Tag Archives: Christmas

Mulled Cider

Merry Christmas!

Everyone seems to be drinking mulled cider rather than mulled wine this year so I thought I’d stick my oar in and give you my recipe for it (if you prefer mulled wine click this link for my recipe for that from last year). You may have been expecting a massive over-the-top Christmas feast post this time of year; well, I can only apologise as this is all I can muster. I promise to do something better next year…

Mulled cider has been drunk during the winter festivities at least as long as mulled wine and it is perhaps the descendant of a much older drink called wassail made from roasted apples that was knocked back by many in the south-west of England. Wassail night involves a most bizarre ritual that requires a man blacking himself up as revellers hang pieces of dry toast onto twigs. I shall leave that hanging there. It deserves its very own post – perhaps it shall be next year’s Christmas tipple recipe.

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The recipe is pretty straight-forward – you need a good dry cider, a little sweetener and a little fortification of alcohol in the form of dark rum. Then it’s the usual spices that one would expect: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. It’s very delicious and much nicer than mulled wine I think. The amounts given below are for mere guidance as it is all to taste really:

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) dry cider

2 cox’s apples, sliced

2 clementines, sliced

2 sticks of cinnamon

6 allspice berries

4 cloves

small piece of nutmeg

2 to 4 tbs dark rum

2 or 3 tbs soft dark brown sugar

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Place the cider, fruit and spices in a saucepan and heat gently so that all the flavours can infuse into the cider for 5 to 10 minutes– on no account let it boil, you don’t want to cook the alcohol away. Next, add the rum and sugar to taste and serve!

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Jane Grigson’s Orange Mincemeat

It’s just occurred to me that I haven’t put on a Christmas recipe and it is only just over two weeks until the special day. This month has flown by at a scarily quick pace.

Luckily two weeks is just enough time to make this delicious orange flavoured mincemeat. Last year I gave you Mrs Beeton’s recipe, but this one comes from the wonderful Jane Grigson. It is very moist and because of the brandy, orange juice and orange liqueur. It is also vegetarian if you want it to be; the suet can be the vegetable-based sort, or you can leave it out altogether. Give it a go.

Jane Grigson

Jane Grigson

It is extremely easy to make: there is no cooking required so all you need to be able to do is chop, grate, mix and weigh. When you pot the mincemeat, it is very important you sterilise your jars. To do this first wash them in soapy water, then rinse and allow them to dry. Place the jars on a tray, with their lids sat beside them, facing upwards and pop them in the oven for 30 minutes at around 130⁰C. Let them cool a little before potting. If this seems a lot to make in one go, you can easily reduce the amounts as you see fit.

Click here for the recipe I use for making mince pies.

 

Ingredients

250 g (8 oz) chopped candied peel

1 kg (2 lb) peeled, cored and grated apples

500 g (1 lb) suet (fresh or packed is fine, but fresh is best)

500 g (1 lb) currants

500 g (1 lb) raisins

500 g (1 lb) sultanas

500 g (1 lb) soft dark brown sugar

1 freshly grated nutmeg

125 g (4 oz) slivered almonds

Juice and zest of 2 oranges

4 tbs brandy

6-8 tbs orange liqueur

 

Mix all the ingredients together in a huge mixing bowl, then pot into sterilised jars. Store somewhere dark and cool, but not the fridge! Leave the mincemeat to mature for at least together before using it.

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Mulled Wine

There is nothing better to warm your cockles during Christmastime than a bit of mulled wine. If you have never tried it or heard of it, then you are certainly missing out on something. Mulled wine is essentially hot, sweetened red wine made aromatic with the addition of citrus fruits and warming spices such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s history goes right back to the Ancient Greeks.

Before mulled wine was the drink hippocras, which was supposedly invented by the Greek scientist and Father of Medicine, Hippocrates. The idea being that it was something of a tonic. The wine was either red or white and not necessarily hot either, but it was spiced and sweetened with honey. In Britain, the drink was very popular and there are several recipes for it. Here’s one from The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson (1596):

To make Hypocrace

Take a gallon of white wine, sugar two pounds, of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace not bruised galingall [sic]…and cloves not bruised. You must bruise every kind of spice a little and put them in an earthen pot all day. And then cast them through your bags two times or more as you see cause. And so drink it.

Not heating it up obviously meant you had plan a little ahead if you wanted to have a few goblets of hippocras at your Tudor feast.

