Christmas Macarons

Oh really?! But aren’t they rather difficult to do well?

When one hears this, it’s likely that they have announced they are contemplating making one of the following:

  1. A soufflé 
  2. A chocolat fondant
  3. A batch of macarons

I was contemplating the third option which, by all accounts, was doomed to fail. For this reason I studied a Martin Chiffers recipe forwards, backwards and upside down until I was really sure that I knew what I was supposed to be doing.

I inherited my love of the kitchen gadget from Muv- the owner of the world’s greatest collection of fantastic culinary tat, including a mechanical apple peeler, an electric tin opener and a runner bean de-stringer. I decided some time ago that it was about time I bought a silicone macaron mat. Turns out it was a hugely worthwhile purchase as I’m holding it responsible for my 100% macaron success rate, well, that and Chef Chiffers.


As well as making it ridiculously simple to remove ones cooled macarons, the raised ring shapes mean one can guarantee identically sized bakes.

I did a bit of experimentation with the piping and found that a bigger nozzle was beneficial, and that a smoother shell was achieved by piping into the middle, with strength and confidence, rather than a swirling technique. Lifting the piping bag to finish causes a small ‘nipple’ to develop, as far as I’m aware this is perfectly acceptable in master baker circles, but can be smoothed down with the back of a teaspoon. In fairness I think they look rather sweet.


I didn’t flavour the shells, for fear of ruining the consistency of the mixture, however I did colour them using Wilton’s food colour gel using a combination of brown, red and black. For the filling I made a buttercream which I flavoured with cherry brandy as a nod to one of my favourite Christmas tipples. For the decoration I made a white chocolate ganache, topped with some adorable sugar holly leaves and berries which I picked up in Waitrose.

Advertisements

Mince Pie Making @JOCookerySchool

It is a fact that my brother William makes the fairest mince pies in the land. Which is surprising as he has exceptionally warm hands- long associated with terrible pastry chefs. Every year it’s a battle to get a batch out of him, and once we’ve eaten them all, a second batch is demanded. It shouldn’t be so difficult to get one’s hands on a mince pie.

As the recipe is kept extremely close to his chest, the solution Muv and I decided, was to attend a mince pie masterclass at Jamie Oliver’s Cookery School then shower the family with millions of pies.

The cookery school is based at London’s Westfield White City shopping centre and is presumably relatively new as everything was gleaming. As we arrived we were presented with a darling apron and talked through the pie concept by our dear cookery teacher/ chef. In conclusion the mincemeat filling can be whatever you want it to be! In this case bulked out with large chunks of sweet, roasted butternut squash.

The process was explained in steps before we were sent off to our cooking station to have a go ourselves. Unfortunately for us, our station was on a kind of galley with several ovens heating at full blast- having been out the night before, the extreme heat didn’t make me feel particularly invigorated.

We were encouraged to cut out pastry stars and the like to stick on top of our pies, but greedy buggers we are, Muv and I decided that a much better use of the pastry was simply to make as many pies as we could. I’m calling our design the sunflower, but call it what you will.

While the pies were steaming in the oven we were given a demonstration of how to make our own mincemeat (the stuff we used had been made up in advance by the team as it takes hours to bubble away), taking it in turns to sniff the delightful smelling fruits and spices. And then, rather unexpected, our dear teacher had to dash off to teach her next class- boy, has Jamie got them working hard! We were left hanging around for a good 10 minutes, until the sous chef came to check on our pies. My advice would have been to release us all out of that roasting hot kitchen, maybe got everyone a drink, and requested that we return in 10 or 15 minutes. I don’t think this is usual procedure thought, as the other class, a hen party perhaps, had tables to sit at and were sipping champagne in a much cooler environment.


Finally our dear little pies were ready. Rather than burn the roofs of our mouths we settled on having the pies boxed up to take away with us, we were even permitted to take a little clingfilmed parcel of our left-over dough which was kind.


We made it as far as Liverpool Street Station before we gave in to temptation and bit into our still-warm pies. Delicious, Christmassy mincemeat, encased in what reminded me of the pastry we used as a kind of modelling clay at Granny’s when we were little- you’d slip the odd bit into your mouth when her back was turned and be extremely disappointed that it tasted of flour, rather that sugar and butter as you’d hoped. It was at that moment I realised that I was never going to be the favourite child. Jamie’s books may line my bookshelves, but sadly his (my) mince pies are no competition for my brother’s. 

