The other day I was reading a magazine article where a woman had asked her children what the best bit about Christmas was and she was somewhat disappointed that the only response she could get was "presents". As my two were sat with me at the time I tried the same question on them and sure enough my youngest replied, "presents!". My eldest said that she liked present too but seeing the family was good too. Ahh... what a good girl - just like a model pupil who knows what the correct answer should be. But then she asked me what I thought was the best part about Christmas and after a brief thought I decided it was the food.
That is not to say that I'm a greedy-guts but I really enjoy planning, organising and cooking the food over the Christmas period. In a way, Christmas is like the grand final of some competition - a chance to showcase all the best bits. And it is a chance to cook indulgent food that would be simply over the top on a Wednesday evening sometime in March.
I am known for my organisational skills but even so I'm not generally the sort of person who starts buying Christmas presents in August. However, I do start organising Christmas food during the summer. Not because I'm super-efficient but because I like to preserve food from the allotment ready to bring out at Christmas - chutneys for hampers and cold meat leftovers, mincemeat for pies and cherries in brandy for...
Well, to be honest I was never quite sure what to do with the cherries in brandy. Yes, they are great with ice-cream... or straight out of the jar... But then I came across a recipe for Black Forest trifle that I modified for our Boxing Day dessert.
Black Forest Trifle (serves 4-6)
250ml ready-made custard
50g plain chocolate
2 slices of chocolate or marble sponge cake
385g jar of cherries in brandy (or cherries in kirsch)
150ml double cream
100ml creme fraiche
1 dessert spoon of icing sugar
A little extra chocolate for grating
A few fresh or glace cherries
Put the custard into a pan with the chocolate and heat gentle until the chocolate is melted then stir thoroughly. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Place the slices of cake into the bottom of a suitable dish. Drain the cherries from the jar, reserving the liquid. Cut each cherry in half and arrange them over the cake. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved liquid over the cake until it is moist. Spoon the custard on top and refrigerate until ready to serve. When ready to serve, mix together the cream and creme fraiche and whip until thick. Spoon over the trifle then grate over a little more chocolate and place fresh or glace cherries on top.
As usual, I had made plum & orange mincemeat, apple & cider mincemeat and figgy pear mincemeat during the summer which I had sold at craft fayres. They had sold well but I had a few jars leftover. So I made two batches of mince pies this year - the first for Steve to take into work and the second for us to enjoy at home. My eldest said that she really wanted to leave a homemade pie out for Father Christmas so he could taste one - which was a nice thought. Anyway, just as I was wondering what to do with the rest of the mincemeat I came across a recipe for making Christmas cake using mincemeat. This is not a new concept to me as I have made fruitcake from my apple and cider mincemeat before but it was a new recipe and one that seemed suitable for using my figgy pear mincemeat instead.
Mincemeat Christmas Cake
150g light muscovado sugar
150g softened butter
200g self-raising flour
450g figgy pear mincemeat
100g dried cranberries
50g glace cherries
Preheat oven to 170°C, gas 3 and line a cake tin. Cream together the sugar and butter then add the eggs. Sift the flour and stir in. Add the mincemeat and fruit and stir well. Spoon into the cake tin and bake for 2 hours or until the middle feel springy. Cool in the tin for 30 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.
Having made sure my vegan step daughter was provided for with her walnut and mushroom rolls and her vegan chocolate log, I decided this year I would try making normal chocolate yule log. I don't usually get the opportunity to do this because when my mother-in-law comes to stay she brings masses of food with her - sausage rolls, pork pies, ham, cheese, bread, cereal, tea-bags, biscuits, cakes, mince pies, bacon, butter, stuffing, pigs in blankets, chocolate log... This year she got snowed in and wasn't able to get her usual amount of shopping so came without her yule log so there was a vacancy that needed filling. It is a fairly complicated thing to do but satisfying when you get it right.
Chocolate Yule Log
140g muscovado sugar
100g self-raising flour
25g cocoa powder
200g soften butter
200g icing sugar
200g dark chocolate
Heat oven to 190°C, gas 5 and grease and line a swiss roll tin. Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls. To the egg yolks add 2 tablespoons water and the muscovado sugar. Use an electric whisk to beat the mixture for about 5 minutes until pale and the blades leave a trail when lifted. Sift the flour and cocoa into this mix and fold in lightly. Clean the whisk and beat the egg whites until stiff then fold these into the chocolate mix in three batches. Pour this into the tin and level out. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the cake is springy to the touch. Turn out onto a greased piece of baking paper and straight away roll the cake up with the paper into a swiss roll shape. Leave it rolled up to cool completely. Next make the butter icing. Melt the chocolate then mix it together with the sugar and butter until smooth. When the cake is cool, carefully unfold it then spread the butter icing onto it and roll it up without the paper this time. Spread more butter icing over the outside of the cake and draw "bark" texture into it.
So that's dessert sorted... what about the main course...?