Fruitcake

Fruitcake is a bit of a ’marmite-y’ food. You either love it or hate it. Clearly it’s the dried fruit that causes the issue as the recipe for a basic fruitcake is a standard sponge cake but uses brown sugar instead of white and often has no raising agent. The thing about fruitcake that really sets it apart is that it can last for years. Properly stored, you can keep a fruitcake for up to 25 years and still eat it without having to worry about food poisoning. This is probably because of the copious amounts of brandy in which this cake is soaked. A good fruitcake will be regularly ‘fed’ brandy for a month or so before it is stored and left to mature until it is needed.

Christmas cake is distinguished from normal fruitcake by the time of year at which it is eaten. The recipe is the same…. it’s just eaten in late December rather than at any other time. Whilst the darkness of the cake can come from using light and dark brown sugar, a properly deep brown colour is achieved by adding black treacle. Treacle is the bitumen (tar) of the sugar world. It is what is left over at the end of the refining process when the corn syrup, standard sugar and other lightly coloured products have been removed. It is full of ‘impurities’ which would ruin normal sugar syrup but are really only the minerals in the sugar beet or sugarcane, things like iron, magnesium, calcium etc. These minerals are so concentrated in black treacle that some brands have even been used as a health supplement.

The alcohol added to the fruitcake gives it a very moist crumb and an intense flavour without making it too boozy. This is because while the cake is maturing, all the liquid diffuses evenly throughout it whilst the alcohol evaporates leaving only its flavour behind. The hardiness of fruitcakes is what makes them so perfect for weddings. Cakes can be cut and pieces posted out to friends and family without the worry that all that will arrive will be a mushy mess.

The cake is very rich so you will get a lot of servings out of it – you cannot eat much at any one time. I hope you enjoy the recipe (and the cake in about two months time).

 

Fruitcake

450g currants

300g sultanas

275g raisins

200g glace cherries, rinsed and roughly chopped

100g mixed peel

250ml brandy

10oz flour

10oz brown sugar

10oz butter

5 eggs

1 tbsp black treacle

¾ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

¾ tsp mixed spice

Zest of 1 orange

 

Tip the sultanas, currants, raisins, peel and cherries into a large bowl.

Pour over the brandy, stir, cover tightly and leave to stand for 24 hours.

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Turn the oven to gas mark 1.

Line an eight-inch square tin or a nine inch round tin with a double thickness of baking parchment.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Do not skimp on this stage. It should take at least five minutes.

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Beat in the treacle.

Beat the eggs lightly to combine.

Add the egg a tablespoon at a time beating after each addition to prevent curdling. If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour.

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Once the egg has all been incorporated, add the flour and spices and lightly beat until just combined.

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Drain the dried fruit and reserve the brandy for later (it will be used to feed the fruitcake).

Add the fruit to the cake mix and use a wooden spoon to combine by hand. This prevents the fruit from being pulverised.

Tip into the tin and spread out evenly.

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If you are using metal tins, tie a strip of baking parchment around the outside of the cake so that it comes up to at least double the height of the tin. Also cut out a circle/square of parchment which will fit over the top of the cake – this will stop it from browning.

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Bake for four hours.

Remove the parchment covering the top and bake for another 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (it may be a little wet but not mushy). If the cake begins to brown too much, place the parchment back over the top.

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Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool.

Once it is cold, prick it all over and spoon two tablespoons of the brandy over the cake. Leave for an hour to absorb and then wrap the cake tightly in baking parchment and then foil.

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Leave the cake to mature for at least two weeks (although preferably a month) feeding the cake brandy twice each week.

After the cake has matured, you can serve it as it is or decorate it with marzipan and royal icing to make a proper Christmas/wedding/decorative cake.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake, be sure to check out the recipe for my beautiful chocolate raspberry layer cake.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a winter warmer to keep you going strong into the new year.

H

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Yule Log

To those of you who celebrate, have a very merry Christmas and to those of you who are not Christian, happy holidays! Whether you celebrate or not, one thing that you have probably taken advantage of is the myriad of festive foods which are available at this time of year. Whilst things like Christmas cake and Christmas pudding tend to divide people into the group that likes them and the group which thinks they were created by the devil in the eighth circle of hell, one thing that I feel almost everyone likes is the Yule Log.

The original Yule Logs were not cake. They were, in fact, a carefully selected piece of wood which was burnt around Christmas time. This started around 800 years ago in Europe. It was a huge lump of wood meant to last the entirety of the twelve days of Christmas; the stump left at the end would be used to kindle the log the following year. The stump would be kept in the house and was believed to ward off bad luck and illness.

The modern cake version of the log is a swiss roll masquerading as a tree stump by scratching the icing and often using leaves and berries as decoration. Whilst originally a plain Genoese sponge with a chocolate filling, nowadays you tend to find the reverse; a chocolate sponge with whipped cream inside. This is then slathered in chocolate ganache, buttercream or truffle mixture which is textured to look like bark. It is not uncommon to take a large slice and rest it on top of the log to resemble a branch.

