Xmas Cakes 2014

It is becoming something of a tradition for me to post photographs of my Christmas cakes each year. This time we were away for Xmas and this meant that my approach was simpler – basically just some cut-out flower shapes and colouring. Even so, I was quite pleased with the results.

Only a small family cake this year because we had to carry it by train

Only a small family cake this year because we had to carry it by train

Cake 4

In real life the cake looked much better when dusted with icing sugar but I like the photo I took before that stage

Below are the small cakes I made for friends and relatives. An individual hand-decorated cake is always a great gift. Cake 1Cake 3Cake 6I would like to wish everyone who follows this blog a very happy and fulfilling New Year!

See also: Cake (2012) and Decorating Christmas Cakes for Gifts (2013)

 

Decorating Christmas Cakes For Gifts

This year I made and decorated small Xmas cakes to give as gifts. Rather than the marzipan and fruit decoration I used last year, I went back to using icing to make the flowers and leaves for this year.

Here are a few photographs showing how I did the decoration.

A finished cake

A finished cake

Levelling the top of a cake using marzipan

Levelling the top of a cake using marzipan

My first step was to level the uneven tops of my cakes using a little apricot jam and small pieces of marzipan.

Cake coated with marzipan

Cake coated with marzipan

Next, a layer of marzipan was added over the whole cake.

Cake after icing

Cake after icing

The marzipan was followed by a nice smooth coat of icing.

Basic flower shape cut out of icing

Basic flower shape cut out of icing

Using a suitable cutter I cut basic flower shapes from thinly rolled icing. To prevent sticking I make liberal use of cornflower.

Re-shaping flower

Re-shaping flower

I added some 3-dimensional form with the aid of a toothpick.

Adding colour to the flower

Adding colour to the flower

I have both liquid and powder forms of cake decorator’s colours. Here I used a little of the powder type to colour the flowers.

Creating the final flower shape using foil

Creating the final flower form using foil

The final form of the flowers was set by placing the soft icing shapes into a pre-shaped bed of kitchen foil. The flowers were then allowed to stiffen before adding them to the cake.

Making flat leaf shapes

Making flat leaf shapes

Flat shapes such as leaves are much quicker and simpler to make.

Adding all the individual parts

Adding all the individual parts to the cake

When all the pieces are ready they are attached to the cake using drops of icing.

Another finished example!

Another finished example!

With a little dusting of icing sugar to provide a “snow effect”, the cake is complete.

This may seem like a lot of work but I found that it did not take too long provided I stuck to variations on a simple theme and did not get sucked in to exploring design possibilities!

Technical note: I made my own gelatin icing for decorating these cakes. This is probably a little easier to form 3-D shapes with but regular fondant icing could also be used.

Chinese-style Stuffed Peppers

This summer was a bit of a disaster for our vegetable garden including for our crop of peppers. Alex usually grows a selection of different types but only the chillies did well this year, with the the others barely providing a couple of meals. Still, we had enough from our “Hungarian Wax” variety to be worth making a batch of our favourite Chinese-style stuffed peppers, even though they were all very small.

Chinese-style stuffed peppers

Chinese-style stuffed peppers

Stuffing Ingredients

200gms minced pork or chicken
3 pieces cloud ear fungus (bought dried from a Chinese supermarket)
4 spring onions (finely chopped)
Small piece of chopped preserved vegetable (mustard green or Mu choi) – optional
Small bunch of  chopped watercress (save sprig for garnish) – optional
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sherry
2 tsp sesame oil
0.5 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornflour
white pepper for seasoning

The dried cloud-ear fungus must be soaked overnight

The dried cloud-ear fungus must be soaked overnight

Soaked cloud-ear with watercress

Soaked cloud-ear with watercress

Cloud-ear and cress after chopping

Cloud-ear and cress after chopping

The stuffing ingredients with an unchopped piece of preserved vegetable

The stuffing ingredients including an unchopped piece of preserved vegetable

Chop the soaked cloud-ear and preserved vegetable, then mix all the stuffing ingredients together.
At this point it is a good idea to cook a teaspoon of the mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and check the flavour. Adjust if necessary.

