Grandma’s Christmas Fruit Cake

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I realise that being so close to Christmas this recipe might be a bit late for most readers, at least until next year, but I’ve been so busy with all of my baking that this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write it.

My Grandma, who turns 90 next year, makes six Christmas fruit cakes every year, one for each of her children, and one for her brother. I was lucky to have a morning with her in her snazzy new kitchen a couple of weeks ago. I went to help her make two cakes, and came home with her tried and true recipe and some important tips.

This cake is great in that you can put it in the oven and then get stuck into whatever else you need to do that day- it goes in the oven for 5.5 – 6 hours at 120 and cooks nice and slowly, keeping it dense and juicy.

I had my first solo attempt on the weekend and my cake turned out well- though it cooked a bit more quickly- in 4.5 hours- as my oven dial is obviously a bit inaccurate on the lower end.

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You’ll need

  • 900g mixed fruit (with glace cherries)
  • 2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
  • 30g blanched slivered almonds
  • 220g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 tsp lemon essence
  • 1 tbsp medium or dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp decent quality brandy
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb (baking) soda
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tbsp each of sherry & brandy, for topping

Method 

1. Combine mixed fruit, sherry, brandy and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and leave for 2 hours or overnight.

2. Pre-heat oven to 120ºC and line a deep,20cm wide cake tin with at least two layers. Grandma uses four- white card, brown card, brown paper & baking paper, for the bottom and sides. The expert assures me that this is well worth it “I haven’t had burnt bottom yet!”. Secure with pegs until needed.

3. Uncover soaked fruit and add spices, salt, bicarb soda, and almonds and mix well.

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4. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat once melted, add milk and stir to combine.

5. Add warm mixture to fruit and stir well until all combined and sugar has dissolved- you’ll notice the grainy feeling disappear as you stir.

6. Lightly whisk the eggs and essences, and add to the main bowl and mix well.

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7. Add sifted flour, one cup at a time, and stir very well to combine, making sure you get all of the flour that might be stuck on the bottom or sides.

8. Pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin and drop from 20-30cm height onto bench or hard floor to evenly distribute mixture and get rid of any air bubbles. Top with extra almonds.

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9. Place on the middle shelf in your very slow oven. Cook for 5.5-6 hours, checking if it’s cooked with a metal skewer inserted in the centre of the cake.

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10. Remove from oven and pour over an additional tablespoon of both brandy and sherry, particularly focusing on the edges of the cake- this will make sure it’s lovely and moist all over.

11. Top with baking paper and, still in tin, wrap in a clean dry tea towel. After about half an hour wrap the bundle a couple of layers of newspaper and set aside until cool.

12. Enjoy- and have a happy Christmas!!

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My finished cake- destined for Mum’s table.

Christmas Jumbles

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This time last year, I was inspired to do some Christmas baking to give to family and friends as a seasonal treat. Gingerbread is fine, but has never been my favourite-I wanted to make something softer and kid friendly.

Honey Jumbles are a sweet memory from my childhood and I knew I had a recipe in my Women’s Weekly book, so I got myself some Christmassy biscuit cutters and food dye and had a crack at a bit of decorating. My first batch needed a bit more spice (thanks trusty family taste testers!), so I added more flavour to the next lot and had a winner.

I made a number of batches and made gift bags to give to family and friends. They were well received by all- the little kids seemed to like them just as much, if not more than the grown ups, I think because the icing balances nicely with the spices. This year I’ve made even more biscuits (up around the 200 mark) and it’s been a big undertaking, but I’ve had heaps of fun decorating and gifting them.

In this recipe I have used two cutter shapes, a Christmas tree and star, but you can cut any shape you like (no need to go and buy specific Christmas ones!), and make your biscuits Christmassy when you ice and decorate. You should get between 30-40 biscuits out of the one batch, depending on the size of the cutter/s you use.

