Spiced Christmas cupcakes

Here are some really sparkly spicy Christmas cupcakes guaranteed to be popular with everyone! The pretty poinsettia baking cups make the cakes look so festive… and if you haven’t tried the clever cupcake plunger yet – do give it a go. Easy to use and very effective.

To make the cake:

  • 110g brown sugar
  • 75g plain flour
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 100g butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 50ml buttermilk (you can use normal milk too)
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat oven to 180ºc (160ºc fan). This mix is enough to make six large poinsettia baking cups and six small poinsettia baking cups. 

Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix until combined. Put all wet ingredients into another large bowl and mix until combined. Then combine both together.

Divide the mixture evenly between baking cups and bake for 25 minutes for the large cakes and 15 minutes for the small cakes. Once cooked, leave to cool completely before decorating.

To make the mincemeat filling:

2tbsp mincemeat, homemade or shop bought.

1-2tbsp Icing sugar

Warm mincemeat and add Icing sugar to sweeten, put to one side to cool. Use a cupcake plunger to cut centres out of large cakes and fill with fruit mince, add as much or a little fruit mince as you like.

(If you want to make your own mincemeat check out my recipe in the filo pastry brandied mincemeat blog)

To make the butter cream:

  • 220g butter, softened
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tbsp milk

Combine butter, icing sugar, vanilla and enough milk to make the mixture easy to pipe. Fill piping bag and pipe onto cakes, add decorations, here I have added edible silver stars and fondant snowflakes.

 

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A lovely traditional Christmas…?

Most of us strive for a traditional Christmas starting with the advent calendar, making and sending cards, dressing the tree, buying the turkey and some of us even leave out carrots, milk and biscuits for Santa and his reindeer. But how much of it is ‘traditional’? And how long does something need to exist to be classed as ‘traditional’.

The Christmas tree became popular in England after Prince Albert introduced the idea in 1841. He brought a Christmas tree over from Germany and put it in Windsor castle. The royal couple were illustrated in a national newspaper standing in front of it and the ‘tradition’ began…

The turkey appeared on Christmas tables in England in the 16th century and popular history tells of Henry VIII being the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas. A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchitt a large turkey.

Christmas Pudding. For several centuries, a dish called frumenty was part of the traditional Celtic Christmas meal. Frumenty was made primarily from boiled, cracked wheat with almonds, currants sugar and saffron being among a range of ingredients that were added,

Over the years the recipe changed. Eggs, fruit, spice, lumps of meat and dried plums were added. The whole mixture was wrapped in a cloth and boiled… and that is probably how plum pudding began!

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and simply Santa, is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical and folkloric origins who brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve.

His red and white outfit was introduced by an American cartoonist Thomas Nast – working for Harper’s Bazaar in the mid/late 1800s and it is around this time that he acquired a sleigh, reindeer and bells! Although many people believe Coca Cola made him red and white this is an urban myth –bishop’s vestments (St Nicholas) had been red for many years before Coca Cola used him in a long running commercial in the 1930s!

The tradition of sending cards at Christmas began here in England in the mid 1800s – an Englishman called Henry Cole wanted to send a note to his friends to wish them Happy Christmas and look how popular making your Christmas cards is now!

It’s always interesting to know where our traditions come from!

 

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Brandied mincemeat filo waterlilies

If you fancy a change from the traditional mince pie this year, why not try these? I personally prefer filo to shortcrust pasty – try them and let me know what you think!

Serves about eight. 

You will need:

For the brandied mincemeat

This recipe makes enough for 6 x 1lb jars and as an alternative you could try ginger wine or whisky instead of the brandy!

  • 450g apples, peeled and cored
  • 225g suet
  • 350g sultanas
  • 250g raisins
  • 225g currants
  • 225g candied peel (chopped)
  • 3 oranges (grated rind and juice)
  • 1 lemon (grated rind and juice)
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 4tsp ground mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients together in an ovenproof bowl, cover with foil and stand in the oven heated to 120ºC/225ºF/Gas ¼ for about three hours. Take the bowl out and allow to cool, then mix in the alcohol and spoon into clean, dry jars. Cover and seal as usual.

For the waterlillies 

  • Approx 20 sheets of filo pastry
  • 225g (8oz) melted butter 

Using good kitchen scissors, cut the filo pastry into 5 – 5.75cm (2-21/2 inch) squares. Cut a stack at once, don’t do them one at a time or you really will be there until Christmas! Keep the pastry covered with a clean damp cloth as much as possible to avoid it drying out. Butter a nine-hole bun tin and place a square of pastry over the hole. Brush the top of the pastry with melted butter and cover with another square of pastry, placing the second square at an angle. Continue to layer about 5 sheets of pastry, buttering in between and rotating each square a little each time to give a petalled edge effect – see diagram. Fill each pastry case with between 10 – 15g (1dsp to 1tbs) of mincemeat and bake in a pre-heated oven at 160ºC (325ºF), gas mark 3 for 45 minutes.

