Christmas Cooking- My Favourite Recipes Reblogged – Mince Pies

I thought that I would re-run this post again as it is my favourite recipe for mince pies.

DISCLAIMER

I am not a professional cook. It’s not even really a hobby. The main time of the year that I bake is at Christmas because I love all the traditional British Christmas goodies and I get more pleasure out of making them than buying them as it brings back pleasant memories of past Christmases that I’ve shared with my family.

Mince Pies

I love mince pies and look forward to having them every Christmas. The shops usually start selling them months before Christmas but I like to make my own. I do remember mum teaching me to make these when I was in my early teens and I took charge of making them for our family when I was about fifteen. I don’t think I have ever missed a year. I’ve experimented with various recipes. I used to make them with sweet short crust pastry but I’ve never been a very good pastry cook. When I was first married mum gave me the first Margaret Fulton Cookbook and in it was a recipe for mince pies made with biscuit pastry. I liked it so much I have been using it ever since. Every year my battered old book comes out and I make two dozen mince pies which is enough for Hubby and me and for my sister to have a batch as well. They can be frozen if you want to make them ahead of Christmas.

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces (yes this is an old recipe) of butter. I sometimes use cooking margarine instead.
  • 2 ounces (1/3rd cup) castor sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 10 ounces (2 1/2 cups) plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder To my horror when I came to make these this morning I found I had no baking powder so as hubby was unavailable to go to the shop I substituted bi-carbonate of soda. Baking powder is basically bi-carb (baking soda) with some other salts in it so it will work the same way.
  • 1 jar fruit mince. (The book has a recipe for home-made fruit mince but I’m too lazy to make it.)
  • icing sugar

    image ingredients
    What you will need.

Method:

  • Cream butter and sugar well
  • Add  the egg and beat well
  • Sift flour with baking powder and stir into the mixture.

If you are lucky enough to have a food processor or mixer with a dough hook go ahead and use them. I don’t have either so I mix with my old Sunbeam hand mixer which I remember getting for my mum when I was about thirteen. There is a story to that but I’ll save it for another day. I mix the flour in with a knife and then with my fingers. This may be why I don’t make pastry too often. Still I’m better off than my grandmother. She did all her mixing with a wooden spoon or a fork. This Fork.

image bowl of butter and sugar
Cream butter and sugar
image creaming butter and sugar
creaming the butter and sugar
image adding flour to bowl
add the sifted flour and baking powder

After mixing the pastry you knead it lightly on a floured board. At this point Margaret Fulton says chill the pastry for one hour but I have to admit I skip this step. I used to do it but I found the pastry even harder to handle chilled so now I just get on with it. I should mention that Margaret Fulton is an Australian and the recipes in the book are probably designed for Australian conditions so maybe if you are in a cool climate the chilling is not so essential. As I said, I’m not a chef. So chill or don’t chill as you please. If my dough is crumbly I sometimes add a tablespoon of cold water  to the mixture too. I didn’t today though.

Roll out your pastry thinly and cut rounds to fit your patty pans. If you don’t have biscuit cutters a small glass is fine for this. Cut the same number of smaller circles for the tops. I digress from Margaret here and cut all mine the same size.

image pastry making
Roll thinly and cut rounds
  • Place your larger rounds, or just half of them if you made them all the same size, in greased patty tins and moisten the edges with beaten egg.
  • Fill each pie with 1 heaped teaspoon of fruit mince. I like the English-made Robertson’s Fruit Mince best. I’ve tried other brands but you can’t beat this one in my opinion. One jar of it will make 15-20 pies, that’s what the jar says and it is true. Of course if you don’t like them really fruity it  will go a lot further.
  • Make a small slit in each pastry top or cut centre with a small star-shaped cutter and put into place on top of the fruit mince. Press edges together to seal the pastry.
  • Brush with beaten egg to glaze.
image fill with fruit mince
Fill with fruit mince

Cook in a moderate oven, 350 Fahrenheit. I do them at about 175 Celsius for 20-25 minutes or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and dust with icing sugar. Depending on how thinly you roll your pastry and the size of your patty tins you should get between 12-20 mince pies from this mixture. I tend to roll mine quite thick and I still usually get about 15.

image ready to bake mince pies
Glaze with beaten egg and bake
image mince pies
Mince Pies

Don’t forget to make a wish when you eat your first one for the year. We did a lot of wishing on things in our family.