 You’ll need: 

For the biscuits-

  • 60g butter
  • 1/2 cup (110g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (270g) golden syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup (75g) self raising flour
  • 2 1/2 cups (375g) plain flour
  • 1/.2 teaspoon bicarb (baking) soda
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp mixed spice

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For the icing-

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 1/2 cups (240g) icing sugar
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • approx 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • food colourings of your choice (red and green at a minimum)
  • Metallic cachous, food shimmer, sprinkles & whatever takes your fancy to decorate with

Method 

  1.  Combine the butter, dark brown sugar and golden syrup in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until smooth.DSC_0287

2. Add hot mixture to a large bowl and cool for 10 minutes. Add egg to cooled mixture and stir until combined.

3. Add half of the sifted dry ingredients and stir until combined, and repeat.

4. Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, with floured hands, until it loses its stickiness (this usually takes me about 5 minutes of kneading). DSC_0315DSC_0324

5. Wrap dough in cling-wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 180°C and grease & flour two oven trays.

7. Remove chilled dough from the fridge and roll out to about 0.5cm thickness and cut out your shapes, with a lightly floured biscuit, placing onto your trays so they don’t touch (I’ll be honest, to fit them all on, they have to be pretty close, which is why I’m not giving you a distance)

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8. Bake for around 15 minutes, keeping an eye on them and turning or swapping shelves if necessary, and remove when just golden brown and fragrant. Cool on trays for 5-10 minutes and then place on wire racks to cool completely.

9. To make the icing- place egg white in a medium bowl and add sifted icing sugar. Stir until a thick paste forms. Divide mixture between as many bowls as colours you want to decorate with- I usually take enough to mix up two bowls and leave the last third in the main bowl to use as I need. Add colouring gradually and stir until you reach the desired colour, and then add lemon juice and extra icing paste as necessary to make it spreadable.

10. Spread your biscuits with the icing you want to use as the base colour, usually I make my trees green and stars red, but I’ve branched out with purple, blue and yellow this year too 🙂 Allow to dry for about 10 minutes.

11. Using a piping bag or a ziplock bag with a corner cut off, pipe a contrasting colour onto your hard icing base and decorate with whatever you have decided to use.

12. Leave for 20 minutes to make sure the piping and decorations are set and store in an airtight container or package for gifting (I put two stars and a tree in little cellophane bags with curled ribbon and give them out, they look pretty cute). Biscuits will keep for about 2 weeks. DSC_0033DSC_0036DSC_0035

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I hope you’ll have a go at these if you have some time in the next few days leading up to Christmas. If not, the recipe is easy to adapt (just use different cutters!) to make some treats to have around the house over the holiday period.

Happy Christmas!

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Salted Caramel Shortbread

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This (less than pretty) batch were a request from my bestie “I love that you bake stuff all the time. Constant supply for Jackie!”

These delicious biscuits have been a crowd pleaser every time I’ve made them, and if you give them a go you’ll soon know why 🙂

Buttery, melt in your mouth shortbread sandwiched with a layer of salty-sweet caramel and dipped in dark chocolate. Amazing. (my own description just made my mouth water so much that I had to stop writing to go and grab the last one from the fridge)

The process is reasonably easy but quite time consuming because of cooling and refrigeration a couple of stages of ‘construction’. For this reason the original recipe from The Women’s Weekly requires shop bought shortbread rounds- I think it’s worth spending the time to make your own, though, as the home made shortbread is what really makes these biscuits special.

I find a good way of managing my time with this recipe is to make your biscuits and caramel the night or morning before you need the biscuits, and then come back the next or later in the day to fill, chill and dip them.

Makes about 18 biscuits

 You’ll need:

For the shortbread rounds

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 cups (300g) plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup (90g) rice flour, sifted

For the salted caramel filling-

  • 1/2 cup (110g) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 60g butter, chopped
  • 1/2-1 tsp sea salt flakes, to taste
  • 2 tsp water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) milk, mixed with above cornflour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate dip-

  • 185g dark eating chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil

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Method:

1. Preheat oven to 160 C and grease and flour two oven trays.

2. Beat (soft, not melted!) butter and caster sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in the water and flours in two batches.

3. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll into tablespoon sized balls and flatten slightly with a lightly floured fork.

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4. Bake about 40 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden brown around the edges.

5. Meanwhile, make your salted caramel filling. Place the sugar, chopped butter, water and half your sea salt into a small saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add milk mixture and stir until it boils and thickens. Remove from the heat and whisk in egg yolk and vanilla. Allow to cool for ten minutes before tasting, and add more salt flakes to taste, if required.