I really like swiss rolls as they are incredibly simple to make. They can be created in 90 minutes and are certain to impress anyone you serve them too. As it uses a whisked sponge, the cake is very light and bakes in a short space of time. Whilst people always make a big deal about how to prevent the roll cracking, the answer is simple: don’t let it dry out! Avoid overcooking the sponge and make sure to place the damp towel over it while it cools. That’s all you need to do!

Although it is traditionally a Christmas dish, this cake is still perfect at any occasion during the year and owing to the speed at which it can be made and assembled, is a very good one to have in your baking inventory.

 

Yule Log

4 eggs

100g caster sugar

60g self raising flour

50g cocoa

 

For the filling:

300ml double cream

¼ cup caster sugar

¼ cup water

2 tbsp Bacardi or other white rum

 

For the ganache:

300ml double cream

300g dark chocolate

50g butter

20g dark brown sugar

1tsp vanilla extract

 

 

Line a swiss roll tin with baking parchment and preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until its thick and creamy (about eight minutes).

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5 vs 8 minutes – the extra few minutes makes all the difference in the thickness of the mix

Sift the cocoa and flour into the beaten egg and sugar and fold together taking care not to lose too much air.

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Before, during and after folding 

Pour into the tin and spread out evenly.

Bake for 8-10 minutes.

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Before and after baking

 

While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup.

Heat the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved and place into the fridge to cool.

Lay out a piece of baking parchment larger than the swiss roll tin.

Remove the cake from the oven and flip out onto the parchment and remove the paper covering the base.

Place a damp tea towel over the cake to make sure it doesn’t dry out!

 

While the cake is cooling, make the ganache.

Heat the cream, vanilla and sugar until the cream is just about to boil.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and butter and leave for three minutes.

Whisk the ganache until everything comes together.

Set aside to cool.

 

Whip the cream to soft peaks – you do not need to add sugar as there is enough in the syrup and cake already.

Add the Bacardi to the syrup.

Remove the tea towel from the top of the cake .

Use a pastry brush to brush a layer of syrup onto the cake – this will help keep it moist and roll properly. You don’t need to saturate it, just give a nice coverage.

Spread the cream onto the cake going up to both long edges and one of the short edges – make sure to leave an inch along one of the short edges to start

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Use the baking parchment to start to roll the cake up. Lift from the short edge (with no cream) and fold the edge over, try not to crack the roll (but its fine if it does start to crack).

Continue to roll up the cake – try to get a nice tight roll.

End with the outside edge on the base so it doesn’t unroll!

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Once the ganache has started to set but isn’t hard – it should hold its shape when a spoon is dragged through it – cover the cake including the ends. The easiest way to do this is by placing lots of small blobs over the cake and then spreading them  out.

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Before and after adding texture to the ganache

Use a fork to make circles on the ends and run it up and down the length of the cake to make it look like a tree.

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This makes a perfect end to a Christmas dinner for those who don’t like Christmas pudding (or have both).

It is an ideal dessert if something goes wrong with your planned pudding as you can make the whole cake from start to finish in 2 hours.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Let me know in the comments if you try it at home or drop me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing. If you like this and want to keep with the Christmas spirit, check out my gingerbread house recipe. It tastes amazing and looks incredible. It’s a showstopper at any occasion! Alternatively, for a slightly more savoury meal, why not try your hand at making miniature beef wellingtons – a delicious dinner and surprisingly easy to make.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a healthy soup – ideal for a quick lunch and that new year health kick to make up for the Christmas guilt.

H

 

Gingerbread House

Last week I promised I would return with a Christmassy treat. I hope that with this recipe I will have delivered!

Gingerbread has been eaten for centuries and has wormed its way into the traditions of many countries. In England we have gingerbread men and houses, in Germany, they eat Lebkuchen and in Sweden gingerbread has been used to help with indigestion since the 1400s.

Gingerbread is thought to have originated just before 1000CE however it wasn’t recorded in trade until some time in the 17th century as production had been controlled by the Gingerbread Guild for the previous 200 years. The biscuits would be served in monasteries and sold in apothecaries and were popular owing to the belief that the ginger had health giving properties. Since then, it has been proven that ginger is good at soothing the stomach and reducing nausea as well as having anti-inflammatory properties.

The first documented case of gingerbread men was from Tudor England when Elizabeth I would present her guests with a likeness of themselves made out of gingerbread. About 250 years later, gingerbread houses started appearing in Germany after the publication of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. These were made out of something closer to a ginger biscuit or gingernut than the traditional Lebkuchen as it was too soft to hold the weight – though the decorated gingerbreads are still called Lebkuchen to this day. The gingerbread houses are sometimes made with pepper instead of ginger to create Pfefferkuchenhaus.

