Easter Baking

Naomi is coming over this weekend, we haven’t managed to get together for a few weeks. She asked me if I would make some hot cross buns and maybe some fruit cake.

I haven’t made hot cross buns for a few years, last year we were away and the year before I think we couldn’t get together or maybe I just didn’t have the time. I’m never entirely happy with my hot cross buns. I never seem to be able to get yeast to rise the way I would like. I’m a traditionalist about hot cross buns. I don’t want them chocolate flavoured, or with chocolate chips or worse with no fruit. You can buy hot cross buns in the supermarket more or less from Boxing Day which annoys the heck out of me.  I wouldn’t eat mince pies all year round even though I adore them and I consider that hot cross buns should only be eaten at Easter. The rest of the year they could be sold as yeasty fruit buns with no crosses. I don’t know why they just don’t do that.

I have a few recipes but as I was not sure if I had enough plain flour I decided to look online to see if there was a recipe that would work with self-raising flour.  I found a couple on an American website and learned that if you use self-raising flour you don’t need yeast or salt. In the end, I decided that I had enough plain flour and I’d just bought yeast so I went to an Australian site and picked a recipe from that.

The recipes included the instructions for making the baked on crosses with flour and water and to my surprise, several people who commented on the US site were quite suspicious of this idea and thought it would taste awful. Most of the Australian and British recipes put this as a matter of course unless the crosses are to be iced on later.  Some readers were going to make their baked on crosses with sugar instead. I don’t know how that would have worked out.

Now me, I don’t do either as I have a lot of trouble with piping anything. I just can’t get the hang of it.  What I do is to use pastry and stick them on. Well, I used frozen pastry but I didn’t want to thaw out a whole packet of it just for that so I planned to make sausage rolls as well and do the crosses with the leftover pastry. My sausage rolls are nothing fancy. I just mixed my sausage meat with a little chutney for some extra flavour.

My first batch of buns made on Wednesday, I wasn’t too happy with. I left them in the oven a bit too long and while they were not burnt they were not quite right so I made another batch today which I thought looked better. They are very fruity because I always put more fruit than required in any recipe that involves it.

Here is the recipe I used. There are many variations on this of course. I have a similar one in my Margaret Fulton Cookbook but decided to use this one as I had raisins and peel I wanted to use up. I may have thrown some currants in there as well. Surprisingly for me, they came out looking not unlike the ones in the recipe.

http://allrecipes.com.au/recipe/27816/hot-cross-buns-for-easter.aspx

Homemade hot cross buns

 

It’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll.

Here are the sausage rolls, some of them will be eaten tomorrow no doubt.

As long as I had the oven on I thought I might as well pop in a batch of cupcakes. Naomi likes Red Velvet Cake and as I didn’t think I’d get time to make one from scratch I bought a packet mix.

Red Velvet cupcakes (from a packet).

My fruitcake was also a bit of an experiment. Mum used to make a fruit cake that I really liked and I knew she put cold tea in it instead of water to mix. I can’t recall where the recipe came from so I just looked online to find something similar. One was quite complicated and I knew mum’s recipe was very simple so I found another which basically just called for soaking the fruit in a cup of black tea until it cooled. I did a practice run earlier in the week and as with the buns left it in the oven just a bit too long although it was still edible. When I came to make it again yesterday I found I had run out of brown sugar. As going to the shops would have taken too long, I just used some baking sweetener I had on hand. I adjusted the cooking time a bit, longer than the recipe said but not as long as I’d left it the other day. I think that it came out quite well.

Fruit cake made with tea.

I got both the fruit cake and hot cross bun recipes from Allrecipes.com.au

At the moment the site is not letting members save recipes so I had to search again to find them, lucky I printed mine out. There are a few variations of the fruit cake. This one is called Mixed Fruit Barm Brack, the others, which are mostly Irish and Welsh recipes, involve soaking the fruit overnight. I knew mum never did that so thought this one was more true to what she would have made.

http://allrecipes.com.au/recipe/358/mixed-fruit-barm-brack.aspx

Vegetable Vengeance

onion and garlic on white surface
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In my last food-related post I mentioned I wrote about how cabbage smells bad when boiled for too long. I was doing a bit of reading about it before writing that post and found an article that said that cabbage is one of a family of plants that defends itself. Cabbage contains sulfur compounds that are released in the cooking process. The longer you cook it the worse the smell. Another member of this family is the onion. Onions are mean, they make me cry.

This is a description of what happens when you peel onions.

