Friday, December 31, 2010

Where there's a will, there's a way

There's only one chapter in the Edmonds book I hadn't yet ventured into: 'Desserts with Edmonds'. As you know, I don't habitually use pre-packaged cake mixes, or eat regular desserts, so this particular chapter has been a bit neglected.

Bex and Richard's New Year's Eve barbecue seemed like the perfect time to make black forest cheesecake (p216). After all, cherries are in season, and I'd had the continental cheesecake mix sitting in the cupboard for ages.

Of course, choosing to make a chilled cheesecake when you haven't got a working fridge is perhaps not the smartest idea, but hey, that just adds to the challenge.

The first hurdle was in buying the ingredients, seeing as any leftover milk and cream would need refrigerating. I got past this by buying the smallest available carton of milk and leaving the cream (only required for decorating) until I was at work today.

I left my cheesecake making for later on last night, meaning that it would spend the shortest time possible in my dodgy fridge. The first part was very easy: just mix melted butter with the contents of the crumb sachet, and press into the bottom and sides of a springform tin.

The next part was to beat the filling mix with milk, then fold in melted chocolate and chopped cherries. I decided I'd better get the chocolate melting before I started with anything else, so opened the cupboard to grab the chocolate chips.

The choc chip container was empty. Cursing under my breath, I recalled the way I had, that very afternoon, stood in the baking aisle of Pak N Save and talked myself out of buying chocolate chips because I was sure I had some at home. D'oh.

A mad dash to Countdown supplied the lack, and I was soon back in the kitchen, melting chocolate over a pot of hot water and chopping cherries while my mixer beat the filling mixture. In a remarkably short time I had the filling poured into the base and ready to set.

Here was the challenge: how to chill a cheesecake in a fridge that is barely below ambient temperature? Easily: I placed the tin on top of some ice cube bags and left it there overnight. In the morning, the filling was set, and, more importantly, the cheesecake was still nice and cold. I packed it carefully in a chilly bag, along with a few other items, and placed it in the office fridge as soon as I got to work. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, children sometimes choose inconvenient times to get sick. So it was with Bex and Richard's little boy and the barbecue was understandably cancelled. I was not bothered about my sudden lack of New Years' plans, but I was in a slight quandary about the cheesecake. I couldn't take the whole thing home to eat myself, and in any case, I didn't have a decent fridge to put it in!

I wound up feeding it to the workmates - but first I had to finish decorating it. Hurrying to get the whipped cream on the cake before the end of lunch break, I did something monumentally stupid. I'd whipped the cream by shaking it up in a large jar. It's so large that if you try to scoop cream out of it with a spoon, you miss lots and merely end up with cream all over your sleeve. I decided it would be easier to turn it upside down and tip it into the piping bag.

There was one major flaw in this plan: a piping bag has an open nozzle at the other end. Forgetting this, I tipped the jar into the bag, and gave it a bit of a shake. In the split second it took me to realise that this was a VERY bad idea, the nozzle had flicked forward, and then back again, squirting lightly whipped cream all over my brand new top, my jeans, my desk and my phone, with a few random splatters on floor and computer chair.

I really don't know why I didn't think to take a photo of this. You'd probably have found it entertaining - at least, Steve and Sue thought it was hilarious. I guess I was just busy trying to scrub cream off my clothes and desk.

Eventually, I managed to clean off all the spillage and pipe cream around the cheesecake in a decorative fashion. Placing a cherry on top of each blob of cream, I declared the cake ready to eat.

I was very surprised at just how tasty the cheesecake was. I'd tasted the filling while I was making it, and it pretty much tasted of nothing. After those hours chilling down, the flavour of the cherries and chocolate had done their work, turning a bland filling into something rich and moreish. It was very sweet, and tasted more like a mousse with a base than an actual cheesecake, but it was delicious all the same. The nice fresh chunks of cherries in the filling were definitely my favourite bit.

I managed to fob bits of cheesecake off onto various people, so that I only ended up with a small piece to take home. Everyone agreed that it was lovely, though perhaps a bit sweet. Now I just have to finish up the rest of it before it goes bad in my fridge!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sticky situation

After three days of blissful relaxation in Blenheim, it was time to head back to Christchurch. Before we left, we popped into a local hydroponic strawberry farm, where I was able to pick up jam strawberries for the fantastic price of $2 a kilo. I hadn't really been thinking about making strawberry jam (p228), but I couldn't pass up a deal like that!

