Mince pies

Mince piesI’ve been using Dan Lepard’s quick mincemeat and extra rich pastry recipes for my mince pies for the last few years. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve already made two batches to this recipe this year (what can I say? I’m keen!), but I decided to go with a straightforward sweet shortcrust pastry for my third batch earlier today, mainly due to running out of ground almonds!

Mince pies
For this, I adapted a Nigel Slater recipe I found online, while using the last of the mincemeat I made to Dan Lepard’s recipe (albeit with a few variations – see below). Nigel Slater’s recipe is largely fine except for two things: 1) there’s no sugar in it and 2) he doesn’t call for the pastry to be chilled before rolling out. I added some light muscovado sugar and chilled the pastry for 20 minutes just to make doubly sure all would be well… and it was!

Mince pies
As you can see above, I’ve also been making sure to properly fill my mince pies this year – not that I’m usually stingy with the mincemeat, but as I tend to make slightly thick pastry, it’s always nice to balance it out with a generous helping of the filling.

Mince pies
I have to say, the mince pies turned out very well indeed. The pastry is lovely – crisp, buttery and not too sickly (even with my addition of sugar!). The mincemeat I made this year was properly boozy, but also sharp and flavoursome, which is pretty much perfect in my eyes! I need to make some more, but I don’t think I’ll stray too far from my tried-and-tested formula.

Mince pies
Mince pies recipe

Makes approx. 15 pies

  • 150g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
  • 50g light muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1-2 tbsp milk
  • 375g mincemeat (I use Dan Lepard’s recipe – this year I substituted the cherries for dried cranberries and used Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale, as well as 2 tbsp dark rum and 2 tbsp calvados for the spirits at the end. The recipe makes enough for around 3 batches of mince pies.)
  • icing sugar, for dusting

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in the sugar, making sure to break up any large lumps.
  3. Add the yolk and 1 tbsp of the milk to begin with. Mix and press together until the mixture resembles a rough dough. Add another tablespoon of milk if it looks dry.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until it comes together properly to create a smoother dough.
  5. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Grease a muffin tin. Cut some baking paper into strips that you can place in each hole of the tin to help you get your pies out more easily (see the third photo above).
  7. Unwrap the chilled pastry and roll out on a floured surface to around 3mm thick. It’s easiest to split the dough into two or three pieces and roll each bit out separately.
  8. Use two cutters to cut out two discs of pastry for each of pie – one large disc for the base of the pie and a smaller one for the lid. I use 68mm and 88mm cutters for this, but the sizes you use will depend on your muffin tin. It’s best to cut one big disc, then one small disc, then one big disc, and so on, to make sure you have enough pastry for the same number of base and lid discs.
  9. Gently place the larger discs in the holes of the muffin tin (ensuring that there’s a strip of baking paper underneath), pushing them down to the bottom and ensuring the sides are level. You should have baking paper sticking out on opposite sides of each pie.
  10. Fill each pastry-lined hole with mincemeat, trying to be as generous as possible without overfilling (keep the filling level with the edges of the pastry).
  11. Brush the edges of the pastry with cold water, then place the pastry lids on top, pressing around the edges to close any gaps.
  12. Use a skewer or the tip of a knife to cut a small hole in the middle of each pie.
  13. Bake the pies in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, until they start to brown on top.
  14. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then use the ends of the strips of baking paper to lift each pie out of the tin and onto a baking rack.
  15. When the pies are nearly cool, sift a little icing sugar over them and serve.

Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing

Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing
My fiancé has been asking me to make this cake ever since I obtained Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet years ago. The recipe in the book is called dark aniseed cake, but I substituted the aniseed for fennel seeds as suggested in the recipe, hence the different name of dark fennel seed cake. I stuck to the recipe for pretty much everything else, and ended up with one of the most surprising, delicious cakes I’ve had in some time.

There were a few new ideas for me to grapple with in this cake – especially using spelt flour and baking with fennel seeds – and I also had to use a round tin instead of a square one as stated in the recipe, because my square tin wasn’t deep enough. So, there was plenty that could have gone wrong (especially as it calls for ale, which meant I had to drink what I didn’t use…)!

