‘Twas the night before Christmas

December 25, 2009 § 3 Comments

Which means it’s time to bake mince pies and finish decorating the Christmas cake.

With a bit of arm twisting, making mince pies becomes a family affair.    It’s certainly more fun with three helpers in the kitchen and don’t let anyone tell you children don’t like mince pies. You can watch us by following the link below:


I always plan to have my Christmas cake finished by mid December, but it ends up inevitably a last minute job on Christmas Eve.  To be fair, the marzipan went on a couple of days ago.  I give below my recipes for apricot glaze, marzipan and royal icing.  I used to buy both marzipan and roll-out icing as they do give a perfectly smooth surface but the taste (I make a point of adding no flavouring whether almond or vanilla to the marzipan to let the taste of the almonds speak for itself) and texture of home-made are far superior even if the decorated cake looks a little home-spun.

I make the marzipan then divide it into two.  Half is for the top of the cake and the other half for the sides. (In fact accurately and greedily because we have two cakes, I make one and a half times the marzipan recipe and divide it into three as one cake is fully decorated whereas just the top but not the sides of the second cake are decorated.  I begin with the top of the cake, coating it with apricot glaze (not the sides yet as otherwise you will get sticky fingers when you pick the cake up).  I roll out a piece of marzipan to a rough circle shape approximately the same size as the cake and invert the cake onto it.  I then trim the edges neatly whilst the cake is still upside down.  Keep the trimmings to mould into marzipan fruit if you’re feeling creative or to stuff Medjool dates with if you’re not.

Next, I turn the cake over and place it in final position on its board.  I then prepare a template out of greaseproof paper, a strip to go round the outside of the cake.  I cut the strip in half as the cake sides will be covered in two pieces of marzipan.  I roll out the second piece of marzipan to a rough rectangle the same shape as my template pieces stacked on top of each other and cut 2 pieces of marzipan using the template as a guide.

Now it’s time to coat the sides of the cake with apricot glaze.  Once this is done, I stick the two side pieces neatly to the cake, trimming and smoothing the seams. I then use my (clean) hands to pat and smooth the marzipan over the cake.  This is what the end result looks like.  Good enough for a wedding cake rather than the rough snow I plan to plaster over it.  Also pictured are my last minute decorations – the sugar pearls I picked up in Paris earlier in the year and some white chocolate snowmen, reflecting the snowy weather conditions outside – it’s all set to be the first White Christmas in ages.

I made the royal icing following my usual recipe.  This is what the starting sugar and egg white mixture looks like before whisking.  The recipe advises that you should add icing sugar to the egg whites “until the mixture falls thickly from a spoon”.

And here is the same icing after 10 minutes’ whisking.  It now holds its shape and forms little peaks.  My long serving Kenwood mixer makes light work of this job.  I think you do need electrical assistance here, whether a hand-held whisk or free standing mixer with whisk attachment.  The icing dries to a deliciously powdery and crisp texture thanks to the air it contains.  Don’t forget the teaspoon of glycerine to avoid the icing setting to a tooth-breaking plaster consistency.

Here’s the finished cake taking pride of place on the Christmas dining table with the white chocolate snowmen gazing out onto the snowy scene outside.

Time to get on with the Christmas dinner preparations now and finally enjoy a little time off.  I’ve concentrated on Christmas baking on the blog this year so you’ll just have to imagine the goose roasted to mahogany crispness appearing out of our oven on Christmas day…

Merry Christmas!

Recipe for apricot glaze

This recipe (which is hardly long enough to deserve the name!) is my own.  It makes enough to cover an eight inch cake, top and sides with some leftover.  Spread what’s leftover on some toasted panettone for a Christmas breakfast or mid-morning treat.


Half standard jar of apricot jam (look for conserve or extra jam with a high fruit content)
2 tablespoons apricot brandy (or your favourite spirit)
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Melt the apricot jam and apricot brandy together in a small saucepan.  Add the lemon juice and stir well.  Rub the mixture through a sieve using a wooden spoon, pressing hard so that as much fruit pulp as possible goes through.

