The sweetest thing

on

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Today hasn't been the easiest of days. The whole overground train network is down after a computer system failure with many people stranded and a few unlucky ones stuck in tunnels. Lack of information meant I waited 25 minutes on a cold platform before giving up and cancelling all other arrangements. Still, it wasn't all bad; stopping off to do some Christmas shopping and finding time to braise a red cabbage (recipe coming up soon). We're down to the last of the sweet stuff and between you and me, I'm relieved. After a day of excess on Tuesday with all those cookies and then snow topped spice cake for breakfast yesterday I'm off sugar for the rest of the week in an attempt to detox a little in time for the festivities. That doesn't mean I can't write about it though. The mince pies turned out great thanks to my friend S. who suggested using Pflanzenfett instead of shortening for the pastry as you can't get it over here. I can't say it tastes exactly the same but it brings the necessary lightness and crispness which you can't achieve with all butter.

The orangettes couldn't be simpler and will make everywhere smell of warm citrus fruit and chocolate, the very essense of Christmas, no? Thanks to the lovely Susan of Bricolage and Giulia Geranium (two of my favourite blogs so please check them out) for giving me the idea to make them.

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Mincemeat

Until a few days ago, I never understood the mania for making mincemeat yourself. I'd always found really good shop stuff which we added some extra brandy to and even an article in the Guardian about the virtues of the homemade variety failed to convince me. In Berlin though finding mincemeat isn't all that easy; I was delighted to come across some at Galeria Kaufhof by Wilkin and Son, although at more than €3 a jar, you might curb your mince pie ambition. Yet when I used it in the cheesecake I was somehow disappointed with the flavour and decided to take the plunge and make my own. It turned out to be amazingly simple; if you've got plenty of time, combinig the ingredients overnight to let the flavours blend might be a good idea but it's not essential. I also noticed that with the homemade kind the individual ingredients are much easier to taste rather than the usual fruity mass.

Recipe adapted from a mix of those by David Lebovitz and Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess.

Makes 600g

2 medium sized cooking or sharp apples (boskop/russets/canadiens gris are good), peeled and cut into quarters
juice and zest of an unwaxed lemon
125g raisins
125g sultanas
50g glacé cherries, roughly chopped
50g blanched almonds, chopped into thin slivers
2 tablespoons brandy
125g soft, dark sugar
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 x 300g jam jars

In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice over a low heat. Add the chopped apples and all the other ingredients, except for the brandy. Simmer gently for about half an hour until the mixture has become very soft and slightly liquid. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little before stirring in the brandy. Spoon into sterilised jars (see note below) and cover the tops with a wax disc.

To sterilise jars you can either put them in the dishwasher and remove them when clean but still warm or otherwise wash them in soapy water, dry thoroughly and place in an oven at 180°C for 5 minutes.

Mince pies (from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

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Makes around 24

300g plain flour, sifted
75g shortening/ Trex or Pflanzenfett in Germany
75g cold, unsalted butter
juice of 1 orange
a pinch of salt
600g mincemeat (see recipe above)

some icing sugar to dust over

1. Sift the flour into a small bowl and using a teaspoon, add small dollops of the shortening and butter. Rub in a little with your fingers and place the bowl in the freezer for 20 minutes.
2. Mix the orange juice and salt in a little jug and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
3. When the time is up, tip the flour and fat into a food processor and pulse until you have crumbs like rolled oats. Drizzle in the orange juice a little at a time through the funnel and continue to pulse until the mixture is just beginning to stick together. Remove the dough from the food processor and on a floured work surface, knead it a little with your hands until it forms a ball. Divide into two discs, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for another 20 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
5. When the time is up, roll each disc out as thinly as possible but not so thin that it breaks or won't support the filling. Using a 6-7cm round cutter, cut out circles in the pastry and gently place each one into the pie mould, pressing down a little so they're even. Fill each one with a generous teaspoonful of mincemeat as nobody like a dry mince pie. When you've cut out enough circles for the base, roll the pastry out again and cut out the tops using a star shaped cutter, placing each one lightly on top of the mincemeat.
6. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, checking that they don't burn. Leave the pies in the tins for a minute or two as it makes them easier to remove and transfer to a cooling rack. Dredge with icing sugar before serving.

Orangettes (from Smitten Kitchen)


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3 large organic oranges
water for boiling
250ml water + 225g sugar for the syrup
400g dark chocolate (I used 70% Lindt)

1. Slice the tops off the tops off the oranges and with a shap knife, score the peel from one end to the other and remove. Cut the peel into thin strips and trim the edges to make them neat.
2. Place the strips a large pan of boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and throw the water away as it will contain bitter juices. Boil a fresh lot of water and place the strips in it for another five minutes. This step removes the bitter taste.
3. Make the syrup by mixing together the 250ml water and 225g sugar and bringing it to a gentle simmer, Tip in the peels and cook for about an hour, checking back from time to time that the pan hasn't run dry.
4. Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool and dry out. I placed a piece of baking parchment underneath to collect the sticky drips.
5. When they're cool, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave, stopping to stir every 30 seconds with the latter. Using a fork, dip each strip of peel in the chocolate and leave to set on a baking tray covered with parchment. When the chocolate has set, store them in a metal tin.

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