Recipe: Gingerbread Thumbprint Cookies with Mackays Christmas Preserve

These gingerbread cookies are the most festive cookies, ever.

I make the dough a day in advance and leave it to chill in the fridge. You can either take a few chunks out a time to make fresh cookies as and when you need, freeze it for a later date...or just eat them all in one go.

I've tried this recipe with a few different jams and preserves, my favourites being Mackays Christmas preserve or cherry jam. Regular strawberry and raspberry would work equally well!

Gingerbread Thumbprint Cookies with Mackays Christmas Preserve
(Makes 3 dozen)

150g butter, softened
170g soft brown sugar
80g molasses
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 egg
450g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1⁄2 tsp ground nutmeg
1⁄4 salt

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the molasses, ginger and egg and mix well.

Sift in the flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, nutmeg and salt and stir until well incorporated.

Press the dough into a ball, cover and chill in the fridge for 4 hours, or overnight.

Heat the oven to 1800c and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls and place on the tray with a 2-inch space between each cookie.

Press a thumbprint into the centre of each ball, about 1⁄2 inch deep.

Fill each with about 1⁄2 tsp Mackay’s Christmas Preserve.

Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, until the edges are golden. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Store in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days.

I was sent some gorgeous festive samples from Mackays in order to come up with some recipes. Feel free to use any jams...although this festive preserve is a sure winner!

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Review: Pizza Express Christmas Menu

Last week Boy and I set out to try the Pizza Express Christmas menu for lunch. It's probably the most festive I've felt so far. I heard a Christmas song for the first time this know when your ears prick up and you do a double take - yes, I am hanging up my stocking on the wall thank you, Slade.

So down to business, this year's Christmas menu...

To start, I opted for Arancini Provola, baked risotto balls with spinach and Provola cheese centre served with a spicy arrabbiata sauce.

Boy went for garlic bread as unfortunately they didn't have any of their other festive starters left, pork & pancetta croquettes.

Next up, I chose the Festiva Romana, brie, leek, pine kernels and mozzarella with garlic oil, rosemary and sage on a béchamel base served with lots of rocket, Gran Moravia cheese and cranberry sauce.

I love their traditional Romana bases and the béchamel sauce was a great creamy addition.

Boy went for the Anatra Romana, pulled duck, shredded courgette, red onion and mozzarella on a light plum hoisin sauce with lots of rocket and spring onions.

Tender shredded duck, sweet and sticky hoisin sauce - I'd definitely go back and order my own.

And for my favourite part,

Mince Pie Cheesecake, rum soaked fruit in a clotted cream cheesecake and crumbly biscuit base. Quite possibly the best cheesecake I've had in a while. It tastes exactly like a mince pie should, but in a creamy cheesecake!

And just as good, the Chocolate Tartufo, rich Belgian dark chocolate with a praline mousse centre.

I'd have quite happily polished off the other festive dessert also, Snowball Doughballs, all in the name of research if needed!

The Pizza Express Christmas menu offers a 2 course lunch menu for £14.95 or alternatively, 3 courses for dinner for £19.95 with a glass of prosecco.

Find out more here.

Although Pizza Express kindly asked me to give their festive menu a try, all opinions are my own - and I probably would have gone anyway...who am I kidding, I know I would!!

Recipe: Mini Christmas Cakes

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…”
This Sunday will mark the last Sunday before Advent, and it is therefore dubbed Stir-up Sunday.

A British tradition hailing back to the Victorian era, where families would gather in the kitchen to each take a turn to stir the pudding ingredients and to make their own wishes. Some hide coins in the mix, that once found are thought to bring health and happiness for the coming year.

Instead of making a regular Christmas cake, these mini versions are perfect for gifts.

Mini Christmas cake loaves
(Makes 8 mini loaves/muffins, recipe adapted from Whitworths)

180g sultanas
180g raisins
100g glacé cherries
30g mixed peel
50ml brandy
100g unsalted butter, softened
75g dark brown sugar
100g plain flour
2 tsp mixed spice
1 small orange, zest and juice
1/2 tbsp black treacle
2 eggs
50g flaked almonds

N.B, in order to make these quicker buy a bag of pre-soaked mixed fruit from your local supermarket and use instead. Alternatively, soak your own in brandy or your favourite tipple.

Place the dried fruit and peel into a bowl, pour over the brandy and cover. Leave for 48 hours to soak.

Heat the oven to 140 degrees and fill a baking tray with mini loaf cases (muffin trays will work just as well if you don't have any).

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Sift in the flour and mixed spice and gently beat to combine the mixture. Add the orange zest and juice, black treacle and beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the soaked fruit and almonds until evenly incorporated through the mixture.

Spoon the batter between the cake cases, filling to the top of each.

Place on the bottom rack of your oven and bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Store in an airtight tin until needed. To decorate, dust with icing sugar and dried cranberries. 