Reheat in a small saucepan boiling until the right consistency is achieved if the cooled glaze looks too runny.

Recipe for cooked marzipan

This comes from Leith’s Cookery Bible, and as the book says, it gives a softer, easier to handle paste than the more usual uncooked marzipan.  A hand held electric whisk is I think essential before you embark on this recipe.  I have removed the suggested almond and vanilla extracts from the list of ingredients in the original recipe as I like the natural taste of the almonds themselves to shine through unadorned.

I have found that the texture of the finished paste is variable.  Sometimes it comes out just right, sometimes a little too soft for rolling.  Presumably this is because of variations in the size of the eggs and the age of the ground almonds.  If this happens, simply add more ground almonds, caster sugar and sifted icing sugar in a 50:25:25 ratio (as per recipe) until the paste is the right texture for rolling out.

This quantity of paste is just enough to cover an 8 inch cake, top and sides.


2 medium eggs
170g/6oz caster sugar (I use the golden variety)
170g/6oz icing sugar, sifted
(if you find, as I did, that there is nothing except granulated sugar in your cupboard and the shops are closed, fear not! I ground the sugar into a coarse powder in my electric liquidiser and used this rather than a mixture of caster and icing sugar.  The end result was good – perhaps even better than using different sugars)
340g/12 oz ground almonds
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Beat the eggs lightly in a heatproof bowl.  Sift the sugars together and mix with the eggs.  Stand the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until light and creamy or until the mixture just leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted.  Remove from the heat and whisk until the bowl is cold.

Add the ground almonds and lemon juice.  Check consistency and adjust if necessary as described above.  Lightly dust a board or scrupulously clean work surface with sifted icing sugar.  Carefully need the paste until just smooth.  Do not overwork as the oils will be drawn out resulting in a greasy paste.  Wrap in cling film and keep at a cool room temperature until you a ready to use.

Recipe for royal icing

This recipe comes, like the fruit cake it covers, from Delia Smith’s “Complete Cookery Course”.  The addition of  a little lemon juice which cuts the sweetness of the icing ever so slightly is my own.  I wouldn’t attempt this without an electric mixer of some kind.  Don’t be tempted to add more glycerine than suggested as otherwise your icing may not set.


3 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Approximately 1 lb 2 oz  (500g) icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon glycerine

Place the egg whites in a perfectly clean grease-free bowl.  Stir in the icing sugar, a spoonful at a time, until the icing falls thickly from the spoon (see picture above).  You will probably not use all the icing sugar you have sifted – just spoon it carefully back into its box.

At that point, stop adding any more sugar and whisk with an electric mixer for 10 minutes or until the icing stands up in peaks.  Then stir in the glycerine.  Spooned into a jar, the icing will keep happily in the fridge for several days.

Exotic fruits in winter: medlars and kumquats

December 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

The first proper frost arrived earlier this month which meant it was finally time to gather the first tiny crop of medlars from the tree we planted the summer before last.   Jane Grigson writes about the medlar in her “Fruit Book” as follows.  “The medlar makes a charming tree in the garden.  It grows and droops over to make a sheltered house for children to play in.  In spring, the flowers are white spreading cups. In autumn the leaves turn a deep yet brilliant red, and fall to show the greenish brown medlars displaying their ancient name.  Pick them when they begin to turn soft and darker brown, and do not despise the windfalls.  The best can be eaten as they are.  Turn the others into medlar jelly.”  She is quite right – the medlar has so far proved to be an excellent small tree though not yet large enough to droop into the sheltered house for children she refers to.

Amusingly, the ancient descriptive English name for the medlar is openarse (similarly cul de chien in French)  You will understand why we politely refer to it as the medlar now (nèfle in French).

Here are my medlars, silhouetted against a palest blue wintry sky.

