Monday, December 21, 2015

Cheat's Christmas Almond Croissants

Imagine waking up to the warm smell of baked buttery, sugary, spicy goodness wafting from your oven on Christmas morning? It can be a reality, people! I'm not saying you have to make croissants from scratch - heck, ain't nobody can't time for that! But fancying up some store-bought croissants, stuffing them with festive spiced fruit mince (also store-bought) and a generous helping of almond frangipane filling can turn plain, ordinary croissants into something rather special for Christmas breakfast!

Almond croissants are any bakery's darkest secret. I learnt to make them in the ridiculous hours of the morning when I was interning at a French patisserie in my high school years. You know how you fork out a small fortune for an almond croissant? Well, sorry folks, but actually, these almond pastries are made using YESTERDAY'S croissants - jip, all the croissants that weren't sold yesterday? The stale pastries are dipped in a sugar syrup, stuffed with an almond filling and rebaked to become today's deliciousness. Oh the shock and the horror! Actually, it's a pretty darn clever way of using leftovers and one that now, thanks to me, is no longer a secret (the things I do for you guys!).

Lucky for you,  you won't have to wake up at 3am to make them! Smile and bat your eyelashes at the baker at your supermarket to give you some stale croissants (or use leftover one's - although I struggle to fathom in what universe someone would have leftover pastries) then dip and fill them, cover and refrigerate til morning. When you wake up, pop them in the oven and by the time you've opened up all your Christmas gifts, your house will smell like a French bakery. Oh and I give you full permission to pretend as though you made them from scratch - just don't tell a French pastry chef I spilled the beans!

Christmas Fruit Mince Almond Croissants
Makes 6-8

250g sugar
250ml water
6-8 stale, day-old croissants

165g butter
160g icing sugar
2 eggs
200g ground almonds
20g corn starch

8 tbsp store-bought Christmas fruit mince, to spread
Flaked almonds, to garnish

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until dissolved completely then bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Set aside.
Make the almond by creaming the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time beating well in between each. Add the ground almonds and corn starch and mix until combined. Place in a piping bag.
Cut a 5-7cm pocket into each croissant then dip into the warm syrup briefly. Remove from the syrup, spread a layer of fruit mince inside then pipe in some almond filling. Pipe a little of the almond filling on top and sprinkle with almonds. Place on a lined baking tray then repeat with the remaining croissants. It's at this point where you can cover and refrigerate the croissants until the next morning when you're ready to bake them. 
Bake at 170 degrees Celcius for 15-20 minutes until golden and crispy. Allow to cool slightly then serve warm, dusted with icing sugar.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

5 Ingredient Christmas Fruit Cake with Gingerbread Houses

Is it a gingerbread house? Or a Christmas cake? Well, this is what happens when a mommy fruit cake and a daddy gingerbread house love each other VERY much. It's such a fun way to decorate a fruit cake and even better, there is not a single piece of that horrid white fondant or persipan icing to be seen! 

First up, the fruit cake. Great Aunt May strikes again with one of her famous recipes and this one is her 'never-fail' fruitcake. What I love most about it, is that it only has 5 ingredients, but let's be honest, I had you at 'never fail' right?! Because it only has 5 ingredients, they have to be seriously good ingredients and trust me, you do not want to switch out the Natura Dark Muscovado Sugar for anything other than the real deal 'cos it elevates the humble fruit cake to a point where I want to eat the entire thing. It adds such a gorgeous dark, rich, molasses flavour that you just can't replicate. 

The next part: the gingerbread houses. How cute are they? Like a little gingerbread village! You can go totally crazy with decorating them or even better, give the already-baked cookies to your kids, let them make their own houses using sweets and sprinkles and then just stick them around your cake!  This cake is such a show-stopper that you could put it on the table as a decoration that is good enough to eat. And speaking of eating, for those of you worried about your waistlines this festive season, you needn't worry about this cake, it has so much dried fruit in it, one slice is basically one of your five-a-day! 

Never-Fail 5 Ingredient Fruit Cake
(Great Aunt May's recipe)
Makes 1 x 24cm cake

3 cups (500g) mixed dried fruit
125g butter
2 cups self-raising flour
1 egg

Grease and double-line a 24cm-cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.
Placed dried fruit, sugar and 1 ½ cups water in a saucepan with the butter and allow to simmer for 25 minutes. Allow to cool.
Stir in the flour and egg and mix well.
Pour into a double-lined greased 24cm cake tin and bake for 1 ½ - 2 hours on the lowest oven shelf until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool completely. 

This is the fun part where you can tailor the recipe to suit whatever you fancy!

Spices and Flavourings: Mixed spice, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove - add as much as you like (about 3 tsp in total should do it)
Nuts: Subsitute some of the dried fruit for hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, pecans or walnuts
Fruit: Orange or lemon zest, chopped candied fruit or cherries - just make sure to remove a portion of the mixed dried fruit and replace it with the same amount. 

Spiced Ginger Biscuit Houses
Makes 24 

100g cake flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp whole milk
75g butter
2 tbsp candied peel, finely chopped or Christmas fruit mince

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Mix together the dry ingredients then add the wet ingredients and combine to form a dough (you can do this in a stand mixer using the dough or paddle attachment). 
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/2 cm thick. 
Cut out house shapes using a sharp knife then place on a baking tray. 
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Allow to cool completely before icing. 

Royal Icing
1 egg white, beaten
squeeze of lemon juice

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.
Pipe the frosting onto the biscuits in patterns (you can make more colourful houses by using sweets and sprinkles) and allow to dry thoroughly. Then use spread the remaining royal icing around the outside of the cake and stick the houses in place. Dust with extra icing sugar to serve. 

