Hotel chocolat Christmas gifts review and a giveaway

This giveaway is now closed, thank you to everyone who took part.

When I was asked to take part in Hotel chocolat’s christmas blogger campaign I was thrilled. They very kindly sent me their Christmas collection gift bag to review which is part of their fabulous selection of christmas gifts. Not only that but they are giving me the opportunity to give one lucky reader the same gift bag too.

The Christmas collection gift bag includes the Classic Christmas Sleekster Selection, Christmas Gift Slab with milk chocolate and dark cookie pieces, Gingerbread Truffles and Orange Nice Spice Puddles. Over the last couple of weeks myself and my husband have tested these chocolates and here’s what we thought of them. Continue reading

Christmas baking – Panforte

This is my entry for Most wanted Yule – Blog bake off. The challenge quiet simply is to bake and blog a recipe that epitomises christmas. Panforte may not be the most obvious recipe to fit the requirements but at this time of year the food blogs are full of recipes for christmas puddings, cakes and mince pies so I decided to find a recipe a little bit different. I nearly made another gingerbread house but unfortunately I just didn’t have the time this year. So back to the drawing board I went (or rather my ever growing cookbook and food magazine collection).

Inspiration finally struck whilst visiting Manchester Christmas markets. Its become a bit of a tradition of our to take a day off mid week in December and visit the markets. We finish our christmas shopping in the shops, wander round the markets, eat lunch at one of the many food stalls and drink mulled wine and warming fruit punches. Stalls come from all over Europe including Germany, France and Italy. There is always a stall selling traditional Italian biscuits and this reminded me that I had seen a recipe for Panforte in Sainsburys magazine in early November.

Panforte is a traditional spiced festive treat from Siena (it seemed fitting to bake panforte this christmas since we will be getting married not far from there next summer). It may not be the first sweet treat you think of when you think of christmas but all the key elements are there – dried fruit and nuts, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

It also keeps well (Important at this busy time of year so you can bake it ahead of time) and is relatively straight forward to bake. The end result is a deliciously, festive, chewy sweet treat. Perfect to serve with coffee over the festive period or perhaps to give as gifts.

serves 16

75g blanched almonds
75g blanched hazelnuts
50g unsalted shelled pistachios
225g mixed dried apricots, figs, pitted Medjool dates and candied peel, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp each groung ginger, ground cloves, ground nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper
75g plain flour, sifted
1tbsp cocoa
200g clear honey
200g caster sugar
icing sugar to serve

  • Preheat the oven to 180C, fan 160C, gas 4. Oil and line an 18cm square non-stick loose bottomed tin. Scatter the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes until golden. Lower the oven temperature to 150C, fan 130 C, gas 2. Cool the nuts, then chop with the pistachios and tip into a large bowl. Add the chopped dried fruit and mix well. In another small bowl, mix the spices, flour, cocoa and a pinch of salt. Add to the dried fruit and nuts and mix thoroughly.
  • In a medium pan, stir the honey and sugar over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring slowly to the boil, then bubble for two minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, pour into the fruit and nut mixture and quickly mix with a large wooden spoon. Spoon into the tin and level the surface. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, then leave to cool in the tin. Once cold remove from the tin. Cut into squares with a sharp knife and dust with icing sugae to serve.

Taste the difference Almond panettone

A few weeks back I was contacted on behalf of Sainsburys to see if I would be interested in trying any of their Taste the difference christmas products. Since I have always been pleased with the taste the difference items  I have purchased (I use their taste the difference chocolate for baking all the time), I decided to take them up on the offer. A few days later I accepted delivery of a large parcel from Sainsburys. They had very generously sent me a 1kg panettone. Luckily it wasn’t too hard to find some willing family members to help me put the cake to the taste test.

Panettone has been on my list of things to bake for christmas for a couple of years now but I never seem to quiet get round to it. I’ve read bad reviews in the past of shop bought stale/dry cakes. This was not the case with the Sainsburys cake which is baked in Italy to a family recipe perfected over the last 40 years. It was rich, moist and buttery (much like brioche) and studded with jewel like pieces of candied peel. It was nicely packaged in a deep purple and gold designed box, complete with ribbon (no picture of the packaging as mine was a little bashed in the post) and as such would make a great christmas present. We all throughly enjoyed this panettone (some even went back for seconds). I have about a quater of the panettone left so does anyone have any good recipe ideas for using it up?

