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Brown Sugar Chai Spiced Marshmallows

When I was in primary four, my sister and I made homemade gifts for each of our teachers for the end of term. Forget the cliché of a shining red apple come summertime, we rolled up our sleeves and made what I suppose you could call a kid-friendly rocky road. A very simple blend of crushed digestive biscuits, tooth-suckingly sweet condensed milk and shining glace cherries, the recipe just calls for it to be stirred in one big bowl together with those baby white and pink marshmallows. It’s a recipe that my mam used to make when she was a teenager and it was adopted for many a bake sale when we were younger. On this occasion, we rolled the mixture into logs and refrigerated then covered in chocolate before dotting mini marshmallow spikes along the top. Marshmallow hedgehog presents – they were a hit let me tell you.

As a little one, we were always encouraged to make things by hand to make gift giving more personal, a belief I still hold today. Of course, there are only so many toilet roll tubes made into Celtic football player pencil holders my uncles could take, but the feeling that you have created something so personal just for that person really is unbeatable. It’s why I took to making cakes for my friends in high school on their birthdays; always a simple Victoria Sponge affair sandwiched with jam, topped with water icing and blobby melted chocolate piping to spell out Happy Birthday. Handing out slices in the playground seems to have morphed into my weekly Tupperware box filled with weekend baking goodies for my work colleagues on a Monday morning. Making people smile with a little gesture makes it worth any effort involved.

Which is why making these marshmallows as gifts make the perfect feel good return as they are so simple to make. For relatively little effort, this pillow soft mixture turns into a mountain of fresh marshmallows that will evoke a smile from any adult who ate Flumps as a kid. Of course these marshmallows aren’t as sickly sweet as those helter skelter twists, but light as a feather covered in a light dusting of cornflour and icing sugar. To make these marshmallows more winter appropriate, I added brown sugar for a deep caramel flavour that works so well with gently spiced notes from chai tea. Sliced up and served with a cup of coffee, they make for the perfect mid morning treat but melting into pools on top of a mug of hot chocolate would be my strictest advice. And if you know of any teachers that deserve a homemade gift, you really cannot go wrong with marshmallows – even if they are made to look like hedgehogs.

Chai Spiced Marshmallows

 

Adapted slightly from Eat Like A Girl

 

You Will Need

150g corn flour

150g icing sugar

3 egg whites

30g powdered gelatine (mine was just over two packages)

150ml water

4 tbsp golden syrup

100g soft light brown sugar

100g caster sugar

100ml water

1 chai tea bag

Tip: I’ve made these marshmallows twice now, but the third attempt with vegetarian gelatine was a bit of a fail. As it is such a different consistency to regular gelatine, I would advise you to seek out a vegetarian recipe rather than adapt this one.

Prepare three 20cm sandwich tins by lightly greasing with oil (I used grapeseed) then lining with baking parchment. Prepare your marshmallow dusting by sifting together the icing sugar and corn flour then add a little to each tin, shaking it around until the tins are nice and dusted. Set aside this mixture as the rest will be used later to coat the marshmallows.

Add the balloon whisk attachment to a stand mixer and place the three egg whites in the bowl but don’t whisk yet. Pour the gelatine into the water and set aside – it will go spongy.

Slicing marshmallows evenly

In a saucepan, combine the syrup, sugars and remaining water and place over a medium heat. Start whisking the egg whites on a medium speed until you have soft peaks. Keep a sugar or digital thermometer handy to check the temperature – you are looking for hard ball on a sugar thermometer or 121oc on a digital one.

Once the desired temperature has been reached, carefully pour the syrup down the sides of the whipped whites on a low speed. Once the sugar syrup has been used up, scoop the gelatine into the saucepan and melt down using the residual heat. Stir the contents of the chai teabag into the gelatine then pour into the mixer still on a low speed. Increase to high and whisk for 4-5 minutes. The marshmallow should almost reach the top of the bowl and will become fluffy. Scoop into the prepared tins and shake to level out. Leave to set for a few hours.

