December 31, 2012

Ringing In The New Year With some “No-Egg” Nog!

T
his last post of 2012, it should be a momentous one. As a blogger who is passionate about  her blogging this post ought to be witty  and have some brilliant writing so that you are all still talking about this mid-way through 2013. I wish, but then there's no point in kidding myself that I’m even close to doing something like that. I could have done a recap/ flashback of the year that 2012 has been, or listed my favourite recipes or my most popular recipes or something of the sort.
I’ll be honest and admit that I rarely read those kinds of posts on other blogs unless there’s something really interesting in the post, so why it’s not fair to expect anyone else would want to read mine! I’m sure you’re not interested in a summarised edition of me going on about myself. Let me just say that it’s been a year of ups and downs though a lot of good has come of it all. All the same, I’d rather look ahead and walk into 2013.
So I’ll be nice and spare us both the retrospection and the effort, for me of having to write it up and you of having to choose between reading it or running away from here as fast as you can.
 
 
I will leave you with a recipe for a “No-Egg Nog” instead. Why this recipe? Why not an Egg Nog?
Well, I’m just recovering from a rather bad bout of the flu and its left me with a somewhat nasty cough and a constant desire to soothe it with something hot. One of the best home remedies for a persistent cough is a hot glass of milk with a big pinch of turmeric in it. But I’m in the mood for something else, something a little festive, especially since there hasn’t been much of a festive feeling here the past couple of weeks. A Non-Alcoholic Hot Tea Toddy nursed me through my last sore throat and that was pretty good stuff. But this time round, I'm in the mood for something different and an Egg Nog would be it, especially at this time of the year.
This would be fine except that I cannot take the idea of eggs in something I’m going to drink. It probably goes back to my childhood when some well-meaning friend of my mother’s told her that a raw egg in a bit of brandy was a good home remedy for a persistent cough. You can imagine that my mother must have been desperate for her to resort to that remedy since we really didn’t eat eggs much and were a teetotaller family.
 
 
So I wanted something milky, hot and full of “warm” spices. Since an Egg-y Nog was out, I decided to make an No-Egg Nog. It is the perfect thing for this time of the year, something that will warm you up and comfort you, especially if you, like us, would want to end the festive season without eggs or alcohol.
The Egg Nog is thought to have derived from the British Posset and was in the old days, drunk by the well to do as they were the only ones who could afford eggs and milk. Like the Posset, the Egg Nog is a milky drink with was sweetened with sugar, enriched with raw eggs, cream and spices, and spiked with brandy. Traditionally it was served hot which must have been perfect during the cold wintry days of Christmas and the New Year.
The “nog” part of Egg Nog is thought to have come from the word “Noggin” which was a small wooden mug used to serve strong alcoholic beverages. Who knows and who cares? If you like nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger in your milk, then this one’s for you.
 
 
No eggs or alcohol in my beverages so I made mine without, and I serve my No-Egg Nog hot. Some milk, a bit of cream, a couple of spoons of custard powder, sugar and a nice little helping of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon – that’s all you need for this Nog. The reipe below is just a set of guidelines. Feel free to work around it to make what suits your taste. 
This No-Egg Nog of mine is pretty versatile and very child friendly. Thin it down a bit (or take the cream out) and serve it chilled in summer. Add a little more custard powder and thicken it into an interesting sauce to serve with chocolate-y desserts like cake and brownies.  Add a little more custard powder and some cream, and cook it till it’s a little thicker, then cool it and churn into a No-Egg Nog ice-cream!  Use it as cream patisserie and fill pastries, cakes or cupcakes with it.  

My “No-Egg” Nog
 
Ingredients:
 
4 cups milk (2% fat)
100ml cream (25% fat)
2 tbsp vanilla flavoured custard powder
6 to 8 tbsp sugar (depending on your taste)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
Unsweetened cocoa powder to garnish/ serve (optional)
 
Method: 
Put the milk and cream in a saucepan. Add the custard powder and sugar and whisk well. AddPlace the saucepan on the stove and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, constantly stirring to make sure no lumps form. When the mik has thickened slightly, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Turn off the heat and let the nog stay in the saucepan for about 10 minutes.
Pout the nog out into 4 glass mugs and dust with cocoa powder. Serve hot. If you prefer your nog cold refrigerate it until chilled, stir/shake and serve.
This recipe serves 4.
 
