Christmas Eve snapshot



I need to catch up with the soup; the starter; the bread rolls; the stuffing; the bacony sausage things

I worry about having under-catered for vegetarians

I sound very croaky and my throat is still sore

We have not been very generous with the giftage this Christmas

The garden is still unfinished and looks like a lunar landscape


On the other hand:



I’m ahead with the beef; the cabbage; the mince pies; the cake; the sausage rolls; the able sauce

The Boywonder is back in one piece

I have few presents left to wrap and it looks like I won’t be up until 1am as usual on Christmas eve.

The new kitchen is complete and working well

Someone else is bringing the wine


Best look on the bright side. Wishing you all a very merry Christmas.







Look at MsDD’s interpretation of a snow scene for our Christmas cake! She particularly likes the footprints in the snow. Can you make them out?

This evening, we met up with the parents of MsDD’s friends at the Belair in Dulwich. (I’ve often felt that, should I win the lottery, I’d buy it, modernise it and live in it, mainly to slash the time spent travelling to and from school.)


We were there to listen to the Gatsby Saxophone Quartet, who perform there on one Wednesday evening each month, from their repertoire of music from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Worth a look on Wednesdays if you like jazz. #nice.


In which an investment in silicone yields benefits

In which an investment in silicone yields benefits

I make mince pies on December 22nd every year, almost without fail. It’s a silly personal tradition dating back to 1981, when I was doing all the Christmas preparations for my family as usual but I was also going off in the evening to meet school friends for a spot of pre-Christmas under-age drinking in the Tiger’s Head. (I guess you know exactly where I mean, @Chislehurst?). That winter was a snowy one, (remember those?) and huge amounts of fresh snow were falling that day over several centimetres that had been lying there frozen for at least a week. My dad said I was mad to go out but it was on that night that I was asked out on my first ever date by the boy who would become OH. That first date was 34 years ago tomorrow.

So anyway mince pies are my annual foray into shortcrust pastry making and, because I use cheap old tins, they always stick, no matter how good the pastry. I was aways taught “Never grease with pastry,” in cookery lessons at school and it’s been a load of rubbish ever since. I’ve spent so much time every year chipping away at the sad excuse for mince pies that refuse to relinquish their grip on my bun tin that this year I finally hd enough, relented and bought silicon bun tins.

I made this batch from Nigella’s Star Mince Pie recipe in her Domestic Goddess book first. Pastry was always touch and go with me until I stumbled upon her method that requires you to freeze the flour and fat before whizzing it in a food processor and adding orange juice as the liquid. Nigella recommends Trex but I have never really been happy using hydrogenated vegetable oils and I have recently taken to using lard. (I heard a thing on the radio recently about how lard is the new IN THING. Funny how these things come back into fashion after being out in the wilderness for decades.)

Here was my very pleasing first batch:


I’ll say this, though: the silicone does give the pies a slightly soggy bottom, so perhaps I need to bake them for an extra minute our two next time or perforate the bun tin.

So lard works. But it’s not suitable for the vegetarians among my guests. The question is, what does one use to create  a tender, flaky pastry without using animal fat or hydrogenated vegetable oils? As you’ll have seen from previous posts this week, I’ve been toying with the idea of using coconut oil, as in the Date and Marmalade Christmas Cake. Thus it was, dear Reader, that I came over all experimental this afternoon.

I did a bit of research and came up with this website by Paula Brook Green and her coconut oil pastry recipe. This recipe is vegetarian but not vegan as it uses eggs to enrich the pastry.

I fought shy this time of using the Nigella method with the coconut oil, and giving all the ingredients a blast in the freezer, mainly because the recipe talks about coconut oil being harder to manipulate than butter, but logically, since it’s made in a food processor anyway, this shouldn’t really be a problem.

Instead I whizzed the coconut oil and the flour in the Magimix and then added the egg yolks, vanilla extract and water, and pulsed the mixture until it came together. The thing to watch with this method is that the fine breadcrumbs don’t actually meld together into a ball like ordinary shortcrust pastry made with butter and shortening would, and I added rather too much water in my attempt to get it to do this. I realised in time, however, and emptied the breadcrumbs out onto my floured work surface to knead them together.

Again I was wary of overworking pastry that cannot get too cold, so I left the pasty out of the fridge wrapped in clingfilm for a while before use to let it rest. In hindsight, I should have used less water and actually refrigerated the pastry ball before rolling it out, as it looked rather sweaty and turned out a little too brittle and not flaky enough for my liking.

