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Quince and Treacle Christmas Pudding

apple xmas puddingThis year I have finally been organised enough to make a Christmas pudding. Our mum came to visit in November and I seized the opportunity for her to take the pudding back to Belfast on her luggage allowance rather than trying to cram it in my case at Christmas along with presents and my winter woollies.

Luckily the recipe makes two puddings and therefore I’ve been able to try one before the big day and tell you that it works very nicely indeed. I had originally intended to use just apples for the pudding, but I had some quinces in the house that were doing that usual trick of just sitting there waiting to be used. So I thought I’d use them instead. This makes the pudding lighter and more moist. I’m so glad to have finally found something where quinces really shine! Read more

Guinness Pumpkin Gingerbread

Christmas isn’t Christmas without the scent and taste of spices in the air and on the tongue. Last year I indulged with doughnuts and mulled cider. This year, my appetite whetted by the parkin, I decided my Christmas spice had to come from gingerbread. I intended to make hard gingerbread people made extra festive with gold leaf, but my dough refused to play ball and I ended up with something more akin to sticky Play-doh. I sought solace in booze and a stack of Nigella’s recipes to see if I could find a foolproof gingerbread recipe.

And lurking in Kitchen, but also available online was the truly tempting sounding Guinness Gingerbread that combined dark sticky stout with dark sticky treacle and spice. I was instantly sold. Except I didn’t have any sour cream or even emergency yoghurt. I didn’t have time to go out and hunt any down (sour cream is surprisingly elusive these days. It’s all creme fraiche instead.) But I did have some leftover buttermilk and half a can of the pumpkin leftover from the ice cream. Despite the lack of success with that, I knew the pumpkin works well in baked goods, adding amazing moisture. Mouth watering, I got baking…

You’ll need:

150g butter
300g golden syrup (or use black treacle if you have it. I did half and half)
200g dark muscavado sugar
250ml Guinness (this is about half a bottle and you can use any stout)

2tsp ground ginger
2tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (or as I had none, I used mace)

300g plain flour
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g pumpkin or squash puree
150ml buttermilk (or leave out the pumpkin & buttermilk and use 300ml sour cream)
2 large eggs

Then prepare yourself for the easiest baking recipe in the history of the world. Line a 20x30cm deep baking tray with parchment. Then melt the syrup, treacle, sugar and Guinness in a pan. This will smell amazing.

Sift the flour and bicarb and spices into a nice big bowl and then pour in the melted treacle Guinness mix and half combine. Then add in the beaten eggs, buttermilk and pumpkin puree and combine the mixure lightly until just properly mixed. Don’t overbeat or you’ll knock the air out of this beautiful batter. Pour the batter in the lined tray and then bake at 170℃ for around 45 minutes or until the gingebread is a glossy dark brown on top and coming away from the edges slightly.

Then comes the tricky bit. Your house will smell sensational, all spicy and treacly and sweet and you will have to wait at least 20 minutes for the gingerbread to cool and firm enough to get it out of the tray and cut in pieces. This will test your limits. You’ll want to get the kettle on and your chops round a sticky piece of gingerbread sooner, but it is worth the wait.

Unbelievably moist, but firm and springy from that fortifying Guinness and with the most wonderful spicing, this is the stickiest, moistest most Christmassy gingerbread possible. Served slightly warm with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream it would make a great dessert. I iced some of it with simple icing sugar and water mix with a teeny splash of the leftover Guinness to make it more a cake. The un-iced stuff lasted well in a tin, growing softer and stickier each day, allowing you to make this and have it ready for visitors with ease.

Just remember to keep your last piece to put by the stockings for Santa on Christmas Eve. He’ll come to your house first next year after tasting gingerbread this good…

Parkin

I don’t have much of a history with Bonfire Night. Not celebrated in Northern Ireland for a variety of reasons, Halloween was our festival instead. Talked of in Enid Blyton books and Blue Peter, I was vaguely aware of bonfires, Guy Fawkes and pennies for the guy as a child, but never celebrated it until I was about 15. Mister North had moved to the north west to attend university and seeking teenage independence, I travelled over to visit him at half term. My long boat and train trip was rewarded by a trip to the hills outside Rochdale with his flatmate to experience Bonfire Night properly.

Around the huge bonfire, there was treacle toffee, sausages, black peas and parkin. Memories are slightly hazy from the lashings of Boddingtons also available, but the peas were just the thing to thaw you on a freezing cold night, but it was the parkin that warmed my heart completely. All sticky with treacle and chewy and delicious with spice, it almost converted me to standing in fields in November.

Sadly, they don’t go in for parkin in the south and thus I’ve still never really embraced Bonfire Night even though I’ve lived in England for years. So imagine my glee when listening to Woman’s Hour this week, I discovered parkin was super easy to make and that I just had time to let it mature in time for the big night.

In the end, I used this recipe from Waitrose to make my parkin as I couldn’t be bothered adjusting the imperial measurements from the Radio 4 one and it didn’t call for self raising flour as I could neither be bothered to mix my own or get dressed to go and buy some. I subbed golden syrup for the honey and left out the sugar as all that treacle and syrup is sweet enough for me. I used lard instead of butter and upped the spicing with twice as much ginger and a pinch of mace. The whole thing barely took longer than setting out all the ingredients it’s so simple. Do use a pan to heat the milk on the stove as you add the bicarb to it and it expands quite a bit. It’ll be volcanic in a jug.

Other than that, it’s simple, straightfoward and perfect for kids to do. Don’t overmix the batter, it can afford to be a little bit lumpy like muffin batter. Then pour into a deep square tray you’ve lined as parkin is traditionally served in squares. Recipes vary regionally and this one sounds more like the darker Yorkshire version. Pop in the oven for 50 minutes and get very hungry as a delicious oaty flavour heats up the kitchen.

You’ll need good willpower with parkin. It’s essential that you allow it to rest and don’t eat it straightaway. A week is about the length of time recommended to let it mature into proper sticky heaven. I cooled mine in the tin, cut into squares and stashed it away in a tin on a high shelf out of mind and managed to forget about it for about a week.

And it tasted amazing. Dark with treacle, spiky with ginger and smoky with mace. But it was drier than I expected. Mind you I was expecting it to stick to the roof of my mouth and melt on my tongue which might be slightly over the top. I’ve only got a 15 year old memory to compare it to after all. And I did manage to consume two large pieces with pleasure and a large cup of Yorkshire Gold in front of the Corrie omnibus which still made for a fairly perfect morning. I’d stick a bit more syrup in future, cook it slightly less and maybe only leave it for two or three days next time. But now I’ve rediscovered parkin, I’ll be putting Bonfire Night in the diary…

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!