( 3 to 4 medium sized Apples ), peeled and cored

200 gr Blackberries or Brambles, washed and drained

250 gr Self Raising Flour

150 gr Golden Caster Sugar

125 gr cold Jersey Butter

Freshly grated Nutmeg

Heat your oven to 350 F / 180 C / Gas Mark 4. Slice the apples into finger thick chunks and place into a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pan. Add four to five tablespoons of cold water and place onto a gentle heat covered with a lid. After a couple of minutes, the apples will start to soften and break down, take off the lid and give them a stir, add a splash more water if required. Keep stirring until the apples are breaking up but still contains good-sized chunks of whole apple, then add fifty grams of the sugar and a generous grating of nutmeg. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Spoon the apple into a deep sided oven-proof dish and sprinkle over the blackberries or brambles and put to one side. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the remaining sugar. Cut the butter into cubes and tip in the bowl of flour and sugar and rub it into the flour mix with your fingertips until it resembles rough breadcrumbs. You make crumble in a food processor but don’t overwork or the butter will melt, and the mix will form a paste.

Spread the crumble mix evenly over the fruit and level off, then place the dish on a baking tray and place in the oven for thirty- five to forty minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for ten or so minutes before serving.

Dark Chocolate Mousse

Valentine’s Day Chocolate Mousse

Valentines Cover

So, you have successfully shucked the oysters, the steak was cooked to perfection and you matched your meal with a perfect bottle of wine, Valentine’s Day is going according to plan now you need something simply stunning to finish the meal. I have chosen something stunningly simple to make, that can be kept in the fridge and will wow your dinner companion. And the bonus, there will be a couple left over for the morning.

Dark Chocolate Mousse
Dark Chocolate Liqueur Mousse

Many chocolate mousses are made with a mix of cream and eggs and often use gelatine as a setting agent so they can be quite heavy, this recipe is lightness itself relying on the flavour of the dark chocolate, the liqueur, and the airy whipped egg whites. The squeeze of lemon helps stabilise the egg whites when they are being whipped and prevent over whisking, if you over-whisk the egg whites they will collapse and separate and you will lose all the air that you have whisked in and the resulting mousse will be very heavy.  Follow the instructions carefully and be patient whilst folding in the whipped-up egg whites so that you lose as little volume as possible and you will be rewarded with light, fluffy chocolate mousse.

For your chocolate mousse, you can use a choice of liqueurs, but my favourites are orange or coffee based which are natural partners with dark chocolate.

Chocolate Liqueur Mousse     makes 4

200 gr premium Dark Chocolate ( a minimum 60 % cocoa solids )

7 free-range Egg Whites ( use the egg yolks in your Bearnaise Sauce )

50 gr Caster Sugar

4 tablespoons of Coffee or Orange Liqueur

A squeeze of fresh Lemon Juice

Place a medium glass or metal bowl over a pan of simmering water (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water) and add the chocolate. Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, meanwhile put the egg whites and lemon juice into a second large, clean bowl and whisk until they form soft peaks. Sprinkle over the sugar and continue to whisk until firm peaks form when the whisk is removed. Do not whisk beyond this stage.

When the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the heat and add one-third of the egg whites, and whisk them into the hot chocolate very quickly. This is important as the cool eggs can cause the chocolate to start to set if not mixed in speedily and the resulting mousse will be lumpy.

Using a spatula or the side of a large metal spoon fold the remaining egg whites and the liqueur into the chocolate mixture, the egg whites need to be totally incorporated but not over mixed as this will start to knock out the whisked in air bubbles. Carefully spoon the mousse mixture into four glasses or serving dishes and place in the fridge for at least a couple hours to set.

Wine and Beer

 

What to Drink? Chocolate mousse pairs well with sweet dessert wines and more unusually fruity Australian Barossa Valley Shirazes. For a beer why not try a Cherry or Raspberry Kriek beer.

Allergens in this recipe are;

     Milk   Eggs

Please see the Allergens Page

Valentines Cover

Valentine’s Day Oysters Blonde and Blue

Valentine’s Day Cooking the Perfect Steak

Valentine’s Day Bearnaise Sauce

Raspberry and Whisky Cranachan

Happy New Year – My Recipe for Cranachan

I thought my last post of the year should be something suitably festive and suitable for New Year’s Eve, so my mind turned to Hogmanay, in Scotland, they really know how to bring in the New Year in true party fashion. And what could be more Scottish than Cranachan a delicious blend of cream, oats, raspberries, and whisky. I first learned about Cranachan from Donald, the Scottish born pastry chef at the Island Hotel, Tresco. Now I know this isn’t the raspberry season, but it is well worth the expense and you can then make the recipe again during the abundant summer growing season.

