Tag Archives: holiday

Spicy Cheese Crackers

27 Dec

I really dont like the crackers that you can get at the stores. They taste like they are full of chemicals. And when the process of making crackers is so very simple, its a wonder that we buy them at all. This past Christmas, I was going to dinner at Jobby’s house. I wanted to bring some lovely but simple things, as I had been immersed in cooking these last few days. I decided on a raspberry-gooseberry fool, which is just whipped cream, scented with vanilla and a touch of icing sugar, folded into cooled stewed raspberries and gooseberries. That sweet tart cool creamy combination is beautiful – and it takes minutes to make.

I knew Jobby would probably make her wonderful hummus. So crackers were a good addition – and they are delicious enough to eat on their own. Unfortunately I did not get a photograph because Nana chowed down more than half before we even left the house! But suffice to say, these crackers are wonderful – such a complex blend of flavour. You could spice them up with anything you like, but I used chili powder, mustard seeds, and English mustard powder. The combination is divine, spicy and cheese-y all at the same time. The crackers are crisp and flaky and can be cut into rounds, squares, or whatever your heart desires. Poke a few holes in them, pop them in a hot oven, and watch them brown up and puff a little. Beautiful.

These crackers will keep, in an air tight box, for about a week, but if you have a Nana around the house they wont last!

Makes about 100 crackers, depending on how you cut them

  • 1 cup bread flour (OO flour)
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder
  • 1 cup cheese – cheddar/parmesan mix
  • 3 tbsp cold butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 190 C (375F).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, polenta, salt, baking soda, chili powder, mustard seeds and English mustard powder. Toss to combine.

Grate the cheese over the flour mixture, and stir well.

Grate over the cold butter, and stir again, gently.

Pour over the buttermilk, and combine. Turn the dough out onto a working surface and knead, gently until it all comes together.

Form the dough into a ball, and refrigerate, covered for about half an hour.

Once the dough has rested and cooled, divide it into quarters.

You can now roll the dough out very thin, and cut it into shapes, or roll the dough into a log, and slice very thinly.

Arrange on the baking sheet, and using the tines of a fork, poke a few holes in each cracker. This is optional, but it will help keep the crackers flat and less puffy.

Bake for about 8 – 10 minutes, or until the crackers are golden and cheesy.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before gobbling up!

 

Candied Caramelised Oranges

21 Dec

Are you stuck for a Christmas dessert that you can make without much thought, and which will taste as if you have put in hours of work? These candied, caramelised oranges might just be the thing. I love their jewel-like colour – a deep dark citrine or amber … glistening with orangey caramel syrup that they make themselves. Theyre blowsily sexy – soft, sticky, totally decadent and delectable. They taste like the holidays… and believe me, theyre so simple, its almost embarrassing!

I decided to make them because I am working on a Chinese New Year cake that uses candied and dried fruits. I love those little tiny oranges you can get this time of year  – mini mandarins from China. You could also use kumquats. They are the main component of the recipe, so make sure you get good ones. Everything else you need, you probably have in your pantry. Its really up to you what flavourings and essences you use – most of the time, I just add sugar, water and a touch of juice.

How I can call this a recipe, Im not sure. Its so simple, but its gorgeous. Lush with the oranges’ own caramel, the little tiny orange balls go translucent, and then a deep dark hue that has a richness and beauty all its own. Serve warm (you can make ahead and reheat, or just stick it on the stove in the morning, and let it go) with some vanilla ice cream or a dollop of heavy cream, and youre done. Heaven. Sweet, bitter, astringent, caramel, citrus, smoke – such a complexity of flavour, and so so easy. In the stress and mess of the holidays, sometimes that is a gift in and of itself.

To serve 4 – 6 people, you will need:

  • 2 cups light brown or caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup juice (or even wine)
  • Spices if you want – cinnamon is great here, as are cloves, star anise, nutmeg – but be gentle!
  • 4 cups of tiny mandarin oranges

Place a large pot, with lid, on stove top. Add sugar, water, juice and any spices. Bring gently to the boil, over low-medium heat, stirring every so often to dissolve the sugar. The sugar will boil up eventually, and then become clear. Turn the heat right down so the sugar syrup is just bubbling – little tiny plops.

Wash the little oranges well, ensuring that the little stem is removed, if needed. Poke each orange several times with a toothpick.

Place the oranges in the sugar syrup, gently gently. Give everything a stir, make sure the heat is very very low, and cover.

Simmer the oranges in the syrup for at least 1 – 2 hours, longer if you like. They will turn translucent and go very dark. Its almost like youre making marmalade, but with whole oranges.

