Saturday 3 December 2016

Recipes: Brenda Costigan with plum pudding, rich fruit cake, and chocolate yule log

Christmas brings us many delightful tastes to savour, says Brenda Costigan, but none comes sweeter than its desserts, such as plum pudding, rich fruit cake, and chocolate yule log

Brenda Costigan

Published 05/12/2011 | 06:00

Part of the enjoyment of Christmas is the memories that it conjures up. My mother making the Christmas pudding was always the start of the festivities -- her wonderful, big cannonball-shaped pudding took pride of place on the sideboard.

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The making of a Christmas pudding is simplicity itself. The area that needs careful attention is the actual cooking. For the best flavour, steam or boil your pudding, but it is very important that the water does not boil dry. Top the pot up with boiling water when necessary. The longer the cooking time, the darker the pudding will be. A long storage time can cause it to darken also. I prefer a happy medium, with the fruitiness still obvious. Don't store your pudding in an airtight container, as this can result in it going mouldy.

To serve with flaming alcohol, put the hot pudding on a plate, tie back your hair, heat about 75ml (3fl oz) whiskey in a saucepan and, as soon as it piping hot, rush to the pudding, pour on the hot alcohol and light it with a match. Have someone on standby to turn off the lights.

SUPER PLUM PUDDING

Based on my mother's wonderful recipe, this is a very fruity pudding, although it's much smaller and cooked in a pudding bowl. It can be eaten within 3-4 weeks or stored for a few months. To simplify the list of ingredients, I divide it into three bowls: one for the fruit mixture; the second for mainly dry ingredients; and the third for the liquid ingredients.

Happily, most fruits are pre-washed nowadays, but do check for the odd few little stalks that get left behind.

For Bowl One, you will need:

225g (8oz) raisins

225g (8oz) sultanas

110g (4oz) ready-soaked apricots or prunes, chopped

1 carton (100g) chopped mixed peel

1 carton (100g) glace cherries, chopped

110g (4oz) figs, chopped

110g (4oz) dates, chopped

1 packet (100g) blanched almonds, chopped coarsely (optional)

1/2 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated

Finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon

For Bowl Two, you will need:

110g (4oz) flour (not self-raising)

110g (4oz) brown sugar, light or dark

110g (4oz) suet or use 110g (4oz) butter (see note)

110g (4oz) breadcrumbs

About 1 rounded teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves

For Bowl Three, you will need:

3 large eggs

150ml (1/4pt) stout

2-3 tablespoons whiskey

Juice half lemon

Note :

If you're using butter, cut it into small lumps and rub it through the flour and sugar until the mixture has the appearance of fine breadcrumbs. Then add in the breadcrumbs and spices.

Put all of the ingredients into their respective bowls. Using a large bowl or basin, mix together the contents of Bowls One and Two, then add in the contents of Bowl Three. Stir thoroughly, letting everyone have a turn -- one wish for every three stirs! Put the mixture into a well-greased 1.75L (3pt) heat-proof pudding bowl. Cover the top of the bowl with a double layer of greased baking parchment -- put the greased side nearest to the pudding -- making a pleat down the centre to allow for the steam to expand. Tie in place with string. If you like, the pudding can be left overnight and cooked the next day.

To cook, place the prepared pudding into a steamer, over a saucepan of gently boiling water. Cover the steamer with a lid. Or, if you prefer, the pudding can be cooked in a bowl which is standing in a saucepan of gently boiling water. It is advisable to stand the bowl on a metal scone cutter, or something similar, to avoid it being in direct contact with the bottom of the saucepan. The water should come two-thirds of the way up the sides of the bowl. Cover the saucepan with a loose-fitting lid placed at a slight angle. Constantly check the level of water and keep topping it up when necessary with more boiling water.

Cook for 5-6 hours or longer. Re-cover the cooked pudding with fresh baking parchment and store it in a cool, dry place. On the day of serving, steam your pudding for about an hour. Serve with brandy butter, see recipe below.

BRANDY BUTTER

Nothing beats the flavour of home-made brandy butter.

You will need:

175g (6oz) butter

222g (8oz) caster sugar

3-4 tablespoons brandy or whiskey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Beat the butter to soften it, then add the caster sugar and beat until the mixture is soft. Stir in the brandy or whiskey, whichever you are using, add the lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Cover and chill before serving.