On this last post on the last day of 2012, I would like to say a thank you to all of you who have been here and been one of the main reasons behind the motivation to continue talking about good food here. Here's to another year of even better food!
 
 

May the coming year bring you peace,
 Success in whatever you do,
 Prosperity to you and your family,
 And fill your home with happiness.
A Very Happy New Year To You All!
Read full post.....

December 27, 2012

Panettone – A Christmas Yeasted Fruit Bread/ Cake From Italy (Easy Version) : Daring Bakers Challenge , December 2012

I
was destined to make Panettone this year! Every Christmas season, I look for something new to bake. You know, push my baking limits (well, not always) and explore bakes beyond my existing knowledge and this year one of the things I had decided to bake was a Panettone. And then I discovered that the Daring Bakers challenge for the month was also to bake a Panettone!
The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread!
A Panettone is a traditional Christmas bread originally from Milan, but made and sold all over Italy during the holidays. Once again, there are different accounts about the Panettone’s origin but the most popular version is a romantic 15th century one.





It seems that a young noble man named Ughetto Atellani, a falconer in the Court of the Duke Ludovico Maria Sforza, fell in love with Toni who was the daughter of a poor baker.  Ughetto apparently disguised himself as a pastry chef’s apprentice and got a job in in her father’s bakery.
To impress Toni, he is supposed to have created a tall fruit studded bread to present to her father and called it “Pan de Toni.”  And so it was, and won Ughetto his lady love’s hand in marriage gave Italy its Panettone! There is another version which says the nobleman decided to help out the baker who fell on hard times, and success of the” Pan de Toni” put the bakery back on its feet and the grateful baker agreed to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the nobleman. 
Either way, the bread was a success and everyone – the baker, his daughter, the nobleman and all the Panettone eaters lived happily ever after! Moral of the story? A good bread can make for a very happy ending!! After all, how can a bread that is more like cake, made with eggs, butter, honey, vanilla and lemon zest, dried and candied fruits not be a success?



 
Another version is the usual one about the seasoned chef-in-charge who for some reason makes a muck of his dish and then the novice-in-the-kitchen/ dishwasher/ potato peeler jumps into the act and creates a masterpiece! Here, Toni was a scullion in the Sforza family kitchen.
On Christmas Eve, the chef responsible for the dessert prepared for the feast burned it! So Toni jumped in and created a yeasted rich bread studded with dried fruit and raisins which as a resounding success. The grateful and happy Duke Ludovico il Moro decided to honour the creator and named it “Pan de Toni”!!

Yet another story attributes the Panettone to a Sister Ughetta who lived in a poor convent with other nun. Obviously Christmas wasn’t going to be very cheerful until she came up with the recipe for a sweet and fragrant yeasted cake on top of which she cut a cross with a knife.
When baked, the scoring on the cake created a pattern which many traditional style Panettone still carry even today.
Interestingly, “ughett” apparently is the word for raisins in Milanese dialect!



 
Panettone is no longer kept just for Christmas and is baked throughout the year and is often served at brunch or even as part of dessert with cheese and wine. The original Panettone was a flatter and less rich bake. With time, it got richer and took on the tall shape that is typical of Panettone seen today.
To get this shape with a cupola like top, Panettone is baked in tall straight or fluted paper moulds or tin cans traditionally moulds that are very high sided which come either straight or fluted.
If you can’t find the moulds you can make your own moulds or bake it in a spring form cake tin (high sided or regular), a tube pan or anything else you think you have that might work. Just remember it needs to be oven-proof. I used a spring form cake tin lined along the side with a tall ring of parchment paper.
So was that sheer coincidence or a sign that the Daring Baker challenge this month was to bake a Panettone? Either way, it meant I was going to make that Panettone and also that I was doing a Daring Bakers challenge after a bit of a break, once again. The only thing was that I had already decided on a recipe to make my Panetton, when I saw the challenge recipe.



