Can you believe that 2012 is coming to a close already? I don’t know where this year has gone. I think I’ll forever think of 2012 as a quick moving current, a pleasant but very swift breeze! I resolve in 2013 to try to take things slower (if that’s even possible with two small children!) and make the most of every minute!
Yesterday, I baked up another batch of gingerbread. I’ve hardly baked much this whole year and yet in the past couple of weeks, our kitchen has been the center of the universe (as it usually is this time of year!) and I’ve done some successful baking! This time, I went with Nigella Lawson’s Guinness Gingerbread, which is every bit as heavenly as it sounds. There’s only a cup of Guinness in the recipe, but it’s enough to give the recipe a little something-something. The lack of molasses this time around also makes for a less strong, more child-friendly cake. I found it to be the best kind of spice cake imaginable – super moist and sticky, without screaming “Christmas.” It’s gingerbread for these post-Christmas days and the kids loved it.
Have a wonderful New Year’s and all the best to you in 2013! I’ll see you back here on Thursday!
Nigella’s Guinness Gingerbread
1 1/4 sticks 10 (tablespoons) butter, plus some for greasing
1 cup golden syrup (such as Lyle’s)
1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 rectangular aluminium foil pan or cake pan, approximately 13 by 9 by 2-inches
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Line your cake pan with aluminium foil and grease it, or grease your foil tray.
Put the butter, syrup, dark brown sugar, stout, ginger, cinnamon and ground cloves into a pan and melt gently over a low heat.
Take off the heat and whisk in the flour and baking soda. You will need to be patient and whisk thoroughly to get rid of any lumps.
Whisk the sour cream and eggs together in a measuring jug and then beat into the gingerbread mixture, whisking again to get a smooth batter.
Pour this into your cake/foil pan, and bake for about 45 minutes; when it’s ready it will be gleamingly risen at the centre, and coming away from the pan at the sides.
Let the gingerbread cool before cutting into slices or squares.
I feel like we need to tack an additional 14 days to December to revel in the fun of the season – more time to watch “Home Alone” and “Elf” and “The Holiday,” for Bailey’s Irish Cream nightcaps and for filling the house with the smell of baked goods.
I’ve failed on the last item this month – I’ve wanted to make these gingerbread houses, not to mention this and these. But one thing I did manage was a batch of sticky gingerbread from Nigella Christmas.
I’ve never made gingerbread before but after Starbucks abruptly ended their run on gingerbread loaf pre-Christmas, I had to get my fix elsewhere. Nigella’s recipe is absolutely fantastic – easy to do and actually gets better by the day! Here’s my adapted recipe. Enjoy the remains of the season and will see you back here on Thursday! Have a happy Christmas with you and yours.
Makes 20 squares
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup molasses
2/3 cup packed soft dark brown sugar
3 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 2 teaspoons warm water
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs, beaten to mix
2 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350F and line a roasting pan or ovenproof dish (approx. 12 x 8 x 2-inches) with aluminum foil or parchment paper (if using foil, grease it too).
In a saucepan, melt the butter over a lowish heat along with the sugar, syrup, molasses, fresh and ground gingers, cinnamon and cloves.
Take off the heat, and add the milk, eggs and dissolved baking soda in its water.
Measure the flour into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until well mixed. It will be a very liquid batter, so don’t worry. This is part of what makes it sticky later.
Pour it into the prepared pan and bake for 45-60 minutes until risen and firm on top. Try not to overcook, as it is nicer a little stickier, and anyway will carry on cooking as it cools.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the gingerbread cool in the pan before cutting into 20 squares, or however you wish to slice it.
Make ahead tip:
Make the gingerbread up to 2 weeks ahead, wrap loosely in parchment paper and store in an airtight container. Cut into squares as required.
Freeze ahead tip:
Make the gingerbread, wrap in parchment paper and a layer of aluminum foil then freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature for 3-4 hours and cut into squares.
Her version is very simple, particularly since all of the ingredients go straight into the food processor and are blitzed.
The “coffee” ingredient she recommends is instant espresso powder, which I didn’t even know existed, but was easy to find in our nearest grocery store.
After exactly 25 minutes, they were ready.
I waited 10 minutes as instructed before moving the cakes to the cooling racks. The cakes just eased out of the pans, as if on cue. It was amazing.
The frosting was also very simple to make (powdered sugar, butter and instant espresso powder in a little bit of boiling water) but was easily the best buttercream frosting recipe I’ve ever made. I was exceedingly proud of how pretty this cake turned out – just look!