Christmas Cake

After last year’s Christmas creation, the pressure was on envision this year’s masterpiece. 

Muv, the dear, had her wooden spoon at the ready on Stir Up Sunday and baked an exquisite fruit cake, stored in the pantry for a month before ‘the handover’.



Fortnum & Mason’s marmalade was warmed and liberally applied to the cake as a glue and a crumb coat.

I made up a batch of marzipan, which is unbelievably easy to do and tastes nothing like the shop-bought variety. This was then rolled out and neatly wrapped around the cake. She then went back into the pantry for 3 days to allow the marzipan to dry out.

Meanwhile-

After reading Mima Sinclair’s Gingerbread Wonderland cover to cover, I set my heart on a gingerbread house cake.


Unfortunately, as my brother has stealthily worked his way though the vast majority of the golden syrup (I dread to think what he’d been doing with the stuff!) the gingerbread was to be a hybrid of light and dark- I hope Mima doesn’t mind such things!


Using a set of Lakeland gingerbread house cutters (cheat!) I set to work on my building blocks. When cutting out shaped biscuits, it’s always advisable to refrigerate them first to help them retain definition during cooking. Although I followed this advice to the letter, I was concerned that the shapes had spread slightly in the oven, so I used the cutters again after baking to make sure they were right. Potentially, the ‘building blocks’ may not have fitted together neatly had I not re-cut, so the open edges and a small amount of cracking from pressing down on the cutter were a small sacrifice.

To avoid any messy disasters, I built my house over several days. Farv frequently reminds me that I could never win Bake Off working at this pace, but now the dream team have split up I’m not sure it even matters!

Day 1: Baked gingerbread
Day 2: Iced design on to flat panels using royal icing
Day 3: Glued walls together using royal icing, supported by many cans of beans

Day 4: Glued cereal squares to roof panels, glued chimney to roof
Day 5: Glued roof panels to house, waited several hours then iced snow detail on to roof

Day 6: Iced cake with royal icing, added toadstools
Day 7: Christmas Eve- crumbs! It’s going to be close! Set house on cake, lit, added forest floor make from chocolate truffles, chocolate swiss rolls and ground almonds.
Day 8: Merry Christmas! Phew!

Below: My second cousin Ethan caught in the act of stealing my window frames- such a cutie!

Christmas Markets

  
The first rule of being a flapper is:

Never turn down an invitation*

Also known as ‘burning the candle at both ends’, which was a darn-sight easier when I was 18. A decade on, I found myself attending a rather swanky soirée (read boozy work Christmas party) on the Friday night, which lead, uncomfortably straight into a 6am coach trip to the continent. One declined the offer of a hotel room for fear of somewhat over-doing it and missing one’s connection, deciding that it was somehow better to have a minuscule few moments of sleep at home. One rolled out of bed in such an unladylike fashion at 5 o’clock, had the maid fling some clothes on her and her chauffeur put her on the coach.

Some 10 or so hours later, after the most treacherous of channel crossings, our party arrived in Lille.   

 First thing first, a visit to Sephora. For those of you not familiar, it’s like Superdrug set in a nightclub. Pay on one’s credit card and save the euros for the marché.

Rather a fleeting visit to Lille, but we managed to sample a local delicacy, something like dauphinoise potatoes with a layer of fromage on top. I opted for the mont d’or. Quite lovely.   
 This was followed by a chocolate tête which resembled a Tunnocks teacake. I lugged these about for several hours ’til we gave in and ate them all.   

 And that was the end of my Lille adventure. We arrived at our hotel, drank some Pschitt (I kid you not) and retired for the night.

 We rose early the next morning, breakfasted, and onwards to Belgium.

Belgian chocolate being a staple of one’s diet, Bruges was likely to be one’s idea of heaven.  

Having crossed sweet stone bridges and meandered through adorable cobbled streets we popped into this tiny tea room on the promise of the most wonderful hot chocolate. Let me just say they lived up to the claim on their canopy. 

    
 After much wandering and purchasing we took luncheon in a café bar advertising something along the lines of, and you’ll have to excuse my Flemish, ‘camembert in de oven’. 

