Sunday, December 25, 2011

Oh bring us the figgy pudding...

Every time I hear those words, it's music to my ears. That sticky, fruity, boozy, moist pudding is my favorite part of the Christmas dinner. I don't necessarily use figs, but there's usually enough fruit in there to make up for it. I believe it keeps well and it should considering the copious amount of alcohol that goes into it! Stored the proper way, it should be fine for a few months- wrapped in parchment paper and kept in a cool dry place. I can't say that mine lasts very long (I tend to sneak it a lot). A few years ago I found the BBC Good Food magazine's Christmas pudding recipe and it works like a charm. My pudding is a little lighter in color only because I used lager instead of dark ale. I also used margarine instead of suet, which is not readily available. The list of ingredients seems long and scary but if you are in a hurry just use the packaged fruit for a Christmas cake along with the raisins, currants and almonds. It is a relatively easy recipe - the most tricky part being the steaming of the puddings. They are easily scorched, so keep the water in the pot replenished and on a simmer.

Recipe for Christmas Pudding:
4 oz almonds blanched and chopped
4 oz AP flour
2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
6 oz suet ( I use margarine)
4 oz dark brown sugar
4 oz fresh breadcrumbs
4oz glace cherries
2 oz candied peel
4oz dried apricots or figs
8oz cooking apples diced
8 oz currants
10 oz raisins
12 oz sultanas
grated rind of a lemon and an orange
3 eggs beaten
8 fl oz brown ale
2 tbsp brandy or rum

1. Sift the flour and spices into a bowl. Beat in the margarine, sugar and breadcrumbs.
2. Combine the fruit and nuts, mix well and add it in. Add in the eggs, brandy/rum and ale.
3. Take two pudding basins (2 pints each) and grease well. Place a parchment paper in each and make pleats as needed so that it fits snugly. Pour in the pudding and cover tightly with the parchment. Tie it you feel it is necessary so that it stays snug.
4. Place each in a larger pot with a tight lid, half filled with boiling water which you turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 3 hours. This can be done in an oven too ( in my opinion) and may be a better option to keep it from burning. Keep an eye on the water in the pots - they run out suddenly and then the pudding is scorched.
Microwave with a lid if you like it warm with a touch of custard or whipped cream. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'tis the season!

Holidays are notorious for baking and " tasting" and there is much licking of the spoons at every stage. Smoky almond bark, pecan fudge, lemon cookies, toffee cappuccino bars and pistachio cranberry biscotti are churned out, packaged and delivered with precision. Meanwhile I taste and re-taste. I'm never sure if everything tastes the way it should. There's so much going on in the kitchen that it all grows fuzzy until it's one big blur and I fall on the couch exhausted. I always feel a sense of dissatisfaction - it could have been softer, harder, sweeter, nuttier, crisper etc. The kids taste and re-taste and reassure me but I am inconsolable. It happens every year and it still takes me by surprise. My Type A kicks in and has a grip even while I fasten a bow on the last box that says thank you. Teachers, manicurists, hair stylists and even the mail man gets one. I am filled with relief when it's all done and quickly forget until the next Christmas comes around....

Recipe for Pecan Fudge:
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 T butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups marshmallows
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts chopped

1. Combine the evaporated milk, butter and sugar in a pan and bring to a full boil. Remove from the heat and add in the marshmallows, chocolate chips, whisking till it is incorporated.
2. Line a tin with parchment paper and pour in the fudge. Sprinkle with the nuts and chill for about 2 hours. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Porter cake at Christmas- How Irish can you get??

What do you get when you put two Irish girls together with a bottle of alcohol? It's not what you're thinking - in fact these girls are quite handy and bake a delicious Porter Cake. Linda and Noreen are first generation Irish Americans who attempt to keep the traditional spirit of Christmas by baking up a cake that is symbolic of important festivals like Christmas or
St. Patrick's Day, back home. A little bit of nostalgia and a major hankering for a familiar favorite of their childhood bring these two friends together to bake and share a cuppa. Porter is a dark Irish beer, not as potent as Stout but not as easily found and therefore commonly substituted with Guinness. Since I wasn't there to taste the cake I demanded pictures and the recipe for the cake ( Noreen's mother's, who is back in Ireland) and being true friends, they happily obliged. Thank you again girls, if you were here- I'd go out and get a Guinness with you!!

Recipe for Porter Cake:
1 lb AP flour
1/2 lb sugar
1/2 lb butter
4 eggs
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
4 oz slivered almonds
1 apple peeled and diced small
rind of 1 orange
1 lb raisins soaked in whisky overnight
1 tbsp treacle or molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1 bottle Guinness or Porter ( some for the cake and some for the cook!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 inch cake tin by spraying with cooking spray and dusting with flour.
2. Sift the flour, spices and soda together.
3. Cream the butter and sugar for 5-7 minutes or until it is thick and creamy.
4. Add in the eggs one at a time, whisking well between each.
5. Fold in the flour mixture alternately with the Guinness until fully incorporated. Do not over mix.
6. Fold in the fruit and nuts. Pour into the tin and bake for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Do not open the oven door in the first half hour to prevent the rising cake from deflating. Check the doneness with a wooden skewer after the first hour and bake accordingly.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guilty pleasures

I can skip dinner if I get my hands on one of these- A Hot Choc fudge is hands down my favorite dessert and in my opinion, worth every calorie. I had my first really good fudge sundae back in the early 90's at Nirula's in Delhi. Back in the day they made the best, with the gooiest of chocolate sauces and it was possibly one of the best things to binge on when your date turned out to be a crashing bore! I have unfortunately turned my kids into very discriminating HCF junkies who can tell right away if I cheat and dilute the sauce or scrimp on the nuts. I make my sundaes with alternating layers of Vanilla Ice cream, gooey chocolate sauce, caramel sauce
(optional) and caramel sesame cashews. It is the one guilty pleasure I imbibe in, knowing that I have to pay the price with a good long run. Note of Caution: it is highly addictive , so don't blame me if you suddenly pack on the pounds...

Recipe for Hot Chocolate Fudge Sundae:
scoops of good quality Vanilla Ice cream
chocolate sauce
caramel sauce
sesame caramel cashews

1. To make the Chocolate Sauce : Scald 1 cup cream in a sauce pan and add in a cup of bitter sweet chocolate. Stir till the chocolate is melted and add in a tablespoon of corn syrup. If you want a darker sauce, add in some cocoa powder. The sauce should be reasonably thick.
2. To make the caramel sauce, combine 1 cup sugar with 2 T water and simmer till it turns golden brown . Do not stir it but swirl the pan gently from time to time.
3. Take 1 cup of Cashews and 2 t sesame seeds and add them to half the caramel. Grease a sheet pan and spread it out. It should harden as it cools. Break it up into smaller pieces to use as a crunchy topping.
4. Serve scoops of icecream alternating with the sauces ( chocolate sauce should be hot) and top with the cashew brittle. Serve immediately.