To cut, lightly oil a knife and cut into wedges or squares. Dust with the icing sugar mix then store in an airtight box with the residual powder for up to a week.

Winter Spiced Plum Galette

Britain has a love affair with pies. They are the stalwarts of summer picnics; fat little pork and jelly parcels bundled up with hot water pastry and slice-me-up shortcrust filled with ham, beaten eggs and cheese. Then there is the autumnal arrival of those tart Bramley apples that upon baking become fluffy and sweet, caged up in precise latticework and served with Birds Eye custard, the jolly yellow colour that reminds us that we can never be bothered to make it from scratch. Then there is winter, with unctuous mincemeat dripping with suet, currants and booze that is spooned into the family sweet pastry recipe and served up from the middle of November. Yes, we love a good pie.

Upon thinking, it seems there isn’t much room for haphazardness with Great Britain’s love of pie; each recipe is carefully constructed and moulded to produce the same product time and time again. Ok, perhaps some families top their mince pies with stars, others a smooth disc of shortcrust, but they are all the same. Could they be a bit…boring?

folded unbaked galette

I think that is why I like galettes so much. They are a free form pie, a kind of ‘I fancy pie but don’t want the faff of lining a tin, blind baking and measuring lattice strips with a tape measure’ type pie. This recipe is actually a leftover one, using the cinnamon pastry from my Cranberry and Clementine Christmas Pies. Since that was taken care of, all the effort went into dressing some ripe plums in brown sugar and spices before being baked into a beautiful festive pie. Because there is barely any effort involved in this recipe it might be a nice one to serve on Christmas Eve using mince pie pastry off cuts. Bear in mind this pie would probably only serve two, so if you want to feed a crowd, use a full quantity of cinnamon pastry and double the filling, perhaps baking for around 5 to 10 minutes longer. Either way it gives a stunning result and is the perfect antidote to perfect pies everywhere. Fancy a slice?

 

You Will Need

1 quantity of leftover cinnamon pastry from *this recipe*

3 ripe plums

¼ tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra to finish

¼ tsp ground ginger

A few pinches of nutmeg

A few twists of cracked black pepper

1 tbsp soft light brown sugar, plus extra to finish

1 tbsp plain flour

1 egg, beaten

Spiced plums and sugar

Preheat an oven to 200oc/ 180oc fan and line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Remove the pastry from the fridge and leave to come to room temperature slightly.

Slice the plums into eighths and place in a medium sized bowl. Sprinkle over the spices and sugar and stir to combine. Sprinkle over the flour then combine again. Set aside.

Flour a clean work surface then carefully roll the pastry to a rough circle that is around the size of a 20cm sandwich tin. Don’t worry if the edges are jagged, a rustic looking galette is quite nice. Roll to around 5mm thickness then carefully transfer to the baking sheet. Don’t worry if a piece breaks off, just press it back on and roll with a rolling pin to bring back together.

Cover in Sugar

Pile the spiced fruit in the middle of the pastry then fold up the sides. The best way to do this is to fold up one piece then move clockwise overlapping slightly and pinching a little. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg and sprinkle over a little cinnamon and brown sugar to finish. Bake in the oven for around 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the fruit jammy. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly before serving warm. A dollop of vanilla ice cream adds the perfect cooling texture.

Serve with Ice Cream

Clementine and Cranberry Christmas Pies

For me, Christmas begins on December 1. That first foil window on an advent calendar burst open with a pop of a fingernail, the chocolate consumed with a mouthful of coffee. Later that day my annual Muppets Christmas Carol screening takes place, usually accompanied by sweeties, blankets and cosy jim jams. I love this little tradition, it’s quite personal and solitary away from the other festivities that are all about being with as many people as possible. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit and absorb the Christmas spirit on your own.

