Glazed and confused

I’m on holiday as of today, but before I log off and concentrate on packing the Small Girl, my best apron, Delia and Nigella into a suitcase so we can then hop on a very small plane in about, oh, an hour,  I wanted to show you my Christmas cake…

As much as I love marzipan I don’t really enjoy royal icing, so this kind of glazed topping is much more my kind of thing. Doing it really reminded me of my mum, who used to get me to do it when I was a teenager, claiming I could be more ‘artistic’. In hindsight, I think she was just trying to keep me busy, but I fell for it every time. A few days ago a friend was bemoaning the fact that her mother still kept the Christmas cake for her to ice on Christmas Eve and I felt an infinite sense of loss.

Glazed Christmas Cake Topping
The advantage of a glazed topping is that you can do it in about five minutes, then run outside on the wet grass in your socks to take a photo. Delia devotes pages to this sort of thing, but really, there’s nothing to it.

Just melt together some apricot jam or marmalade with some brandy or rum – say two parts jam to one part brandy/rum (about 4Tbsp jam and 2Tbsp booze should do it). Brush the surface of the cake with the sticky mixture, then arrange fruit and/or nuts of your choice on top. Brush with more of the sticky goo to keep them all glued on and leave to set. Keep somewhere cool until you unveil it.

Thank you all for your friendship, stories, comments, cooking advice and recipes this year – this might be my vanity project but I couldn’t do it without you. I wish you a very merry and safe Christmas.

I’ll be back next week to tell you all about cooking the first turkey my in-laws have EVER had for Christmas dinner (that’s why Delia and Nigella are coming with me). Wish me luck!

Lucy x

Lucy’s Christmas Chutney

There are many pre-Christmas things I have failed to do this year. If you’re going to the letterbox every day in the hope that I’ve remembered to send you a Christmas card, let me save you the trip. It’s December 20 and my Christmas cards are sitting on my desk, half-written. At least, I think they’re here somewhere. A box unpacked itself on the desk over the weekend and it’s a miracle I can find the keyboard.
The only thing that’s stopping me feeling like a complete failure is that I had the presence of mind to a) make the Christmas cake and b) make my famous Christmas chutney before we moved house. Yes, the 2.25g cake and a polybin full of jars added to the load, but it was worth it. I’ve been dispensing jars hither and yon all week and it’s done wonders for my festive spirit. I’m just sorry I can’t post them.

Lucy’s Christmas Chutney
I’ve been making this since 1997, when the internet was just a baby and I was just a slip of a girl (ish). It’s great with ham, cold turkey, cheese and bread, especially if all of these things are consumed while reclining on a deckchair/sofa and reading something you got for Christmas. This year I added walnuts (about a cupful) for a bit of crunch, but it’s great just as is.

450g tart green apples (about 3), peeled, cored and cut into 1cm chunks.
225g onions (1 large), peeled and chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup dates, roughly chopped
1 cup seedless raisins
1 cup prunes, roughly chopped
2/3 cup crystallised ginger, roughly chopped
2 tsp salt
1 tsp curry powder
2 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups white vinegar
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Reduce the heat and simmer very gently uncovered for about 45 minutes until the mixture is thick and the fruit is soft. You should be able to squish the apple with the back of a wooden spoon and the raisins will look swollen and plump. Don’t wander off and forget about the mixture, it will need regular stirring to prevent it from sticking. If it becomes too thick, add more vinegar.
Spoon the chutney into sterilised jars and seal with cellophane or tight-fitting lids. Makes about four 350ml jars.

Sweet sweet Friday: Lee’s Shortbread

My mother-in-law makes the best shortbread. Really, she does, I’m not just trying to butter her up before Christmas. She makes masses of it, cut into huge, palm-sized slabs. This time next week I am hoping to be eating a piece with a nice cup of tea and doing the crossword. Here’s the recipe so you can hopefully do the same.

Lee’s Shortbread
Lee doesn’t flavour her shortbread but when I made a batch recently I added some powdered kawkawa, a Maori herb traditionally used as a tonic for its liver-cleansing properties. It has a pleasantly green, peppery flavour (and makes the shortbread pale green, which is pretty). You can find it here.

250g butter, softened but not melted
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup cornflour
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 170C. Cream butter and sugar, either with a wooden spoon (and a strong arm) or in an electric mixer. Sift the dry ingredients and add, mixing well. Turn the mixture on to the bench and knead briefly to combine.
Usually, Lee forms the dough into a sausage shape, wraps it in clingfilm and sticks it in the fridge for 15 minutes. Then she cuts off rounds about 1cm thick and places them on a tray.
At Christmas time, she rolls the dough out on a well-floured bench and uses a biscuit cutter to make stars. She then places them on a tray and puts the tray in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Whichever method you choose, prick each biscuit with a fork before baking for 15-20 minutes. The shortbread is cooked when it is firm to touch and starting to turn golden. Remove from the trays and let cool on a rack. Makes lots.

Have a sweet, sweet weekend, everyone. It’s going to be wet and cold here, perfect baking weather!

Kitchen wear

Are you the sort of person who is hopeless at Christmas shopping because you keep seeing things you’d like for yourself? Then look away now, because I suspect you’ll be quite taken by what I’m about to show you.

A couple of months ago I seemed to spend every Friday morning at a seaside cafe, en route to delivering whoever was staying with us that week to the airport. We had a stream of different visitors – all men – over the course of a month and I began to think that the waiting staff would start to talk – ‘oh look, there’s that woman again, with another new bloke’. But I digress. In between reassuring the guest of the week that there was plenty of time to get to the airport and making sure the Small Girl didn’t make too much of a nuisance of herself, I noticed one of the waitresses was wearing an amazing pendant. It was a tiny knife, sharp-edged and glinting silver in the sun. I couldn’t help myself and more or less chased her around the room to find out where it came from. “Oh, my boyfriend makes them,” she said shyly, as if everyone was so lucky.

To cut a long story short(ish), I gave her my email address and her boyfriend, Tim, got in touch. He’s since set up a website showcasing his work and is happy to do commissions. Come on, there must be someone you know who would like a doll-sized sterling silver fish slice earring (and the ladle looks amazing as a pendant) …


Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter

I spent ages trying to think of a fancy title for this post, then I realised it didn’t need one. I mean, ‘salted chocolate peanut butter’ drew you in fast enough, didn’t it?

Salted chocolate peanut butter
This started out as ordinary peanut butter. We’d run out, I had a bag of peanuts, I threw them in the oven to roast them, then into the processor. Then I was thinking about a friend of mine with whom I share an abiding love for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and I threw in a handful of 50 per cent cocoa chocolate that was in the pantry. And a pinch of salt for luck. A few moments later I realised it was going to take a lot of willpower (or another bag of peanuts) if she was going to get any of it in her Christmas stocking. Here’s how you do it.

200g raw peanuts
100g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
flaky sea salt, to taste (about 1/2 – 1tsp)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Tip the peanuts into a roasting dish, then put it in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes. Shake the dish occasionally and keep an eye on the peanuts – you want them golden brown and nutty smelling, not incinerated. Remove from the oven and let cool for five minutes, then tip them into the processor. Blitz until they form a grainy paste. They will make a hell of a racket and you’ll think nothing is going to happen, but it will. Have faith. When it’s looking more like a paste, tip in the chocolate and 1/2 tsp salt and whizz again. Taste and add more salt/whizz until it suits your palate. Scrape into a pretty (and clean) jar. Tie a ribbon around the top and attach a small spoon. The recipient will know exactly what it’s for.

How are your Christmas preps going? Stay tuned for more last-minute ideas in the next week or so.