Unfortunately, when I got home, I found that my old Kelvinator fridge had seriously underperformed while I was away, turning milk lumpy and various other items mouldy in a temperature that was barely cool, and nowhere near cold. Without a decent fridge to keep my already soft strawberries in, and knowing I'd be distracted in the coming days with shopping around for a new one, I decided to get the jam done immediately.

I wasn't perhaps in an excellent jam-making frame of mind, but it seemed the best option at the time. Anyway, the recipe didn't look too difficult: just hull and mash the strawberries, add sugar and boil for five minutes. Then, add tartaric acid and boil a further five minutes before pouring into jars and sealing. I liked that there was no testing for setting point, and that there was only ten minutes boiling time.

Of course, things didn't go quite according to plan. I got out my usual large saucepan, forgetting that I generally only make a half recipe when I do jams. This one was a full recipe as the fruit had been so cheap. Even so, the fruit and sugar only took up just over half the pot, so no problem, right? That is, until it started boiling.

The jam rose to the very lip of the pot and threatened to spill over. I spent a harrowing few minutes trying to keep the liquid in a state that could be called a boil, while also preventing it from boiling over. Tricky, and looking back now, I don't think the jam was cooked anything like enough when the timer went off - I'd just been unable to boil it rapidly enough.

And then there were the jars. I had prepared the strawberries and was about to begin the jam making when it occurred to me to check whether I had enough jars. Naturally, I didn't. Grabbing all the jars I had (including an old Nutella glass) I put them in the oven to sterilise. But it wasn't nearly enough - I actually wound up using some water glasses for the remaining jam!

Added to that was my usual error of not letting the jars cool down enough, so the jam fizzed and bubbled over when I poured it into the jars, making an awful mess that, try as I might, I could not prevent from dribbling down to the floor.

Eventually I had my various sticky jam vessels filled and sealed - except for the final water glass, which was only half-full and not sealed since I had run out of seals anyway. What on earth was I going to do with this part-glass of jam?

Turning to my usual fallback, I contemplated bringing something to work. But what? Scones are good with jam, but they're really best if eaten the day they're made. The same is true for pikelets, but I didn't have time to make any before work, and nothing to cook them on if I wanted to make them there.

Or did I? The one cooking apparatus (apart from a microwave) we have in the office is a sandwich press: a hot, flat surface, perfect for making pikelets (p31)! I sifted together enough dry ingredients for a double pikelet batter, nestled an egg snugly in a small container of sugar, and set all aside with the jam to take to work.

At morning tea time, I heated up the sandwich press and mixed my batter. It was then that I realised that I should have had two eggs for the double recipe, but it was too late by then. I had to make do with what I had, adding a bit of extra milk instead.

I really should have paid more attention to the recipe - it specifically says not to overmix it, but I didn't notice this until I'd beaten the batter quite a lot to remove the lumps. Oh well. The pikelets cooked quite well on the sandwich press, though it wasn't quite as hot as a frypan so took a little longer. They were quite nice while hot, though a little rubbery from the overmixing once they'd cooled down. The missing egg wasn't actually noticeable at all.

The double mix made quite a few pikelets, and at first I didn't think many of them would get eaten. They all disappeared over the course of the day, though, along with most of my half-glass of jam. The jam itself tasted quite good (coming from me, that's high praise, since I don't really like strawberry jam much) but was very runny. It's probably because I didn't boil it enough, but I'm hoping the rest of the jars will set a little better in time.

Looking back, it wasn't a very good idea to do the jam last night. I made quite a mess of it (literally: my kitchen floor is still sticky) and I really don't know quite what I'm going to do with all that runny jam. On the other hand, I now know it's possible to make good pikelets on a sandwich press, which is information worth having, don't you think?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pre-Christmas Christmas

On Christmas Eve, I spent the morning madly running around getting the house clean.  Shortly before midday, I had the place looking respectable enough that I could turn my attention to the food.

I'd spent a lot of time trying to sort out a menu for my dinner. I wanted (of course) to use as many Edmonds recipes as possible, and make it decadent enough to be Christmassy, but I also needed to keep things reasonably low-key and, since we were heading to Blenheim the following morning, I wanted to avoid leftovers as far as possible.