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Review: The Great British Butcher Giftset

Now that Christmas is well on the way, it's time to start thinking about Christmas gifts. Being quite organised, I usually write a list of ideas for my loved ones quite early on...including a little letter for Father Christmas myself. However, this year I seem to be having an unorganised streak. I have no clue what to get for anyone and where to start.

I suppose starting with food is always a good idea!

This all natural rubs and crumbs giftset from The Great British Butcher is a great set for all food lovers. Each of the 4 rubs and crumbs in the set can be used in a whole range of different meals, whether for creating new recipes and ideas or just to use on your weekly favourites to add a different taste.

The flavours within the set include: Bloody Mary Rub, British BBQ Rub, Crunchy Curry Crumb and Lemon & Mustard Crumb.

Within the box you get a recipe card for each of the 4 flavours to get you started. There's also a whole load more recipes on their Facebook page including Bloody Mary mayo, Lemon & Mustard salmon supreme and BBQ potato wedges.

I decided to give the Lemon & Mustard crumb a whirl today and use it for the coating of a homemade chicken kiev.

The shaker tins not only look great but are really easy to use with one side for pouring and one side for shaking.

Homemade chicken kievs
(Serves 2)

50g butter, room temperature
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 lemon
2 chicken breasts
2 tbsp flour, seasoned
2 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp Lemon & Mustard Crumb
4 tbsp breadcrumbs (panko or regular)
Vegetable oil to deep fry

To start, mash together the butter, garlic, parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Wrap and roll in clingfilm to form a tight sausage shape. Chill in the fridge whilst you prepare the chicken.

To butterfly the chicken, use a long sharp knife and slice along the long side of the breast using a sawing motion; be careful not to cut all the way through. Open up the breast and flatten between two pieces of cling film. Give it a good bash all over with a rolling pin until about 0.5cm thick all over.

Chop the sausage of butter into two halves. With the first, place onto one side of the chicken and roll the meat around it, tucking in the ends as you go. Wrap in clingfilm and roll the edges like a cracker to tighten the kiev shape. Continue with the second breast and freeze both for 2 hours.

Into 3 bowls, place the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. Roll the frozen kievs in all three one at a time, followed by a second coat of eggs and crumbs in order to get a nice coating. Place on a plate and leave in the fridge for 1 hour to defrost.

Heat the oven to 150 degrees. Fill a saucepan with enough oil to cover a kiev and gently heat to 160 degrees (or until a crumb of bread turns golden in 15 seconds when dropped in). Gently lower a kiev and cook for 8 1/2 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper and leave to keep warm in the oven whilst you fry the second one.

Once both are cooked, served with steamed vegetables and some new potatoes.

I know a few people in my family who would love to receive this set. I keen myself to create lots of new recipes with the other flavours. Or even just to top a fillet of fish as a quick weekday meal.

You can find the all natural rubs and crumbs giftset on Not on the Highstreet here, which comes with 4 rubs and crumbs, a teatowel and recipe cards.

I'm now off to eat my kiev. One of those food blogger moments when you photograph and blog before eating!

The lovely Danielle at The Flava People sent me the giftset to review, however all views and opinions are my own. This is exactly something I would buy for myself.

Recipe: Chilli Jam

It's been almost a year since I've lived in my own place. At the start I had great intentions to fill my window sills with happy herbs and flowers. But within the first fortnight I'd managed to kill off most of my plants, even those that didn't need much care. After an emergency visit to Mum's Plant Hospital for some much needed TLC they soon started to thrive.

Almost a year on, I've got to the stage of being able to keep things alive, just. After purchasing a chilli plant I've struggled to keep up with the amount it produces. There's only so much chilli a girl can have!

This recipe is easier than others I've tried and only needs 4 ingredients. It's a good way to keep up with my windowsill crops. Not to mention the boys in my family, they love this chilli jam!

Chilli jam
(Makes around 4 large jars)

150g fresh chillies, cut into 4
150g fresh red peppers, cored, deseeded and cut into chunks
1kg jam sugar
600ml cider vinegar

To sterilize your jars, wash them well in hot soapy water and rinse well. Place them on a baking sheet and leave in the oven on 140 degrees to dry.

Put the chopped chillies and peppers into a food processor and blitz. You may want to deseed the chillies depending on your heat preference or even so the jam looks smooth.

In a large wide pan, heat the sugar and vinegar on a low temperature until the sugar has melted, without stirring.

Scrape the chilli mix out of the processor and into the pan. Stir and bring to the boil. Leave boiling away at a high temperature for a further 10 minutes.

By now, the jam will be syrupy. Leave to cool for around 40 minutes. By this point the jam will have started to thicken.

Ladle into the prepared jam jars, seal tightly and leave to cool fully.