Amino acid sulfoxides form sulfenic acids as you slice into an onion. These enzymes which were isolated are now free to mix with the sulfenic acids to produce ​propanethial S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound gas which wafts upward and into your eyes. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns, stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away.

https://www.thoughtco.com/why-do-onions-make-you-cry-604309

All I know is that I find it extremely difficult to peel onions as my eyes get sore and watery. It was a kitchen chore I would always pass off to David who didn’t seem to be affected by it.

There are supposedly a few cures for it. Someone told me that eating dry bread would help. Well, I enjoyed the bread but I still cried.

Wearing safety goggles over my glasses had not occurred to me. I am not sure I’d do that if I had them I’d probably just forget until it was too late. I’ve also read that rubbing your hands on a stainless steel odour absorber can help.

Somehow I feel passing the onion chopping job to someone else is still a better idea. Or possibly just buying frozen onions. As it is I keep a box of tissues handy when I have to do this job.

 

 

Snapshot Sunday: Fruits of My Labour

The apples on my tree are just beginning to ripen and it looks like there will be a good crop so I’ve been hunting up recipes for apples. Today’s effort was an old favourite, apple crumble.

Tale of Two Blenders

It’s the time of year when I start thinking about Christmas cooking. I haven’t bothered to bake much this year but I love making our Christmas pudding, Christmas Cake and mince pies. Today seemed like a good day to make a start by preparing  the Christmas Pudding. I made sure when I ordered my groceries that I had all the necessary ingredients but there was one thing I forgot. This recipe calls for fresh  breadcrumbs and I always prefer to make them myself in my blender.

Not long after David and I were married mum got me a blender for Christmas. It was a good one with a glass jug and many settings for blending, mixing and chopping. I had it for years.

image bread crumbs made in blender
making breadcrumbs

Finally, about three years or so ago it went to Appliance Heaven. I decided that rather than buying another blender I’d like to get a food processor with a large bowl and dough hooks that would be useful for making pastry and other things that I find tiring to do by hand. My little electric mixer was even older so my plan was to buy something to replace them both and I started to research what I wanted to buy. I never buy any kind of gadget or appliance without reading up on all the available models to decide which is the best value for money and most suited to my needs.

However, David decided to be helpful and he went to our local hardware store and bought a blender. It was a cheap model and not what I wanted at all. I felt annoyed because I didn’t feel I could justify buying a food processor now we had this blender. I couldn’t take it back to the shop because David could not find the receipt and then he got sick so we had more important things to worry about. Anyway I decided that I was not going to use the blender and I didn’t. I can’t remember what I did for breadcrumbs for the next two years. I think I must have bought pre-made ones. I can be very stubborn when I want. I bought a soup maker around that time and that did perfectly well for blending liquids but it didn’t chop or crumb.

Tiffany Blender

This morning when I lined up all the ingredients for the pudding I realised that I did not have any breadcrumbs. It was raining and it is a half hour walk to the shops. If I wanted breadcrumbs I was going to have to use that blender. I got it out of the cupboard. Everything was still wrapped in plastic as I’d never even opened the box.

It would be lovely if I could say that the blender turned out to be great but I can’t. I’m sorry. I hated it as much as I knew I would when I first saw it. It had a plastic jug and felt too light in my hands. Instead of numerous labelled function buttons it had just three and did not say what they were best for. I made my breadcrumbs only adding a slice of bread at a time in case I overloaded it. When I was finished I carefully washed it out and repacked it in its box with the plastic wrap and the instruction sheet. If I can possibly avoid it I will never use it again.

I feel sorry that I was cross with David over this stupid purchase. It was just his way of buying things. If he needed camera or computer equipment he’d research it  but anything else he’d go and find the first thing that looked suitable and buy it without asking a lot of questions about it. Like a lot of men he didn’t like to shop much whereas I probably over think everything. I still don’t have a new food processor but luckily my little old mixer, now 47 years old is still going and hopefully will survive the Christmas cooking period.

 

Christmas Cooking – My Favourite Recipes Reblogged

Christmas pudding decorated with skimmia rathe...
Christmas pudding decorated with skimmia rather than holly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, here we are well into November and it’s time to start thinking about Christmas puddings again. I still intend to make one this year even though it will probably be two or three smaller puddings rather than a large one. I first posted this recipe in 2013 along with several other Christmas recipes that I like to make every year.

It doesn’t have to be made as far in advance as this and if you intend to make an alcohol free version you should probably leave it for a couple more weeks although as I explain you can freeze it. It needs a long cooking time so by doing it ahead you can pick a time when it is convenient to have it on the stove top for several hours rather than rushing to get it done later.

