Saturday, 19 December 2015

Berry and Orange Zest Christmas Mince Pies

'Tis the season to be baking! Nothing quite compares to the variety of treats specific to the Christmas season to motivate me to drop all other projects. And to indulge in a bit of nostalgia...

Over the years the way I've celebrated Christmas has changed as the family that I spend it with changes. A combination of others and me growing older and moving through different life stages, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who experiences that!

But we all have things that just seem indispensable to the season: "it wouldn't be Christmas without..."

For me those things would be... the smell of real pine on the tree decorations (even though Mum has had a fake tree for years!); giving hints for months about what gifts I would like to whoever would listen; listening to Clement C. Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' on Christmas Eve with my sister; singing 'O Come All Ye Faithful' while carolling for the elderly with my Grandma, and biting into her Christmas fruit mince pies on Boxing Day.

Image from

I do miss some of those old Christmas traditions, most especially Grandma's pies! 

I recently found out how divisive fruit mince pies can be: several of my workmates denounced them for their fruitiness and another called them "fly cemeteries"! However I refused to be discouraged and finally decided this year to bring back these humble pies back into my Christmas celebrations.

However, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make them more appealing: berry-based fruit mince from Anathoth with boysenberries and blackcurrants, and some tangy orange zest and spices for the pastry.

For the shortcrust pastry I wanted a rich, thick, crisp pastry like my Grandma would make, so I minimally adapted Jamie Oliver's sweet shortcrust recipe. The recipe in full is below so that it's easy to follow. While my Grandma used to make fully-encased fruit pies, I was enchanted by the star-topped mince pies that I found on Nigella Lawson's website, so I made mine like that, but you would have enough pastry to give yours proper lids if you doubled ingredients for the pastry.

The key to pastry, it seems, is keeping it cold; use cold butter, keep your hands cold by washing them in cold water before touching the pastry, refrigerate the pastry before using (and even at stages while making it if you like).  I was lucky to have a cooler day to make it! Jamie's comments for his recipe encourage you not to over-work the pastry to make sure it results in a flaky crust. It was lighter/less rich than my Grandma's version, but with all the sweet goodies around at this time of the year I'm probably better off!

I hope you get a chance to create your own homemade Christmas treats, and that you're inspired by this recipe to add some tangy flavours for memorable mouthfuls.

Berry and Orange Zest Christmas Mince Pies

250g plain flour (approx. 1 & 1/2 c) plus extra to flour bench and rolling pin
50g icing sugar (approx. 1/3 c) plus extra to dust pies with
125g unsalted butter, cold and cubed small
zest of one orange
1 & 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 large egg
Splash of milk
One 435g pottle of Anathoth Fruit Mince Berry Fruits (or your own homemade fruit mince concoction!) 

Sieve the flour and icing sugar "from a height" into a deep bowl.

Add the cubed butter and use your (cold!) hands (or a pastry cutter to start with as I did - though if the cubes are small enough you might not need to) to rub the butter into the flour and sugar. Use your fingers and thumbs rather than your palms, as they are warmer.

Keep going until the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs. Add the orange zest and spices, using your fingers to combine these ingredients, especially to make sure you don't get clumps of orange zest. At this point I put the bowl in the fridge to firm up the butter within it again.

Combine the egg and milk in a small jug/cup/bowl. Make a well in the centre of the butter-flour mixture and pour the milky egg into it. Use a metal spoon to mix together until it gets too thick to continue, then use your hands to work the mixture into a dough by kneading it lightly to combine all the dry crumbs into one ball. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour.

Lightly flour a 12-hole muffin tray or tart tin. Remove the dough from the fridge and knead with floured hands for a minute on a floured surface, long enough to make it *just* easy enough to roll out but still cold. Rub flour on your rolling pin and roll out the dough to approx. 5mm thickness.

Cut out 12 rounds from the pastry dough using a round cookie cutter (which could be a cup like the one I used!) with a diameter a couple of centimetres wider than the base of the muffin/tart cavities in your tray.

Push each round into each floured muffin/tart cavity - the pastry will only come up the sides a short way.

Spoon one tablespoon of fruit mince into each pie case.

Re-knead the remaining pastry, roll out and cut 12 stars using a cookie cutter(s) no wider than the diameter of the round cookie cutter used for the pastry cases. Place one on top of each fruit mince pie.

Bake at 200 degrees Celsius (conventional oven) for 15 minutes. Cool a bit before removing from the tins with a fork. Eat warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar.

