Yorkshire Gingernuts

This year we had a team advent calendar: each person had three days to fill with lovely treats for the person who opened it. Being the office baker, everyone could guess what would be waiting for them – some form of Christmassy baked goodness.

I managed to pick three people who had completely different tastes in baked goods (yes guys – not everyone is like me and loves everything!).  I planned each ‘gift’ and attempted to make the type of thing they liked the most – so my first colleague got some Yorkshire Gingernut biscuits baked using Mary Berry’s recipe.

This was pretty quick and simple to follow – the butter and golden syrup go into a pan and are heated whilst the dry ingredients are mixed together. The melted butter is then added along with the egg.

The most difficult part of the recipe was getting 50 biscuits out of the batter – I went a bit OCD and weighed the total amount of batter, divided it by 50 and started measuring out each amount before baking them in sets of 10.  You’d think it was a pretty clever way to do it and it’s good if you’re a perfectionist like me who likes everything the same size – but it takes forever!

Yorkshire Gingernuts

Finally all the biscuits came out the oven and I had a quick taste test with my cup of ‘well-done-you-finished-baking’ tea. I have to admit, I wasn’t ‘in love’ with them; the ginger taste is a bit too subtle for my taste and it’s not the sweetest of biscuits.  Not really my kind of thing – but the advent recipient loved them (phew!).

 Yorkshire Gingernuts

These are (apparently) really nice with some Yorkshire tea and perfect for someone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth.  Not my personal favourite, I have to admit, but they did look great.

Advertisements

A Gingerbread Mansion

Last year I had planned to make a gingerbread house but never actually got round to it; a serious lack of time lead to a lot of gingerbread men and women being made instead.  This year I was determined to make a seriously cool gingerbread abode – I designed and made the blueprints for a gingerbread mansion.

You may ask why I had such big plans? Well, if you’ve ever read my posts before you’ll have gotten used to my insane ideas where I’m normally in over my head. My motto: ‘go big or go home’. OK so that’s not actually my motto but it works here.

First thing you need to do when making a gingerbread house is to make the blueprints for it – my building design was essentially four basic-shaped houses stuck together to make a mansion.  This in itself took around 2 hours; apparently geometry isn’t my best subject – I was more of an algebra type girl anyway.

 Then came the preparation of the batter – this year I went for Mary Berry’s recipe to see how it would differ from last years.  I made three times the amount of batter as I had a LOT of building parts to make. I started by mixing the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ginger and rubbing in the butter – this was, actually, quite a calming exercise and I was quite happy rubbing everything in while watching a Christmas movie on TV.  The golden syrup, sugar and egg is mixed in and kneaded until a smooth dough is made.

Gingerbread

By this point my hands were getting quite tired but I figured I was practically halfway there.  I started rolling out the batter and cutting out the shapes; there was a pretty good one-woman production line going but it still took around 2 hours to get all the pieces cut and baked.  I had planned to have a gingerbread Christmas tree but I simply didn’t have enough batter left.

 Gingerbread

The house was now seriously smelling like Christmas and the family were very excited about what I had come up with – the entire dinner table was covered with bits and pieces of my mansion.  Personally, at that point I was happy if I never smelt gingerbread again but I had to power through.

After a quick break for the gingerbread to cool (and a cup of tea, of course!), I started putting together the mansion.  I whisked together some icing sugar and egg whites to make a stiff icing to use as the ‘glue’.

Gingerbread

My dad and I spent the next 2 hours painstakingly putting each piece together; I never realised how dramatic and tense making a gingerbread house can be! We finally got the walls up and got started on the roof.  As each section dried I piped a decorative pattern on each of the joints for extra strength – and to hide all the ugly glued bits.  The last touch was to pipe chocolate icing onto the roofs and sprinkle some coconut to make it look like it had snowed. Add a snow covered floor and some snowmen and hey presto. My very own gingerbread mansion!

Gingerbread Mansion

On Christmas day the gingerbread house/mansion took pride of place at the centre of the table, everyone was pretty amazed, not only at my sheer luck but also at how long it took to make – 9 hours! They were so amazed that no one wanted to break into it – it was a completely different matter for me, I couldn’t wait to tear it apart!