The prepared stuffing and the (very small) peppers I am using

The prepared stuffing and the (very small) peppers I am using

Deseed the peppers as shown in the photographs. If you have large peppers, e.g. bell peppers, then these are best cut in half.

Deseeding a pepper

Deseeding a pepper

The peppers ready for stuffing

The peppers ready for stuffing

With very small peppers such as those shown, stuffing can be a fiddly business. I use a blunt ended wooden chopstick to push the filling in but I am sure you could come up with many other suitable alternatives.

Using a chopstick to help fill the pepper

Using a chopstick to help fill the pepper

The filled peppers ready for frying

The filled peppers ready for frying

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan or wok with a lid. Fry the peppers on a medium heat for around 10 minutes, keeping them covered with a lid except when stirring. If you are unsure about the cooking time then you can cut one pepper open to check that the meat is cooked through.

Frying the peppers

Frying the peppers in a wok

Finally make a sauce to serve with the peppers by frying 3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves and 2 or 3 finely chopped chillies in a little oil. Add to this:
0.5 tbs dark soy sauce
1 tbs light soy sauce
2 tbs sherry
and thicken with a little cornflour mixed with water. Pour sauce over the peppers and serve.

Frying garlic and chillies to make the sauce

Frying garlic and chillies to make the sauce

Chinese-style stuffed peppers

Chinese-style stuffed peppers. The finished dish

Deep-fried Wonton

It has been far too long since I last posted on my other passion in life, which is food.
This is a special post because it covers my family’s all time favourite snack
food – deep-fried wonton.
Deep-fried wonton are seriously tasty, and, while you have to source a few
special Chinese ingredients, making them is well worth the effort.
Learn to make these well and anyone (e.g. boyfriend, girlfriend,
unruly child, etc.) could become your willing slave!

Deep-fried wonton

Deep-fried wonton are seriously tasty!

Recipe
1 packet of wonton pastry wrappers – makes about 40 wonton – (Buy these frozen from your local Chinese supermarket)
Oil for deep frying
1 egg white for sealing wonton together (add the yolk to the filling mix)

For the filling:
300g pork or chicken(thigh, boned and skinned), coarsely minced
150g raw prawns, chopped
3-4 spring onions, chopped
2cm ginger root, grated
1/3 tin bamboo shoots, with the water squeezed out then chopped
½ tin of water chestnuts, finely chopped
6 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked overnight then finely chopped
1 tablespoon rice wine or sherry
1 ½ tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornflour

For the sweet and sour sauce:
4 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon Chinese rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
white pepper
dash of chilli oil (optional)
Clove of galic, crushed

Making the sauce:
Fry the garlic for a minute or two, then add the ketchup and the other ingredients and stir well. Check the taste and add a little pinch of sugar if required.

Making the filling:

Chopping Chinese mushroom

Chopping Chinese mushroom after soaking overnight

Prepare the ingredients for the filling but do not chop the ingredients too finely for a better texture.

Prepared wonton filling mixture

Prepared wonton filling mixture

Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl.

Painting egg-white on wrapper

Painting egg-white around one half of the wrapper

To prepare a wonton, place a single wrapper on a chopping board or similar surface. Place a heaped teaspoonful of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Do not overfill or it will burst while frying.
Brush some egg white around half of the wrapper edge, then fold over the filling.

Folding wrapper in half

Folding wonton wrapper in half

Press around the edges to seal them together. There should be no gaps.
Next apply a dab of egg white in one corner on the side with the folded edge.

Applying a dab of egg-white to the corner

Applying a dab of egg-white to the corner

Now pull the two corners of the folded edge over one another and press them so that the egg white sticks them together. The shape should twist into a sort of “boat” shape.

Pulling two corners together to form a boat shape

Pulling two corners together to form a boat shape

This “boat”  (or hat) shape is a traditional lucky shape for Chinese. It resembles the shape traditionally used for precious metal ingots.

Forming the finished boat shape

Forming the finished boat shape

Continue filling wonton until you have run out of filling or wrappers. You are then ready to fry them but first you should mix the sauce ingredients if they are going to be served hot.

