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Kitchen rhythms

by
11 December 2015

by Simon Walsh

iStock

NO COOK needs reminding that Christmas requires preparation. Yet Advent is an opportunity, for those so minded, to find spiritual discipline in the rhythms and rigours of the kitchen. My mother would always spend time baking Mince Pies, later boxed and doled out at parties, on visits, and in church. I like the manger resonance, so make them crescent-shaped, almost like pasties, and endorse the Nigella Lawson method of using Trex and orange juice in the pastry.

 

75g (3 oz) Trex/vegetable fat

75g (3 oz) unsalted butter

300g (11 oz) plain flour

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons orange juice

mincemeat (added brandy

optional)

 

Weigh the butter and Trex; freeze for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Measure the flour and salt into a food processor, pulsing to sift. Grate the cold butter and Trex into the flour. Mix at low speed to the fine crumbs stage, then add the juice and continue blitzing. If a little more liquid (juice or cold water) is needed, then be judicious. Once in a rough ball, knead a little on a floured surface, wrap in cling film, and chill for 20 minutes.

Roll out with flour to the thickness of a £1 coin. Using your largest round pastry-cutter, get to work on as many circles as you can. Place about 1 dessertspoonful of mincemeat in the centre of each, and fold over into a half-moon, pressing down on the edges and sealing with milk. Place them evenly on a baking tray, and then into the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove to a wire rack to cool, and dust with icing sugar to serve.

These Advent biscuits are based on St Nicholas cookies.

 

225g (8 oz) unsalted butter

350g (12 oz) muscovado sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons mixed peel

3 teaspoons mixed spice

600g (1 lb 5 oz) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

 

Cream together the butter and sugar; then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the mixed peel and spices with the flour and baking powder until all combined. Chill the dough for two hours, then roll out; deploy whichever shape cutter you like, and place on a baking sheet and in the oven (200°C/400°F/Gas 6) for 15 minutes. Cool, and then decorate if desired; makes around 35.

Another maternal glory is Brandy butter, white and hard as compacted snow, and delicious chipped into a mince pie. Little pots of this were always in demand. Cream 250g (9 oz) softened, unsalted butter with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in 250g (9 oz) icing sugar and 250g (9 oz) caster sugar. Beat in 2 tablespoons of milk and 3 tablespoons of brandy (or more, to taste), then stir through 3 tablespoons of ground almonds. Divide into ramekins (or one large dish), and decorate with a glacé cherry and angelica to resemble holly (à la the 1970s). Cover with cling film, and refrigerate. It will keep two to three weeks.

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