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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Cucumber Gin Crush Cocktail

I hate fussy cocktails. Sometimes I come home from work and all I want is a Cosmopolitan. Yet craving just one glass means traipsing to the shops to buy vodka, Cointreau that costs £20 and squeezing around three limes in order to get the right capful of liquid required. Then remembering I don’t own a cocktail shaker and then crying into a packet-made poor excuse for a cocktail from an American chain diner or worse, a drink that contains that classy ‘liqueur’ Sourz. No wonder I reach for the Pinot Grigio instead.

But as New Year draws closer and I have my eye on serving up some delicious alternatives to white or red wine, I have decided to delve into the latest addition to my cookbook library The Sprouted Kitchen for some drinks-piration. And boy does that book wield some winners. Grapefruit martinis, jugs of sparkling sangria and some tasty party nibbles ensure this book will become a staple in my library. But having noticed my most popular post of 2012 is – get this – my Spinach and Cucumber Smoothie, I thought a refreshing alcoholic version would be a nice way to round off the year.

Although I don’t have a fancy juicing machine or an icemaker on my fridge door, this cocktail makes for a classy, elegant drink that is perfect for parties with minimal fuss. The basic mix can be made in advance and stored in the fridge, topped up with crushed ice and sparkling water on arrival. Making around six to eight cocktails in one batch, these crushes can be served in old-fashioned glasses or high-balls depending on the strength you and your guests prefer. A perfect no-fuss party drink that is sure to bring in the New Year in style. Happy 2013!

 

Inspired by The Sprouted Kitchen

 

You Will Need

1 cucumber

1 lime

180ml gin (I like Hendricks or London Dry)

3 tbsp honey

1 handful mint leaves

2 handfuls of ice

Sparkling water

Cucumber Gin Crush Ingredients

Wash and dry the cucumber and cut eight circles widthways and set aside. Slice the cucumber lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Slice into half moons and place in a jug. Blitz with a hand blender until pureed then scoop the cucumber mix into a sieve placed over a bowl. Move the puree around to separate the cucumber juice from the pulp. This should yield about a mug’s worth of juice. Refrigerate the cucumber pulp and seeds if you wish to make a Spinach and Cucumber Smoothie later, as the waste is perfect for this recipe.

Roll the lime on a chopping board then squeeze into the cucumber juice. Stir through the gin and roughly chop the mint leaves before muddling in the mix. Whisk in the honey, adjusting to your preferred sweetness. At this point, the cocktail can be chilled for up to one day in the fridge before serving.

To serve, blitz the ice in a blender until snowy and scoop into glasses. Fill halfway or three quarters up the glass with the cucumber cocktail then finish with sparkling water. Garnish with the cucumber slices and add a straw.

Cucumber Gin crush

Chocolate Coffee Christmas Cake

I have a confession to make: I am not an overt fan of traditional fruit cake. Chastise me all you will but give me a sponge cake with a swath of frosting any day. Of course, stick a slab in front of me and I probably will eat it, but given the option, my Christmas cake of choice would be this fudgy coffee chocolate version.

Coffee and chocolate may not appear to be the most festive of flavours, but in our household Christmas morning comes with steaming mugs of black coffee and bags of chocolate coins. Although the Pease household breakfast of choice is bacon rolls, a few sneaky sweeties are often interspersed between opening presents. This recipe is something of an experiment for myself, as initially I was unconvinced a plain flour cake would be anything but pancake-like. Yet with a smooth liquid batter with no creaming and very little whisking, it is actually a very speedy cake to make.

Nutella as a filling is also a nifty shortcut, as the buttercream recipe doesn’t allow for many leftovers, but as this cake is rather sweet, a tablespoon or so is just enough to sandwich the two cakes together. A simple whipped buttercream wraps the cake in a swirl of snowy icing and rustic chocolate trees finish off the look perfectly. A good staple cake to have, you could easily switch up the frosting to a ganache. This dark chocolate recipe is simply divine or for a snowy look, try this white chocolate version, changing rosewater for orange blossom. The trees could even be switched for a chocolate collar for a non festive version and this stunning collar from Poires au Chocolat is a perfect example.