It was with the 'minimal leftovers' concept in mind that I chose to make the essential Christmas dessert, sherry trifle (p205) in individual portions. I sandwiched the twin halves of yesterday's sad sponge with jam, cut the sandwich into small cubes and used them to line four dessert glasses. Then I drizzled the sherry over the sponge and spooned fruit and juice on top. Topped with custard and cream, the trifle was complete.

I'd whipped up a bottle of cream for the trifle, but hadn't used much of it. The rest went into two different bowls: in one I added mixed berries to make a filling for my brandy baskets, the other was used to create yoghurt cream (p214) to go with my meringues. I'd decided that a pav would make for unnecessary leftovers, so substituted the meringues. Admittedly, my yoghurt cream contained more cream than the two tablespoons in the recipe, and I'd used Greek yoghurt instead of plain, but the essentials of the recipe were there.

Dessert done, I turned my attention to the mains. The only thing I could really prepare in advance was the orange and rosemary stuffing (p135). I dragged out the food processor and whizzed up some bread to make crumbs, then adding onion; rosemary; orange zest and sage with some egg and melted butter to bind.

I had just finished drying the dishes created by these preparatory activities when Mum and Dad returned from picking up Nana. I'd laid out a reasonable spread of that excessive pre-Christmas baking of mine (once again shattering chunks of Christmas cake icing all over the kitchen), and we sat down to open presents and demolish our afternoon tea.

Once the gifts were open, and the afternoon tea plates looking impressively empty (I hadn't expected so much would get eaten, but I'd underestimated the Christmas 'nibble on things that are in front of you, even if you aren't hungry' tendency), I started looking at preparing the dinner.

I stuffed the chicken and got it in the oven (utilising a roasting bag, that marvellous invention that prevents fatty chickeney splatters all over the inside of your oven), while Mum, my willing kitchenhand, dealt with preparing the vegetables.

With the chicken we were having the usual new potatoes with a tomato salad (p179) and some carrots from Mum's garden turned into orange and ginger carrots (p161). The tomato salad was easy to make - it's just slices of tomato topped with parsley, spring onions and a fairly standard vinaigrette. The carrots were also easy - merely simmered in a small amount of orange juice, brown sugar and ginger.

Meanwhile, Dad was setting up the table. I don't have a dining table in my little flat, so Mum and Dad had brought up a picnic table for use in my courtyard. Unfortunately, the weather turned from gale-force Nor'wester in the morning to cool Southerly in late afternoon, so we abandoned that idea and set up the table in the middle of my lounge.

I got the 'breads and spreads' starter on the table just as the chicken came out of the oven. I was a bit worried that the hummus would be too bland and the salmon pâté fishy to the point of being inedible. I was wrong about that though - both were well received, and while there was far too much pate and hummus for four people to eat, the bread platter was soon empty. The pita crisps weren't perhaps the best match - they're so thin and crispy that they just broke if you tried to put a spread on them. They were tasty though, so it didn't really matter.

The starters were soon followed by the roast chicken, stuffing and vegetables. The chicken was lovely and moist, and the veges and salad very nice. I was not impressed with the stuffing: I'd stupidly forgotten to season it, so it was really quite bland. My own fault of course, but even had I remembered the seasoning, I think it would have been unremarkable in flavour.

After a suitable break for digestion, we moved on to dessert. The trifles were very tasty, though I think I should have put in slightly more juice - the sponge was not quite as soaked through as you expect in a trifle. I have no complaints about the brandy baskets - the cream and fruit filling worked so well I was glad I made baskets instead of traditional brandy snaps. Finally, there were the meringues. Topped with yoghurt cream and passionfruit pulp, they were quite delicious. Only Nana resisted a second helping - the rest of us had to have just one more!

That finished off our Christmas Eve dinner. I think I did a reasonable job of creating a Christmassy spread - and almost all out of the Edmonds book. Certainly the over-full sleepiness that set in after the meal was a typical Christmas feeling - and the next day, we headed to Blenheim to do it all over again!

Friday, December 24, 2010

In preparation

Since Mum, Dad and I are heading up to Blenheim on Saturday to spend Christmas with Anthony and Beth (my brother and Sister-in-law), we decided to have a low-key Christmas celebration with Nana at my place on Christmas Eve.

If nothing else, this gave me a chance to knock off a good few recipes, because Beth (who's a much better cook than me anyway) will be doing most of the cooking in Blenheim.

