Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Mary Berry versus Delia Smith Christmas cake recipes

I have made the Delia Smith Creole Christmas cake for many years. It became easiest for me when life got very hectic as a teacher, as I would pop the fruit in for its ten day soak in the mixture of alcohols she prescribes (whiskey, brandy, port, rum and bitters) at the beginning of December while I marked matric exams, then when I got home, I baked the cake and no one on the world knew it had not been baked in October and matured!

Another of my old faithful recipes for Christmas cakes is the one in Mitzie and Ray Wilson's book "Cake Decorating" which works every time, gives instructions for upsizing or downsizing the mixture but needs its maturation period. I made 3 large beer box loads this year to cut into eighteen 1 kg cakes for our church carnival and they all look good.

This year though, as I have been celebrating my 50th with the purchase of Mary Berry's "Complete Cookbook" and cooking my way through it, I decided it was apt to use her Rich fruit Christmas cake recipe. It was a cinch to make.  I tend not to use the separate raisins, currants and sultanas but to use a good cake mix which I source at a specialist baking shop. I bought some soft Turkish dried apricots for the cake as I wanted the softness and not a chewy dry texture and I probably used more brandy than her meagre 4 tlbs for the soaking.
 The trick with Christmas cakes is to line the cake tin thoroughly - this is one cake you cannot afford to bake twice because it got stuck in the pan.  I also like to wrap the tin in brown paper folded over double to insulate the cake a little.

When the cake came out of the oven, I soaked it thoroughly in brandy and once it had cooled completely, I wrapped it in foil and stored it in a tin. I will feed it every 2 weeks till Christmas with about 2 tablespoons of brandy. I don't tend to ice my cakes as my family do not like marzipan. I usually decorate with glacé fruit and a good apricot jam and brandy glaze over the top. I will post photos of the finished product after the 20th December, but in the meantime, I recommend this cake - what I have seen and tasted is moist and delicious and the smell is divine. And there is just time to get a cake baked....

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Anyone for strawberry daiquiris and Mary Berry's Pork with chilli and coconut?

The strawberry season still being here, I had to use up some strawberries and making daiquiris is no hardship.  This is not a Mary Berry recipe - merely one gleaned from the internet.  But I will use the half we could not consume to add to Mary's Vanilla icecream.

Pork fillet is often available at a very good price and being lean, it is a healthy choice.  Tired of the usual suspects (stuffed with smoked mussels and wrapped in bacon or roast with apples and a creamy apple sauce), I decided to give Mary Berry's chilli version a whirl.  I don't often follow recipes for main meals, but in the interests of "Antoinette and Mary", I sacrificed myself! Instead of tinned tomatoes, I used tomato paste (many of you will know my husband does not eat tomatoes but finds the paste more palatable). Even though I used a medium curry powder, the taste was quite subtle but very delicious. 10/10 and a definite do again.

We are now converts to brown basmati rice and we find the best results are obtained when you soak the rice ahead of cooking in cold water.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mary Berry's carrot cake versus Beck carrot cake

I should have called this Blog "A twist on Mary Berry's carrot cake"!

My friend Sheila's birthday and my housekeeper's birthday combined with the lack of baking margarine and butter in the house (I made the first of 6 small Christmas cakes for the church carnival hence empty fridge), resulted in a quick trawl through "la Berry". I have made her carrot cake before which uses sunflower oil, but had found it very plain, overly bananaed (she includes 2 bananas) and not carrotty enough- all major flaws in my book. Not a raisin insight either!  To add insult to injury her cream cheese topping is basically just cream cheese, lemon juice and honey - not a drop of icing sugar.  This does not "a birthday cake make" in my books! So I did some adaptations of my own.

