Semlor

Lent is fast approaching, and with it Shrove Tuesday.  Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, pancake day, whatever you call it, it is for using up your fatty and decadent food before the start of fasting.

Here in the UK, we make pancakes, which I will of course be making! Over in Sweden however, they make cream buns called semlor (singular: semla). I tried making them last year and here are the results!

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I haven’t ever had a ‘real’ semla so I’m not sure how authentic they were, but they were delicious! Cardamom-scented buns, filled with soft almond paste and loads of cream. I followed this recipe, but there are plenty in English to be found around the internet.

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Festive treats

Feeling Christmassy is a little more difficult these days but I’m working my way there! I’ve almost finished my Christmas shopping (one of my favourite parts of the season), we’ve got the tree up (but no decorations yet), we have a wreath on the door, and I have stopped skipping past Christmas songs on my itunes! This week we have been to a carol concert performed by The Sixteen, and my sister will be coming home at the weekend, so I want to feel fully festive by then! One sure-fire way to get in the spirit is to inhale seasonal smells, and there is nothing more Christmassy than festive baking!

For the perfect Christmas flavour-bomb, look no further than the mince pie. They fill the house with the scent of spices, brandy, and butter, and they are perfect (not to mention essential) for when guests come round!

If you are familiar with the mince pie, feel free to skip this part, but if not let me explain. Mince pies are a traditional Christmas treat in my part of the world, and no, they do not involve meat. They do involve beef fat though (bear with me) in the form of suet, essentially little pieces of flavourless fat. You would not know there were any animals involved, trust me, and there are always vegetarian substitutes if that is a step too far!

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The traditional mince pie is a small tart, with a crisp pastry crust and lid, filled with mincemeat – a mixture of dried fruit, citrus peel, spices and alcohol, along with the suet. You can make the mincemeat at home, or there are plenty of really good ones in the shops.  There are so many ways to adapt the mincemeat to your taste, using different dried fruits, adding nuts, or using different spirits – brandy, whiskey, or port is always good.

I made my own mincemeat last year, roughly to this recipe (we had plenty of apples from the garden and Delia is always a good bet for traditional recipes). I had a sealed jar leftover in the fridge, so this time I just refreshed it with some dried cherries and a splash of brandy. I also made some pies for those who don’t like mincemeat, filled with a cranberry-orange mixture. Instead of topping them all with my usual pastry star, I decided to mix it up with biscuit and nutty crumble tops.

The C word

No, not that one! I mean Christmas! It is far to early to get excited about it, even if the lights are on in Oxford Street and there are are adverts on the tv constantly. The one thing I have allowed myself to do is get on with the Christmas pudding. The puddings get better with age, so it is well worth making them early.

If you aren’t familiar with Christmas Pudding, it is a steamed suet pudding filled with dried fruit, spices and booze. It’s delicious! I made mine from a Good Housekeeping book that we have, but you can use any tried and tested recipe. I would recommend Delia Smith for example, or any of the ones on the Good Housekeeping website.

I soaked the fruit in rum and brandy overnight, then got on with making the pudding. I made two puddings, so I can send one to my Grandparents. They are steamed in basins lined with muslin for hours so it is worth starting out in the morning. When they are steamed, you wrap them up and keep them somewhere cool to mature until Christmas Day.  On the day you steam them again to warm them up.

If you are planning to make a pudding but haven’t yet, never fear! The traditional time to make your pudding is Stir-Up Sunday, which will be 24th November this year.

Bonfire Night Bakes

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Guy Fawkes’ is one of my favourite nights of the year.  There is nothing like standing out in the cold, all wrapped up, with a sparkler in one hand as you watch fireworks. The smells are incredible, of bonfires, gunpowder, frost and wet leaves – I always spend the time taking deep breaths through my nose. Then of course there is the food – a flask of hot soup, a jacket potato cooked in the bonfire, bangers, toffee apples and spiced cakes. It’s a peculiarly British sort of celebration, I remember once trying to explain it to a very confused French conversation teacher (“you burn… people?!”). If you aren’t familiar with it, here is the wikipedia explanation.

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When I was in Canada, I would always get very homesick around Bonfire Night, and since this is my first one since I came back to the UK, I want to make it as good as possible. Unfortunately we won’t be having fireworks, but we will definitely have a bonfire and some sparklers, I am sure of that! It’s pretty busy around here at the moment so I won’t be able to make my bonfire night food until the day of, so instead I’m going to give a few ideas of recipes to try.

This parkin by James Martin is traditionally cooked for Bonfire Night in and around Yorkshire. It is spicy and sticky, and gets better with age! Serve it with or without the stewed fruit, it’s good either way

Why not nibble on some cinder toffee as you stand by the bonfire?

Mushroom soup is good and warming when you come back inside.

If all else fails, you can’t go wrong with bangers and mash!

Halloween

Not much going on here for halloween, but I did think I ought to do something, so I have of course carved my pumpkin!IMG_3766

I’m not the most accomplished carver, but I quite like it.

I roasted the innards, and made some pumpkin soup, and finally, I made some ghost cakes!

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I used the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcake recipe, but tweaked it to make it a little more bitter and less sweet. I did this because I topped the cakes with little (read: huge) ghosts made of piped marshmallow icing, from this recipe. I then finished them off with faces made of melted dark chocolate, and a sprinkle of edible glitter.

Hope everyone has a suitably spooky evening!