Raspberry and Whisky Cranachan
Fresh Raspberry Cranachan with Granola

My Cranachan recipe is entirely my own twist which I first used in a restaurant in Jersey with fresh raspberries folded into cream flavoured with honey, whisky and the crunch of delicious homemade Granola*. As it ticks the alcohol and cream boxes how could I resist Cranachan and well oats lower your cholesterol don’t they?

*You can use the remaining Granola for breakfast.

Cranachan                         serves 4

300 gr fresh Raspberries

350ml double cream ( I use thick Jersey double cream)

6 tablespoons homemade Granola

30 gr Caster Sugar

2 tablespoons Scottish Heather Honey

2 to 3 tablespoons good quality Whisky

Mint and Icing Sugar to garnish

First purée half the raspberries and caster sugar in a blender and sieve. Whisk the double cream until just set, thick Jersey cream really only takes a few turns of the whisk, then gently stir in the honey and whisky. Do not over whip or the mix will separate.

Fold in the raspberry purée in light ripples then serve in bowls alternating layers of the cream, the granola, and the remaining whole raspberries. Chill before serving and top with raspberries, mint, and dust with icing sugar.

Allergens in this recipe are;

   Milk

Please see the Allergens Page

Meringues

I come from a family of serious meringue fans, the marriage of whisked egg whites and caster sugar, the crispy meringue shells, dried in the oven overnight and sandwiched with thick cream and topped with fresh berries and the show-stopping Pavlova with its chewy, marshmallow-like center. To make them chewy, we add cornflour and vinegar to the whipped-up sugar and egg whites. My mum makes an epic Pavlova and my Aunty Mary ate nearly a whole one for her eightieth birthday.

meringue.jpg

There is an old saying that you need ‘old eggs and a clear day’ to make a good meringue, certainly meringues are best made from older eggs, the runny whites are easier to whisk up, and frozen egg whites work very well so keep them from other recipes such a Sable pastry labelled in the freezer until needed, but allow to thoroughly defrost and reach room temperature before attempting the recipe.

There are several recipes for meringue in a professional kitchen including using super-hot sugar syrup ( Italian or Swiss Meringue ) but you can use one technique and warm your caster sugar on a baking tray in a hot oven, before adding to the egg whites, this helps the sugar dissolve quicker and the finished meringue will shrink less ( ideal for when you are making a Lemon Meringue Pie ). Golden caster sugar will make your finished meringue a darker colour but adds a delicious caramel flavour.

Finally, your meringues don’t have to be picture perfect remember you can just use some more cream to cover up cracks and flaws and if in the worst case just turn them into Eton Mess.

Top Tips

Use scrupulously clean bowls, any grease in the bowl will stop your egg whites properly expanding. Rubbing your bowl with half a cut lemon can help, but make sure you wipe it really dry with kitchen roll afterward.

It is an old habit I have but whenever I am baking I always crack the eggs individually into a small separate bowl. This means if you get a bad egg which happens occasionally you can avoid contaminating the rest of a bake. If a little egg yolk gets into the white, try to remove it with half of the cracked eggshell. If the yolk gets broken and mixed into the white, start again.

Be careful not to over-beat the egg whites. Whisk them until they hold firm peaks when the whisk is removed from the bowl. If you over‑whip them the finished texture will be grainy.

Cooking meringues is a process of trial and error and getting to know your oven. You don’t need a fan just an even heat. I have relatives and friends who have used the warm section of an Aga cooker, a plate warmer and an airing cupboard to dry out their meringues!

Classic Meringue Recipe

The simple ratio to remember is double the weight of sugar to egg whites.

300 gr Caster Sugar ( golden if you prefer a more caramelised flavour and colour )
The whites of 5 free-range Eggs, at room temperature
Half a fresh Lemon

Pre-heat your oven to 200 C / 400 F / Gas Mark 6, and spread the Caster sugar over an oven tray lined with baking paper and heat in the oven for five minutes. Meanwhile, wipe the inside of your mixing bowl with the cut lemon and add the egg whites. Whisk up to a foam, then carefully remove the sugar from the oven and tip a third into the egg whites continuing to mix constantly ( you may need help if you are using a hand mixer ). Add the remaining sugar and continue whisking until the mixture has cooled, and is glossy and will hold its shape.

