“Fire up the ovens, Muffin Man! We got a big order to fill!”

Just like Gingy from Shrek says, I had a lot of baking to get done this weekend! As we’re most definitely in the festive season and London is a-glow with Christmas lights, it was obvious what I should attempt to bake this time – mince pies and gingerbread men!

   

Having told my work friends that I would be bringing in home made mince pies and gingerbread men I was a little nervous of actually delivering on this promise as both recipes required me to make pastry/dough – something I’ve never made from scratch before. However, when I searched for recipes I found a couple of highly recommended, tested and tried methods for making the pastry/dough, both of which I decided to go with.

*The recipes I used can be found at the bottom of this post.

I was really excited about making my own mincemeat and it turns out it’s easy peasy to do which is always a plus! I found a recipe online but adjusted it to my tastes/what I could find in the supermarket! The recipe required sultanas, raisins, almonds, orange and lemon juice and rind, suet, nutmeg and cinnamon. Instead of buying several packs of different raisins and nuts, I found one pack in the cereal aisle which contained dried cranberries, raisins, sultanas, blueberries, almonds and nuts. It’s meant for cereal topping but was perfect as the dried fruit aspect for my mincemeat – plus one pack is cheaper than three! I substituted mace for nutmeg and left out the rind of the orange and lemon as I don’t like the stuff!

So the method went as followed:

Mincemeat ingredients:

  • 2 x bramley apples – cored and grated, skin on
  • fruit and nut mix – including almonds, sultanas and raisins
  • juice of 1 orange
  • juice of 1 lemon 
  • 1 teaspoon mace/nutmeg 
  • shredded suet
  • small amount of water – add if the sauce catches on the pan
  • generous sprinkling of sugar 

All I did for the mincemeat was to add all the ingredients into a pan and gently heat until it becomes deliciously gooey and bubbling! As simple as that! The mix will fill your kitchen with the most scrumptious smell of Christmas baking, and will make your mince pies hard to resist!

The pastry recipe was a simple mix of cold butter, rubbed into plain flour, then caster sugar is added and the mix is combined into a stiff dough. Then it was just a case of lining the baking tray with pastry cases, filling them with the mincemeat and then topping with a pastry lid.

Brush with an egg wash and then pop in the oven for 20 minutes until golden.

A few of my pies did crumble on their way out of the pan, but Tom and I made sure they didn’t go to waste – well, it’s always important to do a taste test!

             

Having had some success with my mince pies, I started on the gingerbread dough with a little more confidence! This dough contains a melted combination of butter, golden syrup and muscovado sugar which is added to a dry mix of plain flour, bicarbonate of soda, powdered ginger and powdered cinnamon. The mix is rolled out to about 5mm thickness and then you can start using your gingerbread man cutter – remember to put any excess dough aside which you can then re-use at the end.

Place the gingerbread men onto a sheet of baking paper on a tray and then they go into the oven for 12 minutes until golden. Leave to cool and then decorate with icing.

   

I’m so happy that these recipes worked – and hopefully they’ll transport well into work and taste just as nice tomorrow when it’s time for our tea break!

Gingerbread men recipe: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/68611/double-ginger-gingerbread-men

Mincemeat recipe: http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/main-ingredient/mincemeat/home-made-christmas-mincemeat.html

Mince pie dough recipe: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2174/unbelievably-easy-mince-pies

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Our first proper, grown-up dinner party

Last night we held our first dinner party – it was a small one, just us and Tom’s cousin Marc and his wife Kate, but really our flat can’t fit many more than that in it anyway! It was a lovely, cosy evening, made all the more festive as I have been allowed to put up the christmas tree and lights!

We were all set to make Hugh FW’s baked chicken curry – one of Tom’s specialities – and then we watched the last episode of his River Cottage Veg series and our original menu went out of the window to be replaced with this one:

  • Individual baked pumpkins stuffed with creamy leeks – (River Cottage Veg)
  • My chicken pie with roasted veg – (not from the Veg series but delicious on a cold winter’s night!)
  • White chocolate and cranberry cheesecake – (recipe from Tom’s mum Sue)
  • River Cottage Apple Mojitos

I was really looking forward to cooking a three-course meal – though working out how exactly to rearrange the furniture so that we could actually open up the dining table was interesting – we managed eventually though it was a bit of a squeeze!

I made the cheesecake the night before – and it’s such an easy recipe – just gently melt a bar of white chocolate over a saucepan of hot water and then mix into 500g of marscapone cheese. Add chopped cranberries and a splash of orange juice and combine it all together. Blend digestives and then mix with melted butter to make the base. Chill the base in the fridge and then spread the cheesecake mix on top and chill again in the fridge until ready to serve.

mmm mmm mmmmm! It went down well and there’s still plenty left for the rest of the weekend 🙂

Tom’s starter was delicious – and something we’d never cooked before – roasted pumpkins stuffed with leeks mixed with creme fraiche and mustard – yum! I’d never actually eaten pumpkin before – we’d always just scooped out the filling and carved them for Halloween, all I can say is they’re delicious, especially when filled with melty, creamy leeks!

Chicken pie is one of my all time favourites and I love making it. It’s such a tasty, warming dish to have in the winter and it’s easy to make ahead of time – however, I have to admit I didn’t make the pastry! I’ve never made it before so I didn’t want to risk it when we had people coming over for dinner in case it went wrong on the night! I will give it a go in the future though – this wouldn’t be a baking blog if I didn’t try my hand at pastry at some point!

We had such a nice time – plenty of mojitos, wine, food and lots and lots of laughing – the perfect recipe for a dinner party with friends 🙂