This was a bit of an experimental recipe, which turned out to be absolutely gorgeous (forgive me if I blow my own trumpet on this one, but it really was a scrumptious cake: light, moist, rich, sweet and spicy). Obviously the idea comes from a pineapple upside-down cake, which has become to be regarded as somewhat of a retro cake that would fit in at a 70s themed dinner party along with prawn cocktail, cheese fondue and duck a l’orange. Now I don’t mind telling you: that sounds like a great menu to me, “retro” or not. With plums still in season they seemed like the obvious fruit choice, and they work well with festive spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. A simple vanilla sponge cake recipe made using the all-in-one method was all that was needed to top (or bottom, depending on which way round you look at it…) the fruit.
I do have a confession to make about the execution of this recipe, which will demonstrate how things in my kitchen don’t always go so smoothly (as if you needed that after mayonnaise-gate). The oven was at temperature, the cake was layered in the tin and I popped it into the oven with great anticipation. Less than five minutes later acrid black smoke was billowing from the oven as a little of the sugar and butter mixture (and presumably some juice from the plums) oozed out the bottom of the cake tin and hit the hot oven floor. At the speed of lightning I whipped the tin out, onto a baking tray and back into the oven, to prevent it getting worse. Luckily, neither the opening of the oven door at the start of baking or the smoke seemed to affect the quality of the cake in the end. SO, if anyone has any bright ideas about how to prevent this from happening do leave a comment below! For now, my advice would be to put the cake tin on a baking tray from the start or perhaps to use a cake tin that doesn’t have a loose bottom (though in this case I would grease the tin extremely well as it may be more difficult to turn out).
Ingredients 50g softened butter, plus extra for greasing 50g light soft brown sugar ½ tsp ground cinnamon ½ fresh nutmeg, grated 1 tsp vanilla extract
6-8 ripe plums
200g softened butter 200g caster sugar 200g pain flour 4 tsp baking powder 2 tsp vanilla extract
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 21-23cm cake tin generously with butter. 2. Cream together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla until smooth and well combined.
I know, I know: IT’S NOT EVEN DECEMBER YET, SHUT UP ABOUT CHRISTMAS. I feel ya. I’m a great believer in no Christmas decorations, shopping or music before December. Don’t get me wrong, I bloody love Christmas and all the festivities that go with it. The moment December 1st arrives I will be all Micheal Bublé on repeat, festively scented candles and wreath-making. Let’s savor the festive period for a few weeks, packing in as many glasses of mulled wine and repeats of Elf as possible. But let’s not drag it out too long until the sight of another mince pie makes you feel a bit queasy and the sound of Mariah Carey singing All I Want For Christmas makes you want to smash your head off a wall. Nobody needs that.
However, there are quite a few Christmas recipes that need weeks, if not months, of storing and maturing before they are ready, so in this case we’ll make an exception and think about Christmas early. The best of these recipes is, of course, Christmas pudding. This is my Grandma’s recipe and I can safely say that it is the best and only Christmas pudding recipe you will ever want or need. It’s an all-in-one Christmas dessert, with sweet dried fruits, festive spices and warming alcohol.
For me, there is something happy and sentimental about Christmas puddings. I love the traditions that come with making it, that are either old (hiding a sliver coin inside, which brings wealth in the new year to the finder) or new (for example, Colum and I having to nearly set fire to a kitchen each year during the flaming, or spiking the pudding with brandy from a syringe as it matures); the stories of forgotten Christmas puddings discovered at the back of the cupboards after years, which are still edible and in fact the tastiest ones of all; and the fun of the pudding on Christmas Day when the lights are dimmed, the flaming pudding is ceremoniously presented and my little cousin manages to pack away 5 large portions.
Traditionally, Christmas pudding is made on “Stir-up Sunday”, which is the last Sunday before the season of Advent and this year it is Sunday 23rd November. That’s this Sunday people! Also traditionally, everyone in the household has to give the mixture a stir and I guess this is another reason why I love this recipe so much. Gather everyone together this Sunday, fill your house with an early treat of Christmas smells and then enjoy the satisfaction when you pull out your matured homemade Christmas pudding in four and a half weeks time!
Ingredients (makes one small pudding) 85g plain flour ½ tsp ground ginger ½ tsp ground cinnamon ½ tsp grated nutmeg ½ tsp salt 125g vegetarian suet – it doesn’t need to be vegetarian but I like to be prepared just in case 85g breadcrumbs 175g currants 175g raisins 125g sultanas 125g dark brown demerara sugar 85g chopped mixed peel 125g grated apples Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon 1 large egg ½ small wineglass of brandy A bottle or can of stout
A well-washed silver coin
Method 1. Sift the flour, spices and salt into a large bowl.