As the crop was so tiny and as I’ve never eaten them before, I decided the only thing to do was to eat the medlars, now yieldingly soft (the proper term is bletted) au naturel with a teaspoon.  I arranged them artfully on a plate with some other seasonal items to form a cut-down version of the 13 desserts of Provence (for an explanation see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteen_desserts)

I took my first mouthful rather nervously but needn’t have worried as they tasted rather good – like stewed apple with a fudgy texture and pleasant acidity.  A small glass of tawny port and a few walnuts were the perfect accompaniment.  The 5 or so large seeds each fruit contains were unexpected but easily dealt with.

Other ideas for medlars are the jelly recipe which Jane Grigson gives and stewed medlars/compote of medlars which is the only suggestion given in Larousse Gastronomique.

I lazily popped one of the kumquats on the above platter into my mouth expecting an aromatic little sweetmeat.  I nearly spat the thing out.  Aromatic it certainly was but sour and bitter too in equal measure.  Referring back to my trusty Jane Grigson Fruit Book I discovered that she recommends coating them in fondant to make a tart, sweet and crisp petit four. She also gives a recipe for pickled kumquats with orange slices which I though might go well with the wild duck I was planning to roast for Sunday dinner.  Here are the duck (plus two brace of partridge) which my hunter gatherer husband Tim brought back from  a day’s shooting at Carlton Towers in Yorkshire in the autumn.  He cleaned and plucked them too and they have been waiting in my freezer for their moment to shine ever since.

I made the pickle and we ate it the same day with the duck notwithstanding that it is meant to mature for at least a month before you eat it.  The recipe is given below.

Unsurprisingly, the pickle was rather sharp!  The flavour of the kumquats was definitely right with the wild duck but it was too sweet and sharp in this pickle.  The pickle would however be very good with Christmas ham.

If anyone has any kumquat or medlar recipes I would love to hear them.

As a final postscript, peeking into my Christmas stocking I see that my sister-in-law Angela who lives in Bristol has given me, quite by coincidence, a jar of stewed medlars. I would guess that these were sourced from her local farmer’s market – I’m looking forward to trying them.

Recipe for pickled kumquats with orange slices

From Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book

My own suggestion is that fragrant clementine slices can be substituted for orange slices very successfully.

For each 250g (8oz) kumquats, provide one large orange (or 3 small clementines) which has been well scrubbed.  The kumquats only need rinsing.

Slice away and discard the peel ends of the orange, then cut the rest into slices and put them in a wide pan with the kumquats and enough water to cover generously.  Bring to simmering point, and leave until the orange slices are tender.  If the kumquats show signs of over-cooking and collapse, remove them.

Meanwhile dissolve 300g (10 oz) sugar in 250 ml (8 fl oz) wine vinegar.  Add a 5 cm (2 inch) cinnamon stick, 8 whole cloves and 2 blades of mace.  Once the liquid is clear and reaches boiling point, stop stirring.

Drain the cooking liquor from the oranges and kumquats into a bowl.  Pour the syrup onto them, adding enough cooking liquor to cover the fruit.  Simmer until the orange slices look transparent and slightly candied, adding extra cooking liquor as required.

Arrange the fruit in a wide glass jar, rinsed and dried upside down in a low oven.  Cut the slices in two, three, four if you like.  Pour on the boiling vinegar syrup, making sure that the fruit is covered.  Fasten the lid tightly and leave in a cool dark place for at least a month to mature.

Pre Christmas literary lunch

December 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

There are 7 of us in the book group to which I’ve belonged for a few years now.  We meet every month to discuss our chosen book but in December we put the books aside and just get together for a meal and conversation.  Following on from last year’s very successful cheese fondue at Gwyneth’s I offered to host lunch on a Friday in early December.

