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Friday, December 17, 2010

The hunt for the veg.

Has begun.

We are off to a Christmas farmers market tomorrow to start the stock of the Christmas day dinner. We are having a ham cooked in cranberry and apple juice and it will be roasted. Usually I use honey and coca-cola. I love Christmas ham. I could never be a vegetarian.

Veggies so far - roast potatoes (done in goose fat - much higher temps result in much crispier on the outside and fluffier on the inside tatties!), soy broccoli, honeyed carrots and parsnips and two stuffings (one normal and one gingerbread). So these all have to be bought, although I am leaning to sourcing the meat at the Farmer's market and then going into town to find the veggies closer to the day.

Christmas pud. I havent the stones to make one from scratch just yet - the whole stewed fruit in a bag thing looks waaaay complicated. I will be buying a little one and probably be getting a sponge pudding as well (christmas pud being the aquired taste that it is!).

Stuff I will be baking - a wreath cake. I found a mold that puts a sponge into a wreath shape, but the wreath itself is segmented into portion size - put them together like a jigsaw to make the cake look like a wreath! Does that make sense?

Black cake - this is a Jamaican traditional cake, heavy fruited with all the fruit being marinated in lots of madiera and rum for anywhere between 2 weeks to 6 months. First year I am going to try it as I had an open bottle of madeira that needed a use. Will let you know how that turns out!

Whats on your list?

Sunday, December 12, 2010


It wouldnt be Christmas without it - lovely, sugary tablet that melts in the mouth and gives you a ridiculous sugar rush. I have used the recipe from - here it is! Turned out really well for a first go, although I did end up with the obligatory boiling sugar burn on my finger. I made vanilla sugar in August, and it has been used here.

Its fantastic. If I dont mind saying so myself...



  • 1kg white cane vanilla granulated sugar
  • 1 tin (appx. 400g) sweetened condensed milk
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • fresh milk to damp sugar

Notes on ingredients

I prefer cane sugar, as beet sugar can make the tablet taste a bit like turnips. Unbleached sugar works well too, but causes little crystals of dark molasses to settle out. Aunt Celie's recipe didn't add any flavouring, but I've found that vanilla makes it just that bit better. If you don't have time to make vanilla sugar, skip the added flavour altogether. It'll taste almost as good, and far better than synthetic vanillin would.
Condensed milk
This is whole milk that has been heavily sugared, and boiled down to a thick, slightly caramelized, sticky liquid. Evaporated milk (the same, but unsweetened; as used in coffee in the Netherlands) doesn't give as good results.
This has to be unsalted, of the highest quality, and no margarine can be substituted. This recipe is so high in calories that you'd be wasting your time trying to save any by spoiling the taste.

How to make vanilla sugar

Simple, but time-consuming: Bury a dried vanilla pod deep in a bag of sugar. After a week or two, fish the pod out. The vanilla sugar is ready; you should be able to smell the flavouring from outside the bag.
Vanilla pods, though expensive, can be reused many times. They are worth it for the subtle flavour they impart.


  • large pan, not non-stick
  • big wooden spoon
  • glass of cold water
  • teaspoon
  • plate, as spoon rest and tester for mixture colour.
  • large shallow baking tray, carefully buttered.


The mixed ingredients before heating
Damp the sugar with cold milk in the pan. Add the butter and the condensed milk, and turn the heat on medium-high.
It's an idea to put a little dollop of the uncooked mix on the spoon rest plate. I find comparing the colours of the mixture as it cooks a better way of judging readiness than using a sugar thermometer.

The colour of the mix just as it boils
Keep stirring evenly until the mixture comes to the boil; this usually takes about ten minutes. If you start getting brownish streaks (caramel), turn the heat down a little, and keep up the stirring effort. If you get black streaks, you've burnt it. Good luck with cleaning the pan …

Once the mixture boils, turn the heat down low. Stir occasionally to stop the mix sticking. When it's simmering, the mix can be more than twice its original volume, so let's hope you've chosen a big enough pan.

Boiling for 6 minutes; slightly darker
You'll notice the mixture darken slightly; keep stirring now and then. It'll take about 20 minutes for the mix to cook.

Forming a sticky glob in cold water; nearly ready!Boiling for 13 minutes; darker still
Transfer a little of the hot mix to a teaspoon, and plunge it into cold water. It should form a soft, sticky ball that should drip off the spoon very slowly. When it does this, it's ready.
(I'd like to add that the goo on the spoon is very tasty, but be advised that it keeps its heat inside the glob. You can burn your tongue quite remarkably. Beware!)