But this year I’ve started early. It might be the frost glittering on the pavement on my way to work, the way my hands ache under hot water after a spell in the cold. Drinking more coffee and huddling my hands around the cup as soon as I arrive in the office. It’s those little things that signify that winter is coming.

Now that I have flown the nest, I don’t get those wonderful Christmassy smells in my kitchen the way I used to at home. Mam’s beautifully flaky mince pies baked on some random evening in December, accompanied by clouds of icing sugar and a few sneaky fingerfulls of dough. The once a year clootie dumpling evokes more of a sound than smell memory, the way the plate rattles at the bottom of the pan as it steams for hours. The sickly sweet air of tin upon tin of Quality Street, little baked party food canapés and a good dollop of sticky sweet chilli sauce in a ramekin to accompany it. And that’s before you even get to the turkey.

I hope these little Christmassy pies make it into my own festive traditions. I wanted to make something without mincemeat, as I have a few vegetarian friends who aren’t able to eat the store-bought jars as they largely contain suet. As I don’t have the inclination to make jar upon jar of animal-friendly mincemeat, I looked to the classic flavours of cranberry and clementine to spike these pies with a little festive fragrance. Having soaked up the juice of the fruit, the dried cranberries take on a mulled wine flavour that works perfectly with the pillow soft frangipane topping. Dusted with sugar, no-one will know the difference between the classic and the contemporary. I think this year’s Christmas Carol viewing will be accompanied by a warm plate of these pies.

Tip: The pastry and frangipane recipes below will make more than you require. If you want to make more than 12 pies just soak a few more cranberries, otherwise freeze the leftover frangipane for another recipe and refrigerate the pastry scraps – I have a recipe coming soon for using up the leftovers.

You Will Need

For the Cinnamon Pastry

250g plain flour

25g icing sugar

¼ ground cinnamon

125g cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 egg, beaten

 

For the Clementine Soaked Cranberries

2 clementines

80g dried cranberries

2 cloves

 

For the Frangipane

150g unsalted butter, at room temperature

150g caster sugar

150g ground almonds

2 eggs

40g plain flour

 

To finish

Flaked almonds

Icing sugar

Cinnamon pastry ingredients

To make the pastry, sift together the flour, icing sugar and cinnamon into a large bowl then rub in the butter carefully. Make sure you have cold hands to prevent the butter melting. Once the mix resembles breadcrumbs, add ½ to ¾ of the beaten egg to the mix and stir together with a round bladed knife before bringing together with your hands to form a pastry ball. The shortcrust needs to hold together but not be too wet. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and press down to form a flat disc then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Do not throw the remaining egg away.

Meanwhile, zest the two clementines and set aside – this will be used to flavour the frangipane. Place the cranberries in a bowl and squeeze over the juice from the clementines and stir through the cloves. Leave to macerate for as long as possible.

Clementine Frangipane

Dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the pastry to a 5mm thickness and cut out circles using a 4-5cm round cutter. Carefully lift the pastry with a palate knife and lightly press into a greased muffin tin. Re-roll and cut from the scraps until all the muffin holes are filled. Refrigerate the tin for a further 30 minutes – this will eliminate shrinking. Gather up the pastry scraps, cover in clingfilm and either freeze or refrigerate – I have a recipe coming up that is perfect for the leftovers!

Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc fan/Gas Mark 6. Line each pastry case with a square of baking parchment and line with baking beans before baking for 15-20 minutes until the pastry feels dry. Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further minute to dry out. Brush the pastry with the remaining egg to seal and return to the oven for a final bake for 2 minutes. Cool the pastry cases completely.

Baked Christmas Pies

To make the frangipane, beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer for three minutes until creamy. Add the almonds then beat in each egg one at a time. Add the flour and clementine zest and around a tablespoon of the juice from the soaked cranberries and mix again.