Happily, the only thing that went wrong was the consistency of the icing (made with orange zest and juice), which was a bit too runny and slopped over the sides rather messily, hence the lack of a photo of the entire cake. But runny icing really doesn’t matter when you have a delicious cake that manages to combine the liquorice flavours of fennel seeds and treacle with the fruitiness of prunes and orange, topped off with the comforting heft of the spelt flour.

Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing

Let’s admire my Wonder Woman mug for a minute…

We honestly couldn’t stop eating this cake. It’s such a good autumn cake thanks to the spicy flavours, but it’s a world away from your normal ginger or fruit cake. I would really recommend this recipe if you love autumnal flavours in your baking, but want to try something a little bit different!

Rye apple and cinnamon cake

Rye apple and cinnamon cakeCall me behind the times, but I’ve only recently managed to start investigating flours that aren’t your plain, self-raising, strong or wholemeal variety. I bought a bag of rye flour the other week to bake a particular cake, but I didn’t have all of the other ingredients for it, so I settled on this rye apple and cinnamon cake from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet instead.

The recipe calls for this being made in a small tin, but as I only had a large one, I threw all caution to the wind and used my 20cm round tin instead (I really do know how to party…).

Rye apple and cinnamon cake 2
This cake is definitely my favourite kind – really easy to make. Melt butter, golden syrup and sugar together, mix in the other ingredients and fold in chunks of apple coated in cinnamon before topping with almonds and demerara sugar, and baking. Job done!

I found that I had to leave the cake in for about 15 minutes longer than the recipe said, which was partly due to my dodgy oven and partly because of the different tin I used. I expected to have to bake it for significantly longer than a standard cake anyway because of the rye flour (which is similar to wholemeal flour in terms of density), but that didn’t seem to make too much of a difference – perhaps because it was mixed with ground almonds.

Rye apple and cinnamon cake 3
This cake is very much of the comfort food variety – you wouldn’t wheel this out for a special occasion, but it’s just the thing for teatime on a dreary autumn day. The texture is fairly rough due to the rye flour, but the flavour of the apples and cinnamon really comes through. I think it helped that I used Bramley apples, but you could probably use standard dessert apples too.

Definitely one to make again!

First bake: orange macaroon cake

Orange macaroon cakeMy love of coconut is well-documented on this blog. Whenever I’ve baked with it in the past, though, I’ve tended to pair it with fairly obvious flavours – cherries, raspberries and mangoes, for example. So I was intrigued when I came across this recipe for orange macaroon cake in Dan Lepard’s excellent Short & Sweet recipe book.

I would never have thought of pairing coconut with orange, but it’s a combination that works oh so well in this cake. It probably helps that the orange flavour is incredibly strong – there’s the zest of two oranges in the sponge (as well as a large splash of orange liqueur) and then the zest of one orange plus some juice in the icing. Yum!

Orange macaroon cake mix

Orange macaroon cake mix

The cake was very easy to make. The sponges came out beautifully – I had to leave them in a little longer than the recipe said, but that wasn’t really a problem. The icing was a doddle and the recipe makes just enough for the top and middle of the cake, which is something of a rarity in my experience as I usually end up with far too much! One thing I would say is don’t forget to sift the icing sugar first – I always do this when making icing and it really makes such a difference to the consistency.

Orange macaroon cakeThe coconut flavour comes from dessicated coconut, but I think next time I would reduce the amount of triple sec and add a splash of Malibu to even things out slightly, and perhaps use some coconut cream in the icing. That’s not to say you can’t taste the coconut – it’s definitely there, but as you all know by now, I can always go for more!

Orange macaroon cakeThis really is a lovely cake and I would heartily recommend it if you have a thing for citrusy bakes and/or fancy trying something a little bit different with coconut. You won’t regret it!

The recipe

From Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard, and also available online here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/apr/12/foodanddrink.shopping2

First bake: extra rich mince pies

Extra rich mince piesAs a Hindu, I don’t really ‘do’ Christmas – happily, there’s no need for me to stress out about presents and cooking a big family meal! I do, however, very much ‘do’ the delicious treats that come with the festive period – especially mince pies.

I’ve always had shop-bought mince pies, but decided that, this year at least, I would attempt to bake them myself for a change. Having never even made pastry before (I know, I know), this seemed like a pretty huge challenge! So, after looking at quite a few different recipes, I settled on one particular source that I knew wouldn’t fail me – Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet.