December is a busy time.  At work everyone wants the job done before Christmas.  At school there are fairs to be organised and costumes to be prepared for christmas plays and concerts.  At home there are cards, presents and food to be taken care of as well as all the usual routines.  Inevitably the washing machine or fridge will pack up in December (as mine just has) and to round things off nicely, the workmen who’ve been promising to turn up all year will finally make an appearance just when they’re no longer wanted.  I decided that what we all needed was a Superfoods Lunch.  The ideas was to boost our energy levels and immune systems before the rigours of Christmas preparations.  And of course the food had to taste good and look inviting.

There seems to be no standard definition of what a Superfood is.  This BBC article is a helpful and quick summary of the status of superfoods  – really a marketing tag more than anything.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/food_matters/superfoods.shtml.  Nevertheless, running through the lists of superfoods that various celebrity nutrionists have put together (take you pick from what’s available on the web), I soon had inspiration for a lunch.  We would have a spicy butternut squash soup to start, packed with sage, chilli and garlic for extra flavour. Next, there would be two salads, one based on quinoa and roast vegetables (beetroot and red onion as well as yet more squash) together with cranberries and seeds, the other a more green leafy one featuring watercress and spinach, avocado, pistachio nuts and pomegranate seeds.  I managed to find a red quinoa for the roast vegetable salad which both looked more appetising than the regular white kind and retained a bit more bite.

I neither followed nor wrote down a proper recipe for the salads, it was more a question of tasting and adding as I went along but resisting the urge to throw in too many ingredients.  For the quinoa salad, I cooked the red quinoa according the packet instructions and dressed it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice while it was still warm.  I then stirred in chopped parsley and chives, lightly cooked cranberries, and salt and pepper.  I tipped the dressed quinoa into a salad bowl lined with crisp red radicchio leaves then topped the salad with chunks of roast beetroot, squash and red onion.  I then blobbed on pieces of mild goats cheese and sprinkled everything with linseeds and roast sesame and sunflower seeds.  Finally I snipped some extra chives over for colour.

The other salad was an assembly of different salad leaves and chopped avocado in a lemony vinaigrette with pomegranate seeds and pistachios sprinkled over the top.

My guests brought either bread for the soup (special mention to Gwyneth’s tomato bread fresh baked that morning) or something for pudding.  Alison made a stunning dish of apple pancakes from windfalls in her garden (thanks for the extras Alison – I’ve used them variously in soup, as and addition to braised red cabbage and finally in an Eve’s Pudding).  Pictured below are Marian’s muesli slices and Nadia’s chocolate cake – both absolutely delicious.

Lunch concluded with an exchange of Secret Santa gifts, which were of course books.  I received “The Secret Scripture” by Sebastian Barry which will be my reading over the Christmas holidays.  Can’t wait to get started on it.

Recipe for butternut squash soup with garlic and chilli

This recipe is the pumpkin soup recipe from from Lindsey Bareham’s book “A Celebration of Soup”.  A decent cooking pumpkin is hard to find at the best of times but butternut squash, its close relation, is readily available. Lindsey Bareham tells us that this recipe is chef Sally Clarke’s version from the book “Women Chefs of Britain”.  The ingredients given below serve 6.


1 large butternut squash (original recipe specifies 1 medium pumpkin, preferably a green-skinned variety)
75 ml (scant 3 fl oz olive oil)
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
2 small red chilli peppers chopped very fine
1.75 litres (3 pints) – maybe a little less if your pumpkin/squash is on the small side
salt to taste (recipe suggests 2 teaspoons)

to garnish – any or all of the following:

roast pumpkin seeds sprinkled with a little salt, either seeds from the pumpkin you used to make the soup or a packet of pumpkin seeds which you roast yourself (see below)
chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil or chilli flavoured oil

Prepare the pumpkin or squash by peeling, seeding and cutting into 2.5 cm/ 1 inch cubes. Reserve the seeds for roasting if you like.

