Christmas in the world of commercial baking needs time. Time to plan...time to bake...time to mature! These Christmas cakes were made in September...the fruit macerated in brandy, rum & port for 10 days....
...and after baking, were fed with more rum for the months leading up to the celebrations. The decorations were completed in late November, when many of them were sold at the last Farmer's Market of the year. Others were packaged up as gifts to be bought nearer to the time...they are all, hopefully, merely crumbs and happy memories by now! Festive brownie packaging takes a bit of thought and planning too...
At Sugar Moon
we like things to look beautiful and inviting...
...with a few quirky touches! I think we succeeded. Love these stickers from Moo
, a company I highly recommend for their quality and service.
Mince pies were baked and consumed in quantity also...we receive orders from family and friends for these, usually all delivered on Christmas Eve...so it's a hectic time. But we wouldn't want it any other way...
In early December, I went up to Nottingham with my great friend Charlie Massey (one half of the fabulous Grumpy Bakers, who bake a brilliant range of 'real' breads from their base at Twyford Community Stores near Buckingham) to the School of Artisan Food
...where we took a two-day intensive course in baking laminated breads and pastries with french master baker extraordinaire Mickael Jahan
Here I am, glazing some of our beauteous baguettes...
..and pointing out (helpfully) a special decoration!
The sense of achievement was amazing...this is a field in which I was fairly inexperienced, although I used to bake croissants and viennoiserie many years ago...
Michael's teaching was brilliant - and the course was great fun too....we shaped and baked all manner of breakfast goods - croissants, of course...
danish pastries ( these were pains aux raisins mainly, but some with chocolate creme patissiere too...)
and pains aux chocolate too. The dough needed much resting and folding and an initial overnight prove..
But the results were stunning and definitely worth the wait!
We also made much brioche in different forms...orange & lemon plaits...
traditional brioche loaves...
and some containing hazelnuts and chocolate chips, or rum-soaked fruits....
...these had a macaronade topping, made from ground almonds, egg white and sugar...which gives a beautiful cracked appearance and extra texture.
We got to pack up and take home all our produce at the end, too...over 300 items managed to squeeze into Charlie's little white Skoda...
...the fragrance on our long drive home was fabulous!
There are many courses available at the school...for professionals or novices...and we'd highly recommend them!
So...a new year is almost upon us. I thought you might like a beautiful cake recipe to brighten these dark winter days (or add a deeper glow to your summer ones, if you're in the southern hemisphere!)
Probably my favourite new cookbook of 2014 has been Honey & Co
by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer. I've written about it in greater depth in a previous post, but this cake is a fabulously easy and delicious one...
In the book (and this recipe) Sarit uses only lemons...but in mine (and the pictures) I often use oranges too...or a mixture!
Saffron & Lemon Syrup Cake
For the cake:
270g sugar (I use golden caster)
200g ground almonds
a pinch of turmeric
140g semolina (I use polenta to make the cake gluten-free...either is fine!)
2 tbsp plain flour (or GF flour)
1 lemon, juice & zest
1/2 tsp baking powder (GF if applicable)
For the syrup & topping:
2 lemons, really thinly sliced
enough water to cover x 2, plus 400ml
250g caster sugar
a pinch each of turmeric & saffron (or just use turmeric if saffron is unavailable or too pricey for you)
Grease & line a 23cm cake tin with baking parchment (I use a loose-bottomed one)
Place the lemon slices for the syrup & topping in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil over a high heat.
Drain the slices, re-cover with water and bring to the boil again. Drain for a second time (this process removes any bitterness), then cover with the 400ml water. Add the saffron, turmeric and sugar & bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6-8 minutes until the peel is soft & the syrup has thickened.
Remove from the heat.
Use a fork to lift the lemon slices out of the syrup and layer them, just slightly overlapping, all over the base and a little up the sides of the lined baking tin....
Pour over 2 tbsp of the syrup and reserve the rest for later.
Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/Gas Mark 4
Cream the butter and sugar together (I use a stand mixer)....
...until they are well combined but not fluffy, as you don't want to aerate this mixture. Stir in the eggs, ground almonds and turmeric, then fold in the semolina, flour, lemon juice & zest, salt & baking powder. Mix well and scrape into the cake tin.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes, then turn the cake tin round to ensure even baking and bake for a further 10-15 minutes (I find that my oven needs a little more time...up to 30 sometimes!) The cake should be golden and firm. Remove from the oven and pour over the remaining syrup to soak in. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before turning out. Place a plate over the top of the tin and invert, then gently remove the tin and paper....
As Sarit says..."Now,turn off the lights and watch it glow...."
Stunning! And so, to celebrate the beginning of a sparkly New Year...we're giving away a copy of this fabulous book to one lucky reader!
We'll send a copy anywhere in the world. To enter, just leave a comment on this post. That's it!
Good luck....the winning name will be drawn on January 15th.
Until then....thanks so much for reading, and for supporting Sugar Moon
this year. Hoping that 2015 is filled with good things for all of us! x