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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Baking and Other Stuff

On Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving with my side of the family, my sister Michelle and her husband Nick are both in the US until Monday when they will return to London.  On Wednesday we were blessed with beautiful weather and a high of sixty, very rare in late November.  Each Thanksgiving we have family picture day, it works well because we are all together in one place at the same time, this does not happen very often, it was extra fun taking the pictures this year as we had two new additions to the family this year.  Follow the link if you would like to see our fabulously fun family pics, it was super awesome because we were able to be outside, always the best place to be photographed in my opinion.  My Dad is the family photographer and does a fantastic job.
Tomorrow we will celebrate Christmas at Manitou with my family and it will be a year until we are all together again. This year I will treasure especially as Emily is leaving for the Air Force at the end of January and it may be a few years before we are able to have everyone together again.

Now on to Baking.
Every year a make traditional English Christmas cakes, the recipe is rich and includes 2lbs of dried fruit, almonds and cherries.  Once the cakes are baked they are kept in a tin and each week I "feed" them a little dry sherry, I usually bake the cakes at the end of October and by Christmas they are ready and oh, oh, oh, oh, oh are they good.  It is standard to cover the cakes with marzipan a week before Christmas, and the day before Christmas decorate with royal icing, the cakes look splendid.  Over the years we have decided to pass on marzipan and royal icing, who needs the additional calories? and the fruit cake stands well on its own.  I have a standing order each year to bake a cake for both of my sisters and my parents and of course for Dave and me, I now make 6" diameter cakes, again we can all enjoy the Christmas cake but not live to regret it :).
English Christmas Cake
Another annual baking tradition for me is the making of shortbread, I give a small tin to each of my sisters and my parents at Christmas.  I think shortbread is amazing!!!  It is made with very basic ingredients, I quadruple the recipe from my Marguerite Pattern cookery book, it goes as follows:

12 oz butter - softened
7 oz sugar
12 oz plain flour
4 oz rice flour

Cream the butter with half of the sugar until extremely well mixed, add the flour and again make sure it is really, really worked into the butter/sugar mixture.  Then add the remaining sugar and mix in well.
This quadrupled batch needs to be baked in a 9"/13" baking pan. Put the dough into the baking pan and then push it into the pan and make sure the dough is even throughout the pan, lightly sprinkle sugar over the top.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, it may take a minute or two or three longer.
Allow the shortbread to cool for ten minutes, cut into one and half inch squares and leave it in the pan to let it cool for another half hour. Remove the shortbread from the pan and enjoy, but make sure you pack most of it up to give away as gifts, this stuff is NOT lo-cal.
Today I also baked a Victoria Sandwich, this is a very traditional English sponge cake.  In England it is not the norm to frost cakes. The Victoria sandwich cake if usually filled with strawberry or raspberry jam and a light dusting of confectioners sugar is sieved over the top. If you want to get fancy with the light dusting of sugar you can lay a doily over the cake, lightly sieve the sugar and then carefully remove the doily, this is a delightful way to finish the cake.Another interesting tidbit about the VS, it has four ingredients, butter, sugar, eggs and flour, and the authentic way to make it is to weigh the eggs (usually 3) and then add the exact same weight of each of the other ingredients.  To make you cream the butter well, add the sugar and mix well, slowly incorporate the beaten eggs and then add the flour.  Most recipes now call to add 1 T of milk which should be folded in gently after all the other steps are complete.  If you use plain flour (all purpose) you will need to add 1 t of baking powder.  The VS bakes at 355 for 18 -25 minutes and calls for a 7" diameter cake pan, if you do not have one, in the US 8" seems to be standard, you can use the 8" and simply bake for a little shorter time. Keep in mind that an 8 inch pan will produce a wider, flatter cake than the 7" one. After baking allow the cake to cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then remove and finish cooling on a rack.  Spread strawberry jam thickly on the bottom half, put on the top, sieve lightly with confectioners sugar and voila you have a Victoria Sandwich.  This is NOT a rich cake, but is nice and goes well with afternoon tea.
Victoria Sandwich
I love that my family incorporate many English traditions into our family celebrations, we always have Christmas Crackers  please note these are not something you eat :) We always have our English Christmas cake, my Mom makes the best trifle, we have mince pies, sausage rolls, a large tin of Quality Street (excellent candy), and some years Christmas pudding. We have lived in the US since 1978 and in many ways are very American and in other ways we are still very English.

Oh, and yes, unfortunately none of the above recipes are vegan, I generally do not eat desserts so do not mind having a little of something really good once in a while. I will say that the vegan baked goods I have tried have not been very good, it seems that sugar, butter, and eggs are key ingredients for a rich, tasty dessert. I guess I am practicing quality over quantity, I am quite happy to enjoy a vegan diet 99% of the time, but on a holiday or special occasion enjoy a tasty treat.  Moderation is the key to good living.

Today I took Emily and the grandsons into Fort Wayne, we stopped at the Fort Wayne Historical Museum to tour the Gingerbread Festival, this is fun event and there are an awful lot of gingerbread creations on display. The creators ranged in age from pre-school to adult along with a professional category. The boys really liked the SpongeBob Squarepants entry, and another that recreated a large red barn with lots of little animals.  A girl scout troop had a fun log cabin entry with a pond with "goldfish" swimming in it, the boys liked this as goldfish crackers are a favorite treat.  All entries have to be made with edible stuff, and some people are very creative. After the Gingerbread Festival we headed over to Christmas at the Old Fort, there were vendors set up in each of the fort buildings, and games for kids, unfortunately our nice weather from Thursday is long gone and today it was overcast and the high was only in the mid thirties, since this activity was primarily outside we did not stay as long as we might have done if the weather had been warmer.  I was able to visit the Heirloom Spoon man and purchase some more beautifully made wooden cooking utensils for Christmas gifts, and another vendor was selling everything beeswax. I purchased my FIRST EVER beeswax candles, what a pleasant surprise to find that they have the most delightful aroma, I also purchased some beeswax soap that smells divine.  One of the games for kids involved tying a donut on a string and then the participant, in this case Patrick, had to put his hands in his pockets and attempt to eat the donut, this is not an easy task.  With some help Patrick did finally manage to master the donut and his persistence paid off with a tummy full of yummy donut.  When we returned home we had lunch and warmed up and then watched The Wizard of Oz, what a fab movie.  During the movie Pat and Charlie fell asleep, a little later Henry and I headed into the kitchen to assemble our gingerbread house kit, we had fun putting it together, we had a few collapses during assembly but in the end it turned out fine.
Henry really enjoyed this project
And in today's mail my package from Minnesota arrived, I had ordered a tie-dye piece from Beth, another blogger, and it arrived today, I just love it and was pleased to pop it on the kitchen table and then place my beeswax candles in the candlesticks. Beth's husband Matt is the tie-dyer and he does some amazing stuff, follow the link to check out some of his other work.
I just love the colors in this tie-dye

Well that is today's update, I hope all that celebrated Thanksgiving had a wonderful day with family and friends.


Pen Wilcock said...

Oh wow! What a wonderful album of family photos!

Bean said...

Thanks Ember, they turned out really fab this year :)