 Gingerbread mansion

We only managed to get through the side extensions on Christmas day, but continued to work our way through until it was all gone!

The gingerbread itself was moreish – and a lot softer than you’d expect from a gingerbread biscuit.  I much prefer this recipe and will definitely use it again – just not for a very long time, I need to get over my ordeal first!

Christmas Mayhem

Every year I get a bit ambitious and try to do too much over Christmas, this year was no exception.  I had left all my shopping last minute had to make a last minute dash to the shops to get everything done in time.

Another one of my impossible tasks was to make a gingerbread house based on the gingerbread men recipe in the first Hummingbird Bakery book.  My first mistake was that I didn’t realise that you had to let the dough rest overnight.  I had way too much to do the next day (Christmas Eve!) so I gave up on my gingerbread house idea and settled for gingerbread men.

I started making the dough by mixing the sugar and butter first and beating in the egg and treacle.  Now I’ve never experienced black treacle before and was slightly intrigued/disgusted by what I saw! It looked like crude oil! But I had faith in the recipe and carried on.

I then added the flour bit by bit, along with all the spices and bicarbonate of soda.  I was definitely excited about the amount of spices going into the recipe. Ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg not only creates this beautiful Christmassy aroma when cooking, it makes everything taste great!

My baby whisk was starting to make crazy noises again, a regular occurrence now and I hoped that it wouldn’t break before finishing the dough.  Thankfully it made it through and I managed to get the dough mixed, I wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day brought with it the task of cutting out the gingerbread shapes and baking them.  As I made twice the amount of dough to have enough for the gingerbread house, I had a lot of gingerbread mean to cut out.  They cookies only needed 9 minutes in my oven before they were perfect so I started a little one-person production line.

The dough was finally finished and all the cookies baked.  I let them cool while I finished wrapping presents and getting ready for a dinner party.  Then came the fun job of decorating them.

I always thought royal icing was simply mixing water and icing sugar; apparently this isn’t royal icing – oops.  I can now proudly say it’s made from egg whites, lemon juice and icing sugar.

I started decorating by making smiley faces for all gingerbread men before colouring the icing blue and making little buttons.  I was a bit short of time (and by a bit I mean I had around 10 minutes to decorate around 50 cookies) so I kept it simple.

The gingerbread men were distributed among neighbours and friends and were thoroughly enjoyed on Christmas Eve.  They tasted really good, all the spices went amazingly well together and that beautiful Christmassy smell stayed in the house for days. It’s true what they say – once you taste a homemade gingerbread man you can’t go back – well they don’t technically say that but they should.

Carrot and Ginger Cake…One of Your 5-A-Day? I Think So.

This recipe was meant to be the Pièce de résistance as a dessert for yet another dinner party.  I made Apricot and Almond cookies as a pre-snack to go on the table but wanted to make a layer cake for dessert.

The Apricot and Almond cookies were made first and I decided to take a tea break before I attempted the main cake; my mum was cooking the numerous dishes and I decided to give her a break from battling for kitchen space.

Before actually starting the cake, the recipe calls for a lot of grated carrots and root ginger.  I actually hate grating but everyone was busy and I couldn’t beg them to do it for me so I sat there for a good 20 minutes grating with a tortured look upon my face.  I made it through my ordeal with only five small injuries (nothing compared to how many injuries I normally get!).  The carrots, ginger, vanilla essence, oil, butter and sugar got whisked together to make a not so attractive ‘mix’.

The dry ingredients, were sieved together and then mixed into the carrot mixture in two goes.  It was when I got to the next step that I realised I had to chop up and stir in lots of pecan nuts.  Once again I would suggest reading the recipe through once before actually starting; a mistake I don’t seem to learn from apparently.