 
While probably more authentic a recipe than the one I had chosen, the challenge recipe included two pre-ferments, an overnight rise, 7 eggs, about 350gm of butter and an almost sure thing of the Panettone possibly tearing apart from its bottom! If I point out the not-so-good stuff about the challenge Panettone, I have to play fair and also point out that all the butter and eggs make 2 really good Panettone, and when has festive and celebratory baking ever been about anything but a lot butter and eggs?
Knowing I couldn’t justify (at any level) the use of so much butter and eggs in my bakes while making a point to eat healthier, not even eating smaller portions and sharing with the neighbours, I decided to make the Panettone but with my chosen recipe. I chose this recipe for a couple of reasons.
The first being that it didn’t take me half of the week to make it, and second was that though it took less time than the traditional version it involved making a “sponge/ biga/ poolish” or pre-ferment.
After some reading on the subject, it is clear that what makes the difference in flavour and texture of Panettone is the pre-ferment.
The final reason that swung this recipe for me was the number of absolutely positive reviews about it from people who had made it before.





This Panettone is pretty easy to make and you will be delighted with the bread that comes out of your oven. Feel free to use the original recipe or tweak it to suit your taste like I did. You will rarely find dried peel in my recipes because I don’t like them, though tutti-frutti is ok.
I used whatever dried and candied fruit and nuts I had on hand. I also adapted the almond-sugar glaze from the challenge recipe to use on my Panettone. The glaze makes for a very tasty and crunchy texture on the Panettone which I would definitely recommend making.
I also added sugar bits which made for a nice sweet crunch on a not very sweet bread. If you don’t have sugar bits, you can sprinkle the top with brown sugar or broken/ crushed sugar cubes. 

Panettone – A Christmas Yeasted Fruit Bread From Italy
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour)
 

Ingredients:
 

For The Pre-ferment (Sponge/ Biga/ Poolish): 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cool water
1/16 tsp instant yeast 

For the dough: 

2 eggs, lightly beaten
100gm butter, soft at room temperature
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
4 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt 
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (or orange extract)
Zest of 1 medium sized orange
1 1/2 cups dried fruit and nuts (black currants/ raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots, chopped candied ginger, tutti frutti, chopped almonds) 

For the glaze:
 
1/3 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp milk (and a bit more if needed)
1 tbsp oil 

Sugar bits for decoration (optional)
 

Method: 

Make the biga by mixing the flour, water and yeast in a medium to large bowl, with a wooden spoon.  You will have a dough which is a bit stiff and that’s alright as it will bubble up by next morning. Cover the bowl loosely and allow it to rise overnight, about 12 hours when it will be bubbly.
The dough for Panettone is quite sticky so working it by hand can be difficult and a dough kneader or food processor will make things easier. I used my food processor.
Put the sponge/ biga/ polish and all the other ingredients for the dough, except the dried fruit and nuts and knead, on slow speed, till it comes together as a dough. This will be very sticky initially but eventually form some sort of a smooth-ish dough that’s still a bit sticky.
Oil your palms and shape the dough into a ball. Place it in a well-oiled bowl, turn it round to coat it well, cover and let it rest for about an hour and a half. The dough will not rise as much as you might expect it to.
Flatten out dough by hand as much as you can and spread the dried fruit and nuts across the surface. Roll up the dough in any way you want and then knead it gently just until the fruit seems well dispersed in the dough.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and allow it to rest for an hour. It won't rise much; that's OK.  Over handling will cause the fruit to release too much sugar into the dough, slowing its rise. Rest the dough for 15 minutes.
During this time, prepare your baking tin if not using Panettone moulds. Line the tin on the base and sides with parchment paper. If using a spring form cake tin, line the sides with parchment cut to about twice the height of the side of your cake tin to allow the bread to rise while it bakes.
I used an 8” spring form cake tin.  Remember that the narrower/ lesser the diameter of your baking tin, the taller your Panettone will be and the longer it will need to bake to ensure the middle is cooked properly.
 