I’ll definitely make it again in non-birthday circumstances. I can easily see this turning into my go-to cake to bake! Note: if you’re making the cake for kids, you can always tone down the caffeine quotient by replacing the 4 teaspoons of instant espresso powder with 2 teaspoons of instant coffee granules. (Or you can just serve it first thing in the morning and call it breakfast).
COFFEE AND WALNUT LAYER CAKE
For the sponge
1/2 cup walnuts (pieces)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (soft (plus some for greasing))
1 1/3 cups plain flour
4 teaspoon(s) instant espresso powder
2.5 teaspoon(s) baking powder
½ teaspoon(s) baking soda
4 medium egg(s)
2 tablespoon(s) milk
For the buttercream frosting
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (softened)
2.5 teaspoon(s) instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
approximately 10 walnut halves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the 2 8-inch round cake pans and line the base of each with parchment paper.
Put the walnut pieces and sugar into a food processor and blitz to a fine nutty powder.
Add the 2 sticks of butter, flour, 4 teaspoons espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda and eggs and process to a smooth batter.
Add the milk, pouring it down the funnel with the motor still running, or just pulsing, to loosen the cake mixture: it should be a soft, dropping consistency, so add more milk if you need to. (If you are making this by hand, bash the nuts to a rubbly powder with a rolling pin and mix with the dry ingredients; then cream the butter and sugar together, and beat in some dry ingredients and eggs alternately and, finally, the milk.)
Divide the mixture between the 2 cake pans and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sponge has risen and feels springy to the touch.
Cool the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, before turning them out onto the rack and peeling off the parchment paper.
When the sponges are cool, you can make the buttercream.
To make the frosting:
Pulse the powdered sugar in the food processor until it is lump free, then add the butter and process to make a smooth icing.
Dissolve the instant espresso powder in 1 tablespoon boiling water and add it while still hot to the processor, pulsing to blend into the buttercream.
If you are doing this by hand, sieve the icing sugar and beat it into the butter with a wooden spoon. Then beat in the hot coffee liquid.
Place 1 sponge upside down on your cake stand or serving plate.
Spread with about half the icing; then place on it the second sponge, right side up (i.e. so the 2 flat sides of the sponges meet in the middle) and cover the top with the remaining icing in a ramshackle swirly pattern.
This cake is all about old-fashioned, rustic charm, so don’t worry unduly: however the frosting goes on is fine. similarly, don’t fret about some buttercream oozing out around the middle: that’s what makes it look so inviting.
Gently press the walnut halves into the top of the icing all around the edge of the circle about 1/2 inch apart.
Cuts into 8 generous slices.
When fall begins to assert itself, we love nothing more than a comforting dish like Toad in the Hole. We made some last week, just as the weather started to cool.
Don’t worry. No toads were harmed in the making of this meal. The origins of Toad in the Hole are here.
If you’ve ever had a Bullock’s popover (does anyone remember the department store Bullock’s and their delicious popovers, which were basically Yorkshire puddings?), imagine this done big, studded with British bangers (translation: sausages). My husband uses the Yorkshire pudding recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Feast cookbook as the base for the Toad in the Hole:
1 1/3 cups 2% milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
Packet of British bangers
Whisk the milk, eggs and salt well and let stand for 15 minutes, then whisk in the flour and let stand again until you need it. Cook at 450 degrees. Put the muffin tin in the oven to heat up for a good 10-15 minutes, with vegetable oil at the bottom. Add British bangers (we cut ours in half). When the pan and oil has been heated, pour in the yorkshire pudding batter and cook for 15-20 minutes or until they have puffed up gloriously.
Where do you stand on the great whitebait debate? Have you ever tried it? Do you like it or hate it?
Whitebait are very small fish that you eat whole, head, tail, guts and all. They’re usually deep fried and served with lemon and are very popular in the U.K. (as well as New Zealand, Greece, etc.) Not so big in America.
Personally, I’ve never tried them and doubt that I ever will. I don’t know if it’s a specific American sensibility of mine, but I can’t eat fish if the head is still attached. It’s a problem, particularly since Europeans don’t seem to have this sensitivity. I’ll never forget the time I ordered sole meunière when we visited a coastal town in Normandy, France, and they brought it to me whole. It was the sort of dish that would have automatically come as a filet, had we been in the U.S. and then I was too embarrassed to ask them to remove the head.
Anyway, I digress. Waitbait… care to try it? This recipe comes courtesy of Nigella Lawson.