Thank you to Sainsburys for sending me this panettone to review.

Daring bakers – December 2009 – Gingerbread house

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I’ve always admired gingerbread houses and even before this challenge was anounced I had contemplated baking one this year. However whether I actually would have found time to if it wasn’t for the daring bakers I’m not so sure. I had great fun building my house, even if it was time consuming. When the challenge was announced I was very excited about it and eager to get started but since I wanted to be able to eat the house at christmas I waited until the 23rd to put the house together and decorate it, having pre-made and frozen the gingerbread pieces. I used the recipe given by Y of Lemonpi which came from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. I used this template from Rachel Allen.

I kept it a secret from our families just in case mine turned out a complete distaster but I was very pleased with the result and I think everyone els liked it too. It even survived the journey an hour up the motorway to my boyfriends parents for christmas. We used it as a centre piece for the table on christmas day…and then it was demolished and we enjoyed eating it!

Fresh from the oven – Stollen

This months Fresh from the oven Challenge was hosted by Jules. Since it was December and everyone was preparing for Christmas she picked a festive challenge – stollen.I’ve not eaten stollen before, let alone baked it myself and on top of this I’m not much of a marzipan fan. However my boyfriend loves marzipan so I went ahead and completed this months challenge. In the end I really enjoyed the taste of the stollen and had fun baking it. We shared the stollen with my boyfriends family and everyone enjoyed it. I could easily see myself baking stollen again next Christmas.

based on a Simon Rimmer recipe

100ml/3½fl oz warm milk
6g (1 sachet) fast action yeast or 2 tsp dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast
pinch salt
1 tsp caster sugar
225g/8oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp ground mixed spice
200g/7oz mixed dried fruit (including glacé cherries)
25g/1oz flaked almonds
50g/2oz unsalted butter
1 free-range egg, beaten
250g/9oz marzipan

To finish
25g/1oz butter, melted
50g/2oz icing sugar

1. Place the milk and yeast into a bowl and mix well. Leave to sit for 5-6 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sift the salt, sugar, flour and mixed spice into a large bowl. Add the dried fruit, almonds and butter and mix well then stir in the yeasty milk and mix well.

3. Add the egg and stir to form a dough. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes, then cover and leave to prove for 20 minutes. Uncover the dough and turn out onto a clean, floured work surface. Knock the dough back to reduce the volume, then knead the dough for 3-4 minutes.

4. Push the dough out by hand into a flat oval shape about 23cm x 18cm/9in x 7in. Roll the marzipan into a sausage shape about 6cm/2in shorter than the dough. Place the marzipan into the centre of the dough, then fold over the sides of the dough to seal in the marzipan. Then fold in the ends of the dough to contain the marzipan and help give the dough shape. Place the stollen seal-side down onto a greased baking tray. Cover and place somewhere warm to prove for one hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 180C/365F/Gas 4. Place the stollen on the baking tray into the oven to bake for 40 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through.

6. To finish, remove the stollen from the oven, brush with the rum then melted butter and dust liberally with icing sugar immediately. Allow the stollen to cool, then serve in slices.

Christmas baking

The Christmas tree is up, the presents are wrapped and the cards have been sent. Now it’s time for me to tell you about some of the festive baking I have been doing this month.

First up there were the Jamie Oliver mince pies (from last years Christmas show, recipe available here). These were incredibly simple to make and a delicious twist on traditional mince pies. We ate a few warm from the oven and the rest are sat in the freezer patiently waiting to be reheated from frozen nearer to Christmas. I followed the main recipe but I used more than 100g of mince meat as it was spread too thinly for my liking.
Next up are these Christmas spiced biscuits from Sainsbury’s magazine. The flavours in these biscuits are delicious and quiet frankly I could eat them all year round! I’m sorry to say that there are none left! For that extra festive touch I decorated them with red and green icing.
I have also taken part in this months festive themed Daring cooks and Fresh from the oven challenges. The results of which will be posted on the 14th and 28th respectively. I also aim to find time to bake some extra Christmas treats for my family and also complete the December Daring bakers challenge so keep an eye out for them on here soon.