 
Also prepare the almond glaze. Run the almonds (blanched or unblanched) with the icing sugar in a small jar of your blender or a spice grinder till the almonds are coarsely powdered. Mix this with the other ingredients for the glaze until you have a quite thick mixture which can be brushed onto the Panettone.
Place the dough in your prepared tin, cover the top and allow the dough to rise for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The dough will rise less than it will for other breads, but it should still rise a bit. It will rise higher while baking. Brush almond glaze gently but well, all over the surface of the risen dough.  Sprinkle the sugar bits over this.
Bake the Panettone at 180C (350F) for about 30 to 45 minutes till the Panettone is done. A cake tester/ skewer poked into the centre should come out dry, without any crumbs or wet dough clinging to it. If the Panettone is browning too quickly during baking, cover it with aluminium foil.
Remove from the oven and cool it in the pan for about 5 to 10 minutes, then unmould and cool the Panettone on a rack.
This Panettone should serve about 10 to 12 people.

Don’t forget to see what the rest of the Daring Bakers have baked.
This Panettone is being YeastSpotted!
 
 
Read full post.....

December 24, 2012

When Santa Joined Us For Tea - Golden Santa Bread!

W
ho doesn’t love the idea of Santa bringing you gifts while you sleep? And then the almost unbearable excitement of tearing open the gifts to see what being good for the whole year has translated into? There are a lot of things one loses when one grows up, and I think one of things that we have lost most is the child in us. The little joys like believing in a Santa Claus (or the equivalents of all that’s good) and living in the moment.
We don’t celebrate Christmas and as young children, the only Santa who brought gifts for children lived in our story books. My husband and I however, lived (and still do) in a place where Christmas is a huge affair and Santa Claus was very much part of the scene.  So our daughter grew up in a world where Santa Claus was pretty much celebrated alongside Lord Ganesha and Sri Krishna.
So as a small child, she went to sleep on Christmas Eve worrying if Santa would remember her (how could he remember them all?), if she had been good enough to warrant a visit, and if he knew his way to leave presents for a kid who lived in a house without chimneys!



 
And as parents, we used to enjoy shopping for presents, and waiting till she was asleep to wrap up and hide them away, and then wait with eager anticipation (perhaps more than her) to see her face light up with happiness on opening her presents.
This went on until she was about 7 or 8 when we overheard her telling her cousin brother that Santa was an imaginary figure (he wanted to know why Santa didn’t visit him!) and that it was we who got her the gifts while pretending to be him. She went on further to explain that if she told us that she knew the truth, she would stop getting gifts for Christmas!!
So that was the end of the magic and fun of Santa and Christmas magic. So though, Christmas no longer holds the delight it used to, we still get affected by the season. It’s cooler for one thing, and there are signs of Christmas everywhere. Bright stars and twinkling lights, Santa Clauses – both cut-outs and pretend ones, trees (even though plastic) and decorations, Christmas songs and carollers, bakery windows full of all manners of festive cakes and confections……………………..
You can see all my posts this month have been kind of Christmassy too. And here’s one more that’s really in the spirit of the season, a Santa Bread. If you know me, you know my love for baking bread and even more so if it’s shaped bread. I came across this lovely Santa Bread while looking for something else and knew it had to be baked.



 
I halved the original recipe because my baking tray and oven would not take a large one. While my Santa doesn’t look as cute as the original, I’d like to think he’s not too bad. I stuck to recipe pretty much apart from adding some cardamom and lemon zest. I also discovered, at the last minute that I had run out of red colouring so I used a mixture of fresh beetroot juice and a bit of turmeric to give me the right shade of red.
And that’s how Santa joined us for tea! As for the bread, it’s a light version of brioche (smaller quantities of butter, egg, sugar) and makes for a very soft and tasty bread. Serve it any way you want, plain or with accompaniments. Either way, no one will be able to resist it. 

