I’m very excited to be bringing you my first post. I’m joining the blogosphere to share bits and pieces of my life in food, great recipes I’ve stumbled over, interesting ways to cook and dishes that I have found worked really well in this busy run around life.
Things have been whizzing along so fast that it was only today I registered the fact that Christmas is only days away! So I got myself into the Christmas spirit by opening a bottle of brandy and… no NOT drinking it (life has been a tad frantic but not that bad). No, I poured it over a huge bowl of dried fruits to make homemade Christmas mince, which I will use in little sweetmeat pies and for my Christmas morning gubana bread.
My mother’s wonderful old recipe file has had its annual dusting off and her special Christmas recipes put through their traps , starting with a double batch of her famous fig and ginger kisses. Trays of them now sit all around the kitchen and every time anyone walks past they can’t resist picking one up for a single mouthful of festive pleasure. A whole tray full has now been demolished and I need to get the rest safely hidden away so we have some to enjoy for Christmas.
Mother always made her kisses using a meat mincer. You can do it in the food processor but grinding up fruit is really tough on the motor and isn’t something I’d recommend unless you’re angling for a new food processor for Christmas! When the mixture comes out of the mincer it looks decidedly revolting which is why instead of forming it into little logs like my mother did, I like to make little pyramids. I love the fact that my kids now register these as a special Christmas treat to look forward to.
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes: About 40
- 1 cup each dates, walnuts and raisins
- ¼ cup preserved ginger
- 5-8 dried figs
- 1½ cups sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup coconut
- extra coconut, for coating
Preheat oven to 160°C. Mince the fruits, ginger and nuts and combine with the condensed milk and coconut. Shape into small balls or pyramids and roll in extra coconut. Place on a baking tray and bake for about 25 minutes until lightly golden. Stored in an airtight container, they keep for weeks.
Along with the kisses and the fruit mince, a double batch of Christmas cake has filled the house with comforting and happy smells – the smell of cinnamon, vanilla and brandy baking is an alchemy beyond the measure of its simple ingredients. NOW it feels like Christmas. My double batch of mixture has made four small cakes (cooked in big tuna cans) and two medium ones. We ran out of time to cook the big ones so I’ve put them raw into the fridge overnight and I think they’ll taster even better as all the flavours and the grog will meld together overnight and they’ll be lovely and moist.
This particular Christmas cake recipe is perfect for last-minute baking as the dates in the battermix keep it lovely and moist. I’ve been making it for a few years now and though I have tried a few other recipes in between I keep coming back to this one.
And I love the fact that I can get a bunch of little cakes out of the mixture – they make such a special little present.
Every family has their clutch of handed-down recipes for special occasions, and it’s the provenance of these traditions that I love. A few years ago my friend Jennifer invited me to visit while her mother was visiting from Canada. Her family had a Polish background and I spent a day in her kitchen learning a bunch of her family’s Christmas specialities, including beetroot perogies and Christmas Snowballs.
These incredible melt-in-the-mouth Christmas walnut biscuits with a tangy cherry filling are now a fixture in my annual Christmas baking. If you wanted you could use other fruit in the centre, such as chopped dried figs or cranberries. Be sure to check the walnuts are fresh
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
- 225g butter, softened but not melted
- ½ cup icing sugar
- ½ cup ground walnuts
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1¾-2 cups standard flour
- 30-36 dried cherries
- icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 145C fan bake or 150C regular. In a mixing bowl, beat butter, icing sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add 1¾ cups of flour and walnuts and mix until the mixture comes together into a manageable dough, which will hold its form if rolled into a ball. If mixture is very sticky, add a little more flour. Chill dough for 20-30 minutes. Wrap a heaped teaspoon of the mixture around a dried cherry and roll into a ball. Repeat for the rest of the cherries and mixture. Bake in the oven until firm but not browned (about 30 minutes). When cool, roll in icing sugar and store in an airtight container. These biscuits freeze well. Recipe doubles easily.
Last but not least, I have made a triple batch of panforte. I always don a clean pair of dishwashing gloves to mix this up as it’s too heavy to mix with a spoon and you need to work quite fast so the toffee mixture does not set before it’s fully mixed through the fruit and nuts. You can play around with different types of fruit and nuts as long as you keep the ratios and quantities constant.
I often free-form small panfortes on the baking tray so I can cook a whole lot at one time without needing a lot of baking tins. They do tend to spread a little when they cook, so just round them up into tight circles with a flat knife after they come out of the oven then leave them to set and cool fully before you take them off the baking paper and store them.
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: About 35 mins
Makes: 1 cake Serves: 20
- 1 cup almonds, toasted and very roughly chopped
- 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and halved
- 2½ cups (combined amount) of dried fruit, eg mixed peel, raisins and chopped dried figs
- 2/3 cup plain flour
- 2 tbsp cocoa
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 60g dark chocolate, chopped
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup sugar
- icing sugar, to dust
Preheat oven to 150°C. Thoroughly grease or line with baking paper a 20cm round cake tin, preferably shallow and with a removable bottom.
Combine nuts and fruit and mix with flour, cocoa and cinnamon. Boil the honey and sugar in a saucepan until mixture reaches ‘soft ball’ stage. Add chocolate and stir until it is melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour into dry ingredients and quickly mix with a very strong wooden spoon (or your hands) until combined.
Press into tin and bake for about 35 minutes or until set. Remove from tin while still warm. When cool, dust liberally with icing sugar. Panforte is very rich, so serve it in very thin slices. Stored in an airtight container it will keep for weeks.
So now I’m in the zone. The house smells that unmistakably yummy Christmas smell that makes you feel like you never want to leave and I have a bunch of scrumptious goodies to give to my friends at this special time of year. Bring it on!