Heat the 75ml/3 fl oz olive oil and stir fry the garlic and sage until aromatic but don’t let it burn.  Add the onion, leek, celery, fennel, pumpkin/squash and chillis, and increase the heat slightly, stirring around until the vegetables begin to soften.  Cover with the water (the recipe suggests 3 pints but I’ve found through trial and error that this can be a bit too much – try 2 pints and add more during cooking if required) and bring to the boil, then simmer gently, half-covered, until all the vegetables are soft.  Purée to a smooth consistency.  If you like your soup very smooth, pass through a medium sieve into a clean pan.  I use a stick blender directly in the soup pan and don’t bother with a sieve. Check for consistency. Boil to reduce if too thin, add more water if too thick.  Check seasoning.

If you are roasting the seeds you extracted earlier from the pumpkin, wash them under cold running water then lay the cleaned seeds on a baking tray, drizzle them with a little vegetable oil and sprinkle with a little salt.  Bake for 10-15 minutes at 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C, gas mark 5, turning with a spoon occasionally, until they are golden brown and crisp to the bite.  If you are using a packet of seeds, proceed in the same way (but no need to rinse them under cold water first) but they will need less time in the oven as they are drier.  Watch them like a hawk as they will turn from golden to burnt in a matter of moments.

Serve garnished with the roast pumpkin seeds plus a drizzle of olive oil or chilli flavoured oil and chopped parsley if you like.

Performance anxiety at the school Christmas fair

December 8, 2009 § 2 Comments

Attending the school Christmas fair has become one of the landmark events leading up to Christmas in our social calendar.  It has become a badge of honour to bring in a batch of freshly baked home-made cakes to sell on the cake stall (rather than produce something plastic wrapped from Costco as I am afraid, Dear Reader, some parents do…)  I can’t be alone in worrying about whether my cakes will sell.  Fear not, follow my top tips below and cake stall success is virtually guaranteed.

This year, in consultation with son Arthur whose opinion was sought as to what would appeal to his classmates, I decided to bake a batch of chocolate muffins.  These ticked all the right boxes – quick, easy and cheap to make, easy to transport and, with their sprinkling of chocolate chips on top, all-important visual appeal.  The recipe, which I give below, comes from a little book “Alison Holst’s Marvellous Muffins” which my mother-in-law Monica brought back for me after a trip to New Zealand.  Baked goods including both muffins and the curiously named friands are big in the Antipodes.

The muffin mixture is gloriously mud-like and improbably runny and lumpy but this means it is just right. Here it is, in double quantity, in my trusty stainless steel All-Clad mixing bowl:

The muffin mixture is spooned into cases and each is topped with a sprinkling of chocolate chips.  I chose a pleasingly contrasted mixture of both white and dark chips.  The chocolate chips are I think essential to the success of these muffins as without them both the texture and flavour of the muffins are a bit dull.

Fresh out of the oven they look like this:

As soon as the muffins had cooled, off to school we went bearing our cake box proudly.

I had planned to position the muffins artfully in pole position at the front of the stall (it is mortifying if your cakes don’t sell) and then head for the dining room for a well-deserved cup of coffee.  It was not to be. The cake stall was short-staffed so I ducked under the trestle table and got stuck-in.  After initial panic, we soon had the stall under control.  The art of origami was mastered and several dozen cardboard cake boxes were swiftly assembled; cakes were unpacked and displayed as prettily as we could manage, items were priced, the money was managed and we were soon operating like a well oiled machine.  We managed to sell the lot without resorting to heavy discounting.  After all, as the old Yorkshire saying goes “any fool can give away t’cake”.

After my morning’s experience my 5 top tips for bakers are:

1) Appearance is everything – people buy with their eyes
2) A single large cake is easy to make and is much in demand
3) Slabs of neatly sliced rocky road and attractively decorated cupcakes also sell well
4) Sending in cakes decorated with wet icing is just unkind to the poor souls manning the stall
5) If you choose to decorate your cakes with blue and black icing, they will appeal only to a niche market of small boys under the age of 4…

Does anyone out there have their own top tips for cake stalls, whether recipes or practical ideas?