Golden Santa Bread
(Slightly adapted from Taste Of Home)
 

Ingredients:

2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 tsp salt
3 to 4 pods cardamom, powdered
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup milk
1/8 cup water
25gm butter, cubed
1 egg
2 raisins (for the eyes)
Milk/ cream for glaze
1 to 2 drops red food colouring
 

Method: 

I mixed my dough in the food processor but you can do this by hand. Put 2 cups of flour, the sugar, yeast, salt, cardamom and lemon zest in the processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix together.
Heat the milk, water and butter in a small saucepan till just warm. Add this to the processor and pulse till well mixed. Add the egg and knead until you have a reasonably soft and elastic dough. Add as much of the remaining flour as needed to get this consistency.
Shape the dough into a ball and place in a well-oiled bowl, turning the douh to coat it completely. Cover and let it rise till almost double in volume (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
Deflate the dough and divide it into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. Working on a lightly floured work surface, shape the larger portion of dough into an elongated triangle with rounded corners for Santa's head and hat.
Divide the smaller portion in half. Flatten out one potion into a circle and fold in half to a semi-circle. Flatten and shape this into a beard. Using scissors or a pizza cutter, cut into strips to within 1”. of top. Cut the strips rather thin as they will rise and become thicker while baking. Position the beard on Santa's face, and twist and curl the strips for a prettier looking beard!
 
 
 Use the remaining dough to make a moustache, nose, a brim and a pom-pom for Santa’s hat.  Shape a portion of dough into a mustache; flatten and cut the ends into small strips with scissors. Place this above the beard. Then place a small ball above the moustache for nose.
Fold the tip of hat over and add another ball for pom-pom. Roll out a narrow piece of dough to create a hat brim, and position under hat.
 Cut two small slits for eyes, with scissors, and place the raisins in them.
 
 
Divide the milk/ cream for glazing between two small bowls. Add the red food colour to one and brush this over Santa’s hat and lightly on the cheeks to add a little colour to his face. Brush the plain milk/ cream over remaining dough.
 Cover the dough loosely with foil and bake at 180C (350F) for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for a further 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with coffee or tea.
This recipe makes one small loaf for about 4 people. Double the ingredients for a bigger Santa bread.
 
This Santa Bread is being YeastSpotted!
 
 
 
I think this post is the perfect occasion to thank you all for supporting this blog by just being here and to wish all my friends and readers, including those of you who might not say anything but continue to make my blogging worthwhile by your prescence, a very Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays.
I also wish you all a very Happy New Year, well in advance.
 
 
Read full post.....

December 20, 2012

Festive & Decorated Gingerbread Cookies

T
his month on this blog has been all about festive and sweet bakes. It’s difficult to believe that I don’t have a sweet tooth and that I haven’t been eating much of the stuff I’ve baked so far, except to sneak the occasional thin slice of my fruit cake.
The festive baking bug seems to have bitten me big time and so you’re going to be seeing some of those recipes here this month. Come January and I promise you healthier recipes. I had promised myself that I was going to bake something gingerbread this season, and actually had plans to build a log cabin since I had already done a gingerbread house a couple of years back.




 
Unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of spare time to indulge in creative baking in the past couple of months. I also postponed all plans for the log cabin plans for a later date since my daughter and I were supposed to build it together and she hasn’t been feeling too well.
I don’t like cookies much, but if there’s a cookie that’s not too sweet and packed with ginger I will give it a second look and take a bite too. I understand the emotion behind Shakespeare's sentence in " Love's Labour Lost" where he says, "And I had but one penny in the world, thou should'st have it to buy gingerbread".





So the urge to make something gingerbread has stayed with me this month. Having made gingerbread men before, I thought I would bake some gingerbread cut-out cookies, as I haven’t baked cookies this season.
I also wanted to make sure I hadn’t lost my cookie decorating skills. These decorated gingerbread cookies satisfied my urge for a ginger-something and the creative side of me. I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed decorating them, despite the fact that I had a rather stiff neck by the time I was done with decorating them!
 