There are a couple of mincemeat recipes in the book – a ‘proper’ suet-based one and another quicker one that’s suitable for vegetarians. I (obviously) opted for the latter, called dark rich mincemeat. The method involves whisking together brown sugar, lemon zest and juice, dark ale (I used Marston’s Oyster Stout) and grated Bramley apple before adding spices (I used cinnamon, ground cloves and mixed spice), raisins (I used sultanas), dried cherries, prunes, currants and more apple and leaving it to thicken on the hob. You then stir in a few tablespoons of brandy or rum (I used Captain Morgan’s Spiced) at the end.

Dark rich mincemeat ingredients

Dark ale + spiced rum + big pile of fruit =…

Dark rich mincemeat

…this!

I made the mincemeat on Friday night. Yesterday, I steeled myself for my first ever attempt at pastry. I used the extra rich mince pies recipe in Short & Sweet, as opposed to the standard sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, as I was rather intrigued by the idea of adding cream cheese (yes, really!), ground almonds and baking powder to the pastry. The addition of these ingredients makes for a sturdier, cakier crust than a normal mince pie might have.

The pastry-making went surprisingly well – I only had a near disaster when I realised I hadn’t cut out enough discs to go on top of the pies. Luckily, I had a small bit of pastry left over that I could just about roll out into the correct size! I think the dough could have been a bit smoother, but I had to grind some flaked almonds in a food processor, and they didn’t come out as fine as I’d have liked.

Extra rich mince pies

Filling the mince pies…

I initially followed the recipe by cutting out 10 and 8 cm discs, but as my tray was a little shallower than a standard muffin tray, I decided to switch to 9 and 7 cm discs after doing the first one. You can see the larger mince pie in the top left corner in the pic above. I was a little worried that I’d rolled the pastry out too thick, but it turned out to be just right what with using the smaller sized pastry discs.

Extra rich mince pies

Mince pies ready to go in the oven

Extra rich mince pies

The recipe required a hole to be cut into the lid of each pie, making them look a bit like pork pies, especially with the lack of fancy crimping around the edges. The holes help the steam escape from the middle during baking. I left them in the oven for the stated length of time – 25 minutes – but I probably should have checked on them earlier, as they came out a little browner than I’d hoped!

Extra rich mince pie

The browning didn’t matter, in the end. The pies were absolutely delicious; they did indeed feel very sturdy and the crust was pleasingly thick and a little cakey, due to the baking powder, I think. The filling was gorgeous – wonderfully rich, sweet and boozy. I had two warm from the oven and I nearly wept with joy at how lovely they were!

Extra rich mince pie

I’m very pleased with myself for making these, and for managing to make pastry for the first time! I would heartily recommend the recipes for both the mincemeat and pastry if you like the idea of a rustic-looking mince pie with a bit of heft (and aren’t at all bothered about calories…).

The recipe

Both the mincemeat and pastry recipes are from Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard. They’re also available online here (mincemeat) and here (pastry).

First bake: hazelnut wafer cake

Hazelnut wafer cake

My boyfriend is a bit of a hazelnut fiend, especially when said nuts are combined with chocolate, so I knew I had to make this recipe as soon as I spotted it in Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet. It’s quite a summery bake, what with the meringue-style wafers and dollops of whipped cream, but it’s by no means unsuitable for the colder months!

I had to make this in two stages – the wafers on one day, and the chocolate cream on the next. The wafers are made with a meringue-like mixture of whipped egg whites and sugar, with flour, butter and hazelnuts stirred into it. I have to say it took me a loooong time to get the egg whites and sugar to a suitable consistency; I’ve never had to spend so long whisking before (and this was with an electric whisk)! To my relief, the mixture eventually came together and it was then just a matter of adding the other ingredients, spreading them into circles on the baking trays and sticking them in the oven.

Hazelnut wafers

Hazelnut wafers

The wafers ended up being quite meringue-y in appearance and texture, yet very wafer-like in taste. I assume this was the flour and butter coming into play, but it was a still a little odd! There’s no picture in the recipe book, so I just had to hope that’s what they were supposed to look like. Unfortunately, the wafers stuck extremely fast to the trays (even though I’d slathered them in butter), so there was a fair bit of breakage around the edges, which is why the finished cake looks pretty untidy!

