Biscuit Brigade

This blog has been like a ghost town since my last post, which promised a website reveal and cronuts recipe that never materialised. The shame! I promise they are both on the horizon, and will appear one day before the year's end. In the meantime I've been up to my armpits in cake orders and small children, and haven't even checked an email for actual weeks. However, I've been shocked out of my sugar rush by the realisation that Christmas is hurtling towards me. It's just one month away, and I've not even thought about all the festive fun I want to cram in before I wake up in a sea of Quality Street wrappers on the 27th to the harsh realisation that life is once again devoid of reason for overeating, over-baking, random platters of large cheeses and general overindulgence in port. 

IMG_7889.jpg

So it was that we kicked things off with a gingerbread party! I thought it would be fun to add a bit of nutrition to balance the treacle, and so we attempted the following, which I stumbled upon via this site

Spelt and Agave Gingerbread

330g spelt flour 
.5 tsp salt
.75 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
.25 tsp ground nutmeg
.25 tsp ground cloves
113g unsalted butter
1 large egg
80ml agave syrup
80ml treacle/molasses

(if you prefer your gingerbread lighter in colour, use golden syrup in place of treacle)

some of the treacle actually made it into the dough...

some of the treacle actually made it into the dough...

The dough is so easy to make that the kids did it all themselves, bar the weighing and measuring, and despite devouring dangerous amounts of treacle along the way it came together perfectly. Mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl, and all the wet (including butter) in another, then just stir them together, at some stage transferring from spoon to hands to squish it all into a ball. We then left ours in the fridge overnight, but you would want to leave it for at least half an hour as otherwise it's too sticky to work with. 

Cutter-sorting kept her busy for almost an hour! Coup!

Cutter-sorting kept her busy for almost an hour! Coup!

Next day we had besties Edie & Holly coming over for a dinner date, so we planned a gingerbread baking party beforehand and the kids went to town making some fabulous gingery creations. Roll the dough out to about 5mm thickness, cut your desired shape, then pop on a parchment-lined tray in the oven (170C) for approx 10 minutes. We decorated ours first, with varying degrees of success, with pumpkin seeds, raisins, sugar crystals and bits of orange peel. You could also ice with basic royal icing and sprinkles after they are cooked and cooled, which I did a tiny bit of before losing interest and just eating them. The pumpkin seeds were super yummy baked into the gingerbread. It was lovely to watch the kids really get into decorating - Indy and Holly, despite being the littlest, really focussed on making pretty designs. It took them ages to catch on to the fact that the dough was edible, at which point we had to step in and confiscate itโ€ฆ Such a lovely activity from start to finish, that the kids can really just take over with and isn't hideously messy. Needless to say we all enjoyed devouring them afterwards tooโ€ฆ 

Actual best cookies ever

In my hand-scrawled recipe book (started circa 2001) I have this recipe down as "Best Choc Chip Cookies (Actual Best!)" and as far as I've experimented over the decades they really are. I have absolutely no idea where they came from, but what a find! On Sunday Konch's oldest pal Mark popped over to see his little god-daughter and I realised at the very last minute that we barely had a withered carrot in the house to offer him. These took about 15 minutes to whip up and were gone again almost as quickly. One batch makes a LOT o' cookies but the dough refrigerates like a dream and freezes great too.  They are crunchy *and* chewy and everything they should be. I've made it so many times, often with way less chocolate than the recipe calls for and they still turn out scrummy, so they are great for just making at the last minute with whatever chocolate...nuts...etc... you've got. On Sunday I used choc chips, raisins and chopped pistachios in place of just chocolate and it was a magical combo...

eeeeeeat meeeeeee

eeeeeeat meeeeeee

225g butter, room temp (soft)
200g caster sugar
220g packed brown sugar
2 eggs
10ml vanilla extract
375g flour
5g bicarb of soda + 10ml hot water
3g salt
335g chocolate chips (I find chopped up good quality dark choc works better)

Heat the oven to 175C. Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla. Dissolve the bicarb in hot water and add along with the salt. Stir in the flour and chocolate/nuts/raisins/whatever you fancy. Bake for 8-10 mins, then leave to cool a bit before trying not to eat all in one sitting.

Christmas bake

The couple of weeks leading up to Christmas were INTENSE, mostly due to baking commitments (ok, and whims...) Here's a few things we got up to:

L-R from top...