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 18 ounces whitebait
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bunch fresh curly parsley
- Maldon or other sea salt
- Lemon wedges, for plating
Heat the oil for frying in a deep-fat fryer to about 375 degrees F.
Put the whitebait and the seasoned flour into a plastic bag, and toss everything around to coat the fish.
Shake the excess flour by turning out the whole bag into a metal sieve, and then plunge the little fishes into the oil. Cook for about 3 minutes or until they look crispy and tempting – though I can see that for a squeamish generation, the idea of eating baby fish, whole, might not tempt. How wrong they are, if that’s the case.
Turn them out onto paper towels, and while the fish are losing any excess oil (we want desirable crunch) throw in a small handful of parsley leaves to deep-fry; watch out, it will spit. (A splatter guard is useful. Not charming, but useful.) When they have turned a very dark green, drain and serve with the whitebait, well sprinkled with sea salt and surrounded with lemon wedges.
Yesterday, we had friends over for a lazy afternoon and an early dinner. The emphasis was on simple, and so I rolled out Nigella Lawson’s roquamole.
Roquamole is her luscious blend of roquefort and avocado – certainly not traditional by a long shot, but a delicious variation on the usual. What I like about this recipe is the customization factor – in this case, I went with a gorgonzola, instead of a sharper roquefort and then subbed out the jalapeños for Ortega green chilies (since we had kids to feed and wanted to keep things on the mild side). I served this with thick tortilla chips (Casa Sanchez gruesos), along with sliced radishes and carrot sticks for dipping. Delish!
Here’s the original recipe – again, feel free to change it up a bit to make it your own. It’s very forgiving!
1 cup crumbled Roquefort or Saint Agur blue cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
2 ripe avocados
1/4 cup sliced pickled green jalapeños from a jar
2 tablespoons finely sliced scallions
1/4 teaspoon paprika
large bag of blue corn tortilla chips
1. Crumble or mash the blue cheese with the sour cream in a bowl.
2. Mash in the avocados. If they are ripe, a fork should be all you need.
3. Roughly chop the sliced jalapeños and stir them into the mixtrue along with the finely sliced scallions.
4. Arrange in the center of a plate or dish, dust with paprika, and surround with tortilla chips. Dive in.
Sunday night, we had fish pie. Think firm white fish (we went with cod and tilapia this time), cooked in a creamy roux, added some peas, topped with a layer of sliced boiled eggs, and then topped again with mashed potatoes and grated cheddar cheese. Bake it in the oven for 20 minutes or so, until the top is crispy and browned (we used the broiler to give it an extra oomph of crispiness) and voila! Dinner was done.
It is a supremely delicious and comforting British dish. Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Nigella Lawson.
Nursery Fish Pie
3lbs all-purpose potatoes
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 1/2 lbs haddock
2lbs 4oz smoked haddock
2 cups whole milk
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, grated
3 hard-boiled eggs
Peel the potatoes and cut them in half or quarters, depending on size, and put them in a pan of salted water to cook from cold. When they’re tender, drain and then mash them with 3/4 stick of the butter, seasoning to taste.
Put the fish into a large skillet with the milk, bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring the milk in the pan to a boil, then immediately turn down and simmer the fish until it is just cooked through. Remove the fish to a plate and pour the cooking liquid into a glass measuring cup, straining out the bay leaves and peppercorns.
Meanwhile, put the frozen peas in a bowl, pour over some boiling water and preheat the oven to 375°F, slipping in a baking sheet as you do so.
Melt the remaining 3/4 stick butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour to make a roux. Take this off the heat briefly, just while you gradually whisk in the fishy milk, then put back over a medium heat and keep stirring until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Let it bubble away for a couple of minutes and then take off the heat and stir in most of the cheese (leaving some to sprinkle over the top of the pie later) and the drained peas.
Flake the fish, making sure not to let it disintegrate too much, and use it to line a 12-cup ovenproof dish and pour the sauce over, using a rubber spatula to help you distribute it equally and meld it with the fish. Cut the hard-boiled eggs into slices and arrange the golden-centered discs over the top of the fish in sauce. Top with the mashed potato, using a spatula, again, to help you coax it right over the sides. With a fork, scrape lines up and down the length of the dish and then sprinkle with a little grated Cheddar cheese before putting it on the sheet in the oven for 20–40 minutes, depending on whether you’re putting the pie in hot or cold.
In the U.S., fruitcake is the Christmas punchline. It’s probably the most re-gifted holiday item on the planet, which then becomes a doorstop, paperweight or overall novelty item to whip out and threaten holiday guests with who overstay their welcome (and if necessary, it can also be used in deadly combat).
