'Tis the season of traditional English christmas cakes, plum puddings and christmas mince pies.
I used to make a christmas cake (without the almond paste or royal icing). I even boiled a plum pudding once or twice. My family are not fond of raisin filled sweets. My greek s-in-law was a bit bewildered by the cake as well. 'Vat is theese'.... sniff, sniff, put it away in a cupboard and surrepticiously give it to the dog.
The plum pudding went down easier when it was covered in custard.
As for almond icing, it was absent from any shop anywhere, even in Athens, and my handmade icing did not look anything like the authentic smooth beige roll of paste I was used to. Almond paste is easy to find here now, 20 years later, and if it wasn't I would just order it online.
Mincepies are in a different sphere. Once again, mincemeat, that fragrant mix of raisins and spices was unavailable 20 years ago but I did make my own. Not every year though. The last lot was in 2013 (there was a date on the container) and the leftover was stuck in the back of the freezer to be finally recovered two weeks ago. The spices and raisins had mellowed and matured and it was a masterpiece of culinary piquancy, with the help of a few good glugs of cheap whisky to refresh the mix
Making more of my own mincemeat
We had brought a kilo of raisins at the market so raisins it was that went into the mincemeat, without any other dried fruit. A grated apple and the zest of a big orange. I had cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger so in went generous amounts of those and some freshly grated nutmeg. No lard, no suet, not even any butter. But I did have some marge on hand so that went in as well.
It wasn't marvellous. But I had read somewhere that it needs time to mature and the different spices to mingle and mellow. I added the last of a bottle of cheap whisky called 'Cardhu' which we have been trying to get rid of for the last three years and left it to stand for a week.
Yesterday I made the mince pies. This new batch of mince meat was another masterpiece. My friend J who is english and has tasted the best to be found in Sainsbury and Waitrose was very enthusiastic. Mind you these are the only mincepies she is going to eat this Noel so she hadn't got any choice but to make appreciative sounds or she won't get anymore of my mighty mince pies
I baked them in this pan which I have had for years. I never knew quite what sort of cakes I was supposed to bake in it. Now I know. Is it a mincepie-pan. Perfect shape and perfectly non stick.
By the way, those are tomatoes behind the pan. 3 kilos of fresh, outdoor tomatoes. They are still being grown over the back of the mountains opposite where the weather is milder and definitely sunnier.
The pastry? I made half with the leftovers of a packet of puff pastry and then made my own mincepie pastry with a combo of recipes I found online. Flour, cold margarine (we rarely have butter around here) and the juice of an orange. Pat on the back. The pastry was just as I remembered it should be. Soft-ish, slightly crumbly and delicious.
Smothered in icing sugar the little pies are moreish.
Definition of 'moreish'
pleasant tasting and leaving you wanting to eat more
The kids would still prefer chocolate.
I attempted to make a chocolate log last year. The cake base was hard and dry. The filling of strawberry jam and cream though was definitely moreish, and I rolled it nicely. Teenage grandson ate the whole thing in almost one 'wolf', heavy cake, cream, jam and all (and immediately shot up a few more inches).