Note: The instructions above produce 12 pies. If using the Anathoth fruit mince, you will have enough mince to make around 18 pies; you can double the pastry ingredients and have enough pastry to make 18 pies with some pastry left over. Alternatively, double the pastry ingredients anyway and cut rounds instead of stars to encase the fruit in the pies, using a fork or your fingers to attach the top rounds to the bases.

The past few years I've been with my husband's family at Christmas time and really enjoyed getting to know their traditions for the holiday season, and even making my own traditions.

In addition to making these pies, my favourite new tradition is to attend our church's Christmas Eve service to marvel at how the God who made the world came to earth as a tiny, vulnerable baby, to be the Saviour of the world. The stars on these pies make me think of the bright star that led the wise men that first Christmas, and the wonder they must have felt when they met the King of kings. My hope is that, amidst the happy trappings of the season this year, you're drawn to ponder that first Christmas and how it might shape your history.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Three Weddings and A... (Birthday) Cake! {B-Day Cake At Last}

I try to publish something on this blog at least once a month - and my biggest motivator is my lovely MIL who asks me regularly when my next post will be up :-) Even though I've ended up on Oct 31sh with a not very Halloween-y post, I'm glad for the inspiration from my family to keep blogging regardless of the season! 

For my MIL's birthday last year (celebrated along with two other family members' birthdays), I made my first two-tier cake.

For the trifecta birthdays this year, I made three spring-themed tiers (slightly early, as it was the end of July). Finally, here is the birthday cake that brings this seriously long-spanning four post series of 'Three Weddings and A... (Birthday) Cake! to an end - just in time for the next wedding season...
Bursting into spring on a sunshiny day...
I'm pleased to say that the design for this cake was my own, with a lot of inspo from a set of craft stencils that I scored from a newsagents' in Fairlie.


I'll keep the details as to-the-point as my detail-loving brain will allow: the top tier was chocolate (I think, although my notes say carrot...) with Swiss meringue filling and icing, and decorated hand-painted fondant clouds - thanks to my happy helper E!

The middle tier was red velvet, poorly covered in white choc ganache - I say poorly because the red velvet leakage that ensued could have been prevented if I had been more careful and not left any gaps! The escaped moisture also made the outer layer of fondant soft and prone to mishaping (as seen in image below)... My near-despair was topped off by my lack of consideration for the thickness of the fondant in the overall design, meaning this tier was almost the same size as the bottom tier.

Well, I guess if everything was done right the first time then the world wouldn't be such an interesting place ;-) At least the hand-painted little birdy looked happy with his outlook! I traced the stencil design onto baking paper which I then stuck onto the fondant surface and lightly traced over to leave an indentation for painting. Gel paints mixed with cake decorator's fluid did the trick to colour between the lines. 

Lastly the bottom tier was made of delicious preserved ginger cake covered in chocolate ganache with green grass done with royal icing (by eye).

Whew! It was a big effort, and the unseasonably hot weather on the day of the birthdays celebration was an unexpected challenge for the buttercream to keep its shape. But sunshine like that and a cake like this, how could we not have been hopeful for an early spring?!
I'm looking forward to next year's birthday cake challenge - though in future I'll try not to challenge them all to eat so much cake (sorry guys, quality not quantity!) ;-)


Saturday, 26 September 2015

The name's Blond - Caramel Blond {Salted Caramel Chocolate Blondies}

Why am I attempting silly Bond-jokes and (seemingly) infatuated with light hair colour? I don't mean blond(e) in the hair sense, but in the confection sense. In case you haven't encountered it before, blondie is a dense slice similar to brownie except without cocoa and instead with a vanilla or butterscotch flavour. 

Yeah, I've obviously been trying hard to think of a clever story about this recipe, but I don't have much to work with... However it is my own recipe, so I do feel clever about that, having combined and refined my fave choc brownie recipe (Whittakers) plus Donna Hay's salted caramel and choc brownie (which really seems like a blondie to me).

I wanted the denseness of choc brownie along with the sweet-and-salty flavour of the caramel brownie. Did I succeed? My workmates were certainly very complimentary when I brought some to work for a farewell morning tea. But I'll let you decide... hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Salted Caramel Chocolate Blondies

250g butter (regular is fine - if you have butter salted with sea salt that's perfect, but I rarely do!)
3/4 cup caramel (I buy canned caramel as I'm hopeless at making it, but if you prefer to make it yourself then I won't stop you...)
2 cups brown sugar, packed
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 & 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder (if you want a slightly more cakey and less dense blondie)
1 block of chocolate with caramel filling (e.g. Cadbury's Caramello, Whittaker's Milk Chocolate Caramel)
sea salt to top it off

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (160 degrees fan bake). Line a 7" x 11" (approx) tin with baking paper. Here's an easy way to do this: cut a rectangle of baking paper wider than the tin... 