 

More Mince Pies

 

 

Christmas Cooking – My Favourite Recipes Reblogged – White Christmas

Here is another post from  2014 when I shared some favourite Christmas recipes. I thought that I would share them all again this year for those that may not have seen them last time around. White Christmas is a great no-cook recipe.

White Christmas

Unlike the previous recipes in my Christmas Cooking series of posts White Christmas is a relatively new thing to me. I had never heard of it until I was well into my forties. It has become a firm favourite though and I sometimes make it to give as gifts to friends  as well as for the Christmas goodie basket I give my sister. It is very easy to make and doesn’t take long. In fact it’s so easy you could hardly even call it cooking.

I have two recipes for it to share with you.  One is made with copha and the other with white chocolate.

Go on, you have still got time to make some before Christmas.

Recipe One: submitted by austhome on www.allrecipes.com.au

Ingredients:

Serves: 6 

  • 3 cups Rice Bubbles
  • 1 cup dried mixed fruit
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup dry powdered milk
  • 3/4 cup of sifted icing sugar
  • 225 grams copha
  • drop of vanilla essence

Method:

Preparation:10min  ›  Cook:10min  ›  Ready in:20min 

  1. Put 3 cups of rice bubbles, 1 cup of mixed fruit, desiccated coconut, dry powdered milk and 3/4 sifted icing sugar in a bowl.
  2. Melt copha in saucepan. Add copha to dry ingredients in bowl and mix well.
  3. Press mixture firmly into a biscuit tray. Set in a refrigerator. Cut into squares.

    Mix the dry ingredients
    Mix the dry ingredients
Press into a biscuit tin
Press into a biscuit tin
White Christmas, this is the version made with copha.
White Christmas, this is the version made with copha.

It doesn’t get any easier than that!

Recipe Two: White Christmas with white chocolate

Sadly I didn’t make a note of who came up with this recipe but it came from the internet, either from allrecipes.com.au or a similar site. It is delicious and my favourite of the two.

Ingredients:

  • 375 grams white chocolate melts
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup dried mixed fruit
  • 1 cup rice bubbles
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup dry powdered milk – skim or full cream as you prefer
  • 1/4 cup halved glace cherries (optional).

Method:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heat proof  bowl over a pot of simmering water, don’t let the base of the bowl touch the water.
  2. Boil the cream in a small saucepan
  3. Mix the dried fruit, rice bubbles, coconut and milk powder into the melted chocolate.
  4. Stir in the cream and cherries and mix together carefully until well combined.
  5. Press into the tin and allow to set at room temperature (should take about an hour).

Cut into small squares with a knife dipped in boiling water.

This can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

I’m dreaming of more White Christmas:

http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/8738/white-christmas-made-with-white-chocolate

http://www.exclusivelyfood.com.au/2007/11/white-christmas-recipe.html

http://www.bakers-corner.com.au/recipes/slices/rocky-road/fruitless-white-christmas/

The food dish "White Christmas"
The food dish “White Christmas” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christmas Cooking – My Favourite Recipes Reblogged – Rich Fruit Cake

This is my favourite Christmas Cake recipe. I love rich fruit cake so I will probably make one this year. I’m not so good at cake decorating so I usually top mine with nuts but it is a very good cake to ice and decorate not just for Christmas but would probably work nicely as a wedding cake too as it keeps well.

Christmas Cake

This rich fruit cake is very easy to make and although I like to make it ahead you don’t really have to. It’s just as nice if you make it the night before Christmas, but do allow sufficient time for baking. I first found it in the Australian Women’s Weekly (published monthly) of November 2006 and I have been using it ever since. The measurements are in metric and I have included a couple of conversion charts as links for readers overseas.

Fruit Cake Recipe
Fruit Cake Recipe

Night Before Quick Mix Christmas Cake

Sizes:

The mixture will make either:

  • one large cake in a 22cm round or 19cm square deep cake tin
  • two smaller ones in either a 17cm round or 15cm square tins
  • four small cakes in 12.5cm round or 9.5 cm square tins

Ingredients:

image ingredients for Christmas Cake
Ingredients for Christmas Cake
  • 475 gram jar of fruit mince
  • 750 grams dried mixed fruit
  • 125 ml/  1/2 cup sweet sherry
  • 250 grams butter/cooking margarine, melted and cooled
  • 200 grams/ 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs beaten lightly
  • 300 grams/2 cups plain flour
  • 150 grams/ 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • blanched  whole almonds, pecans, Macadamia and walnuts to decorate

Note: If you don’t have sherry you  can use brandy or rum or for a non alcoholic cake use 2 tablespoons of  brandy or run essence combined with 1/3 cup of orange juice.

