Festive baking with a savoury twist


All this running around ahead of Christmas works up quite an appetite. Pair that will the natural gluttony of the season and it can be handy to just reach for something sweet to give me a quick boost. I never thought I’d say this but I think I may have peaked too soon on the chocolate front and am starting to flag! I came across a recipe for cheddar and cranberry cupcakes I thought I’d give it a go. I’m glad I did!

Cranberries are everywhere at the moment and if you are a regular baker you’ll probably have the rest of the ingredients already in your larder or fridge. My first attempt came out pretty well so I’m hoping they’ll taste even better the more I make them. If you can’t find fresh cranberries you can use frozen ones – no need to thaw them first – although you’ll probably come across these easier once the season ends. The festive jewels add a tartness to this normally sweet treat and the cheese comes through more and more with each bite. Really tasty for a weekend breakfast or when you’re just craving something savoury.

Here’s how to make them. You’ll need:

2 cups / 300g plain flour
2/3 cup / 155g firmly packed soft brown sugar – I used light brown
1/2 cup / 60g finally grated cheddar (Tip: Make sure your cheese is really cold. This will make it easier to grate. If you’ve got room, stick it in the freezer for about 15-20 mins before you want to use it. I didn’t do this and it was a real pain in the bum!)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp all spice
pinch of ground cayenne pepper – I totally forgot this and it still tasted lovely so if you’re not a spice fan just leave this out
1 1/4 cup / 310ml buttermilk or natural yogurt
1/4 cup / 60g butter, melted
1 egg, separated
1 cup / 155g washed fresh or unthawed frozen cranberries

How to:

* Preheat your oven to 200°C / Gas Mark 6 / 400°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-hole bun tin or line with paper cases. ( NB: I found the mixture actually stretched to make 22 buns)

* In a large bowl combine your dry ingredients – flour, sugar, cheese, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices. Stir until well blended and make a well in the middle.

* In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk, yogurt and egg yolk. In another small bowl beat the egg white until soft peaks form.

* Pour the buttermilk mixture into the well and, using a fork, stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Don’t overmix it – you ought to have a lumpy mixture. Then fold in the egg white and cranberries. You are best using a spoon or plastic spatula for this rather than the fork.

* Spoon the batter into the holes or paper cases until each one is about 2/3 full, allowing the buns space to rise. Bake for around 20mins or until a skewer comes out clean. Another way to test if they are ready is by gently pressing your finger in on the middle of the bun. Your bun should bounce back. If it sinks they need to go back in the oven.

* Transfer your buns to a wire rack and allow them to cool. Enjoy warm or cold.

If you’ve cranberries left over why not make yourself a festive liqueur? Admittedly you can’t drink it straight away but if you’re planning to give up alcohol for January you can look forward to this tipple in February. All you need is 500g cranberries, 1 bottle of vodka, 2 cinnamon sticks, 500g sugar and this recipe.



Christmas is on its way

It's only September and the shelves are already stacked for Christmas!

It’s barely the middle of September and already the supermarkets are clearing space for their seasonal stock. I was shocked when I visited my local Sainsbury’s and saw festive biscuit tins and Lindt chocolates line the promotional aisle but it prompted me to stock up on some festive essentials of my own that will be transformed into the perfect boozy gifts in just 3 months time.

I’m a big fan of homemade gifts whether money is tight or not. There is nothing better than seeing the joy on someone’s face when they unwrap a present that has been made just for them. Now while I love having a go at all things homemade my skills in this area don’t always match my enthusiasm for the challenge. However, there are some things that even I can’t get wrong and fruity vodka is up there with the best of them.

I learnt how to make fruity vodka at a friend’s summer bbq where one of the guests had brought their own raspberry version for us to try. I’m not one for drinking spirits neat but this was unlike any vodka I had tried before. It was a sweet and syrupy liqueur and it packed a delicious, fruity punch! I couldn’t wait to try to make my own!

The recipe could not be simpler. To make around 750ml of liqueur you will need the following:

* 2 x large vacuum seal jars. I got a couple of Kilner jars in Tesco for about £3 each and they are pretty good. However, I was in IKEA at the weekend and picked up 1 big jar from the Korken range for £3 so do take a look there as you only need one of these so it would take up less space in your kitchen. You can take a look at the one I bought here!

The basic ingredients are then as follows:

* 1 70cl bottle of vodka. Any vodka will do but as with anything the better quality you start off with the better end product you’ll get. You don’t need to buy the most expensive vodka on the shelf but do look out for good offers down the alcohol aisle. I picked up a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka for £13 in Tesco the other day, it normally retails at £19 which I would never pay so I think I got a good deal!
* 500g granulated sugar
* 500g fruit. Be as creative as you like. I have had success with the following mixes – raspberries, blackberries & blueberries, raspberries on their own, blueberries on their own. Berries seem to work well! I am also currently experimenting with a rhubarb version which has 500g rhubarb, 1 x cinnamon stick and 1 x tsp vanilla paste. No idea how it will turn out but if it tastes half as good as it smells it will be delicious!

The method is simple! Put the ingredients into your jar or divide evenly between the two jars should you prefer to use smaller jars. Turn the jars upside down a few times to get the ingredients to mix. The sugar usually sticks to the bottom of the jar but over time they will all mix together.

Here’s a picture of the jars I am working on at the moment:

Looking good!

Looking good!

Next you just need to leave the jars in a cool dark place (mine is a cupboard under the oven) and turn them upside down and back to upright a few times a day to encourage the ingredients to mix together. Do this for at least 2 months. The longer you can leave it the stronger and richer your liqueur will be.

When it’s nearly time to give your gift – or you decide to enjoy a tipple yourself, you have earned it after all! – you need a funnel and a bottle to decant your liqueur into. I picked up some really pretty coloured bottles for under £1 each at one of the discount shops near where I live.

The first time I decanted the berry liqueur I found that some of the raspberries had started to disintegrate and slipped through the funnel into the bottle so I’d recommend balancing the funnel in the top of your bottle and putting a sieve over the funnel to catch the fruit. A bit fiddly but worth the effort!

Et voila! Simply label your bottle as you choose and put away until you are ready to gift it (or crack it open to enjoy with your nearest and dearest!)

Here's one I made earlier

Here’s one I made earlier