Push the paper into the corners of the tray. 

Take out the paper and cut from its corners to the indented corners on diagonals. 

Fit the paper back into the tray and bend the corner flaps so they overlap and fit the corners. You can spray a bit of oil into the tray before lining to help keep the baking paper in place.

For the blondie, place the butter, caramel and brown sugar in saucepan over a moderate heat. 

Only the best butter in the world.

Stir the mixture occasionally until all the butter has melted then remove from the heat.

Sift the flour and baking powder (if using) into a bowl. Crack the eggs into a separate small bowl or jug. Add the flour and eggs to the sugary butter mixture alternately, ending with the flour, and mix using a whisk or spatula.

Pour the batter into your lined tin. Chop up the block of chocolate and space the pieces across the batter, pushing them down gently. Sprinkle sea salt across the top of the batter.

Ideally you will have more self-control and more caramel chocolate to use... :-|

Bake for 30 mins then test the cookedness of the blondie with a skewer - if it comes out with liquid still on it then check 10 minutes later. For a dense, fudgey blondie you will want to see moist crumbs on your skewer. 

Personally I prefer to let blondie cool - and even refrigerate overnight - before digging in to ensure that fudgey texture, but this would be nice served warm for dessert also!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Three Weddings and a... Birthday (Cake!) {Wedding No.3}

Nothing like a sick day off work to remind me I have some blogging to catch up on - it would be wrong to just leave things hanging half-way through 'Three Weddings and a Birthday Cake', right?! 

After this wee series I PROMISE to put some actual, rustic, homemade, genuine baking ideas up; even I can't look at cake decorating inspo all day. 

Well, except maybe on sick days... in between binge-watching the latest two seasons of Rookie Blue (I feel totally ok if the series isn't renewed after the Season 6 finale, I'm in a good space right now). 

Ahem, so, cake!

Wedding Cake No.3: Naked Glory

When someone mentions a 'naked cake', what comes to mind? Probably a number of dodgy things, but I want to change those connotations to positive ones... think of something like this instead:

Naked cake by BakerMama

That delightful number was C & K's inspiration cake for their wedding at ANZAC weekend this year. My third wedding cake ever, this one was to be the most 'organic' design - so natural compared to the thick layers of fondant, and less piled-on than the buttercream-slathered look. Naked cakes typically have little shaping done to them, the filling between layers is visible and the barest amount of icing is smoothed around the outside (kind of like a light dusting of snow!). Topped with fruit or flowers, no cake could be fresher!

C & K love Chocolate Guinness cake (and each other of course! <3) so the base of their cake had to be that flavour. Classic carrot cake (I believe I used Annabel Langbein's recipe) won out for the middle tier, and some lovely and light lemon poppyseed for the top tier. Given that I had only ever seen naked cakes made with the same flavour (or at least the same colour) for each tier, I did a practice run of the cake...

For this practice cake I used three different covering methods: naturally oozing filling (bottom tier), scraped filling (top) and 'snow dusted' like the inspo cake for the middle tier. C & K stuck to their guns and decided to go with the latter, and liked my garden flower arrangements enough to entrust me with the task of preparing the decorations as well!

So off I went to make 12 inch, 9 inch and 6 inch cake rounds... 

... And to sing to the flowers in my wee garden, in hope they would be blooming at the time of the wedding (an end-of-April wedding could be a chilly autumn event in New Zealand). 

Fortunately, my singing didn't shrivel the flowers, but I did have some trouble with one of the carrot cake layers under-cooking, hence the middle layer is not as tall as I would have liked. Still, the three tiers you see here were served along with two slab cakes (one each Choc Guinness and carrot), so there was plenty of cake irrespective!

My tree trunk cake stand was made for such a rustic, natural cake as this!

The gorgeous white frilly lily-like flowers along with the lovely soft pink rosebuds came from our neighbours garden, after she had heard of my weekend caking requirements! The blue daisy ones are from my Felicia bush, the small blue ones are from a ground cover with blue star-shaped blooms, the pastel purple ones are geraniums, I threw in some smaller pink camellia blooms, and some jasmine leaves make up the foliage.

Love those white ones!
It was a pleasure to be involved in the wedding of these two young love birds and to learn a new cake design at the same time :-)