2. Add the suet, sugar, bread crumbs, dried fruit and peel, and mix very well.
3. Add the grated apple and lemon rind, and mix well again.
4. Beat the egg and add in, then add the lemon juice and brandy, and mix well one more time.
5. Add a little stout until the mixture is quite moist (but not too wet!). Usually a substantial amount of the bottle is leftover so one lucky helper will get to polish it off… Grease your bowl well. Put about half the mixture in and then pop in your clean silver coin (don’t forget to remind everyone that there is a coin hidden inside when it comes to serving…we don’t want any chipped teeth!).
Fill the bowl with the remaining mixture.
6. Cover the pudding with cloth, foil or baking paper (or a combination) and tie tightly with string to keep out the steam.
Place on top of a small plate, in a large pan and fill with a few inches of water. Cover with a lid and steam on a low heat for 8 hours – keep an eye on the water level to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.
7. When cool, wrap well in a few layers of new foil, baking paper or wax paper and tie tightly with string again. Store for at least 4 or 5 weeks, or any time longer!
8. On the day you are serving the pudding, re-steam in the same way for 3 hours. Top with a sprig of holly, flame with some lightly warmed brandy and serve with cream or, even better, homemade white sauce.
….and of course I can’t let this post go by without pointing out the adorable, and aptly lettered, bowl that I made this year’s pudding in, which was bought for me by my dad…
I have a tragic story to share with you. Truly, it’s a heartrending tale. In the world of home cooking at least….
During the summer we were due to have friends round for Friday dinner, and as per my parents’ usual Friday routine they had been to the fishmongers that morning. This time they had come home with a particularly great haul of seafood: squid, prawns and, best of all, crabs. I really fancied some homemade garlic mayonnaise in which to dip the simply cooked fish, and after a great success whipping up a batch in a basic student kitchen I felt pretty confident. I grabbed the electric whisk (on which I am going to (unfairly) blame this entire story and conclude that I will forever more use a hand whisk for mayonnaise even if my arm drops off) and began separating eggs. I was making a pretty big batch of mayonnaise – about 3 egg yolks worth – and dripping the oil in at a painstakingly slow pace. A few hundred millilitres in and suddenly the mixture split. But never fear! Google and Delia Smith were on hand to reassure me that this was not the disaster it seemed. Simply separate another egg, lightly beat the yolk and then drip in the “ruined” mixture. The mayonnaise will begin to take form again and you can return to incorporating the rest of the oil as planned. So I persevered and eventually turned off the whisk with a huge bowl of the best looking mayonnaise you have ever seen. Ever. I lifted the bowl slightly and tapped the balloons of the whisk off the side of the bowl…..CRASH. As I tapped the whisk on the side, the bottom of the glass bowl had hit the counter top and suddenly the bowl was in dozens of shards, small and large, the beautiful mayonnaise in amongst it. A lot of expletives were uttered as I stood frozen in shock. Mum was switching between laughing at me and feeling sorry for me. To be honest, I was all for risking glass cuts in order to eat the mayonnaise, but she didn’t think that was a great idea….so in the bin it went.
Basically, this is a convoluted way to tell you of a newfound fear of making mayonnaise I developed and how a few weekends ago I overcame this to make mayonnaise once again, this time without a glass fragment topping. And if I can do it, SO CAN YOU. I have just a few tips for you: first of all, some people use half, or even all, olive oil but I find this gives far too rich a flavour so I go for 100% sunflower or vegetable oil. Secondly, I would always use a hand whisk and add the oil as slow as humanly possible to begin with – an extra pair of hands can help at this point. And finally, never ever ever bang the balloon of the whisk off the side of the bowl unless it is flat on the work surface. You have been warned.
Ingredients 2 egg yolks 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed 1 tsp Dijon mustard 1 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar Salt and pepper
300ml sunflower oil
Method 1. Put the egg yolks, garlic, mustard and vinegar into a large bowl. Whisk together well, with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper.
2. Begin to add the oil. This needs to be done very slowly, while you continually whisk the yolks. If you have a helper, get them to drizzle in the oil at an almost painfully slow pace as you whisk. If you’re by yourself, just add a drop at a time to begin with. After about 100ml of oil the mayonnaise will begin to thicken slightly.
3. Continue to pour in the oil. You will suddenly notice that the mayonnaise becomes very thick and at this point you can add the oil a little quicker. Once all the oil has been incorporated you should have an indulgently thick, wobbly mayonnaise.
Serve straight away, or spoon the mayonnaise into a jar or a bowl covered with cling film and store in the fridge. It will keep for a couple of days…although I would be surprised if it lasts that long! It is delicious with steamed or grilled seafood, as a dip for homemade chips, in a burger or with fried chicken, or even just in sandwiches for a real treat. And, believe me, it is worth the effort.