Turn the oven down to its lowest setting. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper, and spoon the meringue mix on, remember to leave sufficient gaps as they will increase in size as they dry out. Place them into the oven and bake until they are crisp on the outside, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, depending on their size, this could take four to six hours. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues in there until it has cooled, then immediately transfer to an air-tight container.

Stir Up Sunday – Aunty Mary’s Best Christmas Pudding

‘ 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. ’

These are the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 as used on the last Sunday before Advent, the beginning of the Christian Christmas season. The story is as housewives listened to the verse they would be reminded to go home and make the family Christmas Pudding. As many recipes for Christmas Pudding require a period of several weeks for the pudding to mature, I know people who make them for next year’s consumption, this Sunday became an informal time for the family to gather and make up their pudding.

Christmas Pudding 3
As I was growing up, we followed the tradition as my family got together in the kitchen. Everyone took a turn to stir the large bowl of pudding mix and make a special wish for the year ahead. The pudding mix is stirred from East to West in honour of the three wise men and some people add a silver coin, a sixpence, to the pudding mix, finding the coin brings good luck. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas culinary traditions assumed to be another of the many made popular and almost sacrosanct by the Victorians, alongside the Christmas Cards, roast turkey and the decorated tree. In reality, the spiced, fruit pudding was most likely popularised by George I, bringing the tradition over from his native Hanover.

Christmas PuddingI love baking at Christmas, the smell of all the warming spices and all the rich delicious cakes and pastries, Gingerbread Houses, Stollen, Pannatone, Mince Pies and the Christmas Pudding. This recipe is from one of my culinary inspirations my Aunty Mary, a brilliant cook, it really is the best I’ve ever encountered with lots of dried fruits, citrus peel and good soaking in some good beer, and now I work for a brewery how the circle has turned. We used to spend most of the day sorting through the dried raisins and sultanas to make sure there were no small stones in the bags, then they would be left overnight in stout. The secret to this pudding is patience, spend plenty of time in preparation, cook slowly and then wait for five weeks, you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy.

Aunty Mary’s Christmas Pudding         makes two x 2 pint puddings

350 gr Dried Sultanas
350 gr Dried Raisins
150 gr Candied Mixed Peel
100 gr Dried Apricots, cut into small pieces
100 gr Dried Figs, cut into small pieces
100 gr Glace Cherries, quartered
50g blanched almonds
2 large Bramley Cooking Apples
250 gr Butter, taken straight from the fridge
150 gr Plain flour
150 gr fresh White Breadcrumbs
100 gr Dark Muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Brandy
1 tablespoon Dark Treacle
Juice and zest of two Oranges
1 level teaspoon ground Cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground Nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground Allspice

Using a colander wash the sultanas and raisins under the cold tap and drain. Place into a large glass bowl or plastic container with the candied peel, apricots, figs and cherries and pour in the stout. Sore in the fridge overnight stirring a couple of times. Prepare the remaining ingredients as follows; roughly chop the almonds. Zest and juice the oranges into a bowl then peel, core and chop the apples into the same bowl, stirring to stop the apples from browning. Drain the dried fruits in a colander. Whisk the eggs, brandy and black treacle together in a small jug. In a second very large bowl, mix all the flour, sugar, spices and breadcrumbs.

Combine the all of the ingredients apart from the butter and stir well. Holding the butter carefully in its paper, grate a half of it into the bowl, then stir everything together. Repeat with the second half of the butter is grated, then stir for a good couple of minutes. Get all of your family to stir the pudding, and everyone can make a wish. Butter two 1.2 litre/ 2 pint bowls and put a disc of baking paper in the bottom of each then spoon in the pudding mixture. Cover with a double, folded layer of baking paper, with a central pleat to allow the pudding to expand when cooking. Hold in pace with a large rubber band, then tie very tightly with butchers string. Cut off any excess baking paper. Place each bowl on a large sheet of thick baking foil and bring the edges up over the top, then put another sheet of foil over the top and bring it down underneath to make a double package (this makes the puddings watertight). Carefully tie with more string, and make a handle for easy lifting in and out of the pan.

Gently steam the puddings in a double pan for eight hours, topping up with water as necessary. Remove from the pans and leave to completely cool overnight. When cold, discard the foil and baking paper messy wrappings and reseal in fresh baking paper, foil and string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.