Mince pies with a twist

As it’s practically dark by the time the boys are awake from afternoon naps and we’ve got ready to go out, we can’t go to the park or even in the garden really, so baking and craft activities have been filling our late afternoons and early evenings recently. And as we’re in December, I thought it was time for some Christmas baking.

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I don’t eat loads of mince pies, but it’s always nice to have a few over the Christmas period, and as I’m trying to use up jars and tins in the cupboards, I thought it would be fun to add some stem ginger that I opened a while ago to the mince meat, to add extra favour and spice. I prefer to make mince pies with unsweetened pastry, because the mince meat itself is so sweet, and to add another flavour I decided to put some cinnamon in with the flour. Finally, I added a splash of Amaretto to the filling, again because the bottle I have could do with using up having sat there untouched for a while since we’ve had kids.

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Andrew enjoys rolling out pastry, so that was also a good reason to make pies, and he helped me cut out the rounds and put them in the muffin tins – we went for deep filled pies rather than the little ones you can make in fairy cake tins.

If you’d like to give these a go, here’s the recipe….

Ingredients – makes 10 deep fill pies

Filling

  • 400g jar of mincemeat
  • about 4 chunks of stem ginger, cut into small cubes
  • optional: splash of Amaretto (or any other alcohol that you like)
Pastry
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • cold water

Method

  1. Lightly grease the holes in a muffin tin, and preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  2. Put the flour and cinnamon in a bowl and mix until evenly distributed.
  3. Chop the butter into smallish chunks (make sure it’s as cold as possible) and toss into the flour.
  4. Use your hands to work the butter into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs.
  5. Add a small amount of water at a time and mix until it starts to form a stiff dough, then leave to one side whilst you mix the filling.
  6. Mix the ingredients for the filling together in another bowl.
  7. Take the pastry and roll out on a floured surface.
  8. Cut 10 larger circles and 10 smaller circles to fit the size of the muffin tin holes.
  9. Place the larger circles in the holes, fill with the filling, then places the lids on top, sealing with a bit of cold water run around the rim and the pastry pieces pressed together.
  10. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is lightly golden.
  11. Leave to cool in the tins, before turning out with the help of a sharp knife to loosen them from the tin.
  12. Eat as fresh as possible, and they can also be frozen.

Cupcake of the month (April): parsnip and ginger

This might sound a bit wacky, but I promise you it works. Baking cakes with parsnip is no different really from carrot cakes. The cupcake recipe in my calendar for this month was simply a ginger one, but I’d been meaning to have a go at parsnip cake after the success of my chocolate beetroot cake, and I thought the flavour combination of parsnip and ginger would work well. With all the chocolate hanging around at the moment (that makes it sound like the chocolate needs an ASBO – I can assure you that it doesn’t!), these provide a lighter and different alternative.

Apart from the addition of parsnip, I changed the recipe quite a bit from the calendar one: I only put a small amount of sugar in, a third of what it says on the calendar, as the parsnip adds sweetness and I wanted to make some smaller ones to be toddler-friendly as well as some big adult-sized ones with icing on; I added some stem ginger, because in my opinion, if you’re going to have ginger, you might as well have proper chunks of fiery ginger rather than just ground stuff; I used honey instead of syrup, as usual; I made a few other changes too – so it’s nothing like the original really!parsnip&ginger cupcakes edit

The instructions on the calendar said use a cake mixer. I don’t usually bother with one when baking, unless I’m whisking egg whites (I don’t enjoy the muscle ache afterwards when I do it by hand!), mainly because I don’t have one of those super duper fancy gadgets they have on the Great British Bake Off, just a small handheld one that cost about a fiver from Wilkos when I was a student many years ago. But as the calendar put the idea into my head, I was curious to see how the cakes worked out, particularly as I was guessing it would be quite a dense, moist mixture and therefore any extra air I could beat into it would not go amiss. As I suspected, even with the aerating skills of the electric mixer, the cakes didn’t rise massively, but I like the sticky, moist texture anyway, as is often the case with carrot cakes. I would say it’s fine to use either hand or machine in this recipe – whatever mood you happen to be in.

I think that’s all I wanted to waffle on about, so here’s what you do if you want to have a go yourself. Enjoy! Tom’s verdict: de-scrump-tu-licious!

Ingredients

Cakes – makes 10-12 big plus 10-12 small

  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 175g margarine
  • 120ml milk
  • 40g brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1 large parsnip
  • 50g stem ginger, plus extra for decoration
Icing
  • 50g margarine
  • 100g icing sugar
  • splash of ginger syrup from the stem ginger jar

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC (fan) and prepare a muffin tin with cupcake cases and a fairy cake tin with cases.
  2. Grate the parsnip, and chop the stem ginger into small chunks.
  3. With a spoon, mix the flour and ground spices in a large bowl.
  4. Put all the other ingredients apart from the parsnip and stem ginger into the bowl and mix with a mixer until well combined.
  5. Add the parsnip and stem ginger and fold in with a spoon until evenly distributed.
  6. Fill the cake cases to about three quarters full.
  7. Bake for about 25 minutes until golden on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  9. Meanwhile, mix the ingredients together for the icing until smooth.
  10. Put into a piping bag and pipe onto the cooled cakes (big ones only!) in whatever design you wish.
  11. Finish with a small chunk of stem ginger on top. Perfect!

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Wheat-free gingerbread men

This week we’ve had Grandma and Pop with us for a few days. It’s been great fun for Andrew, and even Joel has got some giggles for them too now. For me it’s been very helpful to have extra pairs of hands that get on with the household tasks when not otherwise occupied by a toddler or a baby. When they were all out at Andrew’s weekly music group yesterday, I stayed at home with Joel as he’s getting increasingly difficult to feed when we’re out because he gets so distracted by everything going on. When Joel was napping I prepared some biscuit doughs so that Andrew could do some rolling and cutting out later on in the afternoon after his nap – this is his favourite part of baking biscuits. One was a wheat-free gingerbread dough (Grandma is wheat-intolerant) and one was a choc chip shortbread dough (I’ll blog about this later in the week).

I know that Andrew loves making gingerbread men, mainly because he excitedly repeats ‘gingerbread mans’ with pretty good accuracy in terms of his vowels and consonants, but we’ve only ever made a wheaty recipe. So I googled and came across Coeliac UK’s website which has a gluten-free gingerbread man recipe. As far as I understand, if something is gluten-free it’s also wheat-free, but something that’s wheat-free might not be gluten-free because gluten is also part of other cereals (such as oat/barley gluten). I adapted it slightly – self-raising wheat-free flour instead of separate flour and raising agent, a bit more ginger as I like very gingery gingerbread (!), margarine instead of butter, honey instead of golden syrup. So here’s the recipe as we made it…

Ingredients

  • 225g wheat-free self-raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 2 level teaspoons ground ginger
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted honey

Method

  1. Mix the flour and ginger together, then rub in the margarine to form a breadcrumb texture.
  2. Add the sugar and mix to a stiff dough with the melted honey.
  3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut out men (or other shapes) with a little man cutter.
  4. Bake at 180°C (fan) for 8 – 10 minutes.
  5. Leave to cool before decorating with writing icing to make the features like eyes, mouth and buttons.
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