Everything will caramelise, the oranges will leak their juice and essence, and the syrup will also turn a gorgeous burnt sticky orange.

Serve warm, with a bit of ice cream, mascarpone, or heavy cream. Heaven.

Pretty Gingersnap Cookies

14 Nov

Gingersnaps!Today was a day of birthdays! My beloved nephew turned 21 (yeah, I cant quite believe it myself!) and dear friends celebrated their, and their children’s, birthdays with a huge bash this afternoon. I wanted to contribute something, and so I made cookies! About 200 Starry Starry Night Cookies (4 batches) and about 200 of these gorgeous decorated gingersnap cookies. I was going to make sugar cookies, as I did for my sayang niece’s 1st birthday, but I thought I would try something different – and I do love a good, crisp ginger cookie. These make fantastic gingerbread people, and they last for ages (no eggs, so they dont go soft quickly) – you could poke hole in them (with a straw or chopstick) and use them as stunningly pretty decorations on a tree for Christmas.

I used Royal Icing for the cookies, and it set hard, and gorgeous. And because it was a children’s party, I used IndiaTree natural food colours – they were the loveliest shades of pastel – pink, robin’s egg blue, violet and spring green. Before the icing set, I decorated them with tiny silver and gold dragees, hearts, sparkle sugar, and colourful hard sugar confetti. They looked luscious, and they tasted pretty great too!

The other thing I loved about these cookies were they were a snap (hehe) to make – but you need to be really organised and focused. I made 2 batches of dough, each divided into 4. Rolled out, and frozen overnight, and then cut with small and large shapes. I stuck with hearts and circles, but you could make animals, letters, stars… anything actually that you can find as a cookie cutter. They take about 10 – 15 minutes to bake. Decorating can take a bit longer!

If you prefer chewy cookies, roll out a bit thicker, and cut and bake until the centres are just firm. Either way, involve the young people in your life in the decoration. You will be overjoyed by their creativity, and your cookies will be uniquely beautiful.

Makes about 20 – 25 gingerbread people or 80 – 100 gingersnap cookies (depending on the size of your cookie cutter). Any leftover can be frozen, rolled out, for later use.

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar (use dark brown, not light brown – you will taste the difference here. The dark brown sugar really deepens the flavour of the cookie)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp all spice or mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup – 12 tbsp) butter
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tbsp milk

In a large stand mixer, or large bowl if youre using a handheld mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, all spice, nutmeg, cloves, salt and baking soda. Mix briefly so all are combined well.

Add the butter, cut into large chunks, and mix again. The butter will “cut” into the flour mixture, and will become coated with it – and the bowl will look like it contains a sandy mixture of small dark pellets.

Add the molasses and mix again. The dough will start coming together with the addition of the molasses.

I usually add the milk to the measuring cup which held the molasses, and stir it around a bit to capture any molasses that was left behind. Add the milk, and mix just briefly.

You will have a very very soft dough. Turn out onto a sheet of wax paper, and divide into four even pieces. Working quickly, form a disc with each piece, wrap tightly in individual pieces of wax paper, and transfer to the fridge to firm up for about 30 minutes or so.

Once the dough has firmed (it will still be pliable, but will just be a little easier to work with), place a piece of wax paper on your working surface, then a disc of dough, and cover with a second piece of wax paper. Roll out quite thinly and evenly. You now need to freeze the dough for about half an hour (and even overnight if you wish) – you could also refrigerate it, but I find it works quite well coming out of the freezer. Given that this is the tropics, frozen dough is much easier to work with.

Once you have frozen or refrigerated the dough, and are ready to bake, prepare your oven. Preheat to 160C (325F).

Remove one sheet of dough from the freezer. Peel the top layer of wax paper off the dough, and then replace it onto the dough sheet (this helps in making the dough easy to remove once its been cut). Flip the sheet over, and remove the (now) top layer of wax paper. I used this wax paper to line my baking sheets.

Cut out shapes and patterns to your heart’s content, and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.

Bake in the hot oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until the cookies have puffed (from the baking soda), and deflated, have darkened just a bit, and are firm in the centre to your touch.

Remove and allow cookies to cool for about 5 minutes on the baking sheet, and then transfer to a rack (or even a plate – they should be pretty cool and hardy by now). Repeat with the remaining dough.

Decorate as you like, or have them perfectly naked – a spicy wonderful happy making gingersnap.

Any scraps can be gathered together, formed into a disc, refrigerated, rolled out, frozen and re-cut.