Divide the soaked cranberries between the cases the dollop over spoonfuls of the clementine frangipane. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds then place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the frangipane is golden brown. Leave to cool in the tray for a few minutes before carefully removing the pies and leaving to cool on a wire rack. Dust over a little icing sugar and serve warm.

Take a bite of a Cranberry and Clementine Christmas Pie

Cinnamon Red Velvet Cupcakes

Sometimes I wonder what we ever did without the internet. How people used to queue for hours on a Saturday just to transfer a tenner to a mate. Jostling with throngs of people in Tesco on a Sunday, fighting over the last chicken for your roast dinner and ending up with frozen roasties after the tatties sell out. How Christmas shopping becomes a battle of the wits and survival, when it can all be done from the comfort of your own home with a glass of wine and a credit card.

Ok, perhaps the internet isn’t the be all and end all but when you have burning question that needs answered at 10pm, who you gonna call? Google, that’s who.

Case in point these cupcakes. I wanted to try the ubiquitous red velvet, so I searched for recipes online. I looked at tips for frosting on YouTube and decorating ideas on blogs. When my frosting collapsed into a cream cheese soup I knew exactly where to look for the answers to my sugary woes.

This post isn’t so much about the cake (it’s a delicious Lily Vanilli recipe from Sweet Tooth which you should buy immediately) but about the actual frosting. I’ve seen a lot of suggestions online on how to fix the issue, but what I really wanted to know was the reason it failed. After some reading coupled with my own frosting fails, I’ve come up with a few troubleshooting tips should you come across the same problem.

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Ingredient Ratio

A basic frosting recipe will incorporate three ingredients: powdered sugar, butter and cream cheese. Issues will crop up when the ratio of butter and cream cheese is higher than the sugar, which will bind the two and keep it fluffy. Too high, and you will risk the fats turning to liquid, too little and the taste will be overly sweet and the mixture heavy. Recipes with equal ingredients pose the biggest problem so keep an eye on your mixer as it can be overbeaten very easily.

Speed

A fast arm or a good mixer is crucial to a good fluffy frosting but it can equally be its downfall. Cream cheese can be broken down quite quickly if beaten too fast and the result will be soupy and unworkable. Try folding into the butter and sugar to keep a light texture if using an equal ingredient recipe. If you are using the recipe below, combine on low to just mix in the cheese before upping the speed to incorporate some air to make it lighter.

Temperature

If your frosting has curdled, chances are you ingredients were at the wrong temperature and have seized up. Measure your cheese a few hours before making the frosting and leave to come up to room temperature. Butter can be a little colder and is best used around three hours after removed from the fridge. Don’t leave it out too long though – if meltingly soft, the water will separate too quickly from the fat and curdled cream cheese will ensue.

Do you have any other tips for perfect cream cheese frosting? Let me know!

Frosting Red Velvet Cupcakes

Adapted from Joy the Baker

You Will Need

380g icing sugar

3 tbsp unsalted butter, left out at room temperature for around 3 hours

¼ tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra to finish (optional)

115g cream cheese, room temperature

 

Add the icing sugar and butter to the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using a handheld mixer). Start the machine slowly to stop the sugar escaping and mix to incorporate the butter. The sugar should change to a yellow tone and feel a little sandy. Stir through the cinnamon then add the cream cheese.

Beat on a medium low speed until combined. At this point the frosting will feel heavy. Turn the speed up and beat until the frosting becomes fluffy which will take around 5 minutes. Keep your eye on the frosting – if you over beat it will loosen up and become too runny to use. You can stop the mixer if you like to test the frosting, by scooping with a spoon and seeing if it will hold its shape.

Personally, I prefer frosting swirled onto my cake rather than piped and actually find using the back of a spoon yields the best results and adds a nice rustic charm. For this effect, scoop spoonfuls of the frosting and dollop on top of the cupcakes. Using the back of a spoon, coax the frosting to the paper case edges then using a firm pressure, swoop the spoon around the cupcake for a swirled effect. Sprinkle with extra cinnamon to finish.

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