Thursday, 26 November 2009

Christmas Pudding: Part 1

A couple of weeks ago while I was strolling around a market in a lovely little town in Gran Canaria I came across several stalls selling linens. More specifically they were selling Christmas themed linens; tablecloths, tea towels and aprons, all decorated with Santas, pointsettias, angels, etc... It reminded me of when I was a child when the Sears Christmas Catalogue would arrive and I would spend ages looking through the pages of Christmassy homewares. I could not understand why my mom did not have reindeer patterned plates, it seemed like an important element missing from our lives. I decided that when I grew up I would have my very own set of Christmas themed table settings. Looking at them now I could only laugh as they seemed especially absurd given the 28 °C temperature and blazing sunshine. It reminded me that before i left for my relaxing holiday in the sun I had mixed my Christmas puddings and would need to steam them upon my return.

I love making Christmas puddings, it is such a long process involving several steps but I love each one. I love shopping for the ingredients and liberally pouring in the brandy. I love the stirring up and calling E. into the kitchen to have a few stirs, I love tying up   the puddings and I love the six hours of steaming each pudding (or slightly less as I made some smaller puds this year). I love giving home-made pudding to people as gifts as they are always so excited. I love saturating it with warmed brandy and then setting it alight.

The wonderful thing about Christmas puddings is that you can change the ingredients to suit your own tastes. Don't like almonds, that's okay use pecans or hazelnuts. Not a fan of brandy, use rum. Big nutmeg fan, add more!

Christmas Pudding
Adapted from
Gary Rhodes 
225 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
225 g white breadcrumbs
250 g shredded suet
100 g ground almonds (I also added a handful of whole almonds)
500 g soft dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
3-4 peeled carrots, grated
175 g stoned prunes, finely chopped
600 g mixed currants, sultanas & raisins (I used luxury mixed fruit)
100 g chopped mixed peel
50 g candied ginger, chopped
100 g glace cherries
2 apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
Juice & grated zest of 1 orange & 1 lemon
5 eggs
125 ml brandy (or liquor of your choice)
4 tbsp black treacle
4 tbsp golden syrup
300 ml Guinness

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and spices. Add the breadcrumbs, suet, ground almonds and brown sugar Add the chopped prunes, grated carrots, dried fruit, mixed peel, apples and lemon & orange zest. Beat the eggs together and stir into the dry ingredients along with the lemon & orange juices, rum, treacle, golden syrup and Guinness.

Mix the ingredients are well incorporated and fairly gloopy, now call anyone in the house to help stir- clockwise for good luck. Don't forget to make a wish!

Cover the bowl with cling wrap and refrigerate for up to one week to allow the mix to mature.

r into greased and floured pudding bowls, tie and steam steam steam  ! I used 2x 1litre bowls and 2x 500ml bowls. I steamed the larger puds for six hours and the smaller puds for 4 hours. Make sure that the water comes up about halfway up the side of the pudding in either a steamer basket or use an upturned saucer. Steam longer if you want a deeper colour for your pudding. If you wish to add the traditional 50 pence peace remember to clean well by soaking in vinegar or soda water.

Once cool, re-tie the pudding using clean foil and parchment and store until the big day.

On Christmas day steam for another hour and half to two hours and serve with brandy butter or cream.

In Part 2 I will tell you about the time I stole (I mean liberated) a piece of holly from a Madrid Hotel to top my pudding.

Stay Tuned

Sunday, 15 November 2009

My First Ever Macarons!

After what seems like an eternity of oohing and ahhing over so many beautiful macaron related blog posts, I finally decided to be brave and make my own. I have never had the pleasure of tasting the french Ladurée or Pierre Hermé versions, only some from Paul and Maison Blanc so I am not an expert of what constitutes the perfect macaron. While some prefer their macarons with just enough filling to hold them together, I prefer a generous dollop of buttercream or ganache. My favourite flavour is pistachio but I decided my first batch should be simple so I went with plain almond.

 I had actually considered taking a class to learn the basics but having bookmarked so many recipes and how-to pages this year, I thought I should at least be able to make a fair attempt on my own. I honestly thought I would be posting about my first failed undertaking of macarons, with the knowledge that it would be a useful exercise- I could at least learn from my mistakes and improve my technique. However I am as shocked and amazed as anyone that they have turned out as well as they have, not perfect and here is a few reasons why:

  • they are a bit too big so next time I will need to use a smaller pastry tip.
  • the first tray browned a little too quickly so I ended up under-baking them; I put the second tray lower down in the oven and that helped a lot. Next time I will also rotate the pan for more even baking.
  • they could have a slightly better dome so I will need to pay attention to the consistency and maybe use older egg whites.
 I have to say that when I saw them raising to a slight dome I was quite excited but when I also noticed they had developed little feet I could barely contain myself. It is possible that I may have actually jumped up and down and there may have also been a macarons induced screech.

Basic Almond Macarons
adapted from Serious Eats
225 grams icing sugar (sifted)
125 grams almonds
110 grams egg whites (some suggest 24-48 hours old egg whites but I didn’t bother)
30 grams caster sugar
Pinch of salt

Blitz almonds in a food processor until finely textured and then sift. Mix the almonds and icing sugar in a bowl and set aside.In a large clean, dry bowl whisk the egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Whisk until they form stiff peaks. Gradually fold in icing sugar/ almond mixture into egg whites until completely incorporated. The mixture should be shiny and 'flow like magma.' When small peaks dissolve to a flat surface, stop mixing.

Fit a piping bag with a 1cm round tip (my tip was too big which resulted in larger than usual macarons). Pipe the batter onto parchment lined baking sheets and tap the underside of the baking sheet to remove air bubbles. Let the piped macarons dry at room temperature for about 15-30 minutes to allow skins to form.

Bake at 160°C oven for 10 to 11 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to keep the oven door slightly ajar, and rotate the baking sheet after 5 minutes for even baking. Once out of the oven poor a few drops of water under the the parchment- the steam will help release the macarons from the paper.

Vanilla Buttercream Filling
adapted from Kitchen Musings
3 egg yolks
115 grams plus 2 tbs sugar
225g butter, at room temperature
1tsp vanilla extract

In a clean glass or metal bowl, combine the yolks and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and whisk for 30 seconds. Simultaneously, in a small saucepan with the remaining ½ cup of sugar, and 3 tablespoons of water. Cook over high heat until the mixture reaches 120 °C. Stir vanilla extract into the boiling syrup. Drizzle the vanilla syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg yolks, whisking them briskly to blend. Continue whisking the egg yolk mixture until the yolks have tripled in volume and have cooled. Add the butter and whisk until the buttercream is fluffy and creamy with stiff, shiny, pointy peaks. Pipe one macaron with as much filling as you like and sandwich together.

While I realise that the overall success of my macarons is probably down to luck, I do feel quite proud of myself. I can't wait to make another batch... and neither can E.