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Baked Alaska Mince Pies

While there are many Christmas foods I adore, I just can’t get excited about mincemeat. It’s been several years since I ate a mince pie and feeling somewhat left out, I decided to make my own this year to see if I could get myself more enthused. Unable to get my hands on enough quinces to do jelly this year, I decided to get my fix by following Nigella’s Quincemeat recipe from page 265 of How to Be a Domestic Goddess and up the fruit content of those pies.

The quincemeat went into a jar in September to mature gently and I gave myself time to get excited. I was quickly distracted when The Little Loaf and I managed to find a date that we could meet for a pre-Christmas bake. An idea to do a winter inspired chocolate brownie Baked Alaska developed a life of its own when I heard about Sainsbury’s mince pie ice cream. We just had to do Baked Alaska mince pies instead! Talk about exciting…

We decided to each take a component and prepare it in advance and because we were baking at mine, I went for the ice cream. I wanted it to be inspired by that extra thick brandy cream people top their mince pies with and decided to push the boat on it. Using the foolproof custard from David Lebovitz as a base, I tweaked it slightly to be as rich as possible. You’ll need:

250ml (1 cup) whole milk (I used unhomogenised Jersey Milk)
500ml (2 cups) double cream
100g sugar
8 egg yolks (you could use 5 if you prefer)
pinch salt
dash of vanilla extract
good slug of brandy

Heat the milk and sugar gently to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Add the cream and make sure it is nicely warmed. Then take a cupful or so of the warm dairy mixture and stir into the beaten egg yolks to temper them and stop them scrambling when you tip them all back into the milk mixture.

Gently add the tempered yolks into the warm milk and cream and cook over a low heat, stirring well. Use a spatula for this to make it easier and because you’ll know when the custard is ready when it coats the back of the spatula.

Take it off the heat immediately. Pour into a metal bowl, adding the vanilla and brandy and either chill overnight in the fridge or make an ice bath inside another larger bowl. Then once nicely chilled, pour into your machine and churn as standard. About five minutes before the end, gently add in about 250g of the quincemeat, a tablespoon at a time and let the machine mix it in well.

You’ll need scoops of ice cream for your mince pies so if you want you could shape the scoops now and freeze them on a plate or simply place in a container with a lid and freeze as normal. You can soften it slightly and do the scoops when needed but you’ll need to re-freeze them for at least two hours to prevent a fit of melting that would alarm even a climate change denier.

It was all a bit Blue Peter for me when the pies were assembled as The Little Loaf had made this beautiful clementine pastry and had rolled it out, pricked with a fork and blind baked it while I turned 3 egg whites, a teaspoon of cream of tartar and 100g of caster sugar into some meringue with the help of a hand whisk.

A scoop of ice cream went into a cooled pie case and the meringue was piped in with a disposable bag and a large star nozzle. Piping gives lots of surface area to crisp up and looks lovely, but you could also smooth the meringue over with a mini spatula and rough up with a fork. Make sure there are no gaps either way and then put the piped pies into the freezer for about 20-30 minutes.

Get the grill nice and hot and then toast the pies under it for about 2-3 minutes. Do not take your eyes off them for even a second. Meringue has a nasty habit of turning without close supervision. You can like us finish the meringue off with a blow torch for extra toastiness (and dinner party entertainment) but be careful the whole thing doesn’t ignite! Meringue is surprisingly flammable.

Serve your pies immediately to get the maximum mixture of buttery pastry, creamy cold ice cream and and crispy crunchy meringue. These Baked Alaskas are smooth and sweet with just enough bite from the quincemeat and the brandy not to be sickly. I’d use a bit less cardamom in the quincemeat in future, but otherwise this was pitch perfect. I think I’m a total mince pie convert now…

A Classic in Coke…

As a family, we don’t have many Christmas traditions (unless supping a lot of cava counts as a tradition?) but one thing has come to symbolise Christmas more than any other foodstuff and that’s a ham. More precisely, a ham cooked in Coca Cola as suggested by Nigella Lawson in her classic cookbook How to Eat.