Preparations:

Read the instructions before you go any further. One or two of these things need to cool before you can use them and planning ahead saves time.  Melt the butter and heat the fruit first. While you are waiting for them to cool you can prepare the baking tin as follows:

Line the tin with two layers of brown paper and two layers of baking paper. Extend the paper 5cm above the top of the tin. I have never seen brown paper being sold by the roll around here so getting brown paper is a bit of a problem. Usually my hoarding instinct saves me and if I get anything wrapped in brown paper during the course of the year I save it. A couple of years ago I was volunteering at our local radio station and one of the sponsors sent round some goods to be used as raffle prizes in brown paper bags. After the bags were no longer needed I asked if I could have them so  I have a good supply of brown paper for the next couple of years. If you really can’t get any brown paper just use extra baking paper instead.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius or if you have a fan forced oven 120 Celsius is fine.

Method:

image fruit soaking
Soaking the fruit

Combine the dried fruit, fruit mince and sherry in a large microwave safe bowl and heat it, covered, on HIGH (100%) for 4 minutes, stirring once. Cool, uncovered, for half an hour.

Stir in the cooled, melted butter and sugar until combined. By the way if you don’t have dark brown sugar I’ve done it with light and it turns out fine.

Stir in the eggs and the sifted dry ingredients.

Spread mixture into the cake tin and smooth the top.

image uncooked fruit cake
Cake about to go into the oven

In my recipe you can then decorate the top with nuts before putting it into the oven. If you prefer not to have nuts skip this step and you can ice the cake later.

Cooking Times:

This may vary according to your oven of course.

  • For 1 large cake 3 1/2 – 4 hours
  • For 2 medium-sized cakes 2 – 2 1/2 hours
  • For 4 small cakes 1 3/4 – 2 hours

Remove cake from the oven and brush it with more sherry. Cover the hot cake with foil and wrap it in a large towel. Leave it to cool in the tin overnight.

image fruit cake with nuts
Fruit cake decorated with nuts.
image fruit cake
After cooling overnight in the tin the cake is turned out.

 

A DIY Project for a Rainy Day

Since my pergola was finished at the end of the autumn I have been looking around for some garden furniture. Eventually I would like a dining table and chairs but most sets that I’ve seen have large tables and six or more chairs. I don’t need that many and I don’t want the whole space taken up with furniture. I decided to buy what is known as a “Jack and Jill” chair, two timber chairs with a small table between them. That will be fine for my needs for now.

After a lot of hunting around and comparing prices I decided that I’d  get the best deal online so I ordered them and a week later they were delivered to my local post office where a friend collected them for me. As I expected the chairs were a flat pack and had to be put together.

My new garden furniture arrives, in pieces.
My new garden furniture arrives, in pieces.

I was relieved to see that an Allen key or hex key to use its other name was all that was required in the way of tools. When I worked for the railways one of my jobs was to replace damaged seats on the suburban rail cars so although I’m not the most handy person I did learn how to use an Allen key. I was less happy that the instructions were in the form of a diagram. I am happier when instruction sheets include step by step written instructions as well as pictures.  However, as these things are often written in “Chinglish” they are not always helpful anyway although they can be an entertaining read.

The instructions, just a diagram.
The instructions, just a diagram.

The weather was very bad and I didn’t want to drag all the heavy pieces out to the shed so construction took place mainly in the kitchen and finally in the sun room. I started as I always do by identifying all the pieces and found that I was one bolt short but as the instructions were not entirely clear about where it was supposed to go I decided to go ahead and start anyway hoping it would become clearer whether it was a vital part later.

Working out how it goes together.
Working out how it goes together.

The first part went together without any trouble, the hardest part being getting the seat back at the right angle.

One chair completed.
One chair completed.

When I came to the second half  I struck a few problems. It was not clear to me which way round the seat back had to go, they had little metal plaques on them and I couldn’t decide if these were meant to be at the back or the front. In the end I decided that I didn’t care as long as they fit into the correct slots and now have one facing the front and one the back. Well I never said I was Scott Cam. When I came to attach the table I discovered that  I had put the wrong piece on one of the chairs, two of them had little holes for the bolts for the table but it was very hard to see this on the diagram. Luckily it is not hard to undo bolts with an Allen key as long as you have not over tightened them.  I could have  got mad at this point but I didn’t, I decided to leave it for the day and come back fresh to finish it. Once I attached the table I discovered what the smallest bolts were for and then realised that although it was not shown on the diagram they were also supposed to be used on the inside of the seat back, except of course that I was one short. I went back and redid the seat backs and despite being a bolt short it seemed good and sturdy and took my weight when I sat in it.