RICH CHRISTMAS CAKE

The more fruit in a cake, the longer it will keep, due to the sugar in the fruit.

Make sure the consistency of your basic mixture is correct. Over-beating introduces too much air -- this will cause the cake to rise too quickly, and the heavier fruits will sink to the bottom. Never use self-raising flour in a rich fruit cake.

For the cake, you will need:

225g (8oz) raisins

225g (8oz) sultanas

150g (5oz) glace cherries, chopped coarsely

110g (4oz) ready-soaked dried apricots, chopped small

110g (4oz) chopped mixed peel

25g (1oz) crystallised ginger, chopped finely

1/2 tin of strawberries, drained

Finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon

About 3 tablespoons whiskey

110g (4oz) chopped blanched almonds

110g (4oz) ground almonds

250g (9oz) white flour -- not self-raising

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

225g (8oz) butter, at room temperature

225g (8oz) brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

For the almond icing, you will need:

350g (12oz) ground almonds

225g (8oz) caster sugar

110g (4oz) icing sugar

1 large egg yolk, organic and free range

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1-2 tablespoons whiskey

1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

1/4 teaspoon almond essence

Soft smooth apricot jam to brush cake surface

1-2 packets instant royal icing

Use a round cake tin, 23cm (9in) in diameter, or a 20.5cm (8in) square tin. Lightly grease the inside of the tin with a little butter. Ideally, line the tin with a double thickness of baking parchment.

Put the raisins, the sultanas, the chopped glace cherries, the chopped dried apricots, the chopped mixed peel and the chopped crystallised ginger into a bowl. Add the drained strawberries, the grated lemon rind and the whiskey. Stir well, cover and leave to stand overnight. (If you are short of time, microwave the covered bowl on high for a minute, stir and repeat for a second minute, to plump up the fruit. Then allow to cool completely.)

Next, stir the chopped blanched almonds and the ground almonds through the fruit mixture.

In another bowl, mix the flour and the ground nutmeg, the ground cinnamon and the ground cloves together.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter to soften it, add the brown sugar and beat until it becomes soft.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, to the butter-and-sugar-mixture bowl, adding a spoon of the flour mixture with each egg. When all the eggs are added, stir in the remaining flour by hand. The mixture should be soft, but stiff enough so that it will drop off a wooden spoon only when it is shaken gently. If it's too soft, add an extra spoon of flour. Be careful -- too much flour and the cake is liable to develop a crack on the top. If necessary, add a drop of milk.

Next, gently but thoroughly stir the fruit mixture into the butter-sugar-egg-and-flour mixture. Spoon this mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly.

Preheat the oven to 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3. Set a fan oven 10 C lower, or follow the manufacturer's instructions. Put the cake in the centre of the oven. Bake it for about 1? hours until the cake has a set look; do not open the door during this stage. Once the cake has a set look -- though it may appear quite pale -- you can reduce the heat to 150 C, 300 F, Gas 2 and bake for a further 2-3 hours. If you're using an electric oven, it is a good idea to put an ovenproof bowl or a tin of water into the oven during baking, this creates a slightly moist atmosphere, which prevents the cake drying out. Ovens vary, so use your own judgement about the temperature and time. When it looks golden and cooked through, push a skewer into the centre of the cake -- if any dough-like bits stick to the skewer, cook for a little longer and check again. If necessary, cover the whole top of the cake with a piece of foil -- make sure it's resting on the baking-parchment lining, and not on the surface of the cake.

When it's cooked, stand the cake on a wire tray and let it cool in the tin. Sprinkle whiskey over the top. When it has cooled, sprinkle more whiskey on it. Leave on the lining paper, wrap the cake in tin foil and store in a cool, airy place.

To make the almond icing, mix together the ground almonds, the caster sugar and the icing sugar. In a separate container, whisk together the egg yolk, the lemon juice, the whiskey, the vanilla essence and the almond essence. Add enough of this liquid mixture to the dry ingredients to make a stiff, moist paste, and mix well. Gather into a ball.