Recipe for double chocolate muffins

This recipe comes from a little New Zealand book “Alison Holst’s Marvellous Muffins”.  I give below both the cup measurements from the original recipe and metric weight equivalents.  if you choose to use the cup measurements, please remember that Australian/New Zealand cup sizes are, annoyingly not the same as US ones.  You have been warned!

The recipe makes 12 standard-sized muffins.


1 and 3/4 cups (245g) plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (225g) caster sugar
1/4 cup (35g) cocoa powder
100g butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (250ml) natural yoghurt
1/2 cup (125ml) milk
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 cup (25-50g) chocolate chips, a mixture of dark and white if you like

Sift the dry ingredients (excluding the chocolate chips) into a large mixing bowl.

Melt the butter and add it to the other wet ingredients and mix until smooth.

Add the combined liquids to the dry ingredients and fold together but do not overmix so that the mixture is smooth.  Lumps are desirable at this stage.

Divide the mixture evenly between 12 muffin tins lined with muffin cases.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake at 200 degrees C for 10-12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  The muffins freeze well.  Take them out of the freezer and warm them through in a low oven for 10-15 minutes when you’re ready to eat them.

A Very British Thanksgiving

December 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

We are a thoroughly English family living in Manchester but nevertheless have celebrated Thanksgiving for the last four years.  This is down to my friend Lorilee who comes from West Coast of the US but now lives over here.  Sitting in her kitchen as she was preparing for her annual family celebration there was a wonderful bronze turkey on the table ready for stuffing, and delicious smells of cranberries and pumpkin pie spice wafting through the house.  I was seduced and we’ve been doing our own Thanksgiving ever since.

It’s a great way to celebrate the beginning of advent and to get together with family and friends that you won’t see on Christmas Day itself.  For us, it’s free of the weight of expectation and tradition that comes with Christmas, a blank canvas which we’ve made our own.

This year, we invited in-laws Monica and Lawrie over, plus son Arthur’s schoolfriend Rahin.  We made a bit of an effort to smarten up the house and even went so far as to hang corncobs from the door to welcome guests:

The main event was of course a wonderful bronze turkey from local supplier the Cheshire Smokehouse together with cranberry and cornbread stuffing. The stuffing is a pleasure to make, wonderful colours and smells from both the cranberries gently cooked with orange:

and from the golden cornbread:

Here is the stuffed turkey being ritually weighed on my trusty Avery Berkel scales.  This set of scales has a bit of history behind it having been sold to me some years ago by the Hon Rupert Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill.  Rupert was running a division of the the Avery business in Smethwick and I was visiting from head office and bought some of his old stock.

The scales have since become part of the family – both my two boys as babies were regularly weighed in them and they are now used for weighing ceremonial roasts.

And here is the finished turkey:

I used to have terrible trouble with turkey but have since discovered the method recommended by Leith’s Cookery Bible which is to drape over the turkey before it goes into the oven an enormous square of folded muslin soaked in an unfeasible quantity of melted butter.  This combined with a digital meat thermometer inserted into the thigh of the bird seems to do the trick.  My thermometer tells me turkey is cooked when its internal temperature reaches 82 degrees C; I find that I need to remove the bird from the oven when it reaches just 73 degrees C as the heat carries on transferring through the meat for a good 20 to 30 minutes afterwards.

With the turkey I served, as well as the aforementioned stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, roast winter vegetables and a dish of sweet potatoes topped with toasted marshmallows – improbably sweet and weird but nevertheless good.

Afterwards, instead of the more usual pumpkin or pecan pies, I served crema catalana, the Spanish orange and cinnamon scented version of crème brûlée together with a dish of sliced oranges in orange juice flavoured with grated lemon peel.  I know this Spanish element is from the wrong continent entirely but somehow the colours of the crema catalanas, burnished gold in their  terracotta cazuelas and the cinnamon and citrus flavours seem just right for a winter celebration which is a precursor to Christmas.