By the seventeenth century, mulled wine recipes start to appear such as this eighteenth century recipe from Elizabeth Raffald in The Experienced English Housekeeper:

Grate half a nutmeg into a pint of wine and sweeten it to your taste with loaf sugar. Set it over the fire and when it boils take it off to cool. Beat the yolks of four eggs exceedingly well, add to them a little cold wine, then mix them carefully with your hot wine a little at a time. Then pour it backwards and forwards several times until it looks fine and bright. The set it on the fire and heat it a little at a time for several times till it is quite hot and pretty thick, and pour it backwards and forwards several times. Then send it in chocolate cups and serve it with dry toast cut in long narrow pieces.

It is strange that the Tudor recipe actually seems more like modern mulled wine that the newer one.

Well here is my recipe for mulled wine – it is difficult to add quantities as you add most things to taste. It is also quite difficult to give an official list of ingredients; you can add any warm spice you like really (I expect a blade of mace would be an excellent addition, though I have never tried it), so this recipe is more a guideline than anything.

Ingredients

2 bottles of red wine, good but not great

¼ pint of brandy

½ pint of water

2 oranges, sliced

1 lemon, sliced

2 sticks of cinnamon

½ a nutmeg broken into several pieces

5 cloves

at least 4 tablespoons sugar

In a large saucepan, add all the ingredients and slowly heat the wine, stirring every now and again to dissolve the sugar and get the flavours dispersed.

It is important not to let the mulled wine boil as the alcohol will evaporate and we don’t want that. Taste, and add more brandy, sugar or water if you think it needs it. Keep the mulled wine on the lowest heat possible to keep warm and ladle into mugs or glasses.

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To make mince pies…

A few posts ago I gave the recipe for Mrs Beeton’s mincemeat, so I thought it only right to give a little instruction in making mince pies. I have to tell you that it is really worth the trouble of making your own mincemeat and mince pies – any bought ones are incomparable and always too sweet. The secret to an excellent mince pie is two-fold: you need homemade mincemeat and you need shortcrust pastry that is made with half butter and half lard. many people recoil in horror these days at thought of using lard, but it isn’t that bad really, at least not in small doses.

A recipe by Roger Twysden from the times of Charles I (c. 1640) says that larger Christmas pies were also made using a mixture made of meat, sugar, dried fruit and spices. He then says: “put them in coffins or pyes, and bake them”. The word coffin was used to describe the pastry-shell of pies. The reason they were called coffins is because, in earlier times, the pastry simply served as a casing for the meat to be cooked; the pastry actually being inedible itself. They weren’t actually coffin-shaped, except for the Christmas Pie as Charles Dickens, writing in 1877, tells us: ‘ The coffin shape…is not now familiar to us. There is good reason to believe that, in old times, the form was symbolic of the manger at Bethlehem; and that Christmas Pie, whether mice or not, had religious as well as a gastronomic association with this particular season.’

For more typical mice pies, these are Jane Grigson’s instructions, and they are excellent.

Roll out your pastry and use cutters to line small tart tins. Add a teaspoon of the mincemeat – not too much though the suet and sugar expands quite alot. Use some beaten egg to glue on lids of pastry, pinching as you go. Lastly brush the top with more egg, make a little cross in the top of the pie so steam can escape and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake at 220⁰C (425⁰F) for 15 to 20 minutes. Eat warm or cold. If you are feeling extra-Christmassy and if your stomach can take it, add a blob of brand or rum butter. Personally I go for a blob of lightly whipped cream or even some custard if any is to hand.

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Decorating the Christmas Cake

Once your Christmas cake is nicely matured and well-fed on brandy, it is time to decorate the bugger. In my opinion it is best to go all-or-nothing; either don’t decorate at all or go crazy. Traditionally, in England at any rate, you need a layer of marzipan and a layer of royal icing. Though I have seen recipes that have a bakeable marzipan and no icing, which I must admit is attractive, but I keep it traditional, even though I am not really bothered about the icing. No, I do it simply for tradition’s sake.

I gave the Christmas cake recipe that I use in the previous post, so if you have made one or have a bought undecorated one that you want to put your own stamp on, I have recipes for marzipan and for royal icing too. Don’t forget to add some festive bits and bobs too.

Sorry about the lack of photos, I shall update the post whenever I next decorate a Christmas cake! Instead, here is a sexy Victorian lady full of sexy Christmas cheer.

Marzipan

Marzipan is essentially a paste made of ground almonds and sugar and it found its way in Europe from the Middle East via the Crusades. It was the Italians – specifically the Milanese – that really took to the stuff, refining the techniques to produce a very high quality product that was excellent for making into extravagant sculptures. Leonardo da Vinci was quite despondent after making some amazing and intricate marzipan sculptures for the Milanese court as he ‘observed in pain that [they] gobble up all  the sculptures I give them, right down to the last morsel.’