So on Thursday night (Christmas Eve Eve), I arrived home with a long list of things to get done. Chief among them was to get my house in some semblance of order and cleanliness, but I also had several things to make in advance for the meal.

I'd decided to do a simple starter of 'breads and spreads', making salmon pâté (p193) hummus (p196) and also some savoury pita breads (p195) to add to the bread platter. The hummus recipe uses dried chickpeas (though I expect you could substitute canned ones and skip the first few steps) so the first thing I did was to pour boiling water over the chickpeas and leave them to soak while I made my lasagne.

With the lasagne in the oven, and the chickpeas still soaking, I made a start on the pita breads, splitting one large pita in half, then spreading them with butter (or canola spread, in my case), garlic, cheese and sesame seeds.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep a close eye on the pitas in the oven, merely trusting the given ten-minute cooking time while I snatched a few minutes to eat my vegetarian lasagne. By the time the timer went off, the pitas were seriously overdone. Sighing, I made another tray - and this time I kept an eye on it.

After the chickpeas had soaked for an hour, I drained them and put them on to boil in fresh water. The chickpeas had to boil for an hour, so I had time to make my other spread - salmon pâté. This was a fairly quick job, consisting of draining a can of red salmon, flaking the fish up and adding spring onion and mayonnaise. When this was done, I stirred through some gelatine and put it in the fridge to set.

Eventually the chickpeas were cooked and ready to use. From this point, the hummus is very easy to make - just put the chickpeas in a food processor with garlic, tahini, spring onion, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice, then pulse until smooth.

When I first tasted the hummus, I thought it was quite disgusting. The texture was furry and the taste bland. I added another squeeze of lemon juice and drizzled in more oil while the processor was going. This made a huge difference and the hummus was really quite tasty by the time it was finished.

The final task I had for the evening was to make a sponge for my trifle. I'd selected Edmonds Fielder's classic sponge (p67)for no particular reason - any one of several recipes in the sponge chapter would have done as well. It was quite different from any other sponge I'd made, the process beginning more like a meringue than a cake - beating egg whites and adding sugar until it went shiny. After that point the similarity ceases, as you add the yolks and fold in the dry ingredients.

The mixture was incredibly light and fluffy, and I had every reason to expect good results. Unfortunately, when I took them out, they were sort of shrunken and collapsed: not good at all. Never mind, I was only using it for trifle, so the deficiencies of my sponge could be safely hidden amidst the sherry, fruit and custard!


Amidst all this culinary chaos, I also found time to open up my rumpot and add a handful of blueberries and a few cherries. My rumpot's filling up fast - I should have got a bigger pot!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fresh from other people's gardens

No, I haven't been doing a little surreptitious late-night foraging around the neighbourhood! When I was having dinner with Lauren last night, she presented me with some beautiful courgettes from her garden, as well as a reasonable bunch of spinach out of a huge bagful she'd got from someone at work.

Since I'm cooking a Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, then heading off to Blenheim on Christmas Day, I really needed to use up this generously given produce today. Flicking through my Edmonds book, I found a recipe that uses both courgettes and spinach: vegetarian lasagne (p104)

I had a huge list of other things to get done tonight, so I made a start on the lasagne as soon as I arrived home, beginning by cutting up all the veges and washing the spinach. I wasn't sticking precisely to the recipe; I left out the leek and used more courgette and onion instead.

You cook all the veges except the spinach in a frying pan. When these have softened up enough, you add a bit of flour and cook 'until frothy'. Meanwhile, you've wilted the spinach in another pan and drained off the liquid. This liquid is mixed with milk and added gradually to the frying pan full of veges, thickening up with the flour and making a sauce.

I read the recipe over and over but I couldn't see anything that told you when to add the spinach to the other veges. I can't imagine it's wanted just for the cooking liquid! Lacking specific instructions, I added it to the pan before starting on the sauce.

From there, it's pretty easy - just layer pasta with the veges in a casserole dish, beat yoghurt with egg and pour that over the top, then sprinkle with cheese and bake.

It's not a difficult dish to make, but it sure generates a lot of dishes:  (1 frying pan; 2 saucepans; 1 casserole dish). I think that would deter me from making it very often, which is a shame, because it's quite nice.