I’m not very good when it comes to decorating cakes but I can do a reasonably good job with piping and decorating cookies and I wanted to try out some new patterns. I couldn’t be bothered with colouring my icing so I decided to stay with a colour scheme of brown and white! Instead of using regular royal icing, I used my egg-free version because the lemon juice cuts down the sweetness of the icing and the tang complements the gingerbread cookie.
These gingerbread cookies are slightly crunchy without being tooth-shattering hard! If you live in climates where humidity is the norm like here, store the cookies in airtight containers to maintain the crunch. I didn't make a gingerbread house/ log cabin but I made mini gingerbread house cookies also, with the other cookies.



 
By the way, did you know that the first gingerbread men were said to have been produced for the amusement of Queen Elizabeth I for whom they were baked in the shapes of her favourite courtiers, and occasionally decorated with gold leaf!

Decorated Gingerbread Cookies
(Adapted from MyRecipes)
 

Ingredients 

For The Cookies: 

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp dried ginger powder
3/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup Demerara sugar
100gm butter, softened
3 tbsp date syrup (or honey or molasses)
1 egg

 For The Icing:

1 cup sifted icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice (or more, as required)
 

Method:

Whisk together  2 1/4 cups of flour,  ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl till they’re just mixed well.

In another bowl beat the butter, sugar and date syrup, with a hand held mixer on medium speed, for a couple of minutes. Add the egg and beat for another minute.
Now add the whisked flour and beat on low speed till it comes together. Lightly flour your hands and remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 portions. Pat each portion into a ball and then flatten it into a small disc. It will be a bit sticky which is fine. Wrap both discs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours or even overnight like I did.
Take the dough out, and leave it at room temperature if it seems hard. Let it soften until the dough can be shaped but is still cold. Once the dough warms up it will become very soft, sticky and difficult to manage or roll out.
 
 

 

Very lightly flour your working surface and do not be tempted to add too much flour, as the cookies will become tough and chewy. Working with one portion at a time, roll it out to 1/8th” thickness and cut out shapes with cookie cutters.
Place the shapes on lightly greased or parchment lined sheet and refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Then bake them at 180C (350F) for 8 to 10 minutes till the edges of the cookies start browning. Do not let the cookies became too dark. 
Let them cool completely on racks and store them in airtight containers till you’re ready to decorate them. These cookies are delicious even without the icing,
Prepare the icing by mixing together icing sugar and enough lemon juice to make a thick, almost viscous icing. Make sure your icing sugar is sifted and has no lumps. Spoon the icing into a piping bag. Snip off a very small part of the tip and decorate the cookies as desired. Remember that this icing isn’t as hard as regular Royal icing, so if you’re planning to pack and mail them, you will need to be very careful.
This recipe makes about 35 to 40 cookies (2 1/4" to 3” in size), depending on the size of cookie cutters used.
 
 
 
Read full post.....

December 18, 2012

A Light Alcohol-free Fruit Cake Decorated With Marzipan For Christmas & A Photography Exercise

W
hat’s Christmas without fruitcake? For those who celebrate and make their own Christmas fruit cake, the excitement starts a month or two ahead with soaking all the dried fruit in alcohol. Steep the fruit this way ensures it will make an awesome fruit cake, but also ensures a long shelf-life once the cake is baked.
Traditionally, once made, the fruit cake would be wrapped in cheesecloth soaked in rum or brandy so that the cake would last and also develop a richer and fruitier taste as it ages. I read somewhere that fruitcakes preserved with alcohol and wrapped carefully actually last for up to 50 years! This may be exaggerating the case a bit too much, and I’m in no position to find out as I’m not going to be around that long from now.
The only thing is I don’t like the Christmas kind of fruit cake. I never have, and I’m unable to decide which puts me off the cake more - the strong smell and taste of the alcohol in the cake or the awful tasting and coloured candied peel!




