Panettone problems

There’s probably a list somewhere of things you shouldn’t attempt to do the weekend before you move house. Making panettone, the notoriously time-intensive Italian Christmas bread, is probably one of them, but I thought it would beat cleaning the oven(s) and making decisions about what to do with all those little things that pile up on the kitchen island while you’re putting big things into boxes.

The main reason for this folly was that Sarah of Maison Cupcake chose panettone for the November Fresh From The Oven challenge and this weekend was my last chance to make it. I thought I devoted a reasonable amount of love and attention to the dough – I even nursed it on my lap to keep it warm while watching the last, tear-jerking episode of Downton Abbey – but I did neglect it a bit, shoving it in the fridge overnight because I was too tired to stay up and let it rise some more. Then I baked it in an angel food cake tin (I didn’t have the right sort of 18cm high, round tin anyway – and I’d packed all the others.
While it looked good enough (untraditional shape aside), it was surprisingly dry and much heavier than I had hoped. I blame myself, not the recipe, but I don’t think there’s much point replicating it here until I can figure out what exactly went wrong. I’m also consoling myself that none of my Italian cookbooks had a recipe, which infers that all good Italians buy theirs instead. In the meantime, here’s a well-researched recipe I wish I’d remembered bookmarking last year. It sounds both incredibly easy and delicious – and there’s still lots of time before Christmas to get it right.

Have you made panettone before? Do you know any tricks?

(C)hollaback girl

Look what I made in the weekend…

This, dear friends, is a six-strand chollah bread. Here it is from another angle…

Pretty cool, huh?

Good shiksa that I am, I more or less followed this recipe from Belleau Kitchen (which Dom says came from the WI, oddly enough) because I liked the idea of being able to get it all ready the day before, then pull it out of the fridge to be baked in the morning. But when it came to the plaiting I watched this fantastic video to see how to do it. I set the laptop up on one corner of the work surface and went to it with the dough on the other, hitting pause as necessary. I had to rush – the Small Girl was waking from her nap and some friends turned up – but it was still great fun.

The chollah itself was great – and amazing toasted the day after. It might not be very kosher, so to speak, but this would be a great Christmas morning loaf because all the work is done the afternoon before. And, you know, you never have enough to do on Christmas Eve, do you?

Did you make anything new over the weekend?

Random Recipe #10: Moro Soup

A note to Antipodean readers before we begin: I’m sorry if you were enticed here by the ‘Moro Soup’ heading. This is not a post about turning the iconic chocolate bar, apparently beloved by triathletes (if you believe the ad campaigns), into a soup. Stop reading now before you get disappointed.

For everyone else, the real title should be ‘Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway’. It’s from Moro East, the lovely book by Sam and Sam Clark of Moro restaurant fame about their East End allotment, with recipes from fellow allotment holders interspersed with their own creations. It’s particularly poignant now as the allotment has been bulldozed in the name of the 2012 London Olympics. Perhaps athletes do exist on chocolate bars after all.

Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway
The book was my choice for Random Recipes #10, brought to you by Belleau Kitchen AND Jac of Tinned Tomatoes, who hosts a monthly soup challenge called No Croutons Required. Not only does this deliciously rustic soup fit the NCR vegetarian criteria, but it just happened to use the huge bunch of celery and masses of spring onions in my fridge. I took a few shortcuts along the way – I used two tins of cannellini beans rather than soaking and cooking my own, plus I used a tin of tomatoes rather than “500g of flavoursome fresh tomatoes”, as the latter are pretty thin on the ground here at present.
However I faithfully followed the recipe for DIY celery salt, which is completely addictive. Even if you’re not in the mood for soup, you’ve got to try this.

250g dried cannellini beans, soaked in cold water overnight, then drained and cooked in fresh water for about an hour, or until tender (or two tins of beans, drained and rinsed)
10 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large head of celery, trimmed of roots but including leaves, sliced into 2cm chunks
8 spring onions, roots trimed but including green tops, sliced into 1cm chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1tsp caraway seeds
500g fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped (or 1 440g tin)
1tsp celery salt (recipe follows)

To serve:
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
a small bunch of rocket
black olives
Turkish bread
Celery salt

Heat six tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the celery. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, then add the spring onions, garlic, caraway and a pinch of salt. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the tomatoes and celery salt and cook for a further five minutes.
Add the beans and either 250ml of their cooking liquid or water, plus the remaining four tablespoons of olive oil. Bring to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for another five minutes. Check the seasoning and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of celery salt. Rocket, spring onions, black olives and Turkish bread are suggested accompaniments. Makes enough for four.