Slice of Cake

 

Adapted from A Beautiful Mess

 

You Will Need

For the cake

250g plain flour

80g cocoa powder (I like Green and Blacks)

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp baking powder

410g caster sugar

1 tsp salt

250ml buttermilk

125ml vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla paste

250ml strong coffee, cooled slightly

 

To decorate

75g dark chocolate

225g softened butter

460g icing sugar

1-2 tablespoons milk

1 tsp vanilla paste

1-2 tablespoons Nutella

 

Chocolate Coffee Cake Ingredients

Preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan/Gas Mark 4. Grease two 20cm sandwich tins, line with baking parchment and set aside. Sieve together the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder, then whisk through the sugar and salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, vanilla paste and coffee. Make a well in the dry mix and fold in the wet mix carefully until fully combined. Divide between the two tins and bake for 35-45 minutes. If after 30 minutes the cake is browning too fast, cover loosely with tin foil until baked through. To test, place a skewer in the middle of the two cakes. If the skewer comes out clean, remove from the oven and cool in the tins for 10-15 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack, removing the parchment and leave to cool completely.

To make the tree decorations, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a simmering saucepan of water. Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Slowly melt until completely smooth, then remove the bowl from the heat. Carefully spoon into a plastic piping bag or corner of a sandwich bag, twist the ends and snip off the tip. Pipe rough Christmas tree shapes onto a piece of baking parchment with the chocolate, making around 20. Leave to set for a couple of hours.

Chocolate Cake and Buttercream

To make the vanilla buttercream, cream the butter in a stand mixer and add the icing sugar a spoonful at a time. Loosen with a little milk and add the vanilla for extra flavour. Place one cake on a serving board or cake stand and smooth with the Nutella. Add the second cake on top upside down. Dollop over the buttercream and smooth with a palette knife all over the cake. This may take a couple of coats. Once complete, stick the set chocolate trees around the outside to decorate.

Cake and Tree decorations

Snowflake Lebkuchen

I can remember the first time I ate lebkuchen. Sadly it wasn’t wrapped up warm against a biting chill in Berlin, a glass of mulled wine in my hand sampling one offered to me by a curly-moustached German man, but in language class in primary school. In between renditions of ‘O Tannenbaum’ and ‘Silent Nacht’, we devoured these little gingery biscuits with relish and I couldn’t get enough. As the years when on and I graduated through German class each year with a little more understanding of sentence construction as Miss Harrison snapped her fingers and made strange hand gestures, the lebkuchen were brought out time and time again. I may not have the stomach for sauerkraut, currywurst and suspicious meat at a Berlin brunch spread, but lebkuchen will always hold festive foodie memories for me.

So when toying with the idea of which cookie to package up and send to my fellow baking bloggers, I tried brainstorming the typical festive ideas of cranberries and pistachios, chocolate and orange or even chai, but the idea of these pretty biscuits revamped into snowflakes hit me like an avalanche. Sure, it was a momentous task to undertake with the batch size, glazing, piping and packaging, but in the spirit of the holiday I threw myself right into the process and never looked back.

The thing about The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap is how touching it is to receive a gift like this in the post. I never imagined how happy it would make me to see someone I’ve never met before put a lot of time and effort into baking, packaging and sending a stranger a box of cookies but it really did. As my mum came for a flying visit one day, I excitedly told her about the different flavour combinations and styles of baking I had received in the post. As she put it so perfectly “how nice to receive some baking from someone in the post”. I couldn’t agree more.

These little biscuits are crammed full of fragrant spices and will fill your home with Christmassy smells as they bake. The egg white glaze dries to a snowy powder, providing the perfect backdrop for a piped icing snowflake. Although this year’s swap is now over, why not get into the spirit of the holidays and bake a batch to give as presents. Froehliche Weinachten.

 

Makes 48-50

You Will Need

375g plain flour

127g ground almonds

2 ½ tsp ground ginger

2 cardamom pods

½ tsp nutmeg

2 cloves

Twist of black pepper

1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 ½ tsp baking powder

300g honey

127g butter

1 lemon, zested

 

For the glaze

100g icing sugar

1 egg white

1-2 tbsp water

 

For the icing

150g icing sugar

3-4 tbsp water

Lebkuchen Spices

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and ground almonds. In a motar and pestle, grind together the six spices and pepper to a powder and add to the dry mix. Stir through the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.

In a saucepan, melt the honey and butter together then pour into the dry mix. Add the lemon zest and combine to a thick dough. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside to cool at room temperature.

Lebkuchen Stars

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan/gas mark 4. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and set aside. Dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with plain flour and in batches, roll fistfuls of Lebkuchen dough to the thickness of two stacked pound coins. Using a roughly 2cm star shaped cutter, cut out the shapes  and set aside. Re-roll and cut out more stars until the dough has been all used up. Lay 12 at a time on the sheet, spaced well apart and bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove from the tray and leave to cool on a wire rack, repeating the baking process until all the cookies are baked.

Lebkuchen Stars 2

Once cooled, mix together the icing sugar, egg white and water to a runny but not watery glaze. Dip each star top side up into the glaze, letting the excess drip off and leave to set on the wire rack. Repeat with the other stars and leave to air dry.