And so it is always a surprise to me at how much Brits love it. It’s better known as Christmas cake or Christmas pudding – always chockful of nuts, dried fruits and alcohol. It’s actually a welcome sight in the UK – a confection to be greeted with open arms rather than the sign of the cross.
It was, after all, the Brits who penned the famed, “Oh, bring us some figgy pudding and bring some right here!”
Béchamel sauce and I have a love-hate relationship. I mean, I love it. I love the marriage of melted butter, flour and milk, whisked quickly over heat. I love it in macaroni and cheese and in an authentic lasagne (that is, one without ricotta. Sorry, I don’t like ricotta in my lasagne, which is sadly how most Americans make it). And I love the jaunty accent in béchamel. It might as well have a beret and smoke gauloises.
But I’d say 95% of my attempts at making béchamel sauce have failed, giving me an end result of a frustratingly thin sauce, when the goal is a thick, unctuous, creamy goo.
Last night, on the spur of the moment and with a head of cauliflower in the fridge that needed to be eaten pronto, I whipped up a cauliflower cheese. For the uninitiated, cauliflower cheese is a fantastic British recipe, particular for vegetarians in your life. It’s great when paired with a roast rib of beef, but also delicious on its own. The gist is not unlike a proper homemade macaroni cheese, except we replace the macaroni for cauliflower.
And it does involve making béchamel sauce. I tried a Nigella Lawson recipe from her Feast cookbook and voila!
It was a resounding success! Not only did the sauce turn out exactly the way I wanted, but the cauliflower was cooked just enough to be bitesome, not mushy. Bravo, Nigella! You’ve made a believer out of me.
1 large head of cauliflower
2 bay leaves
1 stick of butter
2 teaspoons English mustard
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
3 cups strong cheddar, grated, plus 1/2 cup for sprinkling on the top
Cut the cauliflower into small florets and and put in a saucepan with cold water and bay leaves. Sprinkle with salt. Bring to a boil, then drain and then refresh with cold water. Let the water drain in a colander. Then put the cauliflower in an even layer in an ovenproof dish.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and then whisk in flour and mustard, and cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes. Whisk in the milk off of the heat, and then put it back on the heat and keep stirring until it becomes thick and begins to bubble.
Sprinkle in the 3 cups grated cheese and stir over heat until it has melted into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower in the dish, and scatter remaining cheese over the top. Cook for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is hot and bubbly and the cheese has browned slightly on the top.
Wanna feel like a million bucks (or pounds, depending on your currency)? Then get in the kitchen and bake this:
* Enter carol of angels *
Okay, so maybe the photo doesn’t show it for the general awesomeness that it is and it looks a lot like an ordinary peanut butter square, but make no mistake. This is Millionaire’s Shortbread, a rich confection that layers dark chocolate atop gooey caramel spread over buttery shortbread. A Twix Bar-like dessert done on a big scale. I’m not sure where this gorgeous creature got its name but it is a British classic and rightly so.
Matthew made a batch last night (I am NOT the baker in our house and would never attempt such a complex dessert), based on Roxanne’s Millionaire’s Shortbread recipe from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess cookbook. It tastes like a million calories but in a good way.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 2/3 cups unsalted butter
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 9-inch square pan or similar, greased and the bottom lined with parchment or wax paper
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Put the flour and sugar into a bowl and rub in 12 tablespoons of the butter, clumping the dough together to form a ball. Press this sandy shortbread mixture into the tin and smooth it either with you hands or a spatula. Prick it with a fork and cook for 5 minutes, then lower the oven to 300 degrees F, and cook it for a further 30-40 minutes until it is pale golden and no longer doughy. Let it cool in the tin.
Melt the remaining butter in the microwave (in a large microwavable bowl) for 2-3 minutes, then add the condensed milk and golden syrup. Whisk the mixture well until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. Heat for 6-7 minutes until it is boiling, stirring thoroughly every minute. As a microwave novice, I found this bit difficult and had to watch that I didn’t burn the toffee mixture (I did once), which is why I caution you to check and stir every minute. It’s ready when it’s thickened and turned a light golden brown. Pour this molten toffee evenly over the cooled shortbread and leave it to set.
Break the chocolate into pieces and melt it in a bowl in a microwave. Pour and spread evenly over the fudge mixture (the less you touch it, the shinier it will be) and leave it to cool. Once set, cut the caramel shortbread into pieces. The squares can be stored in the fridge to keep them firm, though if it’s winter that shouldn’t be necessary.
Makes about 24.