Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gingerbread Train

Gingerbread houses are SO last year. They're out, and gingerbread trains are IN! 
Okay, so I made that up but that should totally be the case. Just look at all that spicy cuteness ready to go 'choo choo' straight into your mouth! 

And honestly, having made two gingerbread houses before (you can see them over HERE), this train is a breeze to make. Far easier than trying to get four walls and a roof to stand up straight!

How fabulous would this look as a centrepiece on your Christmas table?! 
And the best part is that guests can tuck into the train with their coffee afterwards. 
I mean!

Gingerbread train
Makes 1

Recipe adapted from Donna Hay’s Gingerbread Garland

125g butter, softened
90g Muscovado or brown sugar
230g golden syrup
375g cake flour
2 tsp (10ml) ground ginger
1 tsp (5ml) mixed spice
1 tsp (5ml) bicarbonate of soda

Royal icing
1 large egg white, beaten
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
squeeze of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180C. 
Cream the butter and sugar well until very pale and fluffy. 
Add the syrup, flour, spices and bicarb and mix until a smooth dough forms. 
Roll the dough out on a floured surface or between two sheets of baking paper until 4mm thick. Refrigerate for 30 minutes if too soft. 
Using train cookie cutters, cut out the shapes and place on a lined baking sheet. 
Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden and crisp. Allow to cool completely.
To make the royal icing, whisk the egg white gently then add the icing sugar until a stiff paste forms. Add the lemon juice and stir before placing in a piping bag. 
Sandwich the various components together with the royal icing and allow to dry. Then decorate the carriages using the rest of the icing and sweets, if desired. Allow to dry thoroughly before stringing the train carriages together with ribbon.
Store in an airtight container.

  • I used the Tescoma train cookie cutter set (visit their Facebook page here) but you could also use this print out HERE, cut out the shapes then trace around them on the dough using a knife. 
  • You don't even have to use all the train cutters provided - simply cut out 4 of the main silhouette shapes and stack those together. You'll lose the 3D effect but it will look just as good!
  • In order to get perfect shapes, refrigerate the dough once you've rolled it out so the shapes don't shift when you lift them onto a baking tray.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Spiced chocolate cheesecake with Christmas cake crust & Festive Decor ideas

Christmas decorations in our family home have always been the responsibility of my sister and I - as children we would decorate and redecorate the Christmas tree no less than 3 times before the 25 December, which not surprisingly drove our mother nuts! It was a happy coincidence then when my sister, Sarah-Jane and I were asked to team up and put together a very special feature for Food and Home magazine last month; 'A Guide to the Perfect Stress-Free Christmas' which ironically, was a not-so-stress-free experience creating it! But we did have tons of fun and hopefully, if you're feeling a tad stressed out about hosting Christmas lunch or dinner, it may give you an idea or two. 
A showstopper succulent wreath, rosemary napkin rings and hand-painted napkins for guests to take home as momento's.
I thought I'd share some of the great ideas my sister-dearest came up with (especially for an African-inspired Christmas), my favourite being the gorgeous succulent wreath she created as a centrepiece. Oh, and the paper origami! 

The perfect roast potatoes,  French-roast turkey and beautiful origami star string lights

The menu was all about tradition with a twist, my grandmother's French-roast turkey was the highlight - steam-roasted so it's juicy and falls off the bone - and stuffed with sage and dried pear bulgar wheat stuffing. This year, serve your turkey on a bed of fresh bay leaves, rosemary and sage - it looks so ridiculously royal and fancy with so little fuss! 
Three pea salad with mint dressing, Naartjie (citrus) and ginger beer gammon and Lemon-cured trout with herby mayo

My favourite recipe on the menu though, was this gorgeously rich and velvety spiced chocolate cheesecake which I really like not just for the decadence but because it's something a little different but still nods to tradition with the addition of a Christmas cake crust. Great for using up any leftover Christmas cake you have hanging around! 
Spiced chocolate cheesecake with Christmas cake crust
Spiced chocolate cheesecake with Christmas cake crust
Recipe originally created for F&HE Magazine December 2014 issue
Serves 12 

