Apples have to be the best autumn treasure. They are versatile, delicious and can keep well. This year, they are also abundant. If you have more apples than you know what to do with, or even if you don’t, I urge you to make a batch of this spiced apple chutney.
If you’re running out of time to make biscuits but want to give homemade gifts this Noel, these Christmas Bliss Balls may be the answer. They’re not only delicious but are refined sugar, dairy and gluten free and easy to make. Rolling the balls in green pistachios, red cranberries and white coconut make them look wonderfully festive.
It’s the second week in December and I’ve only just made my first Christmas recipe. Biscuits and cookies make great gifts at Christmas and when I’m organised, I like to make a few of them. I’ve started with these gluten free chocolate pistachio biscotti as I want to get a few sent off in the post and biscotti are great for keeping well.
Of all the biscuits I made in my epic Christmas bake last year, these pistachio biscuits made with almonds and flavoured with a little rose, cardamom and cinnamon were the ones that received the most rave reviews. So *drum roll* I’m finally going to give you the recipe. It’s the next in my Flavours of the Middle East series.
Christmas is traditionally a time for baking biscuits and I usually make the most of it. I tend to make an old favourite or two, but also use the occasion to try out a some new recipes. One of them, this time, was to be Christmas Butter Biscuits.
These sumptuous raw chocolate truffles do not have the name bliss balls for nothing. Try one of these and you’ll wonder why you’ve ever bothered with conventional truffles. Well maybe I exaggerate a little, but only just.
Fruit vinegars make a wonderful addition to many dishes. Vinegar captures the essence of the fruit beautifully reminding us of the season in which it was harvested. This blackcurrant vinegar gives a flavoursome tang to sauces, salads and desserts. It goes particularly well with beetroot. A little poured over simple vanilla ice-cream gives a real wow factor and mixed with water, it makes a refreshing drink.
These chocolate hazelnut crackles were a Christmas gift bake that I made last year. They were so good, I meant to make them again this year. But flu got in the way and my Christmas baking was minimal.
I bookmarked this recipe from Apple & Spice a very long time ago. The biscuits are made with ground roasted hazelnuts which immediately grabbed my attention. However, the first time I made them for Christmas 2012, I was fast running out of time and space in the kitchen, so swapped the hazelnuts for ground almonds. They were really good and proved to be highly popular with the recipients. But the fragrance and flavour of these ones made with freshly roasted hazelnuts beat the ground almonds hands down.
The house smelt gorgeous whilst these were being made; first the aroma of roasting hazelnuts filled the air and then again when the biscuits were in the oven. Rolled in icing sugar before baking, these cookies are visually striking and conjure up a snowy Christmas with sleigh bells ringing. The biscuits expand, revealing dark crevices beneath the white icing. Rich, indulgent, chewy and delicious these are some of the best biscuits I’ve ever made. I’d thought they were set to be a regular feature on my Christmas baking schedule, so I’m quite sorry I didn’t manage to make any this year.
This is how I made:
Chocolate Hazelnut Crackles
- Roasted 80g hazelnuts at 180C for about ten minutes in order to give flavour and loosen their skins.
- Rubbed in a piece of kitchen towel to remove skins.
- Left to cool, then blitzed with 30g caster sugar to reduce to a finish crumb.
- Melted 175g dark 72% chocolate in a large bowl over hot water.
- Added 100g of unsalted butter – cubed. Stirred until melted.
- Beat in 275g dark muscovado sugar.
- Stirred in 1 tsp vanilla extract.
- Beat in 3 smallish eggs (or use 2 large eggs).
- Sifted in 330g flour (half wholemeal spelt, half white), 20g cocoa powder, 2 tsp baking powder, a large pinch of rock salt and 1 heaped tsp of mesquite powder.
- Added the ground hazelnuts and 2 tbsp milk.
- Stirred until combined.
- Left in my cold kitchen for a couple of hours until firm – no need for a fridge at this time of year.
- Sifted 100g icing sugar into a bowl.
- Wet hands with cold water and rolled mixture into walnut sized balls between my palms.
- Rolled balls in icing sugar until thickly coated and placed well apart on lined baking trays.
- Baked at 180C for about 12 minutes until cracked and well risen.
I’m sending this off to Jac at Tinned Tomatoes as it is a Bookmarked Recipe.
When I arrived back from London last week, I found a box of Waitrose #BakeItForward decorating goodies waiting for me. All of them looked perfect for upcoming Christmas merriment and I have to confess to just a little bit of excited festive hopping around. I was most interested in Heston’s chocolate coated popping candy and some edible gold glitter and these are what I decided to try first.
Now how, I wondered, was I going to use it. I’ve never tried baking with popping candy before or decorating with it. I mused that as this particular candy was covered in chocolate it might work in a dryish biscuity bake. I’d read somewhere that popping candy loses it’s fizz if it comes into contact with moisture. Chocolate macaroons with their nutty chewy centres are a good bake for this time of year and with a bit of popping candy to liven them up, CT reckoned that smacaroons would be an appropriate name for them.
In the run up to Christmas, Waitrose is celebrating home bakes in its #BakeItForward campaign. All you have to do to take part is bake something for a friend, take a picture of it, share on social media using the hashtag #BakeItForward and nominate them to do the same. Every day until 23rd December, randomly selected participants will be rewarded with treats including hampers and bottles of champagne.
I am overrun with ideas as to how to use the contents of the box of delights I was sent and most of them involve Christmas biscuits, so watch this space. Most of these will be shared with various friends, family and neighbours, but as CT is particularly fond of nutty biscuits, these macaroons are made for him.
