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Posts from the ‘Festive flavours’ Category

Simnel swirls


imageIf there are two times of the year when you can be guaranteed to find a block of marzipan in my cupboard, it’s Easter and Christmas. I invariably buy a block with grand ideas of all the seasonal baking I’m going to do. Then the packet gets opened and little by little, chunks get torn off, to be nibbled on as a surreptitious snack until suddenly there is nowhere near enough left to consider baking and I shamelessly devour the rest.

So I feel very smug about the fact that I managed to get these buns into existence at all. I can’t say there was zero marzipan snaffling going on, but enough made it into these buns. These are a sort of cross between a cinnamon bun and a chelsea bun with a marzipan core. I considered using a laminated danish pastry recipe for these, but, even though we have a long bank holiday weekend ahead, I didn’t feel the need to spend the time doing book folds in pastry.  A simple enriched yeasted dough, fairly quick to rise, will mean that you can have these ready in a couple of hours, perfect with a mid-morning coffee.

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Cranberry clementine shortbread sandwiches

Christmas seems to creep up faster every year – I feel like I’ve barely done any Christmas baking this year and suddenly it’s here! This lack of baking hasn’t exactly translated into a lack of eating though. There is a near constant supply of mince pies in the office, fuelling me through those mid morning and mid afternoon slumps, which meant that when a baking opportunity finally arose I was actually feeling a bit mince pied out. So I made these little jam sandwich biscuits instead, an easy little mince pie alternative. They’re that perfect combination of light and fruity, yet satisfyingly buttery and crisp, with the added bonus of looking like little Christmas jewels.

You’ll need two Christmas shaped cookie cutters for this, one smaller than the other to cut a window out of the top biscuit. I used snowflakes, but any shapes will work.

Soften 250g butter then add 150g caster sugar. Mix for a couple of minutes with a wooden spoon or in a food mixer until pale and creamy. Add 1 egg yolk and the zest of 2 clementines. Finally mix in 300g plain flour until just combined. Roll into a ball, wrap it in cling film and pop it into the fridge for half an hour.

Heat your oven to 160C (fan). Lightly dust your work surface with flour the divide the dough into two. Roll out the first ball until just a few millimetres thick and cut out shapes using the larger cutter, re-rolling the offcuts as needed. These will form the base of your sandwiches. Lay these onto a couple of non-stick baking trays and bake for around 10 minutes until light golden and crisp. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Meanwhile roll out the other ball of dough and again cut shapes out using the larger cutter. Then take your smaller cutter and cut out a shape in the middle. Carefully transfer these to more baking trays, they will be quite delicate with the middles cut out. Either re-roll the centres to make more biscuits or just bake them to eat as your little cooks treat whilst doing the icing.

Once all batches of biscuits are baked and cooled then they can be assembled. Put a small spoonful of cranberry jam into the centre of the bases and then add the tops.

Mix a cup of icing sugar with just enough water to form a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag and ice the tops as you like. My icing is far from neat but it still looks pretty. Add silver balls or other decorations as you like.

The jam with soften the biscuits a little so they’re best eaten fresh. I don’t think they’ll last very long anyway. Merry Christmas!

Makes about 20, depending how big your cookie cutters are. Takes about an hour, plus half an hour for the dough to rest in the fridge.

Shopping list:

250g butter

1 egg (just the yolk needed)

150g caster sugar

300g plain flour

2 clementines

1 jar cranberry jam

1 cup icing sugar

silver balls or other decorations


Equipment needed:

Festive cookie cutters

Baking trays

Piping bag



A Christmas extravaganza!

I love the rituals and traditions of Christmas. Nothing makes me feel more festive than spending a lazy afternoon getting the boxes of decorations out of the loft, carefully unpacking the clouds of tissue paper to unveil the glitter and sparkles within. In the space of an afternoon my flat morphs into a winter wonderland, decked with hundreds of fairy lights to lighten up the winter gloom.

There is invariably a lot of hosting at this time of year, so this week I’m focussing on little things to have with drinks – the obligatory Christmas canapés. Whilst there are lots of beautiful little selections of canapés in the supermarkets, if you are feeling weary of reheating endless cellophane-wrapped packets, then maybe add some of these for some homemade sparkle. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the traditional flavours of smoked salmon, sprouts, mince pies, brandy cream… so i’ve incorporated these flavours to make some suitably seasonal snacks.

The quickest and easiest recipe is the Salmon Ceviche, full of fresh, zingy citrus flavours, which needs no more than 15 minutes preparation and then will sit happily in the in the fridge for a few hours waiting to be served.