Mix together the icing sugar and water to a thick, pourable icing and pour into a plastic piping bag fitted with a number 3 sized nozzle. Push the icing down to the bottom of the bag, careful not to create any air pockets and twist the end firmly. When ready to ice, snip the tip off the bag with a pair of scissors. I find it easiest to hold the bag at the twisted part between my thumb and pointing finger on my right hand and guiding the nozzle with my left.

To pipe snowflakes, pipe neat lines across the points of the stars, crossing in the centre. Add a circle to the middle of the cross for a more intricate style, but see what works best for you. Leave to set.

Packaged Lebkuchen

I packed my cookies in cheap sandwich bags with plastic ties and then placed in Nordic-style treat bags from Paperchase, sealed with a red sticker. These cookies would also look great in clear treat bags with an icy blue ribbon tie or simply in a box with tissue paper if you plan on giving them straight away.

Thanks to my lovely fellow foodies The Little Loaf, London Bakes and Mondo Mulia for some seriously tasty Spiced Chocolate, Cranberry and Pecan Cookies; Almond, Cranberry and Dark Chocolate Cookies and gorgeously nutty Biscotti. Until next year!

 

Butterscotch Spun Sugar Cake

It’s funny how happy accidents happen sometimes. I’ve been struggling along with this blog the past few weeks, but not through laziness or not trying. (Ok, perhaps a little, it’s the dark nights I promise!) I’ve been busy trying new recipes, throwing myself into experiments and brainstorming like crazy. Unfortunately my little hands have been busy creating disasters. There was the cranberry doughnuts which were more like bread rolls. The croissant dough that took ALL weekend to make and then I burnt and under proved the finished article. I’ve tried a few new savoury dishes but nothing feels right for the blog. And old recipes I’ve never blogged just don’t seem to flow. Damn.

So tonight’s happy accident came about when I realised my eggs were going out of date. I grabbed the cookbooks, determined to produce a successful recipe at last. Happily I found a mish-mash of recipes, smash-banged them together and created a sugary sweet (yet grown-up) cake that has warming flavours of bonfire night – reminiscent of toffee apples, punchy caramel and sweet spices. What’s more, bake to finished cake took around 2 hours. Pretty speedy cake-making if you ask me.

Although my spun sugar is far from perfect, I managed to salvage the mess I made (sorry Fiona Cairns, but your instructions were TERRIBLE) and turned the sugary strands into shards. Making this again, I’d create a finer sugar bundle and top that way, but this cake is so versatile, a simple sprinkle of cinnamon, a pile of candied lemon slices or some caramelised apples would make this a perfect winter cake.

 

Adapted from The Birthday Cake Book by Fiona Cairns

 

You Will Need

175g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

100g caster sugar

75g soft light brown sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla paste

175g soft butter, cubed

 

For the Frosting

50g softened butter

200g cream cheese

1 tbsp soft light brown sugar

2 tbsp golden syrup

1 tsp cinnamon

A pinch of nutmeg

 

For the Spun Sugar

110g caster sugar

100ml cold water

Butterscotch Spun Sugar Cake Ingriedients

Preheat the oven to 190oc/170oc fan/gas mark 4. Grease two 20cm sandwich tins, line with baking parchment and set aside. Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add all the other cake ingredients and beat together in a stand mixer or using a handheld mixer until combined. Split between the two tins and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted inside comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely.

Butterscotch Frosting

To make the frosting, make sure the butter and cream cheese are at room temperature before whisking together to a smooth frosting. Add the sugar, golden syrup and spices, tasting as you go to make sure it is to your taste. The frosting may need a touch more sugar if you like it a little sweeter. Place one cake on a serving board or cake stand and spread with half the frosting, smoothing into a thick layer. Place the second cake on top and add the remaining frosting. Smooth with a palatte knife to the edges of the cake.

For the spun sugar shards, lay a sheet of baking parchment over a rolling pin and fill a large and small bowl with cold water. Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and over a gentle heat, dissolve the sugar, stirring with a metal spoon. Once you can’t see any more sugar crystals, up the heat and bring to a rapid boil. Once the sugar begins to turn a caramel brown, scoop a little from the sides and drop into the small bowl – if it forms a ball and begins to crack, it is done. Carefully place the saucepan in the large bowl of water to rapidly cool, then dip a whisk in the caramel and begin to flick backwards and forwards across the rolling pin. Repeat until the caramel has been all used up, then carefully mould into a ball shape to set. Don’t worry if you can’t manage this or have left it too late – simple snap into shards. When ready to serve, arrange the spun sugar on top of the cake.

Butterscotch Spun Sugar Cake