DIY Celery Salt
Take a handful of green celery leaves and put them on a baking tray. Dry them in a low-medium oven until completely dry but not scorched (takes about 10 minutes). Crumble to a powder with your fingers, then mix with equal parts of flaky (eg Marlborough or Maldon) salt.

Christmas countdown

Do you realise there are just 54 more making and baking days ’til Christmas? Quick, reach for the smelling salts!

I’m in a bit of a quandary about when to start my Christmas activities this year, partly due to our imminent house move on December 1. On one hand, I would love to move into our new house and think, ‘a-ha, thank goodness I did all that baking and preserving and general faffing about already’. But on the other, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to add to the pile of things to wrap and pack and move. Actually, filled jars and tins might stand a better chance of making it across town than empty ones. I can already envisage the conversation with the Boy Wonder:

Me: What happened to all the empty jars in the pantry?
Him: I put them in the recycling.
Me: But I’ve been saving those all year!
Him: Too bad. We’ve got enough to do without packing empty jars.
Me: And what about the Christmas cake?
Him: What Christmas cake?
Me: The big square package in the box in the pantry
Him: Oh, I thought that was just rubbish. I threw it out…

In the meantime, I’ve been revisiting what I made last year, because a friend and I are making plans to have a Christmas makeathon together. Top of the list will be these deliciously spicy Christmas tree decorations, not least because the recipe makes loads AND the dough can be frozen. Next, the ever-popular best-ever brownies (also makes lots and can be frozen). If you’re really short on time, then both the date truffle fudge and the chocolate body scrub can be made in minutes (and the former will be consumed even faster).

One decision I haven’t made yet though is what kind of Christmas cake we’ll be having this year. I’m not sure I want the Small Girl to get a taste for the brandy-soaked figs and chunks of dark chocolate that stud our traditional cake, but I can’t decide what else to make. Any ideas gratefully received.

If you need a little more inspiration to get your Christmas planning underway, I suggest checking out Vanessa Kimball’s Let’s Make Christmas idea (which has already got scores of organised people showing off what they’ve made already) or Polka Dot Daze’s Christmas Challenge. Don’t dilly-dally though, there’s not much time left!

Sweet sweet Friday: Sticky Buns

It never fails to surprise me when I see people having leisurely breakfasts in cafes on weekday mornings. Do they not have jobs to get to? Or children to wrangle? Leisurely breakfasts are a thing of the distant past in our house, so I try to make up for it by occasionally having two breakfasts on weekend mornings. These chocolate and hazelnut-filled sticky buns, which I made last Sunday with this month’s Fresh From The Oven challenge in mind, would be just the ticket.

Sticky Buns

Claire’s original recipe uses a rich mixture of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins in the filling, but I had some incredible hazelnut spread (made in Blenheim, by Uncle Joe’s Nuts) lurking in the cupboard that I’d been dying to use. Mixing it with some smashed dark chocolate turned it into a kind of extra posh Nutella. You may think the icing is over-egging the pudding, to mix food metaphors, but it makes it even more luxurious. If you can’t find this spread, try the best hazelnut butter you can buy. Or, use more butter and sprinkle it with ground hazelnuts. Or just use Nutella, I guess. I invited a friend around to share these with us and was actually glad when they couldn’t make it, they’re that good.

250ml lukewarm milk (around 40C)

2tsp dried yeast

1Tbsp brown sugar

2 egg yolks

50g butter, melted

600g strong white flour

1tsp salt


50g very soft butter

100g hazelnut butter

100g dark chocolate, smashed into little bits


1Tbsp melted butter
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups icing sugar
Hot water – from a kettle – to mix

Put the warm milk into a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of your freestanding mixer) and whisk in the sugar and yeast. Leave to activate (froth) for 5-10 minutes, then add the melted butter and egg yolks. Stir in the flour and salt to form a dough, then either knead by hand for about 10 minutes, or in the mixer with the dough hook for about five minutes, until you have a smooth, springy dough.
Return to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then leave in a warm place until doubled (about an hour).
Knock down and press out with your fingers until you have a large sheet of dough. Mix the butters together and slather on top, then sprinkle with the smashed chocolate. Roll up tightly, as if making a swiss roll, then cut into 3cm slices. Place into a large, well-greased roasting dish or cake tin, allowing about 2cm between them. Cover with plastic and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C. When the buns have risen, bake for 10 minutes, then cover loosely with foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes until they are well-risen and golden.
While they are cooking, mix the icing ingredients together, adding hot water until you get a reasonably runny consistency. When the buns are done, slide them onto a rack and liberally drizzle with icing. Makes about a dozen. If you can resist eating them all in one go, they can be frozen.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday and a great weekend everyone x