100g ginger biscuits, crushed
100g Christmas cake, crumbled into pieces
50g butter, melted
200g full-fat cream cheese
400g ricotta cheese
75g castor sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
40g cocoa powder
30ml (2 tbsp) brandy (optional)
5ml (1 tsp) ground cinnamon
100g good-quality dark chocolate, melted

200g dark chocolate, melted, to decorate (optional)
cocoa powder, to dust

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin.
In a food processor, blitz the crushed biscuits, Christmas cake and butter until combined then press into the base of the lined tin.
Place the cream cheese, ricotta and sugar into food processor and process until smooth.
Add the eggs, cocoa powder, brandy, if desired, cinnamon and the cooled melted chocolate and mix to combine. Pour the mixture over the biscuit base and bake in the oven until just set, 25 – 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and allow to cool in the tin. Once completely cool, refrigerate overnight.
To serve, unmould the cheesecake onto a cake stand and allow the cake to come back to room temperature before decorating with melted dark chocolate and dusting with cocoa.
Roast vegetable crumble and origami Christmas trees

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gluten-Free Christmas Mince Pies

I'm always quite sentimental about enjoying my first mince pie of the festive season. I make a big pot of Earl Grey tea, I warm up the sugary little pies and then I sit down (we can't snuggle here in South Africa as it's freaking hot this time of year) and I have a 'moment'. Because I know that 'moment' marks the beginning of Christmas, for me anyway.  

These mince pies are not only for the gluten-intolerant (because an intolerance should not stand between you and that wonderful festive feeling) but they're also for the pastry-intolerant (definition: a baker with an inability to make pastry without suffering adverse affects). If you have a phobia for pastry, this ready should relieve some of your stress. Because it's gluten-free, you have no risk of over-working your pastry and developing gluten! It's basically a flop-proof shortcrust pastry. Genius right? Which means you get a crisp, short shell that everyone can make AND everyone can eat! 

If you're into taking shortcuts, then buy your fruit mince already made, otherwise, I've included my special recipe for a fruity homemade version which, placed in a pretty bottle, would make a beautiful festive season gift!

Gluten-free Christmas mince pies 
Makes 16

1 cup (150g) rice flour*
3/4 cup (90g) ground almonds
1/4 cup (35g) corn starch
1/4 cup (50g) castor sugar
½ tsp xantham gum*
125g cold butter, cut into 1cm cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Iced water, if needed
300g fruit mince - or make your own with the recipe below
Egg wash, for brushing
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease 2 x 12 hole non-stick muffin tins.
Place the rice flour, ground almonds, corn starch, castor sugar, xantham gum and butter in a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the egg and process until the mixture comes together to form a soft dough – adding ice water if necessary.
Wrap the dough in clingwrap and refrigerate until firm.
Roll out on a surface dusting with a little corn starch until 5mm thick, cut out 5cm discs to fit the muffin tin and press the discs into the muffin tin holes. Roll out the leftover pastry again and cut out stars or snowflakes for the tops. 
Fill each pastry case with fruit mince then place the pastry shapes on top.
Brush with egg wash and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden.
Allow to cool in the tin completely before lifting out and dusting with icing sugar.

*Find xantham gum and rice flour at health stores or in the health aisle at large supermarkets.

Homemade fruit mince

1/2 cup cider
185ml brown sugar
500g Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and grated
1/2tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
125g raisins
75g sultanas
75g dried cranberries
¼ cup mixed peel or chopped crystallized fruit
60g cherries
¼ cup pecan nuts, toasted
zest and juice of ½ orange
1 tbsp brandy

To make the fruit mince, heat the cider and brown sugar until dissolved.
Add all ingredients except the brandy and cook for 40 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.
Stir in the brandy and pour into sterilized bottles while still hot. 
Make the pastry by creaming the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add the egg, beating well to combine.

Add all the other ingredients and mix to form a stiff dough.
Press the dough into greased tart tins or disposable foil cases to form a thin layer. Dock the pastry with a fork.
Roll out the leftover pastry and cut out stars to fit the tops.
Spoon a teaspoonful of fruit mince into each pastry case then top with the pastry star.    Brush with the egg yolk, sprinkle with a little brown sugar and bake at 180C for 20 min or until the pastry is lightly golden and crispy.