Aside from being used as a sculpture material, marzipan also became a popular sweetmeat used by chocolatiers and bakers. Some of my favourite cakes use marzipan: Battenburg, stollen and simnel cake. The Christmas cake got its layer of marzipan because the Twelfth Night cake – traditionally covered in it – was banned by the Puritan and Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell as too frivolous, so people added the marzipan they loved so much to their Christmas cake instead.

Here’s the recipe I always use for the cake; again from Jane Grigson. What I like specifically about this recipe is that it is not too sweet, which I think the bought stuff always is. Also, when you make your own marzipan, it has a much better texture as well as flavour.

8 oz icing sugar

1 lb ground almonds

1 large egg, beaten

3-4 tsp lemon juice

1 tbs apricot jam

1 tbs water

Sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl and stir in the almonds. Stir in the beaten egg and lemon juice to form a paste. Knead the marzipan on a surface floured with icing sugar. Easy.

To cover the cake with it, you first need to slice the top of your cake off so that it is a nice, flat surface. I always like that bit because I get to try the cake. Then turn it upside down and pop it on a wire rack. Warm up the jam and water in a pan and paint the whole cake with the glaze.

On a sheet of greaseproof paper, roll out two-thirds of the marzipan into a round shape that is just a little larger than the cake itself. Use the cake tin as a template. Pick up the marzipan still stuck to the paper, place it on top of the cake and peel off the paper. Next, take the remaining third of the paste and roll that out into strips the same height as the cake and secure them to the cake. Press the edges together as you go as well as any cracks that may appear.

You need to leave the cake for a couple of days to dry a little before adding the icing (should you want to).

Royal Icing

Royal icing is the classic icing for the Christmas cake – it is ‘royal’ because it was the British Royal Family that used in for their wedding cakes, and naturally if the Royals did it, then we copied it. Icing had been around since the eighteenth century; before that, their wasn’t the technology to refine the sugar to appropriate levels. The first icing was similar to royal icing, it was spread over the top of the cake but then the cake was returned to the oven to set hard. The final result was a nice flat, shiny surface like that of a frozen lake, hence we call the stuff icing. Elizabeth Raffald mentions it in The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) – the first written recording of the word.

Royal icing is the most popular icing because it can be piped and coloured easily. Plus it is easy to make , which a bonus. Here’s how:

2 medium egg whites

2 tsp lemon juice

1 lb icing sugar

Whisk the egg whites until frothy but not yet stiff and then stir in the lemon juice. Sieve the sugar and then add it to the egg white bit by bit, mixing as you go – an electric beater comes in very handy here, but you can use a wooden spoon if your forearms are up to the job. Cover the bowl with some cling film and leave for a couple of hours. Spread half the mixture all over the cake using a palette knife dipped in hot water to smooth it out. Use the remaining half for decoration. I have never piped my own icing – I always chicken out, but I have bought a set now so there’s no excuse next year – instead, I add it roughly to the cake and then use the side of a knife to make a nice spiky snow effect. When decorated, leave it for a day or two to set hard.

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Christmas Cake

Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies – if you don’t like dried fruit you are in trouble at Christmastime!

The Christmas cake as we know it comes from two Christian feast days: Twelfth Night and Easter.

When families in the sixteenth century made their Christmas puddings for the big day, they would often use some of the mixture, with the addition of flour and eggs, to bake and eat for Eastertime. These were obviously rather rich families. It was liked so much that the rich fruitcake was made for Christmas too. We also dropped it from the Easter menu for some reason.

The addition of the marzipan and royal icing (see here for recipes) came much later when a cake was banned from Christmas. The last day of Christmas is Twelfth Night (the 5th of January) and it used to be traditional to make a Twelfth Night cake that contained almonds and was covered in marzipan. Oliver Crowell, the Lord Protector of England, and the other Puritans banned the feasting on that special day in the 1640s (he also banned mince pies as well) complaining that there was too much excess. Christmas Day remained a public holiday and some feasting was allowed, so people simply made their Christmas cake and covered that in marzipan instead, and so the Christmas cake was born.

Britain’s biggest ever party-pooper: Oliver Cromwell

You don’t have to cover it with the marzipan and royal icing though (see here for recipes); in Yorkshire (my home county) it is popular to eat the Christmas cake with some nice cheese such as Wensleydale or Cheddar instead.

I love Christmas cake, so I thought I would give you the recipe I always use – it is adapted from Jane Grigson’s English Food (click here to see my other pet project) – and it has never failed on me. As I said a couple of posts ago, if you want to eat top-quality food at Christmas, you need to make your own, or spend a fortune at Harrod’s. Plus the cake is made well in advance – I usually make mine 6 weeks before Christmas so it can mature. Once you’ve cooked it, you only have to feed it with a little brandy to make it nice and moist.