A tip here is to roll out the coconut oil pastry on a sheet of cling film that you’ve placed on top of your work surface. Even though my granite is cold, and therefore ideal for pastry making, I felt that the perspiring pastry would have taken up too much flour and been ruined. A silicone rolling pin made this job a lot easier too.


The clingfilm was invaluable in helping me free the delicate cutouts from the rolled-out pastry, as you can see above, and I’ll use this tip again, I’m sure. I can see it being very useful next time I make a suet crust for a steak and kidney pudding.

Anyway, here are the finished vegetarian mincepies, which used Waitose cranberry mincemeat:


I think they too were a little undercooked and the pastry was not as crumbly or flaky as I had hoped. Next time, I’ll try and use Nigella’s freezer method and maybe not add as much water, and see whether that makes the pastry shorter. I’d also not be frightened of resting the pastry in the fridge before rolling it out.

For a first attempt, though, I am pleased. It’s good to be able to experiment with something completely unknown from time to time.

Do they taste of coconut? Only very slightly but I like coconut so this is not a problem for me. I understand that if you use refined coconut oil, this removes the coconut taste completely.

All in all a satisfying afternoon’s work, I’d say.


Therapeutic Sunday baking

Therapeutic Sunday baking

Leafing through my signed copy of Simply Nigella, it caught my eye: the Date and Marmalade Christmas Cake that tastes of a fine Christmas pudding, apparently, that Quakers used to say was “The invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon.” Obviously, that sounded to me like a challenge.

So today, dear Reader, I made it. A strange confection, gluten free, dairy free, with a base of fruit and nuts, with coconut oil and eggs. Naturally, I somehow did not have the requisite 20cm Springform tin, though I could have sworn I had one a few days ago, so I improvised with one of those parchment liners from Lakeland that I happened to have in the cupboard. (All my baking tins are in a cupboard in the utility room as even my new kitchen has no space for them. Nigella, apparently, has a whole wardrobe dedicated to baking tins, for the same reason.)

It seems to have turned out OK though I don’t think anyone will be eating it until at least Christmas Day afternoon, so I’ll have to report back. The idea of using coconut oil has intrigued me, though. In India it’s been used since the beginning of time as a skin lotion and hair conditioner, and my mother used it on her own long hair. I remember the bottles of solidified oil warming up to melt on the radiator behind the telephone table in the hall at home. I hated the stuff because I didn’t want to reek of it. How funny, then, that it’s become such a fashionable superfood now.

I have vegetarian guests over Christmas and one of my tasks over the next few days is to make mince pies – I never buy them. I use a combination of butter and white fat for the shortcrust pastry but I’m not happy about using hydrogenated vegetable oil so recently I’ve used lard. Which is, of course, not acceptable for vegetarians.

So I wondered whether I could substitute white fat for coconut oil. People like @VeganNeil, who should know, have pointed me in the direction of sites that use coconut oil for pastry crusts so I think I might well give them a go to satisfy my curiosity if nothing else. I’ll report back when I do.


And another day, another batch of brownies. This time, after many, many years, I finally used the correct sized pan. I added 8 minutes to the woefully inadequate 25 minute cooking time, let them cool completely and they were STILL runny in the centre and had to be saved by microwaving them. I wonder if my brownies will ever turn out properly.


Hot toddy time

Hot toddy time




Let’s just chill instead

Boo. I should have been dressed up and at a party tonight with some of my choir members singing carols around their piano. I was going to bake some of Nigella’s sexy brownies with, for the first time ever, the correctly-sized pan.

Instead I woke up this morning feeling that my throat had been coated in razor wire and was slowly closing in on me. I had a fever and a headache too. Get out your tiniest violins.

It was inevitable, really, that I should get a cold this week. Everyone I’ve spoken to this week has been ill and I always succumb to something in the week before Christmas. Originally my singing exam was to be scheduled for tomorrow so let’s be thankful for small mercies. Being ill gave me an excuse to sleep for longer than usual and I managed to finish off my 60-odd Christmas cards. Yes. I know I’ve missed all the last posting deadlines but better late than never.

Having a cold also means that I have an excuse to be pampered with the OH’s special hot toddy. Here is the recipe:


The OH’s special Hot Toddy

4 tsps whisky (roughly)

4 tsps honey

2 tsps lemon juice, freshly squeezed if possible

Fill a heatproof mug half full with boiling water.

Add the honey and stir well. Add the lemon juice and top up with filtered water. Adjust sourness, alcohol level, sweetness, hotness to taste. Drink while hot. Sleep.





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