Mince Pies

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Well I went to the shop this morning and looked at the sugar section. There were two sizes of white sugar, and 3 different types of brown sugar, but no icing sugar to be had. So we will not be having Christmas cake on Christmas day. (See yesterday’s post)

I made mince pies instead. There is an easy way and a not-so-easy way to make mince pies. We’ll cover the easy way first.

Easy way: – Buy a jar of mincemeat.

12 oz plain flour

7 oz butter

water to mix

In a large bowl rub the butter into the flour. Use real butter, it makes the pastry so much lighter, flakier, and tastier. Once the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, add cold water, a little at a time, mixing well until the pastry forms a ball. If you pour the water straight in from the tap, move the bowl away before you turn the water off, or you may end up turning the tap the wrong way and flooding your pastry. Me? I never did that, I just know how  easy it would be for it to happen…

Roll out the pastry and cut out large rounds for the bottoms, small rounds for the tops. Put the bottoms in a muffin tin, fill with mincemeat (depending on how big they are, up to a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat is good. Too much and it spills everywhere and it is very hard to clean up molten mincemeat.) and brush milk around the edges. Place the tops on, brush with milk and put in a 200°C oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Not-so-easy way:- Make your own mincemeat. This takes time, but you can adjust it to suit your own tastes (no peel for me thanks!) and if you use alcohol and store in an airtight jar, it will easily keep for a year, if not longer.

1 lemon, boiled for an hour until soft

3 1/2 oz raisins

3 1/2 oz sultanas

1/2 large cooking apple, peeled and cored

3 1/2 oz dried mixed fruit

2 1/2 oz mixed peel (as I don’t like peel, I omit the mixed fruit and peel and use the same weight of raisins, sultanas and currants)

3 1/2 oz suet

3 1/2 oz dark brown sugar

3 1/2 oz currants

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp mixed spice

1/4 tsp ginger

2 fl oz brandy

2 fl oz sherry (or use 4 fl oz brandy and omit sherry)

Cut the cooled, boiled lemon in half and throw away the pips. Put it, along with the raisins, sultanas, apple, mixed fruit and peel in the food processor and blend to a paste. Put the paste in a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well, and leave overnight. Or, if you make this well in advance, put in an airtight jar and it will keep at room temperature until you need it. I have never had to keep mine in the fridge, but then my kitchen is frigid at the best of times. In winter, it’s warmer in the freezer.

Merry Christmas, and happy eating!

The Scatterbrain Strikes Again

Yesterday I went into town to fill the car up with fuel and get in a few groceries to tide us over the shop closures in the coming week. While in the supermarket I went to look for marzipan, as I was thinking about making stollen. This particular supermarket only appeared to stock one variety of marzipan (but about 3 varieties of royal icing) and unsurprisingly, they were sold out. ‘Never mind’, I told myself, ‘I might have enough marzipan at home, or I can just make it another time’.

Fast forward a few hours. Hubby and I were sitting listening to music after tea, just chatting about this and that, when the subject of family visits over Christmas came up. ‘Arghhh, I haven’t iced the cake yet!’ was my response. Then ‘Marzipan! I don’t know if I have enough!’ Yup, lots of drama. When we went to the kitchen later, I checked the cupboard. Not only did I have just half a packet of marzipan, I had barely one quarter of a packet of royal icing. I decided I could maybe make the marzipan stretch, but surely I could make royal icing. Can’t be that hard can it? I went to bed, safe in the knowledge that what I can’t buy I can probably make.

Milking the cows at 6am this morning, my mind began to wander to the subject of Christmas cake. I seemed to dredge up from the depths of my mind the recollection of my Mum using glycerin in royal icing. I mentally went through the random rubbish in my baking cupboard; food colouring, rennet (why?), various types of sprinkles and some very old marshmallows. No glycerin. I decided to deal with it later, surely I could find a variation that doesn’t require glycerin.

Whilst eating my breakfast and surfing the internet, I checked my cook book and found that royal icing does indeed require glycerin. I did a quick Google and discovered that while glycerin helps to soften icing, it isn’t absolutely necessary. That sounded fine, if anyone broke a tooth on my Christmas cake then sorry, but surely it was worth it?

I got my cake out, fished out the marzipan and icing, and prepared to start marzipanning. I actually started with a large square cake and cut it up, so I have 2 cakes to decorate. I started on one, and as I got going I quickly realised I had enough marzipan for one cake only. Never mind, marzipan can be home-made too. I grabbed the icing sugar to dust the work surface before rolling the marzipan, and as I looked at the not quite half-full packet, a growing dread filled me. Royal icing can be made without glycerin, but it certainly can’t be made with no icing sugar. I feverishly rooted through all the cupboards where I might (and might not) possibly consider storing icing sugar, but there was none to be found.

A twelve mile round-trip just for icing sugar seems kind of foolish, and it’s not like I need anything else, having just been to town yesterday. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the little village store will sell some; I will head out tomorrow morning. If my mission is successful, watch this space, I will put up my recipes for marzipan and royal icing. If I am unsuccessful, we will be waiting until New Year to eat our Christmas cake.

Home-made Eggnog

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We have just returned from a 3 week holiday in the US. The last week was spent with my cousin and his family in Alaska. We had a great time with them, and they introduced us to bear, moose and home-smoked salmon, all of which was extremely agreeable. In return, we introduced them to Scotch Eggs, shortbread and home-made eggnog, all of which they appeared to find agreeable. A couple of days later we had some store-bought eggnog from a carton, which was really sweet. Really really sweet. Too sweet. You get the idea. Home-made is better.

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups milk

1 cup double (heavy/whipping) cream

1 tsp vanilla

3 – 4 tbsp rum, bourbon or brandy (or whatever you have in the house. Southern Comfort or Disaronno works)

Put the milk and cream in a saucepan and heat until steaming hot, but DON’T let it boil. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, using an electric mixer. Once the milk is hot, slowly, half a cup at a time, add it to the beaten egg, mixing well between additions so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat to 160ºF, stirring constantly. Chill. The eggnog that is. You still have work to do. Once cold, add the vanilla and alcohol. The alcohol is optional, if you are serving to children you may want to leave some to one side for them and spike the rest for the adults.

*This next part is optional, it adds volume and froth which is not a bad thing by any means. The only problem is that it uses raw eggs, so make sure you get good, fresh, reputable eggs (you can get hold of pasteurized eggs, or so I’ve heard) and don’t serve it to anyone with a compromised immune system or very young children.

Whisk the egg whites with 1 tsp sugar until very light and frothy, and then fold in to the eggnog.