As it had stopped raining by this time I dragged the whole thing outside and into the pergola and here is the result.

And Finally...
And Finally…
The chairs in place.
The chairs in place.

Not bad if I do say so myself.

Spring in the Garden

It is finally starting to feel like spring around here. The daffodils have been and gone but they are optimists and usually start showing up while there are still frosty mornings and sensible people are still wearing their winter underwear. The rest of the bulbs apart from the grape hyacinths were content to wait till we had a few sunny days before making an appearance.

Most of my spring bulbs are in containers this year. I’ve had grape hyacinths, star flowers which are still going, the tulips have just started to flower and a couple of hyacinths are teasing me with lots of leaves but no flowers as are a couple of other pots of assorted bulbs such as the Sparaxis which has started to flower this week. The English lavender and Federation daisies I potted in the autumn have made a good come back as have two bargain box rose bushes that I bought around the same time. The pelargonium sadly didn’t make it. I’m not sure why. The polyanthuses and pansy seedlings I planted have come up a treat too except for the ones in the bottom of the bird bath/ planter. I had my doubts about those though, it seemed rather a  shallow planter to support anything much.

My lovely apple tree has  started to show some green leaves and the Japanese Maple some red ones. I had been watching the  new deciduous trees closely for weeks. This was their first winter and although I know they are meant to be dormant they just looked like dead sticks in the ground. The Gleditsia did not even have any branches to speak of but over the past week little shoots have burst out all over it so although it’s still rather stick like at least I know it’s alive. Around the side of the house the Weeping Japanese Maple has also started to show some foliage.  I bought it on the recommendation of Jason, one of my “garden guys” who has one in his garden. It was bare when I got it and by far the most expensive tree I’ve bought so far. David would have had a fit I’m sure, he’d have seen more sense in ten fifteen dollar trees than one that cost a hundred and fifty but it’s supposed to be a very spectacular tree.  I liked the weeping habit, that’s what I really bought it for but the foliage is a very unusual colour as well.

I have been out taking my annual picture of the Photinia hedge too. Despite the fact that I lost one tree over the summer it’s really starting to look like a hedge now and I do love the colour of the new growth. Pretty soon I will be getting the outside of the house painted and I’m thinking about doing the balustrades and front door in a red to match the hedge.  There are a lot of red plants in both the front and back gardens, it is my favourite colour after all. There are red roses, down one side between me and the neighbours and the plants in the border at the back have red flowers, the Australian native Callistemon and the South African Leucadendron. Neither of those two are showing a spring growth spurt yet but I’m hoping they will shoot up a bit over the next few months.

Here is the hedge now, this time last year and when it was first planted.

The birds are back too. I’ve started to notice more varieties visiting the garden as well as the sparrows and blackbirds I get throughout the year. I haven’t managed to capture any pictures yet because at the moment they seem most active first thing in the morning. I’ve been getting a visits from swallow like birds with black backs. I think they are “Welcome Swallows”; they fly in and perch on the wire that carries a power line from the house to the shed. I’ve seen a few finches, the Green Rosellas that visited a few weeks ago and this morning a pair of Superb Fairy Wrens. I often see the males who are bright blue and black and easy to spot, the females are a more modest brown. I read that juvenile males can also be brown but as it is the start of the breeding season I think this mornings pair were honeymooners checking out the real estate. The apple tree was very popular as a bird apartment block last summer and remained so until it was practically bare.

 

I started writing this post a week or so ago before we had another round of extremely wet weather. I had to wait for a dry day to take the last couple of photos and it is amazing how much things have grown in just a week. The maples and the apple tree have a lot more leaves on them now and the apple tree even has a few flower buds. The Sparaxis started to flower, I had just about given up on it.  I also have some gladioli bulbs coming up ready for summer. I’m quite excited to have so many flowers this year as I haven’t really had much success growing flowers in the past. That’s why I usually stick to daffodils and other flowers that don’t require a lot of skill to grow. When we lived in South Australia the climate was much too hot and dry in summer to grow much and our garden was primarily limestone and required a lot of effort to dig. We had things like Oleander and Gazanias although I did manage to grow some bearded Iris’s which were very pretty. I like the Tasmanian climate much better though because I can have the English flowers I love as well as Australian and South African native plants in the drier parts of the garden.