 
If there was one thing that puts me off Christmas, it is the gifts of Christmas fruit cake that arrive from friends and neighbours. You cannot refuse them, and you cannot give them away because everyone’s home is full of the stuff! My husband on the other hand loves the stuff, but there’s only so much he can eat of it. Our daughter has taken after me in this matter and will not even come near the cake.
I have in the past couple of years taken to baking my own fruitcake, mostly for my husband and to give to friends. I make them without alcohol and have discovered 2 distinct advantages my non-alcoholic cakes have. One is that the fruit that goes into it don’t have to be “prepared” ahead of time, and the second that I can serve it to children (and myself too). My cakes do not smell “funny” either.
Of course, there are those who would argue that my fruit cakes are not the real deal. That’s fair enough, but as far as I’m concerned there’s enough place in this world for another kind of fruit cake (pun not intended!).





Last year, I had posted my non-alcoholic version of the famous Christmas-time favourite in Kerala,the Kerala Plum Cake. Now that’s a dark and moist fruit cake and involves making a caramel sauce that goes into the cake. This time around, I wanted to make a lighter cake, in terms of colour, calories and the fruit in it. There is a variety of fruit cake that’s called a light fruit cake because white sugar is used instead of brown sugar, and also the dried fruit used for this cake are usually light coloured like apricots, golden raisins, etc.
All the recipes I looked at had a lot of fat and eggs in them. Those that were low in both didn’t really appeal to me. I was looking for a recipe that was comparatively lower in both fats and eggs (4 eggs invariably produces an “eggy” flavour that we don’t like) as I wanted something healthier. Someone asked how cake could be termed “healthy”? I don’t claim that cakes are healthy, just that I wanted to make a cake that wasn’t “heavy” like the usual lot.



 
I solved the problem by coming up with my own version. No, my cake is not healthy but it does take a lot less butter (if you consider 100gm butter to be “less”) and just 2 egg whites. It’s also a moist but not dense cake, that also has a lighter feel when eaten. Make it without the marzipan cover/ decoration and it makes a lovely cake for a special tea.
For me fruit cake is about a cake that’s not chock full of fruit and nuts. I like to it be a cake that’s studded with fruit and that’s how I chose to make mine. If you like more fruit you can increase the quantity in your cake. You can use whatever dried fruit and nuts you like but I used dried papaya, golden raisins, preserved cherries, almonds and pistachios.



 
I also had some marzipan left in the fridge, that a very good friend sent me almost a year back. I had been zealously hoarding it but decided if I hoarded it any longer I might not be able to use it at all! So in the style of English Christmas fruit cakes, I decorated my fruit cake with marzipan. I left out the icing because I didn’t want a very sweet cake. The idea for decorating the cake with marzipan stars came from here. I have to say toasting the marzipan gives it a very interesting taste. It also means you don’t have to wait for the marzipan to dry out.
If you are inclined to do so, marzipan is best made at home and not very difficult to do. This was you can also adjust the amount of almond extract/ essence and rose water you put into your marzipan. You could also leave it out altogether if you don’t like the flavours.
As coincidence would have it, Simone chose the theme for her monthly photography challenge to be “Christmas/ Festive Cakes” which is also the theme for Meeta’s Monthly Mingle which she is hosting this month. So two birds with one stone!





 I do most of food photography in my living-dining area at home. Since both the living area and the dining area have huge windows, I have the choice of deciding where I want my light coming in from and how harsh or soft it is depending on which part of the day I take photographs.
This time, I closed the curtains on both the left (partially) and the right windows so that I had enough light coming in from my kitchen door (yes, I have loads of natural light almost the year round where I live) to create a moody/ warm and festive mood with the light from the candles. I used a white foam board on the right to reflect some of the light coming in from the left. There were more highlights than I wanted, on the candles and Christmas decorations at the back so I used a short black board on the left (7:30 direction) to remove most of them.
The photograph above was taken with a 50mm f/1.8 lens at f/3.2, 1/13s and ISO 100.