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6. Place in a bowl and cover with clingwrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Remove cooked biscuits from oven and cool on trays.

***TAKE A BREAK***

7. Spread caramel over half of your cooled shortbread and sandwich with remaining biscuits (I try to size/shape match my pairs before putting them together). Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (I do this on a cooled tray).

8. Melt chocolate in a small bowl over a saucepan of boiling water (without the water touching the underside of the bowl) OR if you’re game, in the microwave in short bursts at medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in oil.

9. Dip one side of the cold cookies into the melted chocolate and stand on baking paper, at room temperature, until set. When set, feel free to pop them in the fridge, they taste super good either temperature.

So! As you can see this one is a bit of a lengthy process. I promise you it’s worth it, and you can easily work the different stages around the rest of your day (I went to the gym and then came home and dipped them in the chocolate. Dangerous. Tasty).

These are great at a party or to take as a sweet treat to a friend’s place. Have fun!

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Yummmm

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(Gluten Free!) Nutella Cake

DSC_0108   Nutella!That delicious nutty chocolate spread that more than a few of us have surreptitiously eaten straight from the jar. I came across this recipe when I was looking for something to take to dinner at my Uncle & Aunty’s places. Nigella is rightfully called a domestic goddess- lots of my favourite cakes are hers. The effort vs pay off for this cake is crazy, it’s easy and tastes amazing. I made it for my best friend Jackie’s 24th birthday dinner a couple of weekends ago and it was delicious, even her Mum, who isn’t a Nutella fan, enjoyed it (we were sneaky and didn’t tell her exactly what type of cake it was). You’ll need: DSC_0073 Cake

  • 400g jar of Nutella
  • 100g dark chocolate, melted
  • 100g hazelnut meal
  • 6 large eggs, separated (do this with cold eggs, over a separate bowl to avoid yolk/white contamination- mine were room temperature and I tempted fate separating them over the main bowl)
  • 125g soft unsalted butter
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon Frangelico

Icing 

  • 100g hazelnuts
  • 125g double cream
  • 1 tablespoon frangelico
  • 125g dark chocolate, chopped

Method:  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC 2. Whisk egg whites and salt in a large bowl until soft peaks form. In another bowl, beat the butter and nutella together (this takes some elbow grease, so make sure your butter isn’t too cold), then mix in the the egg yolks and hazelnut meal and finally the Frangelico. 3. Add the cooled melted chocolate and fold through, before adding a dollop of egg white and mixing until combined. Fold in the rest of the egg white mixture gently, a third at a time. DSC_0089 4. Pour the mixture into a  greased and lined 23cm round springform tin and cook for about 40 minutes or until risen slightly and beginning to come away from the sides of the tin. Cool on a rack, leaving in the tin. 5. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat until golden brown. Make sure you keep shaking the pan to achieve an even colour and avoid burning one side. If there are still skins on your hazelnuts after toasting, place them, still warm, onto a slightly damp tablecloth fold, rubbing until the skins come away (this can take a number of minutes,  especially depending on how finicky you are about getting all the skin off). Cool on a plate. DSC_0102 6. To make the ganache icing, place the double cream, frangelico and chocolate into a saucepan. Heat gently until the chocolate has melted, then remove from the heat. Whisk mixture until it has thickened enough to ice the top of the cake (again, this takes some time). 7.  Carefully remove the sides of the tin, leaving the cake on the base. Ice generously with your chocolate icing and cover with the cooled whole hazelnuts. I added some food safe gold shimmer to mine as it was a special occasion, but the cake looks great as Nigella created it. The picture of Jackie’s cake shows what happens when your egg whites have some yolk in them- they still went stiff but the consistency was a bit off- hence the slightly sunken look.

The end cake should serve at least 6-8 people, it’s very rich and dense, so each person only needs a sliver!

Let me know how you go with it 🙂

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The birthday cake sunk a bit because I had trouble with the egg white/yolk separation. For some reason I’d thought that starting to make it at 12am was realistic.
The first cake rose as it should because the whites were yolk-free.
But the first version rose as it should have!