 Christmas Pudding

I usually start thinking about Christmas cooking in November. Not that we have a big celebration any more but I love the traditional Christmas Puddings, fruit cake and mince pies and as well as making them for us I also make them for my sister and to give as gifts to friends. I was taught that the earlier you prepared Christmas Pudding the better. They keep well and as they take a long time to cook it’s nice to have it all done and just have to reheat it on Christmas Day.

In a way it’s  labour of love. When I was a child my grandmother and later my mother would make the Christmas Pudding. They would be cooked with silver coins or little charms inside and the adults would always make sure that the children found one in their bowl. We continued the tradition when we moved from England to Australia even though the summer weather is often too hot to be eating a boiled or steamed pudding let alone cooking one. Australian decimal coins are made of an alloy, not silver and  you can’t cook them in the pudding. Mum would slip five cent pieces into the bowls when she served it instead. I can’t remember when I took over the making of the puddings. Mum never really enjoyed cooking that much and as she got older and found the hot summers tiring I started to do it instead.

We have used a few different recipes, the ones we used to use were made with suet. Traditionally you boil the pudding  in a floured cloth which always makes me think of Bob Cratchit‘s Christmas in Dickens “A Christmas Carol”. However, they can also be steamed in a basin or  pudding steamer and that’s what we have always done.

A Word About Weight’s and Measures

The recipe I’m going to share with you today originally came from an Australian Women’s Weekly magazine that I bought several years ago now. It had a Christmas cooking section which I liked so much that I use some of the recipes every year. I will give the measurements in metric weights and measures but will put in cup equivalents where I can and mention any substitutes that I’ve used as a variation. Here is a helpful link to convert metric to imperial weights. http://www.taste.com.au/how+to/articles/369/weights+measurement+charts#cup

A friend of mine who is a very good cook says that if you are following a recipe which someone has given you it is always better to weigh the ingredients as cup measurements can be inaccurate. That’s why your aunty Maude’s fruit cake recipe may not come out the same way when you try it. The cup she uses might be an old china tea-cup she always uses for cooking not your nice new metric 250ml measuring cup. My friend also says that even the way you add dry ingredients can make a difference. Do you pour them in straight from the cup or do you spoon them in gradually? So this recipe and the ones that I’ll post in the weeks leading up to Christmas will tell you what I do. Hopefully it will work for you too!

Ingredients:

image ingredients
Here are the ingredients for the Christmas Pudding.
  •  4 cups/750 grams mixed fruit
  • 1 1/3 cups /185 grams seeded dried dates chopped coarsely
  • 1 1/4 cups /185 grams raisins chopped coarsely
  • 1 1/2 cups/375ml water
  • 3/4 cup/165 grams caster sugar
  • 1 cup/200 grams firmly packed brown sugar
  • 250g butter chopped ( I sometimes use cooking margarine for this instead)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bi-carbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 3 eggs beaten lightly
  • 1/4 cup/60ml dark rum OR 1 tablespoon rum or brandy essence with 2 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 3 cups/210 grams firmly packed white breadcrumbs ( If I don’t have white bread I use whatever I have on hand)
  • 1 3/4 cups/260 grams plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

#Note: cup means 250ml Australian metric sizes

For the steaming method you will also need the following:

  • Pudding basin or steamer
  • baking paper or greaseproof paper
  • aluminium foil
  • kitchen string
  • scissors
  • large pan for boiling water.
  • largest mixing bowl you have
  • wooden spoon

Sizes:

This recipe can make one large pudding in an 8 cup/ 2 litre basin or you could make smaller ones. The suggested sizes are 2x 5 cup/1.25 litre basins or 10x 1 cup/250ml moulds. I don’t  have enough bowls in those sizes so I use what I have and alter the cooking times accordingly. This year I used one very small bowl, a slightly larger one and a medium-sized one which I didn’t quite manage to fill. It makes working out the cooking times a bit tricky but I’ve been doing it for long enough now.

My thrifty mum and grandma would alter recipes according to what they had in the house and I do the same. If you want to leave out dates and put in currants, sultanas or extra raisins instead it’s fine.  Nothing bad will happen I promise! Now, to business.

Method:

combining the sugars, fruit, butter and water
combining the sugars, fruit, butter and water

Combine the fruit, sugars, butter and water in a large pan. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. Bring to boil.
Reduce heat, simmer uncovered for 8 minutes.
Stir in bi-carb soda. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. During this time I usually make my breadcrumbs and prepare my bowls if I haven’t already done so.

image bread crumbs made in blender
making breadcrumbs

Add the combined eggs and rum, then the breadcrumbs, sifted flour and spices. I sift my flour twice, once when I put it on the scales and again when I add it to the pudding. Mix well. At this point my mother and grandmother would invite anyone in the household to take a turn in stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon. Each of us would stir the pudding three times while making a wish. I still make a wish whenever I do this.

image eggs and rum
Mixing rum with the eggs
image pouring eggs and rum into mixture
pouring eggs and rum into mixture
image mixture
Don’t forget to make a wish.