A Light Fruit Cake Decorated With Marzipan
 

Ingredients: 
 
For The Cake:

100gm butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites, beaten well
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (or use 2tbsp cornstarch and top up with all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 sp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp chai masala (optional)
1 1/4 cups mixed chopped candied fruit, dried fruit and nuts
(papaya, golden raisins, cherries, almonds and pistachios)
1/8 cup candied ginger
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1 1/2  tsp orange zest
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened orange juice (preferably fresh)
Marzipan and silver dragees for decorating 

For The Glaze:

3 tbsp apricot jam (or orange marmalade)
2 tbsp water
 

Method: 

Put the flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, the powdered spices and salt in a large bowl and whisk together a couple of times to mix. Add the dried fruit, nuts and the ginger and toss coat them well with the flour. This ensures the fruit doesn’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
In another large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a hand held electric mixer till fluffy. Add the beaten egg whites, the lemon and orange zest and the extracts and beat till mixed. Now add the half of the flour, and then half the orange juice, then the rest of the flour and the orange juice beating well after each addition until just mixed well. Lastly add the desiccated coconut and beat till well mixed. Do not over beat the batter.
Scrape the batter into a well-greased and floured (or parchment lined, if you prefer) 7 1/2” or 8” round cake tin. Smoothen the top and bake at 180C (350F) for about 40 minutes to an hour till a skewer pushed into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
 
 
If you find the cake browning too quickly cover with foil about halfway through baking. This cake will rise but dome very gently. Let the cake cool in the tin for about 20 to 25 minutes in the cake tin and then unmould it. Cool completely on a rack.
Make a glaze by boiling the jam and water for a couple of minutes. Press this through a sieve to remove lumps and let it cool slightly. Brush this over the cake just before covering with marzipan. The recipe for marzipan, if you want to make it, is at the bottom of this post.
 

To Decorate The Fruit Cake With Marzipan:

Take a piece of the marzipan (about the size of an orange) and roll it into a smooth ball and flatten it slightly. Dust your work surface lightly with icing sugar, and roll out the marzipan to a uniform thickness of about 1/8th”. Cut out a circle, using a pizza/ pastry wheel, the exact diameter of your cake.
Brush the apricot glaze over the top of the cake, and place the marzipan circle on the cake to fit it perfectly. Press it down lightly so it sticks to the cake.
 
 
Take the scraps from the rolled out marzipan and a little more fresh marzipan and roll it together into a ball (about 3/4 the earlier amount) and roll out again to 1/8th” thickness. Using a star shaped cookie cutter cut out enough stars to cover the top edge of cake.
Using some of the apricot glaze to help stick them down, place the stars, in an overlapping manner, along the top edge of the cake and one in the centre if you want. Decorate with silver dragees/ sugar balls.
Put the remaining marzipan in an airtight container and refrigerate for future use.If you are not toasting your marzipan decoration, then leave the cake in a cool place, overnight, to dry out.
If you have a blow torch, use that to toast and brown the marzipan decoratively. Otherwise place the marzipan covered cake under the grill for about 3 or 4 minutes or in an 180C (350F) oven for a few minutes. Watch your cake to see the marzipan doesn’t burn!
This cake serves 8 to 10 people.
 

Almond/ Cashew Marzipan
 

Ingredients: 

2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups skinned and slivered/ chopped almonds (you can also use cashewnuts)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp rose water
 

Method:

Powder the almonds finely by running them along with a little of the icing sugar, to prevent it from becoming pasty. Even if it does, that’s ok. Just make sure there are no lumps.
Put the sugar and water in  a pan, and stir till the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and add the powdered almonds, extract and rose water. On medium heat, stir frequently until the almonds cook and became a thick mass. Once it starts leaving the sides of the pan and resembles a dough, take the pan off the heat. Take the marzipan out of the pan and let it cool on a slab.
Once cool knead well till smooth and use as required, or wrap in cling film and store in an airtight container in the fridge. If your marzipan seems hard or dry, just “warm” it in the microwave for a about 10 seconds and it will soften up. Otherwise add a few drops of warm water and knead well.

 
Read full post.....