 

 

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Preserving’s just perfect!

I adore chutneys and jams, probably due to being brought up on them – my Mother, Diana, is a demon preserver!

Well, it’s certainly been a bumper year for green tomatoes… as they have resolutely refused to ripen in the dismal wet summer we have just endured. So, what better way to use up produce than to make hot and spicy chutneys to see you through the winter months?

Below are two really tasty chutneys for you to try – and they are really straightforward to make. If you’re new to preserving, it can seem a bit daunting, but really, it’s not!

Here are some useful preserving hints and tips to get you started…

  • Jars – Make sure you use sterilised Jars and lids, wash in hot soapy water, rinse and put on a baking tray and put in and warm oven (140ºC) and make sure your jars are completely dry before filling. Also make sure there are no chips/cracks in Jars. You can also sterilise all jars and bottles in a dishwasher.
  • Vinegar – When making chutney and preserving it is important to use a vinegar with 5% acidity and above. Malt, white, cider, red or white wine vinegars can all be used.
  • Equipment – When preserving I like to use different pans and wooden spoons, one for Jams and one for chutneys, this avoids cross contamination of flavours. A slotted spoon is useful for taking the scum off the top while cooking. A thermometer is handy for jams, but not essential. The most useful bit of equipment I have when making jams and chutneys is a funnel to fill the jars – it avoids drips and ending up with worktops covered in jam and chutney!
  • Produce – Make sure that when you prepare your fruit or vegetable for preserving you use only the good fruit and veg and ensure that they have been washed.
  • Sugar – When making jams you will need preserving or jam sugar – it has extra pectin in it to make it set, you can buy this from any good supermarket.
  • Storage – Once jams are made they can be used straight away and can be stored in a dark cupboard for up to 12 months. Once opened, they can be stored in the fridge for about one month. When making chutney it is best to keep it in a dark cupboard for at least a month before opening, to let the flavours develop. Once opened keep in the fridge. Unopened chutney can be kept in a cool, dark cupboard for several years providing they were packed into properly sterilised Jars.

If you’re an ‘old hand’ as this preserving game… why not share some of your own hints and tips?

Spicy Tomato Chutney

This makes about six standard sized jars

  • 1kg (2.2lbs) chopped tomatoes (red, green or mixture)
  • 2 onions peeled and chopped
  • 200g (7oz) raisins
  • 200g (7oz) caster sugar
  • 6 chillies (red, green, purple or mixture) deseeded and chopped
  • 2tsp mustard seeds
  • 2tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1stp ground ginger
  • 500ml malt vinegar

Put all ingredients into a large pan and cook for about 3 hrs.

The amount of chillies can be reduced or increased depending on how hot you like it. 

Tomato and Apple Chutney

This makes about six standard sized jars

  • 1kg cooking apples
  • 1kg tomatoes (red, green or a mixture)
  • 500ml (18fl oz) vinegar (malt, cider or white)
  • 500g (Ilb) onions peeled and sliced
  • 250g (8oz) dried fruit (raisins, apricots etc.)
  • 500g (1lb) soft brown sugar
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp mustard powder
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp salt 

Put all the ingredients in a large pan and cook for 2-3hrs, stirring occasionally. Put in to sterilised Jars and keep for about one month in a dark cupboard before opening, keep in fridge once opened.

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Mushroom and Madeira bake

This is a delicious vegetarian dish that seems to be as popular with meat eaters as it is with veggies! An excellent warming supper dish for this gloomy time of year…

You will need:

  • 100g 4oz cashew nuts
  • 100g 4oz walnuts
  • 100g 4oz unsalted butter
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 450g (1lb) mushrooms
  • 450g (1lb) granary breadcrumbs
  • 450g (1lb) fresh tomatoes
  • 60ml (4 tbsp) Madeira
  • Salt and black pepper

Serves 8

Chop or process the nuts and mix them with the breadcrumbs. Melt the butter in the frying pan and gently fry the breadcrumb and nut mixture until it is pale gold in colour. Remove from the pan and set aside. Chop the onions, mushrooms and tomatoes coarsely and fry in the pan with the oil. Once they have softened a little, stir in the Madeira and continue to cook gently. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a little salt to taste.

Lightly grease an ovenproof dish and put a thin layer of breadcrumb mix on the bottom. Carefully pile the vegetable mixture over the top and level it out. Then put the remaining breadcrumb mix on top. Sprinkle the top of the mix with a little extra Madeira and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200ºC (400ºF), Gas Mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

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