If you haven’t already done so grease the pudding basin or pudding steamer and line the base with a circle of baking paper. Spoon in the mixture and top with a sheet of baking paper and a sheet of aluminium foil which has had a pleat folded into it. Secure the cover with string, or if you are using a steamer with a lid you can just seal it. I usually tie a string across the top of the bowl too as it makes it easier to lift out of the boiling water without hurting yourself.

image pudding basins prepared for steaming.
Prepared pudding basins

Place the basin or steamer into a large pan filled with enough boiling water to come about half way up the side of the basin. You may have to experiment a bit with this. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and boil for the following times:

  • 8 cup/2 litre – 6 hours
  • 2×5 cup/1.25 litre – 4 hours
  • 10x 1 cup/250ml – 2 hours in a shallow pan, an electric frying pan is suggested for this.
image puddings steaming on stove top
puddings steaming on stove top

If you have a different size you may have to “guesstimate”. I’m doing my two small ones for 3 hours and the medium one for 4 hours. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the pans while they are cooking and replenish with more boiling water to maintain the water level. I don’t recommend the tall stock pot in the picture above as it is too tall and narrow. However it is all I had available at the time. Something like the one in front works much better.

This pudding keeps for several weeks in an airtight container in the fridge. It can also be frozen and reheated later. If you freeze it thaw it out in the fridge for about 3 days for the largest size. You can reheat it in the microwave, either as individual serves, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for about 1 minute per serve, or the entire pudding. We generally turn it out of the bowl and stand it on a serving plate then microwave it on medium for about 15 minutes for the large size or until hot.

If you want to be very traditional you can pour brandy over the pudding before serving it and set it alight. You are bound to get a few “Oohs” and “Aahs.” The pudding can be served with the traditional brandy custard or as we do with thick cream and or custard. Australians often serve it with ice cream too and why not?

I don’t have a photo of the finished pudding about to be served but it should look something like this.

Christmas Pudding being flamed. Brandy has bee...
Christmas Pudding being flamed. Brandy has been set alight and poured over it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore

Today I said goodbye to a long time kitchen companion. My blender went to meet its maker while crumbling a batch of breadcrumbs for my Christmas Pudding. It didn’t make a fuss or go out with a bang, it chugged along wearily and then just stopped.

image bread crumbs made in blender
making breadcrumbs

I feel a bit sad. My mother gave me that blender. I think it was the first Christmas after I was married. That’s more than 35 years of service. You can’t complain about that. It got me thinking about appliances generally and how many we’d owned over the years. It does seem like the older ones gave the best service.

My oldest appliance is a hand-held electric mixer. This came into the family in an unlikely way. I was 13 years old and the local paper was running an essay competition “Why my suburb is best” I entered and was very surprised to win, perhaps it was because I was  a kid that I won but anyway the prize was (in 1970) $25 worth of wallpaper from a store in the city. Luckily they recognised that as I was a child and we lived in a rental home wallpaper was not a great prize and allowed me to have a gift voucher instead.  Mum needed a new mixer at the time so my voucher was used to buy this little Sunbeam hand mixer. Seven years later, when I was married, mum gave it to me.

image creaming butter and sugar
creaming the butter and sugar

It still goes, it’s lost the caps off the end of the blades and is a bit sluggish but it goes; for how much longer I don’t know.

I still have my original electric frying pan although Hubby broke the Pyrex lid and I don’t really fry much these days.

I still have an iron that I was given as a wedding present. I was given two and kept both, when the first one died I started using the second one. They were both Sunbeam’s too. Of course I don’t iron a lot now but I’m starting to think about replacing it sometime.

On the other hand we’ve had three microwaves, at least three drip filter percolators, three fridges, three washing machines and two vacuum cleaners.

The first vacuum cleaner lasted from the late 70s to the early 2000’s. It was an Electrolux which I bought from “The Electrolux Man” who sold door to door. It didn’t fail, I replaced it twelve years ago because we had just bought a house full of carpet and I thought we needed a new one. I had been gradually eliminating carpet at the old place. I gave the old one to Hubby to use in his shed where it eventually packed up a couple of years later I think.

How about that! The ads were true!