Since I didn't stick precisely to the ingredients, I can't give much of an opinion on the lasagne as it's supposed to be, but my one was nice and creamy with a lovely tang from the yoghurty cheesy topping. So if you don't mind creating a lot of dishes, have a go at this one!

Mother knows best

When I mentioned my plan to make brandy snaps for Christmas to Mum, she gave me the following advice : "just make sure you give yourself plenty of time". This sounded sensible to me, except that at this time of year, time is an extremely  limited commodity.

I allowed a large chunk of last evening for it though, getting into the kitchen immediately after arriving home from dinner and gift-swapping at Lauren and Tom's.

The recipe was for 30 brandy snaps - far more than I needed to feed four people. I figured a half recipe would be more than enough. As with many biscuit recipes, you begin by creaming the butter and sugar. It was here that I got off to a very poor start, accidentally melting the butter instead of just softening it in the microwave. I don't know if you've ever tried to cream melted butter, but it doesn't work.

I persevered with it anyway, adding golden syrup, flour and ground ginger. Soon I had a fairly ordinary-looking biscuit dough. As instructed in the recipe, I dropped four tablespoons of it onto an oven tray and baked them for eight minutes.

The biscuits spread out and went flat. So far, so good. Now I just had to get through the tricky bit - shaping the brandy snaps. Mum had mentioned that Oma used to make hers in cone shapes, an idea which appealed to me but was too much for my inexpert fingers. Instead I rolled them around the handle of a wooden spoon as per the recipe.

Well, tried to, anyway. They either broke as I tried to roll them or collapsed when I took them off the wooden spoon. It seemed they were a bit underdone in the middle, so I decided to cook the next batch for slightly longer.

In summary: first batch = dud.

With the next tray in the oven (this one with only 2 brandy snaps on it) I had another idea - brandy baskets. These would work more easily with what I wanted to do with them, and, with any luck, might be easier to shape, too. I got out a patty tin and when they came out of the oven - this time cooked right through - I attempted to place them in the tins.

They weren't really any easier to shape, but it kind of worked. They're not very pretty, but the broken bits I've tried tasted ok. I should be able to do something with them. I briefly considered mixing up a new batch and trying again, but realistically, I didn't have the time.

I think this recipe might be a candidate for a "take 2" - sometime when I have a little time up my sleeve and can cook and shape them one or two at a time... which sounds a bit like something my Mother might have told me once..

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

10 minutes to spicy nuts

I spent a few minutes in the kitchen last night making some devilled almonds (p192). You have to have some kind of nuts at Christmastime, and devilled almonds are the only nut recipe in the Edmonds book. Fortunately, they turned out to be very tasty, as well as dead easy to make.

You just heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, add the almonds and stir them for a few minutes until they turn golden. It seems like a lot of oil for the amount of nuts, but you drain them on paper towels, which absorbs most of the excess.

While the nuts are draining, mix 1/8 teaspoon of chilli powder with 1 teaspoon of salt in a bowl. Add the nuts and stir through: done. Easy, right?

I wasn't sure what the flavour would be like - I suspected either bland (if there wasn't enough chilli) or too spicy (if there was too much). Actually, it turned out to be neither. They tasted a lot like shop-bought roasted salted nuts, but with a mildly spicy aftertaste from the chilli. Tasty and dangerously moreish.

* * *

I lost count of the number of times I accidentally typoed 'nits' instead of 'nuts' in the above paragraphs. 'Spicy nits' doesn't sound quite so appealing as a snack...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas fairy

I'm sure you've been wondering what I plan to do with all that baking. The thing is, every year I do a lot of baking and take trays of goodies into work. I blame Bex for getting me into the Christmas baking habit, but it's an established tradition now. The upshot of this is it gave me an excuse to tick off a number of Edmonds recipes.

Today was the day I'd decided to bring in my Christmas offerings. It would need to be a bit more excessive than usual, as our staff are spread out in temporary premises around town, and I didn't want anyone to miss out. I decided that 5 trays would do the trick.

First, I wanted to make a couple more recipes to include on the trays. The sweets chapter is a bit of a bugbear to me, as I'm not keen on sugary home-made sweets myself, and seldom have any excuse to make them. I figured this would be the ideal opportunity to get a couple completed.