 Disclaimer: This post has been created in collaboration with Natura Sugars who produce a range of really special sugars that are unrefined and made according to traditional Mauritian sugar-making techniques. The sugars are non-GM, non-irradiated and unbleached with no preservatives, colourants or syrups added which basically means they are pure, natural and packed with flavour!  They're available from Spar, Checkers and Pick 'n Pay stores. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Muscovado Sugar and Naartjie Glazed Gammon

Gammon is like the dessert of the Christmas savoury world. It's hands-down the best part of Christmas lunch (apart from well, dessert) and I'd be happy and willing to give up every part of Christmas lunch (Turkey - bleh.) but I will pretty much have a fight to the death for gammon.  I wouldn't risk my life for just any gammon though - only my Nanna's gammon, which is simmered in ginger beer and crusted with caramelized brown sugar. If there is one recipe that really has been passed down through the generations, it's this gammon. In fact, the recipe is so special that we always make sure that at least 2 people in the family know how to make it - you know, just incase!

 I've taken a bit of creative licence with Nanna's recipe and given it an extra South African spin by adding naartjie (Clementines) but you can totally stay traditional and go with the pineapple rings. Just don't make the mistake of using fresh pineapple - it has to be the tinned stuff, otherwise it just doesn't taste the same (I've tried). Nanna always glazed her gammon with brown sugar but proper Muscovado sugar is just glorious on this - it's rich and molassesy and forms a glossy varnish that isn't just sweet and sticky but tastes good too! Now, go make sure you share this recipe with someone else in your family, you know, just incase!

Muscovado Sugar and Naartjie Glazed Gammon
Serves 12 

2kg – 3kg cured and smoked gammon, bone left in
2L ginger beer
5 naartjies (clementines), juiced and rind removed (optional)
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 celery stick
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
a handful cloves

Preheat the oven to 150°C. 
Place the gammon, skin-side down, in a large ovenproof roasting dish. 
Pour over 1,5L of the ginger beer, add the naartjie rind and juice from 3 of the naartjies (optional), the onion, celery, carrot, star anise, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. 
Cover the roasting dish with foil and place in the oven until the ham is tender, about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Pour off the cooking liquid and allow the gammon to cool slightly.(You could boil the ham on the stovetop too but my gammon was so huge I didn't have a pot that it would fit in!)
In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the remaining ginger beer, naartjie zest and juice and the sugar until dissolved. Bring to a boil then simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 200°C.
Lift the skin off the gammon, making sure to leave a layer of fat, then score the fat into diamond shapes. Press a clove into the tip of each diamond shape then return to the oven dish, brush with the glaze and roast in the oven until caramelised, basting every now and then until golden and glossy, about 20-30 minutes.  

Caramelise naartjie slices in a pan with a little muscovado sugar and serve with the gammon for a local take on the traditional pineapple slices.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Angel Snow Globe Cake with Brandy Butter Frosting

One of my favourite parts about Christmas, is putting up the Christmas tree. While the rest of my family seems to be totally over the novelty, my sister and I still keep up the tradition. Our tree isn't just any old plastic jobby though, since my parents live on a farm, we make a mission into the pine forest to pick the perfect tree - which often involves heated debates on what exactly the 'perfect' tree is, but always involves us bringing home one that is WAY too big (hey, they look a lot smaller in a forest, okay!).    I always end up covered in tree gum, my mom always moans about the pine needles that fall everywhere, finding a pot big enough to put the darn thing in is impossible and of course, by the time you string the fairy lights up, you realise that in the past year they've stopped working. But all of that is completely forgotten when my favourite moment arrives and I get to climb up on a ladder and put the angel right on the tippy top of the tree. 

Recipe and Image Originally Created for Food & Home Entertaining Magazine
 So, if an angel can make a plain old tree special, just imagine what it can do on top of a cake! I decided to appropriately put this angel on top of a spiced angel food cake, which is really light, airy and not very sweet - basically the opposite of traditional fruit cake - but of course, this idea would look equally as gorgeous on whatever cake you decide to serve this year. Just make sure that when you serve it, you dust the snow globe with icing sugar at the table - then just wait for everyone to go 'oooooooh!'

Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without surprises so I stuffed some pretty gold-wrapped chocolate balls in the middle (come on, I had to find a way of incorporating chocolate somehow!) so that when you slice the cake open, they tumble out and your guests are wow'ed again and go 'aaaaaaaah!'

Angel Snow Globe Cake with Brandy Butter Frosting
Serves 8-10 

12 egg whites, at room temperature
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g cake flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp mixed spice

170g butter, softened
255g Natura Demerara Icing Sugar, sifted plus extra for dusting
4 tbsp brandy

Gold-wrapped chocolate balls or other sweets, for filling
Angel and glass dome, to decorate
Chiffon cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180C. Do not grease or line the chiffon cake tin - this helps the cake stay light and fluffy (I promise the cake won't stick!)
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in an electric mixer and whisk until soft peaks form. Gradually add half of the sugar and all the vanilla and whisk until glossy and thick. Sift together the flour, spices and remaining sugar twice and then gently fold through. Spoon into the ungreased chiffon cake tin and smooth the top with a palette knife. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake comes away from the sides and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn the cake upside down onto a cooling rack and allow to cool for 1 hour. Remove the cake from the tin and set aside.
Make the frosting by whipping the butter, icing sugar and brandy together until light and fluffy.
To assemble the cake, place it on a cake stand then fill the middle with the chocolate balls or sweets. Frost the top with the brandy butter icing then dust liberally with icing sugar. Place an angel decoration in the centre and cover with a glass dome.

TIP: You're wondering about the dome though, aren't you? They are so easy to find! Most decor shops or florists have them (the one's with the hole in the front which you can hang up are perfect for placing over the angel!). But if you have a beautiful glass dome, or an upturned round tumbler it will have the same effect.