Spiced Christmas biscuits
Sainsbury’s magazine, December 2008

225g soft butter
175g light soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 large egg
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

  • In a food processor, mix together the butter, brown sugar and honey for a few minutes or so until pale and creamy. Then add the egg and mix again until combined.
  • Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices and mix until the mixture comes together to form a dough.
  • Turn the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently, then divide in two.
  • Roll out each piece of dough between two sheets of baking parchment to about 0.5cm thick and chill for at least one hour until firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C, 170C (fan), gas 5.
  • Cut out star shapes using a cutter and place on a baking sheet; repeat until all the dough is used up.
  • Bake in batches for 10-12 minutes until golden, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • When cold, decorate with icing if desired.

Will keep in an airtight container for up to a week. Can be frozen uniced.

Christmas Hampers

So its December already! Where has this year gone? To get us all in the christmas spirit I have a few festive blog posts for you coming up over the next month and I’ve even used my limited skills to make the blog a little bit festive.

First up I have been wanting to tell you all about the wonderful Christmas hamper I received from Interflora since it arrived mid November. A couple of weeks before that I was contacted by them to see if I would be interested in them sending me a free hamper (worth £70) to review on my blog. I had no idea that Interflora did hampers (I had always associated them with flowers) and decided to check out their website. The hamper they sent me is just one of a range of Christmas hampers they are selling this Christmas, as well as a range of Christmas flowers.The hamper arrived just after 9am on the day they told me it would be dispatched and was packaged securely. The wicker hamper was enclosed in a tight fitting, smart black cardboard box to prevent movement during transport. All the glass items were wrapped in bubble wrap and surrounded by biodegradable packing material and the items fitted snugly in the hamper so that all items arrived in perfect condition.
The quality of the wicker hamper and its contents were fantastic. The hamper includes a bottle of red and a white wine, Christmas cake, mince pies, Christmas pudding, luxury fruit and nut mix, clotted cream biscuits and fudge, chocolates, a selection of Twinings teas, chocolate chip short bread biscuits, rosemary and thyme biscuits, strawberry jam, cranberry sauce and onion chutney. More than enough to keep us going over the festive season and in to January too!
Overall I would have to say that I would recommend Interflora hampers to anyone looking to send gifts to friends or family that live too far away to personally deliver your gifts. At least there is no chance of delays due to postal strikes!

Christmas pudding challenge

A few weeks back I saw a competition posted on the UKFBA website. The competition was to come up with an alternative way of using a Christmas pudding. The competition is being run by Mathew Walker who have been making Christmas puddings in Derbyshire since 1899. Mathew Walker generously sent all bloggers wanting to enter the competition a 100g taster Christmas pudding and a full size (454g) Christmas pudding.

So I started to think of recipes using Christmas pudding, specifically leftover Christmas pudding (yes, I believe it does happen in some households!). I wanted to create something simple that could be used as a desert on boxing day. The final recipe I settled on was to replace meringue with Christmas pudding in a twist on the traditional Eton mess – a Christmas mess!

I still wanted there to be a mixture of textures as well as flavour so I decided to include broken up pieces of brandy snaps in the cream mixture. The hardest part was deciding what fruit to put in it. Cherry’s soaked in kirsch? cranberry sauce? mandarin segments? I think all would work well. In the end though I found a tub of pears in cranberry juice which left them a beautiful pink/red colour. The dish tasted delicious. all the flavours blended together well (helped by the Christmas pudding being so delicious and flavourful) and I enjoyed the mixture of textures. The brandy flavour in the Christmas pudding infused through all the cream making it all lovely and as my boyfriend called it “Christmas in a glass”.A Christmas mess is the ideal desert for boxing day. Its quick and simple to prepare (exactly what you need after all the preparation and cooking on Christmas day), uses up any leftover Christmas pudding, includes many of the traditional flavours of Christmas and tastes fantastic. Leftover Christmas pudding can be included cold or reheated (and then cooled slightly before adding to the cream). You could heat by frying lightly or in a microwave. The quantities are a bit vague allowing you to customise the recipe to your families tastes.

Christmas Mess
Serves 4

200g leftover Christmas pudding (or as much as you have/like).
400ml double cream or whipping cream
4-6 brandy snaps
Tub of pears in cranberry juice (tinned pears in natural juice would also work or any fruit of your choice)
Icing sugar and coco powder for dusting.

  • In a large bowl softly whip the cream until it is thick and soft.
  • Gently stir in most of the bits of brandy snap and all the Christmas pudding.
  • Put a layer of pears in the bottom of 4 glass dessert bowls (I used wine glasses).
  • Spoon the cream mixture on top.
  • Decorate the tops with the reserved brandy snap shards.
  • Dust with icing sugar and coco powder.
  • Serve.