  1. cutting heart shaped doughnuts
  2. double choc 70th birthday cake
  3. making christmas biscuits with Elton John
  4. incredible rolls by Konch
  5. red velvet christmas cake
  6. finished doughnut heart
  7. cassis mince pies (with cinnamon-chic ice cream)
  8. our gingerbread cabin
  9. proud biscuit baker
  10. all iced and packed up for the school party
  11. cinnamon-choc ice cream getting going
  12. satisfying gingerbread poke by Pablo

thanks oh thanks oh thanks

Yes, I'm English and live in London... but I'm also in love with food, and I grew up in the States. Therefore I love Thanksgiving! It is a big, wonderful excuse to gather together with friends, force yourself to feel grateful for things, and eat stuff that is not at all savoury enough to be served as a main course.  My brother Xander or I often host a big get together, but this year I was asked to do a Thanksgiving pop up at the local pub by friends who run the E17 Pop Up Project. Kind of scary but a chance to learn some new cooking skills and get a bit of catering experience. I roped Xander in to help, and his wife Zara for decorating back-up, and we set about prepping Thanksgiving for FORTY TWO!

Thanks-Pop-Up-2012.jpg

I have never been particularly keen on cooking turkey. They are MASSIVE! They take up entire ovens and never seem to cook properly and often end up dry and are regularly a huge disappointment. I had to find a way not to disappoint my 42 paying customers, though, and after extensive turkey research I found the most amazing recipe. I will never cook turkey another way again. It came out absolutely perfect, moist and scrumptious - and I don't even like turkey, as a general rule. Just in time for Christmas I've copied it out below. Seriously it's nuts how good - and easy - this is...

Malt-Beer-Brined Turkey with Malt Glaze

original recipe from bonappetit.com

Glaze
160ml barley malt syrup (can substitute black treacle or molasses)
60ml malt vinegar
6 fresh sage sprigs
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Brine
4.5 litres water
400g coarse sea salt
3 x 340ml bottles/cans of stout 
1.5 cups barley malt syrup (can substitute black treacle or molasses)
thyme

This recipe will give you enough for a 14-16lb turkey/8-10 servings. Multiplying it for more was simple. Also we prepared two giant turkey crowns, not a whole turkey, but I can't see it making much difference.

Brining the turkey helps to infuse juiciness - there is a full on technical explanation of the whys here - and is crucial to the success of this recipe. I am never not brining a turkey again! You need to  brine the turkey for about 16-18 hours so start the day before. Pour the water into a non-reactive pot. Add the salt and stir to dissolve, then add the beer and malt syrup. The original recipe calls for you to then place two oven bags (one inside the other) into a large bowl, rinse the turkey inside and out, place in the bags (in the bowl) breast side down and pour in the brine. We had so much turkey I just brined it in one immense pot. Either way, chill the turkey in the brine for the aforementioned 16-18 hours. I chucked in some thyme sprigs for kicks, as I rather over-bought it. After brining dry the turkey and, if possible, return to the fridge to further air dry for an hour or so. 

Brining the night away

Brining the night away

You can make the glaze in advance too. Bring the malt syrup, vinegar, herbs and pepper to boil in a small saucepan. Stir occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer until the glaze coats the back of a spoon (5ish minutes). Mix in the butter. 

Cook your turkey at 170C for 20 mins/454g plus 20 additional mins. Add a couple of cups of water to the pan and keep topping it up if it dries out. For gravy purposes it is a good idea to add some celery, onion and garlic to roast with the turkey, but actually I didn't get round to it and the gravy was awesome regardless. Leave the turkey to cook for a couple of hours before opening the oven and brushing with the glaze. After that continue to brush with glaze every 20 mins until cooked. Remove the bird an hour before serving (ideally) and cover with foil to rest the meat. For gravy I poured the sauces from the roasting tin into a jug, separated the fat and returned it to the tin on the hob, added a handful of flour and made a roux, then slowly added the reserved juices plus about a bottle of red wine. it was DELICIOUS and took about five minutes... 

A big shout out to Smitten Kitchen whose faultless recipes I relied upon for sweet potato biscuits (which were un-be-lievable), the best homemade pumpkin pie I've ever tasted, and the best excuse to finally attempt homemade marshmallows - s'more pie. IT WAS EPIC. And it turns out marshmallows are not that difficult to make! An extra shout out to my brother, who lugged big tins of pumpkin and bottles of corn syrup over from a trip to New York so we could be as sickly sweet as we could. 

Now I never want to see another orange food again. Until next November, maybe...