Carefully remove the baking-parchment lining-paper from the cake and place the cake on a cake board -- the board should be 5cm (2in) wider than the cake. Brush the top and sides with the soft apricot jam. Roll out the almond icing on a board that has been well dusted with icing sugar. Make sure the rolled-out almond icing is slightly larger than the top of the cake. Place the almond icing on the cake and use a table knife to spread and tease the icing down the sides of the cake -- the icing will be thinner than it is on the top of the cake.

Make up the instant icing and spread it over the whole cake, patting with a palette knife to give a snow effect, and decorate. Leave to set. If you like, put the cake -- board and all -- into a large plastic bag to keep it fresh and dust free.

CHRISTMAS YULE LOG (CHOCOLATE ROULADE)

This yule log will keep fresh for a couple of days, but it can be frozen. Allow it to thaw overnight. Serves 5-6.

For the chocolate ganache, you will need:

400g (14oz) good-quality dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids)

560-600ml (1pt) fresh cream

1-2 tablespoons brandy or liqueur

For the filling (optional), you will need:

175g (6oz) frozen blackberries

Juice of 1/2 orange

1 tablespoon blackcurrant jam or sugar

1 heaped teaspoon cornflour

For the chocolate sponge, you will need:

200g (7oz) good-quality plain dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids)

5 eggs (size 1), separated

150g (5oz) caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

Icing sugar and holly leaves, to serve

Use a rectangular Swiss-roll tin, 33cm by 23cm (13in by 9in). Line it with baking parchment, making the sides about 6cm (2?in) tall, like a box. Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4. The cooking time is about 20-25 minutes.

First, make the chocolate ganache. Break up the dark chocolate into small pieces and put into a warm mixing bowl. Put 400ml (14fl oz) of the fresh cream into a saucepan, bring it almost to the boil and immediately pour it over the chocolate. Leave it to stand for a few minutes, then add the brandy or liqueur, whichever you are using, and mix to a smooth consistency. Leave aside to cool somewhat, then whip with a hand-held electric mixer. Transfer one-third of this ganache to another bowl. Whip the rest of the cream and fold through the bowl containing one-third of the ganache. This will be used to fill the roulade. The larger amount of ganache will be the icing.

To make the filling, if you are using it, cook the frozen blackberries in the orange juice to soften them slightly, then add the blackcurrant jam or sugar, whichever you are using, and stir to dissolve. Blend the cornflour with a drop of water, add it to the blackberries and bring it to the boil to thicken. Allow to cool completely.

To make the chocolate sponge, melt the dark chocolate. This can be done in a microwave on defrost setting -- about six minutes. When melted, stir it well. Put the egg yolks into a separate bowl with 110g (4oz) of the caster sugar and the vanilla essence, and beat until the mixture is creamy. In yet another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff, whisking in the remaining caster sugar also.

Now mix the partially cooled chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture and beat together. Then add the egg whites in two or three lots, folding and stirring gently until they are thoroughly mixed through. Pour this mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out gently and evenly. Bake in the oven until the top is well risen and crisp, about 15 minutes. The sponge will be set, but not very firm.

Take the tin out of the oven and stand on a wire tray to cool. Cover loosely with a piece of paper and a light cloth, which will keep in the steam and soften the crisp top. It will collapse down as it cools.

Rinse out a tea towel in hot water and lay it out flat, with a piece of baking parchment larger than the sponge on top of the tea towel. Dust the surface of the parchment lightly with icing sugar.

To turn out the sponge, place a board or the base of a tray on top of the sponge in the baking tin and invert them. Lift off the tin and peel off the baking parchment. Slide the sponge, top-downwards, on to the prepared baking parchment . Trim the edge off the two short sides.

Spread a thin layer of the blackberry filling, if you are using it, over the sponge and then spread the chocolate ganache on top of that. Starting at the wide end, roll the roulade up gently but firmly, using the tea-towel to help pull it towards you, and don't be afraid if it cracks. This will give you a long, narrow roll.

Using the tea towel, lift the roulade on to a serving plate, positioning it so the edge/join is to the bottom. Spread the chocolate ganache icing over the whole log, creating a somewhat rough surface to represent bark. Dust with icing sugar for a snow effect, and decorate with holly leaves.

L

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