More Christmas Preparations...

And so the Christmas Preparations keep keeping on. Reaching the 11th of December and it now seems acceptable to make the first batch of Mince Pies using my homemade Mincemeat. I have also started to prepare some Marron Glaces, using the net of Chestnuts in my vegetable bowl that are starting to go a little wrinkled.
At the weekend I made two (yes, two!) Christmas Puddings and the Christmas Cake was made weeks ago.

If it seems like I’m being a girlie swot then you’d probably be right! However, if you’re thinking that my Christmas Presents are all bought and wrapped and that my cards are all written in, then you’d be wrong. My seasonal organisational skills stop and start in the kitchen (and in the supermarket).
I love all these preparations anyway. It is not too difficult for me to get motivated in the kitchen when I can use my star shaped cookie cutters and crack open jars of mincemeat that were made when the fields were still yellow and the sun was still warm. And between you and me, I don’t even like Christmas Puddings or Cake normally but because I’ve mostly had total control over the ingredients, I can ensure that none of those burnt tasting little currants enter into the festivities.
Furthermore, none of this stuff is actually difficult or particularly time-consuming to do. A pudding needs the fruit to marinade overnight then it’s mixed up, in one bowl, with everything else, just like a cake. The difficult part is covering the pudding basin for steaming. That’s when it helps to have either a) two pairs of hands or b) someone whose been awarded their Boy Scout Badge for knot tying.
Even Mince Pies don’t put up too much of a challenge. True, the sweet pastry is a little temperamental to work with, but how it is pressing circles of pastry into a Yorkshire pudding tin and pilling them up with mincemeat?
Finally, the Marron Glaces, the most expensive of all fruit confections, are terribly easy. All that is required here is patience and time to peel them. I am excited about giving them as gifts this year because they really do taste rather special and are wonderful chopped up in rich, decadent puddings. Plus, they last for ages and ages. At least until New Years...
Of course, what I’m failing to mention here is that I’m not cooking Christmas Lunch. That accolade goes to the maker of the best roast dinner: my mum. It is all very well being prepared but on the big day the elemental design of the Christmas Lunch needs to be a finely tuned operation. Vegetables need to warm when they reach the table. The meat needs to be cooked in rested for at least half an hour. Some people (i.e. me) also demand Cauliflower Cheese so a white sauce has to be made (I’ve been told that I’m making my own this year). Are the Yorkshire Puddings going to rise? Is the gravy going to be lumpy? The table has to look suitably festive, candles have to be lit, the best cutlery has to be dusted off and polished.
But once everyone is seated, with a celebratory glass of wine or sherry in front of them, plates visibly buckling under the weight of all the side dishes, the pudding simmering contentedly in the kitchen, we can all relax, pull crackers, wear silly hats and enjoy the rest of the day.

Because you only make Mince Pies once a year, I think it’s well worth making a decent sweet shortcrust to complement the fruity filling. This pastry is biscuit-like, crumbly but with a crunch and a lovely sweet taste.
140g/5oz cold butter, diced225g/8oz plain flour50g/2oz ground almonds50g/2oz golden caster sugarpinch of salt1 egg yolk1-2 tsp cold water
280g/10oz good quality mincemeat (I used my own)1 egg, beatenicing sugar for dusting

Mix together the butter, flour and pinch of salt until a sandy texture is achieved. Lightly stir in the almonds and sugar, mix in the egg yolk until a soft dough is formed. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat Oven to 200C
Lightly grease a Yorkshire Pudding Tin (12 hole).
Once the dough is chilled, roll out on a well floured surface to about 3mm thick.. Cut out circles using a cutter that is slightly large than the bottom of the holes in your tin. Press a circle lightly into each hole, gently working it up the sides.
Fill with a small spoonful of mincemeat.
Top with a pastry star (or any other shape), brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with some caster sugar.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
Leave to cool and gently turn out using a small spatula to work them out.

Fresh Chestnuts. I used a small net which yielded about 300g.

Vanilla (or regular) Caster Sugar 300g. Remember that whatever the weight of peeled chestnuts you have, match that in sugar.
300ml Water
Vanilla Pod or Extract
Peeling the Chestnuts. The easiest
and quickest way to complete this unenviable task is to plunge the chestnuts into boiling water for a couple of minutes. The brown papery skin should come away with the outer shell.
Once you have peeled the chestnuts, place them in a large pan of cold water and bring up to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or until a skewer pierces them easily. Take care not to overboil them or
they will disintegrate. If they do start to disintegrate, it isn’t the end of the world. Continue the process anyway using the broken pieces. You can now buy Marron Glaces pieces as well as whole Chestnuts, which is an indication of how tricky it is to glace whole nuts.
Gently using a slotted spoon, remove the chestnuts to a colander and drain.
Meanwhile, heat together the 300ml water and 300g Sugar until
boiling and the sugar is dissolved.
Carefully add the Chestnuts, bring back to the boil, then immediately turn off.
Cover the pan with the syrup and chestnuts and leave to cool in a warm environment.
The next day, bring the pan of chestnuts and syrup up to the boil again, turning off as soon as it starts to boil. Cover and leave.
Repeat the next night, adding a few drops of vanilla extract if you didn’t use vanilla sugar. By this time, the Chestnuts should have absorbed all the syrup. It there is a lot left, repeat the process once more.
This process of gradually inundating the nuts with the sugar syrup preserves them but also helps to keep their shape. If they were boiled for longer at a time, they nuts (or fruit) would stand the risk of disintegration.
To complete the process, again using a slotted spoon, delicately remove the candied nuts and place them on a cooling rack that has been lined with greaseproof paper.
Preheat the oven to 70c and place the nuts in the oven to dry out. Leave the oven door open.
Once they have set up, you can place them daintily in little petits four cases if you're feeling in a giving and sharing mood, or just eat them straight down!


Saffron said...

Dear Freya!!Great job!
I love Christmas and Marrons Glac├Ęs.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sofina! Me too! I should send you some for Christmas!
Freya x

Kathryn said...

Hi Freya

I agree that food is the best way to summon me towards festivities. Mmm. I know you weren't keen on Nigella but her show really had that effect on me (OK so I am a sad sentimentalist..). Those mince pies look yummy - I've never made them.

Now - question time - I don't have a KA. I have a lovely Magimix food processor and then a cheap hand held electric mixer. I kind of want a KA now (!). What do you make in yours? Please tempt me.

Kathryn x

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathryn! Yes, I must admit that I found her Christmas show to be a bit slicker than her other TV shows but obviously I'll still watch it tonight! And I'm sure that you weren't the only person inspired by her to cook and in the end, that's the sign of a good TV cook (although I wish she'd hurry up and release a new book!).
Your ham looks so good! Being an American and a mid-westerner at that, my husband was brought up on ham and various other times of manly sized cuts of meat so he wants me to make this too now!! He'll have to make do with my tiny salted beef for now!
As for the KA, well, my husband used to use it for making bread (it's out of use at the moment because the transformer went fizz fizz bang), I always made cakes and cookies in it. Um, I also used it for meringues (makes pavlovas a dream)...a positively indispensible (and stylish!) addition to anyone's kitchen I dare say...and Christmas so close too....
Freya x