Needing a little bit more preparation and some pastry based fiddling are the Sprout Spring Rolls. I am an unashamed lover of sprouts, but even people who profess not to like sprouts like these. This idea originally came from my endlessly creative sister, who came up with this fantastic recipe, now firmly part of my Christmas repertoire. They take about 25 mins to prepare and need 15-20 minutes in the oven.

If you want a bigger centrepiece then I suggest this Bacon and Camembert Wreath. The bread has bacon jam twisted through the dough and a whole Camembert baked in the middle for dunking. The bread needs to be started 2.5 hours before you want to eat it, but is happy left to its own devices to prove whilst you do any last minute party prep.

There are always mince pies in the cake tin in December, but as a new little addition, I made Chocolate Brandy Cream Profiterole Puddings – a chocolate choux bun filled with boozy cream and dunked cutely in white chocolate to make them look like mini Christmas puddings. Its the sort of foody campness you can only get away with at Christmas!

So I hope you enjoy some of these. Its the time of year to feed and be fed, so make plenty, ready to be washed down with all that mulled wine and champagne!

Finally, thanks to the lovely 12C, who seem to enjoy me perpetually experimenting on them and happily ate all of the above last weekend!



Sprout spring rolls


Christmas isn’t Christmas without sprouts. Its not often you find sprouts in canapés, so these are quirky but lovely. Read more

Bacon and camembert wreath


This cheesy bacon bread makes a pretty centrepiece and provides a useful source of carbs to soak up all the alcohol! You need one of those camemberts that come in the little round wooden boxes for this.

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Chocolate brandy cream profiterole puddings

Chocolate brand cream profiterole puddings

If there is any time of the year when you can go overboard with glitter and kitsch, its Christmas. So why make regular profiteroles when you can make them look like tiny Christmas puddings and cover them in edible glitter? You know you want to.

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Christmas salmon ceviche


This fresh and zingy salmon dish makes a change from the regular smoked salmon canape and is just as easy. Please just note that the salmon is raw and so this dish might not be suitable for everyone. Be sure to buy super-fresh salmon from your fishmonger.

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Cranberry and pear compote take 2: with orange and cinnamon pancakes

Orange and cinnamon pancakes, with pear and cranberry compote

So this is what became of the compote – dolloped generously on top of a quick stack of breakfast pancakes, with some added Christmas magic by way of orange zest and cinnamon. The rest of the jar was greedily eaten by the spoonful straight from the fridge, on stealthy midnight missions or before dashing out of the door.

A cranberry and pear compote. One compote, endless possibilities

Pear and cranberry compote

I had one of those frivolous trips to the supermarket last weekend, stuffing my basket with as many festive things I could find, I’m such a sucker for all that stuff. Sprouts, salmon, pate, marzipan, cranberries….. Christmas needs cranberries right?

However, too many Christmas get-togethers has resulted in not much home cooking of late and hence the bag of cranberries was still loitering unloved a week later. But what to do with them? I needed something with versatility, to be on standby in the fridge, ready and waiting for impromptu puddings or breakfasts on the go.  So one more thing for an overstuffed fridge, but I think this earns its place on the shelf.

Start by tipping 300g cranberries into a saucepan with 2/3 cup of caster sugar, the juice of a clementine and a splash of water. Place over a medium heat and bring up to a simmer, The cranberries will start to burst and release their juices. Meanwhile core and chop 2 just ripe pears. For once a pack of ripe-and-ready-to-eat pears were in fact verging on ripeness, perfect for this. I didn’t bother to peel the pears. Stir into the cranberries. The pears will only need about 5mins or so in the hot cranberry mixture to soften, so do keep an eye on them and stop cooking before they turn to mush. You may need to add another couple of splashes of water as you go along too, to stop the mixture becoming too jammy. Finally stir in a good pinch of cinnamon and leave to cool.

Endless possibilities await. Decisions, decisions. Maybe I’ll swirl it through some yogurt and shower it in muesli for breakfast….  Or maybe it will get rolled up in some filo pastry for a quick festive strudel… Perhaps it’d be best hot, like molten lava over some ice cream…. I’ll let you know.

Cranberry, orange and almond mince pies – two ways

Cranberry, orange and almond mince piesI’ve never made my own mincemeat. Whilst apparently super straight forward, it always feels like one step too far when you have a million and one other things to do in December. Yet that doesn’t stop me tinkering a little bit with the shop-bought stuff, which in my book makes it pretty much as good as home made. The combination of cranberry and orange flavours enhances any jar of mincemeat beautifully and I must say I feel pretty pleased with myself about this little invention.

I made two types of pie as I was feeling indecisive. The pies were for a work bake-off and couldn’t decide whether to go for a sweet, moist almond frangipane topping or an orange crumble topping, so in the end I made both. This recipe therefore makes 24 pies, but is easily halved. Read more