Gingerbread houses can take any form from a traditional cottage to a castle. They are normally stuck together with royal icing or caramel though in some cases you can use chocolate. However this is risky as chocolate is very temperature limited and will soften and melt if it gets too hot. Royal icing is very similar to a meringue as it is primarily made from egg whites and sugar however instead of being baked in the oven, it dries in the open air to form a hard surface that can then be decorated upon. Combined with the hard biscuit forming the walls and ceiling, gingerbread houses can be very, very sturdy constructions.

My recipe for a gingerbread house gives enough dough so that the offcuts can be kneaded together and rolled out into other shapes. I had a go at making myself some gingerbread Christmas trees and also iced the cut-outs from the windows so none of it would go to waste. If you are using royal icing, I recommend decorating the sides of the house before you stick it together and let them dry for an hour so you can touch them without smudging the decoration. This is simply because if you decorate them when flat, you don’t have to fight against gravity!

Decorating the house can be a great thing to do with friends and family and the outcome is delicious! You can even use chocolate and sweeties on the outside for added effect. The house makes a stunning centre piece to a table and is a complete showstopper.

 

 

Gingerbread House

Prep time: 30 minutes              Cook time: 25 minutes

Decoration time: Anything from 20 minutes upwards

 

Gingerbread:

900g flour

3 tbsp ground ginger – this is quite a fiery recipe, for a slightly less intense hit, use 2 tbsp

1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

300g dark brown sugar (muscovado)

325g Unsalted butter

¾ cup golden syrup

 

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

450g icing sugar (sifted)

1 tsp lemon juice

¼ tsp glycerine

 

Make your templates. The ones I used for this were: 8×5 inches for the sides, 8×4 inches for the roof and the front and back were a 5×6 rectangle with a triangle on top 5 inches long and 2 inches tall. You can either make your own or cut out the ones from my template below.

Gingerbread house template

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Mix the flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl – make sure the bowl is big enough to hold the other ingredients too as they will be added later.

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Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a heavy based saucepan and melt it together.

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Once the butter mixture has all come together (the sugar doesn’t need to have completely dissolved), pour it into a well in the centre of the flour mix and stir until it starts coming together.

Once the dough has mostly come together in the bowl, use your hands to knead it into a ball and mix in the last bits of flour round the outside.

Divide the mix into thirds and roll out to about 6/7mm thick.

Cut out two shapes of each template but do not remove the outside gingerbread. This means that the edges of the biscuit will burn but this is then removed leaving the gingerbread for the house perfectly cooked! You can remove any dough which is more than a centimetre from the edge of the house.

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Make sure to leave a centimetre or so around the edge of the house to prevent it from burning.

Cut out windows and doors as you see fit – again, leave them in, just cut the shape into the house.

Bake each one for 11-12 minutes until golden (its fine if the edges start to catch as these will be removed)! I would offset the baking of each tray by six minutes. As explained in the next  step.

Once the gingerbread is removed from the oven, it will be very soft. Remove the baking sheet from the tray it is on and lie it on a table. The gingerbread will have spread a little in the oven and filled in all the cuts however they will still be visible.

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The gingerbread has spread however the lines for the windows and edges are still visible.

Working quickly before the gingerbread hardens, cut along the lines with a sharp knife and separate the different pieces. Recut out the windows and door and remove these pieces.

Once it has hardened a little more on the sheet, transfer the gingerbread to a cooling tray to completely harden and cool down – this will take about an hour to make sure it is ready to be used in the house.

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Remember to hold back the pieces that made the doors as you want to put them back on the house once it is decorated.

 

For the icing, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk with electric beaters for around 8 minutes until the icing is thick and glossy and holds its shape when the beaters are removed – it can sag a little bit but shouldn’t return to a flat layer, you should still be able to see detail.

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The bowl on the right has been beaten for an extra minute which makes all the difference.

Use your pieces of gingerbread to make sure your house will fit together properly and work out which pieces overlap with each other.

Once you know where everything is going, pip a thick line of royal icing down the edges of one of the walls. Use this to stick it together with the two pieces it touches. Hold them in place for 30 seconds of so and if you can, place something up against the wall to keep it in place. Wipe off the excess icing on the outside

Pipe lines of icing down the remaining wall and stick it to the rest of the house. Wipe of the excess and add another line on the inside the strengthen the connections

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Let the house sit for five minutes to give the icing a chance to dry a little before you add the roof.

Use a thick line of icing around the top of the house and add one of the roof pieces.

Pipe along the last exposed edge before you add the final piece of gingerbread (its ok if they overlap a little, we can cover this with icing)!

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Don’t worry if it looks a little scruffy, a good layer of icing will cover a multitude of sins!

Pipe designs on the sides and the roof and let set for at least an hour if not more before serving. I left mine overnight as it lets the icing harden and the gingerbread soften just a little.

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You can even use an electric light to illuminate it from the inside to make the house glow.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe! If you fancy some more Christmassy flavours, check out my Chocolate and Orange Bread and Butter Pudding or for a lovely main course, have a go at making some Sticky Salmon!

Have a great week and I will be back next Monday with a simple take on a beef wellington!

H