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Recipe: Crumble-topped Pear & Almond Slice

Another week, another recipe to use up what's lurking around my fridge. This week, pears.

After getting Ruby Tandoh's book Crumb the other week I've bookmarked a few recipes to try. You may remember rye & caraway bagels, they went down very well. This recipe is essentially a sweet bread topped with honeyed pears, almonds and crumble. Great with a steaming mug of coffee for breakfast.

Although there was no picture in the book, it did state to roll out to a rectangular shape...I went for more of a pizza slice, no one complained!

Crumble-topped pear & almond slice
(Recipe from Ruby Tandoh's Crumb, serves 8).

300g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp honey
190ml milk

For the pear topping:

4 firm dessert pears, such as Williams, Comice or Bosc (although I used Conference and they were fine)
30g unsalted butter
4 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp ground allspice
70g flaked almonds

For the crumble topping:

50g unsalted butter, room temperature
50g white flour
40g soft light brown sugar
30g flaked almonds, finely chopped

Combine the flour, yeast and honey together in a mixing bowl. In a small pan, heat the honey and milk on a low temperature until tepid. Pour into the dry ingredients, mix and knead for 5-10 minutes. The dough will become less sticky. Loosely cover with clingfilm and leave for an hour at room temperature. The dough will double in size.

Meanwhile, prepare the pears. Peel, core and slice. Melt the butter with honey and allspice on low in a large pan. Once melted, increase to a medium heat and add the pears to caramelised. They will soften and turn golden after 5 minutes if stirred regularly. If they start to disintegrate, remove from the heat. Stir in the flaked almonds and leave to cool.

For the crumble, rub together the butter, flour and sugar between your fingertips until the mixture clumps together. Add the chopped almonds and chill in the fridge.

Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the risen dough. Roll to around 20x30cm. Place on a large, lined baking tray and prove for 30-45 minutes. Heat the oven to 200 degrees.

Once proved, arrange the pears on the risen dough with a 1cm border. Sprinkle over the crumble and brush the edges with the leftover honey from the pears. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 180 degrees and bake for a further 20 minutes.

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Recipe: Cinnamon Apple Duffins (Doughnut Muffins)

Apple and cinnamon, possibly one of my favourite combinations. Not to mention that these duffins don't take a lot of time at all to make. Inspired by my favourite ones from Bea's of Bloomsbury, these are perfect for the colder months. Best served fresh from the oven with a large steaming mug of coffee.

Cinnamon apple duffins (doughnut muffins)
(Recipe adapted from Sweet Treats & More, makes 12 mini or 6 large)

230g plain flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
80g unsalted butter, softened
110g soft light brown sugar
1 large cooking apple, peeled and grated
1 egg
65ml whole milk

Cinnamon mix for coating:

50g golden granulated/soft light brown sugar
60g butter
1 tbsp ground cinnamon

Heat the oven to 190 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the butter, roughly. Whisk the egg, milk and grated apple together. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together. Pour into a well greased muffin pan. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes.

For the sugar coating, melt the butter in a small bowl. In another bowl mix the cinnamon and sugar together. When the duffins are cooked, dip each individually in the butter and then the sugar mix to coat.

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Recipe: Cherry and Ginger Swirl Loaf

Over my time of baking and blogging I've tried out a few recipes using jam as an ingredient. Its such a versatile ingredient to both sweet and savoury cooking that I don't think people use enough.

Take this recipe, a standard loaf cake, swap the cherry with raspberry jam and the ginger for lemon zest and you have transformed it to something more suited to Spring. Its handy to have one of these recipes in your repertoire to change up as you need from season to season. 

Come Winter/Christmas time, I'd be more inclined to go for marmalade and nutmeg or even a ginger preserve with orange zest.

In this loaf, I like to swirl the jam into the top of the batter. That way you get a nice fruity crust once baked. Unintentionally this one came out with a face in the first few may be able to notice!

Cherry & Ginger Swirl Loaf
(Makes a 2lb loaf, or 8" round cake)

175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top
3 eggs
200g self raising flour
25g ground almonds
2 tsp ground ginger (or equivalent spice/zest of your choice)
4 tbsp Mackays Morello cherry preserve (or equivalent jam/preserve of your choice)

Heat the oven to 180 degrees and grease and line the loaf tin.

Add all ingredients except the jam into a large mixing bowl and beat together until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Pour into the loaf tin and smooth over the top with the back of a spoon. Spoon the jam into a piping bag (or sandwich bag), snip off the end and swirl onto the top of the loaf.

Bake for 40 minutes in the centre of the oven, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. If there's some jam near the edges of the tin the sugar in it will catch and darken quickly, but it still tastes great.

Once cooked, sprinkle with the extra sugar and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. After which, turn out and leave to cool fully on a wire cooling rack.

This cake can be frozen for 1 month if needed.

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