Gastrobabble

A quest for gastro-liberation, an excuse to buy more cookbooks…


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I used to be a Christmas cake hater. All that boozy fruit and tooth-achingly sweet fondant icing. But I’d never had homemade Christmas cake until last year.

My then-flatmate brought some of her mum’s homemade cake home and instructed me to eat it with a crisp tart green apple and the mild, salty rubble of some Wensleydale. It turned me around gentle readers, it really did. The fruity richness of the cake was perfectly offset by it’s equally rambunctious playmates of cheese and apple. So, I’ll never eat Christmas cake in any other way now.

And when I decided to make my own this year, I thought that Dan Lepard’s recipe for a caramel Christmas cake would sidestep the throat-sticking booziness of a traditional Christmas cake but replace it with the smokiness of caramel. It turned out to be a very prudent choice indeed. So, now I’ll never eat Christmas cake any other way and I’ll never make any other Christmas cake.

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It isn’t hyperbole when I profess my love for peanut butter. Were gluttony and decorum no consideration, I would probably work peanut butter into every meal humanely possible. I’ve been known to put it into stir fries; dip chocolate or celery sticks into it; or just idly eat it from the jar whilst I’m waiting for the kettle to boil.

I adore the salty/sweet play of flavours with English peanut butter (let’s not talk about the American oversweetened stuff). It’s the combination which I love in other things: salted caramel; chocolate covered pretzels; compost cookies. And now that I’ve made my own peanut butter, I love how cheap and easy it is to make.

All you need is a food processor. Seriously. And not even a worktop food processor. (I am not fortunate enough to own one nor have the space for one.) I used the mini food processor attachment on my hand blender which handily makes just enough for one jar. Oh and on a jar note: I’m a crazy jar hoarder. I collect, clean, sterilise and scrape labels off year round. It’s worth it once you get to Christmas. If you’re not as nuts as me, TK Maxx and DotComGiftShop sell cheap jars of all sizes.

It’s an ideal thing to make for Christmas gifts because it’s stupidly simple to make; incredibly cheap; and unlike chutney or jam, it is something that on the whole, most people love (though perhaps, not as obsessively as me…)

Homemade peanut butter
The recipe given is the basic template for peanut butter. Well I say “recipe”. That’s too fancy a word for what it really is. Anyway, add what you like to it! For chocolate spread, add melted chocolate. You could also make a boozy version using Frangelico, coffee liquier or Bailey’s. You could go festive with apple purée and cinnamon. Or use honey roast peanuts. Or even different nuts all together, cashew makes a particularly lovely buttery, um, nut butter.

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Ingredients
Salted peanuts
Golden syrup
Sea salt flakes

Throw all your peanuts into a food processor. I am not fortunate enough to be equipped with a food mixer stand, nor the space for one so I used the mini food processor with my hand blender (it’s the one you can use to finely chop herbs and onions. Or in my case make breadcrumbs. Lazy, I know.) Basically all you need to do is blitz until it turns into a smooth, creamy peanut butter. It will go from chopped nuts; to a doughy ball; to a grainy paste; and then miraculously, a smooth, runny peanut butter. Add in a touch of golden syrup to balance out the flavour and then a generous sprinkle of sea salt flakes to add a bit of textural crunch. Transfer to sterilised jars whilst still warm and runny.

Notes on variations
Adding in any flavourings like alcohol will cause the butter to seize up but do not fear. The runny smooth consistency is mainly due to the heat from the food processor. So add in your flavourings and then blitz for a few more minutes to warm it up and fully combine.

To make chocolate spread, simply stir in melted chocolate. I went for milk chocolate but I suspect dark would work well too. If you want to make a true Nutella substitute, then use skinless hazelnuts in place of the peanuts.

Finally, for crunchy peanut butter, stir through a handful of whole peanuts once processed.


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Crunchie nuggets

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So I know that every bloody food blog going runs a twee make you own edible Christmas gifts! style feature at this time of year. Whilst in principle I like the idea, between all the Christmas parties/quaffing of mulled things/mandatory viewing of Christmas films, who has time to churn out lovely thoughtful and artisanal looking hunks of chocolate bark for everyone? I did it last year and was up until 1am getting increasingly fretful about the way that crushed candy canes are a pisser to deal with (far too sticky).

Things like chutney and mincemeat are great because they’re easy to churn out in batches and dole out to people. But in my experience, chutney isn’t a universally loved thing and mincemeat is only a good gift for other baking nerds. Sweeties however, are pretty safe territory.

Cinder toffee. Honeycomb. Hokey pokey. Many names for what is basically sugar and golden syrup bubbled up into honeycomb with the aid of some bicarbonate of soda. Dip it in chocolate and you get what is essentially a homemade Crunchie. Apparently it is unacceptable to gift mass manufactured cheap confectionary for Christmas but make your own and most people will consider you a Wonka-like figure.

Crunchie nuggets
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I made this in one large silicone cake mould but small silicone cupcake cases or mini loaf moulds would work well too. In any case, use silicone where possible as it makes life (i.e. the washing up situation) far far easier. (Pro tip: before washing up things that have contain hot syrup, let it soak in very hot water first. This will dissolve all the sugar and prevent any tantrums.)

Ingredients
200g sugar (caster or granulated)
4 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
400g dark chocolate

In a heavy bottomed pan, combine the sugar and golden syrup. Heat and stir until the mixture caramelises to a gingery colour (think Irn-Bru). Take off the heat as soon as it reaches this point and whisk in the bicarbonate of soda, at which point it should froth up like some sort of amateur Wiccan cauldron. Pour into your mould and leave to set for a few hours until firm.

Once it is set, cut up the honeycomb as best as you can (don’t try to go for uniformity, it is nigh on impossible). Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water and keep on a low heat whilst you dip and coat the nuggets in, leaving them to cool on a sheet of greaseproof paper. I used crumbs of honeycomb to decorate but sea salt flakes or gold leaf would be suitably in vogue as well.