Swept, polished, tidied to an inch of its life, the house is ready. The white window ledges now hold nothing but thick strings of white fairy lights; the tree is up and beautifully decorated; cards are written and sent; and finally the Christmas wreaths made and hung. Phew. A busy end to a busy year.
For the last year or so my baking has been all to cock; just couldn't get the timings right so the cakes were singed at the edges, or too dry or the pastry just didn't come right, or spices didn't really give the flavour I'd planned. Actually, the more I think back over this past year, the more I realise Laura Esquivel got it just about right when she wrote Like Water For Chocolate. I stood in the kitchen on Friday morning, cup of tea in hand discussing this with merci beaucoup enfant deux. "You're taking your baking skills for granted," she said. "Go back to basics and follow the recipes, one by one, and stop doing hundreds of things at once." I looked at her, opened mouthed with amazement! I have raised a genius.
I began with shortcrust pastry. Carefully measured the flours (plain and self-raising, half and half), sifted into my largest mixing bowl, then added the fats (pura and stork, again half and half) cut up into little cubes, then rubbed to breadcrumbs. Perfect! Added just enough icey water to bind, then rolled out and cut into rounds. Placed carefully into the baking trays and filled with mincemeat. Topped off, egg-washed and into the hot oven. Perfect!
I moved on to scones (plain and sultana), then the famous gingerbread of previous posts. It emerged from the oven perfect, springy and headily fragrant. Then brownies, always a bit tricky. But again, having the confidence to follow the far too short cooking time meant they emerged soft and chewy in the middle but actually cooked! So here are the recipes, reproduced exactly from their original form.
10oz golden syrup
10oz black treacle
8oz light muscovado sugar
1lb self-raising flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
4 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons milk
Pre-heat the oven to 160c. Grease and line the base of a 12"x9" roasting tine with greaseproof paper. Measure the syrup, treacle, sugar and butter into a large pan and heat gently until the fat has melted. Stir to combine. Remove pan from heat and stir in the dry ingredients. Add the eggs and milk and beat well until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin. Bake for about 45-50 minutes until well risen and beginning to shrink away at the edges. Cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack.
Thornton's Chocolate Brownies
200g Thornton's dark chocolate (actually I used French Menier Patissier)
250g caster sugar
112g plain flour
125g walnuts, roughly chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 170c. Line a deep baking tray 12"x8" with greaseproof paper. Melt the butter and chocolate together over a pan of barely simmering water. Beat the eggs and sugar together for 2-3 minutes until pale. Add the melted chocolate and mix well to blend. Add the flour and walnuts and stir to combine. Pour into the tin and bake for exactly 35 minutes. The top will look cracked and flaky - this is normal. Leave to cool in the tin, then lift out and cut into squares. Alternatively, serve warm from the tin.
So now I have cake tins stacked in the pantry, easily accessible and full with my Christmas baking made with love and care. The gingerbread will become stickier the longer its left to mature, because the syrup and treacle won't solidify, but long to return to their liquid state. The scones were eaten for tea, topped with a little whipped cream and a blodge of this year's jam. The mince pies and brownies will both need replenishing. My mojo's back.