Served with apple and bread, it was absolutely divine. And of course one was gasping for a cup of chai by this point… But couldn’t help laughing when a silver tray covered in a paper doily arrived, topped with a glass and a teabag sachet. One couldn’t decide whether they thought they were serving British royalty, or had just got it completely wrong!   

 I’d spotted a shop earlier in the day and knew I had to drag Muv in there when I had the chance. Dille & Kamille is a kind of Scandi homeware store where everything should be considered for purchase. It was a job to control oneself!

I left with a lovely set of tea leaf measuring spoons, a biscuit cutter, a bag of Christmas tea and a jar of green pesto (a favourite of my brother). I was dangerously close to purchasing a stack of Flemish recipe books but I realised this was madness! This is definitely a shop we’d appreciate in the UK- please bring it over!   

   
At 5pm it was time to embark on the long journey home laden with chocolate. Despite the extreme levels of tiredness one had a rather jolly time. Bruges is definitely worth another visit in the near future, what a wonderful city.

*unless it’s for Netflix & chill, in which case one is permitted to break the rule.

Stir Up @landmarklondon


Christmas pudding is a big deal in the Beetroot household, and not solely reserved for the month of December. One is as likely to have pudding and custard on the 25th December as on 9th March or 28th September.

In previous years Muv and I have got together on Stir Up Sunday to begin our marvellous Christmas cake, making sure everyone has a turn with the wooden spoon for good luck.

This year I saw an advertisement in Good Food magazine for a Christmas pudding masterclass including champagne on arrival and a two-course lunch at none other than The Landmark Hotel- one of my favourite places in London.

A few weeks later, we emerged from Marylebone station to find the splendour of old railway hotel in front of us. Once armed with a flute of champagne, an apron and a chef’s hat, we were seated at a high table with a mixing bowl sunk into the centre and surrounded by many, many ingredients. 

Chefs Gary and Oli arrived, talking us though the history of the Christmas pudding, pudding traditions and the world’s most expensive pudding (£23,500 and created by ex-Savoy chef Martin Chiffers, if you’re interested). Then it was time to get our hands dirty; chucking in the ingredients as directed by chef, giving it a good old stir and getting drunk on the scent of the alcohol infused fruit.

 Once everything was mixed and given the nod of approval by chef, we divided the mixture between three pudding basins- pressing it down firmly- covered in baking paper, tin foil over the top and tied with string to hold it all together. We were instructed to steam the puddings within the next 24 hours and then keep them in a cool, dark place until they were ready for their second steaming on Christmas Day (if we could wait that long!) 

Next came a delightful surprise- a barman from the Mirror Bar arrived with arms full of of cocktail shakers and magically, a host of other ingredients appeared on our tables.
  
After some pouring, vigorous shaking and a bit more pouring we each had a glass of eggnog. It’s not something we’d tried before, it’s never really appealed in all honesty, but we both really enjoyed it. Thankfully a recipe card was tucked into our gift bag so we’re certain to recreate this festive cocktail in the near future.

 By this point, and feeling rather sozzled, we were more than ready for lunch. Smoked salmon followed by slow-cooked beef- absolutely delicious. 

 Post luncheon we were presented with gift bags containing our three puddings, all beautifully presented in celophane and ribbon, a Landmark embroidered apron, a pudding competency certificate and copies of all the recipes. I think there might have even been a Landmark pen.

Muv either had a wonderful time or still considers herself incompetent, as has asked to book us places next year! Perhaps Gary could run a stollen masterclass instead to broaden our Christmas baking skills.

Christmas

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7134-0.jpg
There is nothing like wearing a fantastic headpiece, and sat at the dining table on Christmas Day seemed like the perfect occasion. One’s family tend to find one’s dress sense rather odd, but we are only here to please ourselves.
I find the best presents are usually those purchased by oneself. Or at least selected by oneself then purchased by others. I consider myself very easy to buy for- vintage, kitch, novelty… If it’s unusual I’m bound to love it. Therefore it saddens me to receive a huge volume of gift vouchers each year. I’m by no means ungrateful, darling, one is rather looking forward to spending a substantial amount in John Lewis, yet I feel it rather unjust to have been so thoughtful with their presents.
We had one of those “I’ve bought my own Christmas present, would you like to give me the cash?” situations this year. In fact, I bought several presents on behalf of one family member for another family member. Perhaps my reputation for picking lovely gifts is more trouble than it’s worth.
I digress. I excitedly bought myself a Ciaté Geltox lamp in order to improve the quality and longevity of my manis.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7176.jpg