I finally managed to get the batter into three prepared sandwich tins and into the oven for around 45-50 minutes.  They came out smelling amazing but had risen quite a lot.  I left them to cool a bit before taking them out of the tins.  I then attempted ‘trimming’ the top of the cakes to make them flat enough to layer on top of each other.  It is actually quite painful to do this, as it feels like a complete waste but I luckily have members of family that walk into the kitchen, pick up a ‘trimmed’ piece, a cup of tea and walk back out again; so at least it was all eaten.

I was worried that the cakes wouldn’t cool in time so I put them into the fridge and made the icing just before the guests arrived.  The icing was essentially the cream cheese frosting recipe with orange zest.  In the past, I’ve had issues with zest and piping and I had planned to make a wicker basket pattern along the side so I vetoed the orange zest.  I layered each cake on top of the other with icing in the middle and applied the ‘crumb coat’, which is essentially a thin layer of icing around cake to lock in any stray crumbs.

This is when I realised the biggest problem in my master plan; the heat.  For those who don’t live in the UK; we’ve been lucky enough to have a random heat wave, which was amazing and thoroughly enjoyed until I had to deal with icing. Although I followed the recipe to the letter and the icing wasn’t watery in any way; it wasn’t drying as it should and was a lot moister than it had been just after I made it.  So, I squeezed the cake  and the rest of the icing into the fridge to cool off properly.

When it came to the top coat of icing I decided to scrap my plan to do a wicker basket pattern as it would take too long and the icing wouldn’t last long enough to hold the pattern in the heat.  I ended up adding the orange zest and copying the decoration that was on the recipe book.  I used the palette knife to create vertical stripes along the sides and a nice spiral pattern on the top.  I also couldn’t find any orange food colouring so stuck to pecans along the top rather than making icing carrots.

This again went back into the fridge until serving to make sure that nothing melted away.   Once the cake came out, there were lots of ooh’s and aah’s and I had about 30seconds to get a few photo’s before it was cut up, served, and consumed; you wouldn’t think these people had just had a huge meal the way they were going at it!

I managed to get a slice to take a photo of and turned around to answer a question; when I turned back to take the photo some one had sniped a bit of it! Typical! In terms of taste, you can’t really taste the ginger but it is still a really nice cake. What I found strange was that you could see the carrots when the batter went into the oven, but when it came out and got sliced you couldn’t.  Intriguing. Anywhoo its definately a cake to try and hey, its one of your 5-a-day (or should be) so you have a reason to make it.

The Not-So-Spicy Spiced Pound Cake

This week, I decided to make the Spiced Pound cake as a gift to a friend (i.e. I needed another reason to bake and had to keep it simple because I’m chair/bed bound).  My funny ass ‘friend’ (we shall not name or identify them in any way due to the, ahem, horrendus joke about to be written) said: is it called a spiced pound cake because its spicy? Ha Ha…. Ha… Errr… No!

I generally love these types of cakes (ones with spices, not with holes in them… I will never understand why you’d do that) because the recipe has lots of different spices in it, including cloves, cinammon and ginger.  My friend has an allergy to cinnamon so I ended up swapping the quantity with more ginger.

A tip for baking this type of cake: grease the cake tin with butter and dust some plain flour over it.  This should stop the cake sticking and making a mess of taking it out.

The batter came out quite thick and almost filled the cake tin.  The 60min cooking time for this cake was a lot longer than other recipes and  I was a bit worried that the cake hadn’t cooked enough so left it in for a couple minutes longer.

While the cake was cooling, I then realised that I did leave it in the oven for a bit too long, as the outside was a bit harder than it should be. Oops.  But it did look very tasty and the smell almost made me cut a slice right then and there.

The final part was sieving icing sugar on the top.  For once, I managed not to go too crazy with the icing sugar; mainly because I had time to waste and did it REALLY slowly.

The family gathered like a pack of wolves when the smells started wafting through the kitchen, so I resorted to threats and hiding the cake.  The holes you see in the pictures were somehow created the next day; I’ve never found the person who did it but if I ever do I’ll exact my revenge. Be warned.

The cake went down a treat and the crustiness of the outside actually went really well with the texture of cake.  It probably wouldn’t be a favourite for the crazy sweet-toothed people out there, but it had a really nice texture and went great with a nice cup of tea.