As you can probably tell from the picture, these are the British version and are not meant to be the fancy French macarons that have become all the rage. I have adapted this recipe from Jill Norman’s The Complete Book of Spices. Made with dark chocolate and flavoured with cinnamon, they are substantial, chewy and very nutty.
This is how I made:
Chocolate Cinnamon Smacaroons
- Placed 125g caster sugar in a bowl together with 150g ground almonds, ¾ tsp cinnamon and 75g of Mortimer’s 70% West African chocolate powder (could use finely grated or melted chocolate instead).
- Whisked together to ensure there were no lumps, then added 2 tbsp popping candy.
- Stirred in 2 duck egg whites (large hen’s eggs).
- Gathered spoonfuls into my hands and rolled into walnut sized balls. Flattened out into discs and laid on a lined baking tray.
- Baked at 180℃ for 12 minutes.
As it happened, my hopes for the popping candy working in the macaroons went unrealised. Whether this was because the candy came into contact with moisture or because it couldn’t take the heat remains a mystery, but there was no pop to be had. Not being prepared to lose the name smacaroons, I quickly rethought my strategy. I made up a little water icing and drizzled this over the smacaroons. Popping candy was scattered over the top and then given a dusting of edible glitter.
I’m sending these off to Helen of Casa Costello for her Bake of the Week. Do take a look at her fabulous Christmas Tree cupcakes with concealed star.
Thanks to Waitrose for the beautifully wrapped parcel of baking goodies and voucher received in exchange for letting my readers know about the campaign. As always, all opinions are my own.
Afternoon Tea at a top London hotel was mighty fine, but my main reason for going up to our bustling capital was to learn more about using glass for food presentation. Friends of Glass is committed to promoting awareness of the benefits of using glass over plastic. As we know, plastic is the scourge of the environment and particles of it can now be found in every part of the globe, even Antarctica. Glass on the other hand, is reusable and 100% recyclable. Glass is also a healthier option. It is the most inert packaging material we have and thus highly impermeable making it far less likely to taint any food stored in it. I’ve long been passionate about using glass for storage rather than plastic and I have collected a lot of glass jars and containers over the years. Bring back the milk bottle and deposits for glass bottles I say.
Last Thursday evening, a bunch of bloggers and journalists turned up at Cactus Studios, Michel Roux Jr’s cookery school, where incidentally, Saturday Kitchen is filmed. We were there to brush up our Christmas creativity using glass. What a delight to come in from the cold and dark to be greeted with a glass of warm mulled cider and a room glowing with candlelight and glass. As we chatted, we were served shot glasses of red pepper soup with pesto. The colours were fantastic and immediately I started to see the point of serving food in glasses. The colours and textures of the food really shine through and can make your dish look even more enticing. Not long after the soup, we were served cranberries and melted brie in the most adorable little glass jars that I coveted immediately. Bread sticks were cunningly placed in the metal clips. Here already, were two fabulous ideas for Christmas canapés, starters or pre-dinner nibbles.
We were soon shepherded upstairs to the teaching kitchen to watch chef Bridget Colvin and BBC TV presenter Cherry Healey demo some further ideas. I really enjoyed this part; not only was Bridget knowledgable and competent, but the two made for a good double act. Spiced parsnip soup served in little glass jars with parsnip crisps was a winner which I will be replicating at some point during this festive season. Much ribald hilarity ensued whilst Cherry whizzed up some delicious pesto.
The piece de resistance, however, was a pie in a jar. I’d not come across this concept before. The beauty of making individual pies this way, is not only do they look enticing, but they can be tailor made to suit individual tastes and tolerances. The demo was for a ham hock pie, but vegetarian ones had been made for Nayna of Simply Food and I and very delicious they were too. Layers of butternut squash, spinach, potatoes, shallots and peas with cheese sauce and a puff pastry crust all cooked and served in a clip top jar. What a fantabulous idea. A glass of wine made for a very welcome accompaniement.
Feeling somewhat full, we were called over for the final demo: brandied clementines in a jar. This time we had to pay attention as this was the dish we were going to make. We were shown how to prepare clementines and I now know how to remove most of the pith easily. It’s the sort of thing that looks pretty and makes for a lovely gift, but not something I’d ever thought of doing. The vanilla brandy syrup we made tasted heady and decadent and would work well with most fruits I reckon – so that’s one of my Christmas presents sorted.
Then it was back downstairs for mince pies and the final activity of the evening. An array of enticing edible delights were laid out in various bowls and jars and at last chocolate made an entrance. We were going to make up our own hot chocolate gift in a jar – what fun. We started with a layer of drinking chocolate and then it was a free for all. I added a layer of white chocolate buttons, followed by little fudge pieces. Milk chocolate buttons went next, then marshmallows and finally a layer of milk chocolate buttons. The part I really loved about this was tying on extras around the outside of the jar: a stick of cinnamon, a candy cane and my absolute favourite, a miniature bottle of Amaretto Disaronno found there way onto my jar. Finished off with a tag which I’d stamped with gold stars, this was the gift I was most pleased with. It came in very handy as a thank you to my friend for putting me up for the night. I have to say she was very impressed with it and thought it a lovely gift to suit both her and the children.
Many thanks to Friends of Glass for a fun, friendly, entertaining evening, plus the bonus of leaving with some really nice Christmas gifts, including a jar of Rubies in the Rubble red onion & chilli chutney. I had a splendid time and would be very happy to do this all over again. You can see some far better pictures of the event than mine over at the Friends of Glass Facebook page.