Using her recipe (and by the way it doubles very easily as I made 2 cakes), I used an extra carrot in addition to her weight of carrots, only 1/2 a banana in each cake mixture, a good half cup of raisins and sultanas per cake mixture, some vanilla essence and a handful of chopped dates.  I omitted the walnuts as I did not have any, but last time I replaced them with pecans which worked well. I also added a teaspoonful of cinnamon and one of ginger. In place of the 2 tablespoons of milk, I used some greek yoghurt and added enough to get the batter to a good cake consistency which dropped gloopily off the spoon - not too thick otherwise the crumb will be big and crumbly.As you can see - the cake gets a crack on top but that is fine and although it looked quite firm when it came out of the oven, by the time it cooled, it was quite soft.

I also invented an icing to make the cake more interesting.  I made a caramel in a pot (basic caramel recipe of sugar heated till it is golden and gooey) and added some butter to it to stop it cooking.  This I tipped into cream cheese and icing sugar along with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a good spoon of honey. The icing was luscious and smooth and peanutty.

When the birthday girl cut her cake, the cake was very soft and had a really good texture. The verdict - the guests at the tea party thought it was scrummy.  Many good comments and no negatives apart from "it's quite rich with that icing".  It does not rise very high but maybe that was due to the width of my cake tin.  I am sure someone with elegant tastes could pipe rosettes and place some walnuts on top!

I think my version is worth trying as is Mary Berry's and you make up your own mind.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Mary Berry's Master Baker spurs me on

I bought myself the "Mary Berry's Complete Cookbook"  for my 50th birthday with the various vouchers I received having watched Series 2 and thoroughly enjoyed the BBC baking competition.  Loafing on the sofa this morning uninspired about Sunday pudding, I saw the bakers battling through the task of making Mary Berry's chocolate roulade.  Game on! I fetched the book and made it.

Some hints and tips though:
a. If you are an empty nester, then halve the recipe and do not panic with the density of the egg yolk, sugar and chocolate mixture. I was worried initially but it rose and sank obediently. I halved this recipe and it worked beautifully.
b. When baking this, do NOT use wax wrap - use baking parchment otherwise you will end up with a less than perfect edge!
c. When beating egg whites or making meringue - clean out the bowl of your mixer - if it is metal, great. If it is plastic or  nylon, then use some lemon juice or white vinegar to ensure there is not a trace of grease - this is what stops your egg whites from beating stiffly! I have finally realised after all these years why my mother's meringues were hit and miss and mine never miss the mark.
BIGGEST tip of the week - if you upgrade or replace your Kenwood - make sure you have a metal bowl!
d. When cooling the roulade, leave it in the tin as Mary Berry says, but cover with a spotlessly clean tea towel - this will ensure you have a roulade that will roll and crack marginally as it should, but will still look like a roulade.

We enjoyed ours just filled with cream, with fresh strawberries on the side.  The roulade is quite dense and fudgy - not too sweet provided you use good black chocolate and bitter cocoa powder so we managed two pieces fairly easily!

 I have a bottle of sour cherries that may well be meeting their match this holiday. I am also thinking of the making a caramel ice cream and rolling this into the roulade, then re-freezing and serving as dessert.  Loosen your belts friends and family!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Pudding Last Sunday left me in a quandry - how do I soup up the strawberries when there is no cream to make creme anglaise?  After all, while we live in the centre of strawberry land, they are a daily item in our diets.

I found a bottle of Marsala (that of Nigella Lawson fame) and steeped the sliced strawberries in it.  Then I placed them in some pretty glasses and topped them off with my new favourite topping - full cream greek yoghurt, lemon curd, vanilla and a touch of icing sugar. Delicious!

We are having a house warming this weekend, and I am busy working away, so next week's blog will be complete with pics and recipes.  On the menu this weekend:
mini yorkshire puds with rare roast beef and a cream cheese horseradish dressing
Spring rolls - duck with shitake mushroom and ginger and some vegetarian spring rolls
Pesto chicken and Rosemary Olive and lemon chicken
Baby potato salad
Baby spinach, blue chees and pear salad
Chocolate meringue stack
Marsala strawberry dessert

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Courgettes, Zucchini and baby marrows galore

Gardeners all know that flood of baby marrows, which rapidly turns into a glut of large vegetable marrows if we are not fast enough off the mark. The trouble is that none of your friends want your gifts either as they have plenty of their own!