Ready after 18 minutes; golden brown
Ready! I like my tablet a light colour, so it's usually done in twenty minutes or less (this took 18 from coming to the boil). If you prefer a stronger flavour, simmer for longer.
Now comes the difficult bit. Take the pan off the heat, and start stirring vigorously. Try to mix in some of the crystallized mixture that has formed on the side of the pan; what we're trying to do is to get the mixture to form large enough crystals that it will set, but small enough crystals that it will still pour. Once you feel the spoon stirring slightly grittily on the base of the pan, and the mixture being slightly stiffer, it's ready to pour.
The above is much harder to explain than to do; you'll know it when you feel the change. Of course, let it set too long or too fast, and you'll end up with a trayful of gritty lumps looking alarmingly similar to a cat box.

Setting in the tray
Quickly pour the mixture into the buttered baking tray, which should be on a heat-resistant surface. Scrape out as much of the mixture as you can, as it will set in the pan to concrete hardness, and someone will just have to eat what's left in there.

Colours of uncooked mix (middle) with cooked (right)
Here's the colour change, from uncooked mixture (cream coloured, in the middle -- almost the same colour as the plate) to the final colour, which is a golden fawn brown.

Don't be alarmed if you see little crazed patterns appearing on the surface as the tablet cools. It's just the sugar crystallizing.
Once the mixture has fully cooled and set (usually overnight, if you can keep your paws off it that long), slice into bars or small chunks, and give it to your friends. If they weren't your friends before you gave them tablet, they will be afterwards.

Notes on the recipe

  • I damp the sugar with about ½ cup milk. The amount isn't critical; too little, and you risk burning the mix. Too much, it just takes a while to boil off.
  • 1kg of sugar is about 5½ cups.
  • 100g butter is about 4/5 of a stick.
  • Crystals forming as it coolsI now use a 310×480mm (I think that's 11×19") large cookie pan for setting. It fills nicely, and makes nice thin slabs.
  • My dad, probably one of the greater connoiseurs of Great-Aunt Celie's tablet, takes issue with my use of vanilla. He says that she never used vanilla, and that's what made it special. Feel free to miss out the vanilla if you want the authentic experience.
  • Though I say not to use a non-stick pan to boil up the mixture, don't go out and buy a stainless pan just for this.
  • A hint from my dad: If you've dried your throat out by eating tablet, but still want to eat some more, eat a tangerine! It magically clears your throat, and sets you up to eat plenty more.
Not part of a calorie-controlled diet.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas List

I have been good this year.

Im asking Santa for a bunch of cookbooks.

Found some great ones - Kitchen  looks to be Nigella's magnum opus so that has to be done. Apart from my love affair with Mary Berry's Baking Bible, the Domestic Goddess book is my favourite baking book (why dont they make lamenated cookbooks so that they splashes from the actual process of cooking can be wiped away? I lost the sticky gingerbread recipe due to the pages being stuck together with icing sugar..). it was also the first real book that got me into comfort food baking.

Martha Stewarts cupcake / cookie books look fantastic too. There is a fantastic idea to make a clock out of cupcakes for New Year. I wouldnt have thought of that in a million years, even though a cupcake tray is very convieniently (almost auspiciously) grouped into twelves... OK, so sometimes I not so smart.

Mary Berry's ultimate cake book - over 200 recipes for every kind of cake imaginable. It has to be gotten.

The Primrose Bakery cupcake book looks sweet (no pun intended) and its only a fiver in The Works.

And now we get to equipment. I am after a bannon (sp) for baking bread, and a linen baguette prover thingy. You know what I mean - you rest the baguettes before baking in this purpose built linen cloth moulding.

Found a biscotti tin in TK Maxx that was worth getting too. Gradiated sides. Professional. Obviously could be used for way more than just biscotti.

I am enjoying the barista machine I got for my birthday too. have cracked how to do caramel macchiatos and a bunch of lattes as well as the standard americano. Its one of those kitchen deelies that has saved a bunch of cash in the long run. As silly as it sounds, we dont go to our local Starbucks anywhere near as much as we did - because we have the syrups in and can make the coffee ourselves. Costco carries 'Bucks espresso beans and Makro carries the syrups. Get both in bulk and you are quids in.

Well I will wrap this up - thats all for now. If anyone knows of anything that should be on the list and  missing out, then let me know ;)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Its that time of year again...

Time to bake some mince pies!

To be honest, I usually cheat at this - and this year is no different. I got some Jus-Roll sweet shortcrust, some M&S mincemeat (they have both Classic and Chocolate varieties this year.) and went about the job of assembling the pies.

Take a cupcake tin, a 2 1/2 inch cutter, roll out the pastry and cut out the rounds. Put the rounds straight into the tin, no prep needed as they will shrink back from the sides when they are cooked. Fill with your desired mincemeat and top with a festive patry cut out - I use star cutters. Egg wash and bung in the oven for 25 minutes on a moderate heat until the patry is golden brown.


Mince pies for everyone!