So, the next day it was on to the cream. This was surprisingly faffy – I had to heat some sugar, cocoa and egg yolks together, leave it to cool for exactly 2 minutes, stir in some chopped chocolate and then stir a whole mess of whipped double cream into and it and chill it in the fridge. I ended up with chunks of chocolate in the cream where it didn’t manage to completely melt as I stirred it in, but this was no bad thing in my opinion! I then had to make a smaller batch of vanilla cream and proceed with the tricky business of layering the wafers and cream together.

I say tricky, because I am notoriously bad at making layer cakes look neat. The irregular shape of the wafers and the huge amount of cream didn’t help my cause with this bake, but I did my best! I spread the chocolate cream on three of the four wafers, then dolloped the vanilla cream on the same wafers, before piling them on top of each other, finishing with the ‘clean’ wafer. A quick sprinkling of icing sugar and voila! One very messy, calorific and delicious cake.

Hazelnut wafer cake

The cake was truly scrumptious – the wafers were chewy in the middle yet with a decided crunch to the outside, and the two types of cream combined wonderfully with the nutty and cocoa-y flavours. The wafers did soften after a day, but the cake was still lovely to eat! It disappeared in record time (and that’s saying something for my household), which is testament to just how moreish the cake was.

The recipe

From Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard and also in his column for the Guardian.

First bake: alchemist’s chocolate cake

Alchemist's chocolate cake

It’s been a bit of a funny weekend baking-wise. I made some salt caramel millionaire’s shortbread yesterday that didn’t turn out quite right, so I thought I’d blog about it the next time I make it (when it will hopefully be better!). I was desperate to bake something else this weekend, though, so I settled on this rather lovely chocolate cake recipe from Dan Lepard.

I think it’s called alchemist’s cake because it uses seemingly innocuous ingredients to create something rather decadent – it’s actually a low fat cake, but manages to be wonderfully moist and tasty despite the fact there’s no butter in it! The fat comes in the form of walnut oil, while the moistness comes from a bit of an odd ingredient – tinned pears.

You can’t taste the pears at all, though – it’s just a damn good chocolate cake. One of the things that probably elevates this over most other low fat chocolate cakes is the cocoa I used. I unexpectedly ran out of my usual bog standard cocoa powder and only had 25g of it left, so I topped it up with… *drum roll* … some Valrhona cocoa powder.

Valrhona cocoa powder

Valrhona cocoa powder

This is a top-end cocoa powder from a very highly regarded chocolate brand – Google it if you’ve never heard of it. I’ve never had Valrhona’s chocolate bars (apparently some aren’t as good as you might expect, but others are very good), but I bought this cocoa powder quite a while ago with the vague intention of using it in something special.

You can tell it’s of the highest quality – in the below photo, you can see the gorgeously dark, fine Valrhona on top of the paler standard cocoa powder I mixed it with.

Cocoa powder for alchemist's chocolate cake

Cocoa powder for alchemist’s chocolate cake

Anyway, the recipe was pretty easy, even though it involved a saucepan AND a blender! The result was a fantastic looking cake – you’ve got to admit it doesn’t look like a healthy option!

I decided to make things a bit more exciting by inventing a coffee and almond buttercream to layer it with (the original recipe just suggests serving as is, or with cream/melted chocolate). This was easy too – I gradually beat 70g of icing sugar into 50g of softened butter and 4.5 teaspoons of strong coffee (made with a couple of teaspoons of instant coffee dissolved in a splash of boiling water). Then I mixed in a drop of almond extract.

Alchemist's chocolate cake

Alchemist’s chocolate cake

Et voila! One formerly healthy and now slightly fattening alchemist’s chocolate cake with coffee and almond buttercream. I haven’t had a whole piece yet, but I’ve, erm, ‘sampled’ enough of the cake mix and buttercream to know this is going to be delicious! The team I manage at work will probably be delighted to know I’m going to bring some pieces into the office tomorrow for some impartial opinions…

Update: I have now sampled a piece of this cake. I honestly can’t believe how good it is for a low fat bake! It’s really very chocolaty and moist. I would recommend this recipe if, like me, you’re keeping an eye on your weight (6 WeightWatchers ProPoints per piece when cut into 10 pieces without buttercream, 8 ProPoints with the buttercream).

The recipe

From Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard, and also in his column for the Guardian (this version is slightly different though – the book recipe I used called for 3 medium eggs instead of 1 large egg!).