This recipe is of course for an English-style Christmas cake; the Scottish, Welsh and Irish have their own versions, all in a similar vein, but with a few differences. I’ll blog about them at some point.

I have realised that I don’t have any decent photographs of my Christmas cake (I had a hard-drive die on me and I lost lots of photos), but I shall take some next year when I shall be making this cake again…

Ingredients:

1 ½ lb mixed dried fruit

4 oz of whole roasted almonds

4 oz chopped candied citrus peel

4 oz rinsed glacé cherries quartered or left whole

10 oz plain flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp grated nutmeg

the grated rind of a lemon

8 oz salted butter

8 oz soft dark brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbs black treacle (or molasses)

4 eggs

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbs warmed milk

brandy

Preheat your oven to 140⁰C (275⁰F).

Begin by mixing all the dried fruit, almonds, candied peel and cherries in a large bowl. Next, sift in the flour, turning in and coating the fruit, then mix in the spices and fresh lemon rind.

Now cream the butter sugar in a separate bowl, then mix in the vanilla and black treacle. Beat in four eggs one by one until incorporated, and the mix in the fruit and the flour. For the final stage, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the warmed milk, stir it in, and then add enough brandy to slacken the mixture slightly, so that it achieves a dropping consistency – you don’t want a dry cake, now do you?

Line an eight inch cake tin with greaseproof paper and pour the mixture in, hollowing the top a little to compensate for it rising in the oven. Cover with a layer of brown paper to prevent scorching and bake for 3 to 3 ½ hours. Test it after 3 hours with a skewer. When done, leave to cool in its tin overnight. Wrap in greaseproof paper or foil and keep in an airtight container.

Ideally the cake should sit for at least a month to mature, but 2 or 3 weeks is also fine. Whilst it sits, you need to feed it with a sprinkle of 2 or 3 tablespoons of brandy, turning the cake every couple of days or so.

The cake is ready to eat when it has been ‘fed’ for a little while, however, you might want to add a layer of marzipan and royal icing.

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Traditional Mincemeat

To kick off the Christmas theme for December, I thought I would give you a couple of mincemeat recipes – one sixteenth and one nineteenth century. They cenrtainly different from the Robinson’s jarred stuff my Mum used when I was a child. Robinson’s were a strange brand of preserves with a ‘Golly’ mascot that was still being used in the 2000s. It’s a long story of how this was allowed that requires a whole entry to itself I think…

Modern day mincemeat is a preserve of sugar, dried fruits, nuts and suet used to fill mince pies. It is certainly in no way meaty. In fact, I think vegetarian suet used these days. The further back you travel in time however, the more meaty the recipes become. Originally, the idea was to make a pie filled with minced meat, heavily flavoured with spices and dried fruits. There were two main reasons for this; first it allowed one to show off about how much spice one could afford; and second, the sweet aromatics could overpower any meat that was past its prime. To show you what I mean, here’s how ‘to bake the humbles of a deer’ from The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson from 1598 (the humbles are the innards by the way):

Mince them very small and season them with salt and pepper, cinnamon and ginger, and sugar if you will, and cloves, mace, dates, and currants and, if you will, mince almonds, and put unto them. When it is baked you must put in fine fat, and sugar, cinnamon and ginger and let it boil. When it is minced put them together.

The last sentence is puzzling, but it seems to be a recipe that is possible to do these days, though in sixteenth century cook books there are never quantities mentioned.

The same cannot be said for the next recipe from Mrs Isabella Beeton. Mrs Beeton was the first recipe writer to have the great idea of listing the ingredients and the quantities before the recipe. In her magnum opus of 1888, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, she included  recipes for a regular one, an American one and an ‘excellent’ one. I have never tried the latter two recipes, but the regular one makes the best mince pies I have ever eaten in my life, so if you are thing of making your own mincemeat I urge you to give this one a go. It does contain beef which shouldn’t put you off as you can’t taste it, but it does give it amazing delicious qualities. The quanitities Mrs Beeton gives are huge, so it is best to half or even quarter them. Here they are:

2 lbs raisins

3 lbs currants

1 1/2 lbs of lean beeef such as rump

3 lbs of suet – fresh is best, put the packet stuff is also good

2 pounds of soft dark brown sugar

6 oz mixed candied citrus peel (cintron, lemon, orange &c)

1 nutmeg, grated

2 lbs of tart apples such as Cox’s Orange pippins, peeled, cored and grated

the zest of 2 lemons and the juice of one

1/2 pint of brandy

Mince the beef and suet (or get your butcher to do it).

Then, mix all the remaining ingredients together well and pot into sterilised jars, making sure you push it down well to exclude any trapped air bubbles. Leave for at least 2 weeks before you use it. In a couple of weeks, I’ll give you recipe to make the perfect mince pie

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