Cooking with Coke has become quite fashionable over the past few years and the world seems to split into two camps about it, with those who are highly sceptical about it and those, like me, who embrace it wholeheartedly and seek any opportunity to add Atlanta’s finest to a dish from cake to Christmas ham. So I would be most disappointed not to get off the plane in Belfast to discover a perfect pink ham in the fridge waiting to be transformed into a smoky spicy sweet sensation in time for Christmas Eve supper.

Not only is the ham beyond tender and moist after its soft drink with vegetable extracts bath, it is also the easiest thing in the world to make. All you need is one plump piece of pork, about 2 litres of Coke and an onion or two studded with cloves, a large pot and a full stomach so as not to be driven wild as the ham infuses and cooks over the next 2 or 3 hours. Simply cover the ham in the liquid, add your onion and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, place a lid on the pan and leave to just cook slowly at roughly an hour per kilo. I usually go off and finish wrapping my presents feeling utterly festive and increasingly hungry…

Normally we simply take the ham out to cool before serving in a selection of sandwiches, suppers and side dishes, omitting the crust Nigella mentions as it’s a bit too mustardy for our liking, but this year, we decided not to get stuck in our ways and try something new, glazing the top of the ham with a mix of black treacle, mustard and homemade quince jelly before blasting it in the oven to get a dark sticky crust to add another dimension to the barbecue influenced meat.

The glaze takes no time at all to make up, as I simply put some Meaux mustard, treacle and quince jelly in a pan to melt down, adding a splash of soy sauce and some tamarind paste and allowing it to all meld together before brushing it over the snow white fat on top of the pink porker and popping it in the oven for 15 minutes at 190 degrees. I then took it out, reglazed it and put in the oven again at 220 degrees for another 10 minutes.

After resting it for 20 minutes, it made the most amazing sandwich. Malted bread spread with mustard, the remains of the glaze and spiked with home made sweet pickles, it was soft and juicy with the right amount of salt and a delicious spiced flavour with a sticky sweet yet umami topping. The minute the sandwich was finished, we were reaching for another slice of the ham, unable to get enough of it. This is one tradition that gets better with every passing year!

Quince Jelly

After trying quince and rhubarb earlier this year, I have been somewhat fascinated by this most majestic of fruits, so when my aunt arrived around with 3lbs of them she had got from a friend’s tree, it was like Christmas had come early. Looking at these beautiful small golden orbs, there seemed only one contender for what to do with them and that had to be quince jelly!

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Rhubarb and quince

Mister North hand delivered me some forced rhubarb straight from the Rhubarb Triangle a few weeks ago and this level of service made me think I should treat this precious cargo with the utmost respect.  It seemed like the appropriate moment to use the rather regal looking quince I had picked up a few weeks previously at my favourite Portuguese deli A&C Continental in Brixton.

A quick search on Google confirmed that I wasn’t making an egregious error in partnering these two, but didn’t give me a huge number of ideas on what to do with them and none of my cookbooks had any suggestions either. I decided to err on the side of caution and simply cook them both in the oven until tender.

I simply peeled and cut the quince as you would with an apple and placed it in a dish with the chopped rhubarb and some fructose to take the edge off. I then cooked them in a 180˚C oven, covered in foil for about 25 minutes, before removing the foil, turning the heat off and leaving the dish for about 30 minutes.

The rhubarb was beautifully cooked, holding both its shape and colour. The quince was slightly less successful, retaining rather more bite than al dente and a strange grainy texture. I have never eaten quince before, so this might just be how they are when cooked, but it felt oddly raw to me. In future I would cook it for longer and more liquid to soften it up more and hopefully realise more of the fabulous perfumed taste of this lovely fruit.

I served this fancy fruit compote with some vanilla ice cream as a dessert and it was heavenly. I haven’t cooked rhubarb in the oven before and I much preferred the taste and texture to that of stewed rhubarb. The quince was light and aromatic and both were complemented by the creamy vanilla of the ice cream, even if it wasn’t eaten with a runcible spoon. Expect to hear me mention both fruits* again very soon!

*I know rhubarb isn’t horticulturally speaking a fruit. But the EU allow it to be classed as one and that’s good enough for me…