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7167.jpg
Definitely not as easy as first thought, but I was quite pleased with the results of my first attempt. My intention was to trap as much as I could under the gel, just to see how well it worked, hence a large volume of glitter and caviar. I possibly went a bit heavy on the gel which caused a bit of a lift at the edges. One can only learn from one’s mistakes.
A great idea from Ciaté though- as the owner of many hundreds of nail polishes it seems a madness to invest in gel polishes and limit ones creativity. This system allows one to use ordinary polishes and then simple brush on a gel topcoat and voila!
Definitely more experimentation required, but it will be rather exciting to see what happens.

Another disappointing element of the festive season was the severe lack of time off work. Criminal I might add- a flapper should never go to work. There is a wonderful scene in Downton Abbey where the Dowager asks in all ignorance “what is a weekend?” It would have been a novelty at the time, a new-fangled idea, as prior to the introduction of working standard laws and statutory holiday for the working classes one day would have been much the same as any other.
Anyway, Christmas Day and Boxing Day were my only days of freedom, so preparation for the big event was rather rushed and rather difficult. I would have loved to have made a great effort with everything, but somehow it all just slipped right passed me. I can’t complain too much, by my reckoning I believe I was involved in some degree of socialisation every night for at least a week before the 25th. This left me bereft of sleep and in need of a decent lay in by the time I got to Christmas!

The thing I really missed was being able to do some baking. It is all too easy these days to pop to [insert name of supermarket here] and pick up some mass-produced slab of carbohydrate to stuff in one’s mouth. It’s so wonderful that British and homemade are back on trend; items lovingly made by people who care. As the popularity of websites such as notonthehighstreet grow, so do the unique companies they support.
I happened upon Bad Brownie on Twitter and within minutes had ordered a selection of divine sounding bites.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7104.jpg

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7118.jpg
I intended to give them away as gifts wrapping in cellophane (suggesting they might be homemade…) but I must confess I have eaten a large percentage of these myself.
As a member of a farming family I was really keen to make some sort of game pâté, but failing this I found my new heroes Farmison & Co who delivered fine, fine pork and game terrine. Absolutely gorgeous!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7145.jpg

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7146.jpg
I did achieve one master feat, if nothing else- I managed to drag myself outside and pluck four pheasants. Game shooting is rather a family tradition, although I don’t involve myself in it personally. It is a historic countryside pursuit and I love that this has survived in modern times. I wouldn’t like to kill an animal myself, but I do eat meat and it surprises me that I’m ok with plucking and gutting! I suppose if I want to eat it it’s only fair I play a part.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7182.jpg

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7181.jpg
Aaaaaand that’s enough waffling for now I think!

I <3 Pop Ups

Honestly, I think I would go to a pop up anything. I’m always looking out for pop up restaurants, bars or any sort of limited-time-only experience.
Last night we went to see It’s a Wonderful Life at The 20th Century Theatre in Notting Hill… Or so we thought!

My girl Amy convinced me that we’d booked tickets for Tuesday night, not Monday as I’d always thought. Annoying, because I already had plans for Tuesday which I had to change. We didn’t even realise until we’d sat down and the film was about to start that we were actually going the watch The Nightmare Before Christmas! Silly Amy!
I’m still surprised we’d managed to get in considering we’d had our tickets checked on the door and they clearly said not only the wrong day but the wrong film!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7106.jpg

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dda/59176639/files/2014/12/img_7108.jpg
Aside from all this, we did have rather a lovely time. As we entered the antechamber we were prompted to open a wardrobe door and step inside. Pushing through the numerous fur coats we found ourselves in a beautiful winter wilderness, with snow falling from above our heads and a deep snowy pile underfoot.
At the back of the theatre an extremely merry man served us mulled wine, Baileys hot chocolates, brownies and popcorn.
It left us feeling all warm and Christmassy (and a tad Halloweeny!)