A batch of wonton ready to fry

A batch of wonton ready to fry

Deep fry in small batches in moderately hot oil. The filling should be cooked by the time the wrapper is golden and just darkening on the edges.

Deep fry in small batches

Deep fry in small batches

Using bamboo chopsticks to remove the cooked wonton

I find bamboo chopsticks the best tools to remove the cooked wonton

Wonton are best eaten hot but are also an excellent cold snack.

Wonton packed ready for a picnic

Wonton packed to be eaten cold on a picnic

A Simple Chinese Meal

Steamed Chicken with Ginger and Spring Onion accompanied by Stir-Fried Broccoli

Here is a very straightforward meal for everyday eating that is always a big favourite in our house. It can be prepared quickly for a family meal, though these two dishes would also be excellent when combined with others as part of a larger, more formal Chinese banquet.

The two finished dishes

The two finished dishes

Chicken with Ginger and Spring Onion

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 5 cm ginger (grated)
  • A bunch of spring onions (around 6), finely sliced
  • A few coriander sprigs
  • Half teaspoon ginger powder
  • One and a half tablespoons sunflower oil

Put around 300ml water into a pan (the water should reach just half the depth of the chicken.)

The water should be half the chicken depth

The water should be half the chicken depth

Bring the water to the boil and add the chicken. Simmer on a low heat for 3 or 4 minutes then turn the meat over and continue to simmer until the meat is cooked, probably around another 5 minutes. It is very important to cook the chicken on a very low heat. Otherwise the meat will be dry.

Let the meat has cool slightly, then slice neatly.

Slice the meat into neat bite-size pieces

Slice the meat into neat bite-size pieces

Heat the oil in a pan until it is very hot, add the ginger powder then the grated ginger and stir for 20 seconds. Then add the spring onion and cook for just another 10 seconds or so before turning off the heat.

Transfer the ginger and spring onion sauce to a bowl, and then add salt and a little juice from the steamed chicken.

Serve the sliced chicken with a generous portion of the sauce spooned on top. This dish can be served at room temperature.

Serve the chicken with a generous covering of sauce

Serve the chicken with a generous covering of sauce

Stir-fried Broccoli

  • 500g broccoli / one head
  • 1 small carrot
  • 2cm piece ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of sherry or Chinese rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
Cut up the broccoli and slice the carrots

Cut up the broccoli and slice the carrots

Separate the broccoli into small florets and thinly slice the stalk. Slice the carrot diagonally (for a decorative effect you can cut each slice into a leaf shape.)

Carrots can be cut in decorative leaf shapes

Carrots can be cut in decorative leaf shapes

Crush the ginger and chop finely.

Crush then chop the ginger

Crush then chop the ginger

While it is possible to put the uncooked broccoli directly into the wok, many people may find they get better results by lightly steaming the broccoli before stir frying. Restaurants often use this method.  Place the broccoli in a pan and add just 3 or 4 tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt. Put the lid on the pan and steam for around 3 minutes. Make sure that the pan does not dry up. Drain the vegetables well. This short steaming should leave the broccoli looking a nice bright green.

Heat the oil in a wok or deep frying pan, add the ginger and carrot then fry for a minute or two. Then add the broccoli and stir fry for another 2 minutes or so.  Next add the sherry or rice wine. Cook until the vegetables are tender. If the pan seems a bit too dry during cooking then add a dash of water.

Fry the ginger and carrot before adding the steamed broccoli

Fry the ginger and carrot before adding the steamed broccoli

Make the broccoli the last dish you cook and serve immediately. Serve with steamed rice and you have a wonderful Chinese meal!

Time your cooking so that the broccoli is served immediately

Time your cooking so that the broccoli is served immediately

Chinese Beef Hotpot

I have not posted anything relating to food for a while so here is my own recipe for Cantonese style Beef Hotpot. This makes a very rich and satisfying maincourse and is very simple to make.
If made with good chuck steak this can be cooked quite quickly using a wok or similar pan. If you subtitute something like shin of beef, it would be more suitable for slow cooking in a casserole.

