A Trifle More Christmas Baking

Okay, so I wrote the Christmas Baking blog post a couple of days ago, and then this happened. We picked another mountain of fruit this morning, and it happened to be a bread day. My original plan was to bake a pie, but my husband agitated for a trifle, but without the custard, which he’s not fond of.

So into the baking rotation went a lemon cake. Once it was cool, I sliced it and layered it with fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, black currants and blueberries), raspberry sauce, and a mixture of cream cheese, whipped cream, sugar and vanilla (inspired by this trifle recipe, but I measured nothing, and ignored most of the directions).

Just making it made everyone smile. Eating it … Oh my! I think I have a new favourite Christmas dessert!

Christmas Baking

When I was a kid, my mother would start her Christmas baking just after Thanksgiving. She’d bake dozens of kinds of cookies and freeze them. For weeks before the big day, there would be a big platter of cookies—a few of each of the types she’d made—out for eating. It was a child’s dream. I don’t remember her making anything but cookies for holiday desserts. We certainly didn’t need anything else, with all those cookies available.

Before moving to New Zealand, my holiday baking was similar (though with only one child eating cookies, I didn’t make quite so many as my mother did—she had three young cookie eaters). But it’s changed a lot since then.

Cookies are made with ingredients that store well—flour, butter, sugar, nuts—that’s great for winter baking, when fresh ingredients are hard to come by. But Christmas falls at the height of the summer fruit season here—it’s no wonder the traditional Christmas dessert here is pavlova—a meringue ring filled with fresh fruit (Unfortunately, I’m really not fond of meringue).

At the moment on our property, we are harvesting black currants, red currants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, and blueberries. With as much as 10 kilograms of fruit coming in every two days, much of that harvest goes into jam, sauces, chutney, or simply gets frozen for later use. But it would be a shame not to bake with that fruit, in favour of cookies, which I can make any time of the year.

So we’ve been enjoying strawberry shortcake, currant pie, and gooseberry crisp. For breakfast, we’ve been eating waffles smothered in fruit, and muffins studded with fruit. For snacks, and with every meal, we’ve been eating fresh fruit—whatever hasn’t gone into baking or the freezer.

Oh, there are cookies, too (why not?). But it’s the fruit I snitch while walking through the kitchen, and it’s the pie I crave for dessert.

Some day I’ll dispense with the cookies entirely … Maybe I’ll even learn to like pavlova.

Trying New Recipes

Saturday was a bread oven day (see my previous post and video if you don’t know what that entails). As luck would have it, I had just checked out some cookbooks from the local library, and I had a whole bunch of new recipes I wanted to try.

On bread days I usually bake several different things, in order to make use of the ‘free’ oven heat. It can lead to some insanity in the kitchen, as I mix up more than one recipe simultaneously. Usually I stick to things I make regularly, in order to prevent mistakes.

But Saturday I threw caution to the wind and chose three new recipes to make: sticky orange cupcakes, chocolate cardamom cake, and a sort of jam and nut pie bar.

The preparation was frenetic, but I managed to keep all three recipes straight, and the results were pretty good. The orange cupcakes were the perfect consistency—so moist, they’re more nearly pudding than cake, with coarse semolina and ground nuts giving them a wonderful grit. The flavour was good, but simple. I’m already scheming to improve them next time by sweetening with honey instead of sugar, for a more complex flavour.

The chocolate cardamom cake smelled divine. It, unfortunately, went into the freezer without a taste test, but I’m looking forward to eating it and adding another cardamom-flavoured dish to my repertoire. 

The jam and nut pie bars? I had just one bite of them before the rest went into the freezer. I think the jury’s still out on them. They certainly need some work. Both look and taste were marginal, and I suspect it wasn’t a good idea to attempt them on a bread day—a little more care would have gone a long way, at least on look. 

That’s two out of three that I think are keepers—not bad for three new recipes, made up simultaneously. Though, for my own sake, I don’t think I’ll bake three new recipes on a bread day again.

Happy Halloween!

We don’t really do Halloween here, as the celebration makes no sense in springtime, but for all you Northern Hemisphere folks, I pulled together a list of all the pumpkin recipes and food ideas I’ve blogged about in the past. I was surprised at how long the list was. There are some great Halloween party options here. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Pancakes
Pumpkin Pizza
Pumpkin Cupcakes
Pumpkin Ricotta Lasagne
Cinnamon-Pumpkin Bars
Pumpkin Ravioli
Baked Pumpkin Slices
Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins
Pumpkin Galette
Pumpkin, Blue Cheese, and Tofu Burgers

Orange Cupcakes

I’ve developed my own orange cake recipe, which I like a lot, and I’ve made a similar orange cake, based loosely on a recipe in King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking. Last week I finally made King Arthur Flour’s orange cake, as it’s written, except I baked it as cupcakes.

My orange cake uses barley flour, which gives it a delicate crumb. The recipe I made last week uses wholemeal (whole wheat) flour, leading to a more robust cake, with a lovely nutty flavour.

But the best part of the recipe was the orange glaze on top. The glaze did lovely things for the cupcakes, and made them taste a bit like the dense sticky orange cakes you find in cafes. (but a whole lot less involved to make).

Here’s the recipe for the glaze. Brush it on the warm cakes and let it soak in. Be generous with it!

1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
3/4 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

A Decadent Brioche Breakfast

Sometimes you just have to go a little overboard. My over-the-top fun this weekend was making brioches for Sunday breakfast. Overly decadent and time-consuming to make, brioche is a rare treat for us. My usual Sunday breakfasts (scones, muffins, or whatever) can be made in the morning. Brioche had to be started the evening before.

My son, passing through the kitchen as I kneaded the gooey dough, peeked at the cookbook open on the table. His eyebrows rose.

“Make sure you wake me up for breakfast tomorrow.” This from the teen who usually doesn’t get up until long after breakfast is cleaned up.

The pressure was on. I had to make sure these brioches were worth losing three hours of sleep.

The dough rose overnight in the fridge, and I made up the buns in the morning. When they came out of the oven, I cut the top off each one, scooped out a little hollow inside, and filled each with a dollop of gooseberry jam and then a generous spoonful of whipped cream with lemon curd folded in.

Oh, my. These little butter bombs were delicious!

Red Currant Orange Muffins

I’ve occasionally noted how alike in smell, flavour and texture red currant jam and cranberry sauce are. And since I’ve got a freezer full of last summer’s currants, I decided to use them in a recipe calling for cranberries.

The result was a lovely red currant orange muffin. Even better than the cranberry version, because the fruit came from our own garden.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
zest of one orange
juice of 1 orange, plus enough yogurt to make 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup brown sugar
125 g (8 Tbs) melted butter
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) red currants

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, orange zest, orange juice, yogurt, sugar and butter. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until evenly moist. Fold in the currants.

Fill well-greased muffin cups—for me, this makes 21 muffins.

Bake 15 minutes at 210ºC (400ºF). Allow to cool in pan 5 minutes before removing.