Here is a single perfect crema catalana in the tiniest of authentic cazuelas:

And here are the sliced oranges displayed in my favourite midnight blue and yellow serving bowl.  I had a pomegranate and a couple of passionfruit lurking in my fruitbowl so added these to the oranges for a pleasingly  jewelled effect:

I’ll conclude now with recipes for both the stuffing and the crema catalana.

Recipe for cornbread, cranberry and orange stuffing

This recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s book “Feast” with just a few small modifications of my own.

Ingredients for the cornbread

175g cornmeal (I use instant polenta)
125g plain flour
45g caster sugar
pinch salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
250 ml milk
1 egg
45g butter, melted and cooled slightly

Ingredients for the stuffing

1 large orange
340g cranberries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons runny honey
125g butter
500g cornbread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
salt and pepper

First make the cornbread.  Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200 degrees C then prepare  a square 23 cm tin (5cm deep) either by greasing with butter or lining with baking paper.    Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.  In a measuring jug beat together the milk, egg and melted and cooled butter.  Then pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring with a wooden spoon until just combined but no more – the odd lump is desirable at this stage.  Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 15-20 minutes.  When ready, the cornbread should just be shrinking from the sides.  Most of the cornbread is needed for the stuffing but there should be just enough for one slice for the cook to eat, still warm from the oven and spread with butter.

Now complete the stuffing.  Zest and juice the orange.  Put the cranberries into a heavy based saucepan along with the zest and juice of the orange.  Bring to simmering point on a moderately high heat on the stove top, then add the honey then cover the pan and turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the butter to the pan allowing it to melt then add the cornbread crumbs.  I simply break up the warm cornbread with a fork to give desirably rough-textured uneven crumbs.  Beat in the eggs along with the ground cinnamon plus a little salt and pepper.

Recipe for crema catalana

I found this recipe on the web after returning from an inspirational trip to Barcelona in October 2005.  It came from a US site with the unpromising sounding name of Cook’n Grill’n but claimed to originate from Barcelona landmark restaurant Set Portes which I visited on my trip.  The recipe works and tastes authentic.  The recipe I found required no less than 7 egg yolks and stated that it served 4 people.  My cut-down version requires 5 yolks and makes approximately 8 tiny pots.  The four people envisaged in the original recipe must have been very greedy indeed…


12 fl oz milk (whole or semi skimmed)
6 fl oz double cream
2 one inch pieces cinnamon stick
2 strips lemon zest and 2 strips orange zest (each 2 inches by 1/2 inch removed with a vegetable peeler)
2 and 1/2 oz golden caster sugar
5 egg yolks from large eggs
1 and 3/4 tablespoons plain flour

more golden caster sugar for caramelising surface of the creams

Combine the milk, cream, orange and lemon zests and cinnamon sticks in a medium sized heavy based saucepan and bring almost up to a simmer on a low heat.  Let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes so that the milk and cream become infused with the cinnamon and citrus but do not let it boil.  Remove from the heat, cover to prevent a skin forming and allow to cool a little.

Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks in a medium sized bowl.  Whisk in the flour.  Strain the infused milk and cream mixture into the yolk mixture in a thin stream and whisk to mix.  Return this mixture to the saucepan and bring gradually to simmering point over a low heat, whisking steadily.  The mixture must be allowed to thicken and cook otherwise it will not set.  Do not allow to boil rapidly or overcook or the custard will curdle.

Once the mixture has thickened, divide it between 8 small gratin dishes.  Individual terracotta cazuelas are authentic if you have them – this is how the crema is served in Barcelona.    I bought mine online back in the UK from http://www.delicioso.co.uk/spanish-food/Kitchenware/

Cover the creams with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

When you are ready to serve, remove the creams from the fridge and sprinkle the surface of each one with 2 teaspoons golden caster sugar.  Quickly caramelise using a kitchen blowtorch.

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