This week, I am going to share some ideas for using up baby marrows - they are definitely much nicer eaten as baby marrows.  We've all had this vegetable cut as coins or as julienne strips and boiled or steamed. Courgette fritters are great and can often succeed in getting picky eaters to eat these! Otherwise try them grated and softened down in butter. If you are going to use grated courgette, grate them into a clean tea towel and wring out the moisture first. If you don't, your dish will be swimming in a greenish watery substance.

Another idea is to use them to replace pasta in a low carb meal.  I fried some mushrooms and leeks in a little butter and olive oil till translucent.  You can use the plain old button mushrooms for this as they keep their texture and flavour quite well in this type of dish.
Then use a peeler to cut long thin strips out of the baby marrow lengthwise.  It becomes a tad difficult towards the end of each marrow.  Toss these into the mushrooms and leeks and give them no more than 4 minutes.  They become slightly translucent and soft and malleable.

If you're not on a diet, you could always add some cream to the mix to create an instant pasta sauce.

The other recipe that I am favouring at the moment is using the baby marrows as a base for pizza toppings.  Mix the grated baby marrow with an egg and plenty of grated parmesan cheese. Press into a shallow pie dish and then top with your pizza toppings - you probably do not need too much more cheese though. Baby tomatoes work well halved and sprinkled with fresh thyme, as do anchovies and olives.

The jury is out on the use of baby marrow in cakes - I have seen a number of recipes for loaf cakes using courgettes. Any thoughts?

Monday, 23 September 2013

What do you do with a sack of lemons?

I bought a sack of lemons from Food Lovers Market for R19.99. 

 I made limoncello (which is brewing at the moment and will be bottled next week) from Giada De Laurentis's recipe which you can find on My sons say this is better than the Limoncello available at the local artisinal food markets. Once I have added the simple syrup and bottled the Limoncello, I will store it in a dark cupboard. Just before Christmas, I put the bottles into the freezer and we serve this tangy alcohol thick and syrupy from the freezer.

Second: My husband loves lemon marmalade which can be a huge fuss to make, but this time I used the BBC Food recipe on their website: This recipe is really good - lovely clear jelly, good flavour and not too much fuss to make. 

Third: Then I made two bottles of lemon curd using my grandmother's recipe - slightly adapted for the microwave. I melt the butter in the microwave and then add the lemon juice, sugar and finally the well beaten eggs.  Then I microwave on full for one minute blasts, using a whisk in between each blast. It takes about 3 to 5 blasts of microwaves to get the lemon curd to coat the back of a spoon like good creme anglaise. Then bottle immediately.

Fourth: I froze the juice of 10 lemons in ice cube trays; the solid ice cubes are then transferred into a jiffy bag and kept in the freezer for whenever I need 1 or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

Fifth:  I tried my hand at the preserved salted lemons - the verdict is still out as the bottle has to mature.

Sixth: Now today I have tried a twist on Annabelle Langbein's Orange Lightning Cake by using a tried and trusted cupcake recipe and incorporating the processed puree of 1 whole lemon (skin and all) into the batter.

The lemons I used are ordinary Eureka lemons, but if you are lucky enough to have access to Meyer lemons, use them instead as their flavour is much less sharp. The puree of the boiled lemon tasted very bitter and I was a little worried, but it tastes quite good - the cupcake is not as sweet as normal.

Now you can amp up the flavour like I am doing. The frosting will be a butter and cream cheese frosting with lemon curd. And if you want to make an extra special cupcake, pop a white chocolate truffle into the centre of the warm cupcake. It will start to melt but there should be enough solid left when you eat it.

Not bad for a sack of lemons. And there are a few left for G&Ts!