Cantonese style beef hotpot

Cantonese style beef hotpot

Ingredients
500 grams  cubed beef  (chuck steak or skirt)
1 tsp 5 mixed spice
1 tsp curry powder
3 cloves of garlic (crushed)
2cm ginger (crushed and roughly chopped)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine or sherry
1 tsp brown sugar
Cornflour to thicken
Spring onion or wild garlic flowers and coriander leaves to garnish
Options:
Carrot or mooli (daikon) cut in chunks

Cubed beef

Cubed beef

Cut the beef into cubes and marinade with the 5 mixed spice and curry powder for half an hour.

Crushed ginger and garlic

Crushed ginger and garlic

Frying the garlic and ginger before adding the beef

Frying the garlic and ginger before adding the beef

Heat two tablespoonfuls of oil in a wok or frying pan. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds (taking care not to let the garlic burn.) Introduce the beef and fry until brown. Add the wine and cook for another minute, then add the soy sauce and cook for 30 seconds more.

Adding Mooli chunks after the beef is browned

Adding Mooli chunks after the beef is browned

Now put in the carrot or mooli, the sugar and enough water to cover the beef. Bring to boil and simmer for around 20 / 30 minutes. Check that the meat is tender. You should have only a little bit of sauce left in the pan. If the dish seems too dry then add a little bit of water. Just before turning off the heat, mix a teaspoon of cornflour with a little bit of water then stir into the other ingredients.

Carrots can be used in chunks as a main vegetable or as decoration

Carrots can be used in chunks as a main vegetable or as decoration

Shredded spring onion for garnish with carrot "leaf"

Shredded spring onion for garnish with carrot “leaf”

Cantonese style beef hotpot

Cantonese style beef hotpot

Serve with rice and stir-fried vegetables. Enjoy!

Wai-Yuk’s Filled Bread

Since food is one of my great loves in life I thought I would give you another recipe. This way of making filled bread is not exactly original but it is one I have developed over time and is always enthusiastically received!

Filled bread - Ready to eat - Delicious!

Filled bread – Ready to eat – Delicious!

Dough Ingredients:

450gms bread flour
50gms wheatgerm or oatmeal
5ml (1 tsp) yeast
0.5 tsp salt
30ml (1 tbsp) oil
320ml lukewarm water (may need slight adjustment depending on flour)

Preparing the dough:

1) Mix dry ingredients.
2) Make hole in centre, add oil and water then mix.
3) Transfer to flour-dusted worktop and knead dough for 5-10 minutes until soft and silky (Note: If dough is sticky this means too much water).
4) If dough is hard and dry add water by wetting palms during kneading.
5) Seal dough inside a large polythene bag.
6) Leave until it has doubled in size (approx. 2hrs at room temperature).

The first kneading of the dough

The first kneading of the dough

Fillings:

Option 1: Cheese ‘n Bacon
2 sliced medium onions plus 2 crushed garlic cloves (fried until golden)
100gms grated cheese
Bacon pieces (fried)

Option 2: Chorizo with Mushrooms
Onions fried as above
Cheese as above
Chorizo or other spiced sausage
Button mushrooms
Crushed garlic

Slice and fry chorizo to get rid of excess fat. Add sliced button mushrooms and garlic plus a little tomato ketchup and herbs and cook on gentle heat for 5 minutes or until mushrooms are soft

Option 3
Any other fillings you can think of!

Some suitable fillings - cheese, onions and salami

Some suitable fillings – cheese, onions and salami

Adding the Filling:

1) Knead the dough for 2 minutes
2) Divide into 10 equal pieces (this makes 5 filled breads).
3) Roll out pairs of dough balls into long ovals of equal size (You can scatter some sesame seeds on the worktop before rolling for a tasty outer crunch).
4) Place fillings on one piece keeping them at least 1.5mm from the edges.
e.g.  Sprinkle a layer of cheese, then a layer of onion and some bacon followed by another layer of cheese.
5) Brush edges with water then stretch the second oval of dough over the top so that the two halves match up. Press the edges firmly together then turn over the edges slightly to ensure a good seal.
6) Brush both sides with a very little oil.
7) Heat a frying pan with a lid to a medium heat.
8) Fry both sides for 5 minutes or until golden, keeping a lid on the pan.

Enjoy! (They are best warm from the pan but will keep a few days in the fridge and can be reheated in a microwave).