I started with coconut ice (p220), since I wanted to use up the coconut I'd bought for the brandy balls. It wasn't difficult to make, just heat icing sugar, milk, butter and salt in a pan until the sugar dissolves, then boil until it reaches the 'soft ball' stage. Then just add coconut, split the mix in half, coloured one pink, beat each half briefly then spread them in two layers in a tin.

The recipe didn't specify what size tin to use  - in fact, none of the sweets recipes seem to do so. I expected it would need to be quite small, though, and used my adjustable tin as small as it would go. Even then, it took a lot of coaxing with a wet teaspoon to spread it enough to fit the whole tin. I later found that my coconut ice was very thin, but it still tasted fine.

The final recipe on my list was chocolate fudge (p219). The procedure was quite similar to the coconut ice, except with cocoa instead of coconut. I upped the cocoa content a little bit, since I wanted the predominant flavour to be chocolate, not sugar.

Incidentally, the chocolate fudge was a bit of a milestone: my 200th recipe (assuming I'm allowed to count the rumpot, which is underway, but not finished yet). Only 376 to go!

Soon enough I had both the coconut ice and the chocolate fudge setting in the fridge, and I sat down to watch some TV. I stupidly thought it wouldn't take long to put the trays together, so I didn't make a start on it until the movie ended at around 10.30pm.

I started with the coconut ice and chocolate fudge, but decided I better get some of the more bulky stuff on the plate before I went too much further. The obvious place to start with 'bulky stuff' was the Christmas cake. Taking a deep breath, I got out a knife and made an attempt to cut through the rock-hard icing. I must say, it wasn't easy to do while trying to hold a camera steady in my other hand!

With a little effort, I successfully cut the first slice, which turned out to be almost entirely icing. Even at that point, I had chunks of icing all over the kitchen. When I went to cut slices of the cake itself, it got even worse: the royal icing just shattered every time I cut through it.

I had my first taste of the cake, which turned out to be a bit like taking a shot of rum. I probably didn't need to pour that extra rum over the cake before I iced it: the result was fairly potent. It was still tasty, but very rich. I ended up cutting it into quite thin fingers, partly because larger slices were too bulky for the trays, but also because I thought people would have trouble getting though a whole slice.

By the time I'd added the cake, Christmas mince pies, shortbread, spice biscuits and brandy balls to the trays, it was getting very late. I even went onto my computer to print off a little card to put on each tray, but my silly printer refused to print - even in greyscale - because one of the colour cartridges was empty. I had to do without the cards in the end.

So finally I had 3 large trays and two smaller plates of goodies to take in to work. I also had shattered bits of icing all over my kitchen, and less than six hours in which to get some sleep. Six hours turned out to be a generous estimate, however, when the cat uncharacteristically went exploring and I spent half the night trying to sleep but instead wondering where she'd got to.

Shortly before 7am this morning, I was blearily loading trays of baking into the back of my car. Appropriately attired in a Santa hat and plaits, I dropped into a couple of the other sites on my way to work, playing the 'Christmas fairy' and dropping off baking, much to the appreciation of various colleagues.

Come the end of the day, all that was left to do was collect up the empty trays, then come home and clean up the mess. Who would have thought that being a Christmas fairy would be such hard work?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yep, still baking..

The next items on my baking list were shortbread (p42) and brandy balls (p219). My intention was to do both of these on Saturday, but it got so hot I couldn't stand the thought of working around the oven, and made only the brandy balls, which didn't need any baking.

The brandy ball recipe purportedly made 20 balls. Considering the quantities I had made of the rest of my baking, this wasn't going to be enough. I considered a double recipe, but eventually chose to triple the recipe to be sure I had enough.

It's a pretty familiar sort of biscuit-crumb base, with crushed vanilla wines and a smattering of currants and walnuts. Then, in a separate bowl, you beat egg, sugar, cocoa and brandy. Add this to the biscuit crumb mix along with melted butter, and mix. Of course, my triple recipe was over-large for the biggest bowl I had, and mixing was a bit of a mission. In the end I resorted to mixing it by hand, but I still had a fair amount of spillage.

After that, it's just the tedious process of forming the mixture into balls and rolling them in coconut. I made my balls reasonably small, though surely not too much smaller than the recommended tablespoon-sized ball. Clearly I was going to get more than the 60 I expected, though - I'd made 50 before the bowl looked even half-empty.

I ended up with 102 brandy balls, so the recipe makes closer to 35 than 20. Had I known this, I would have been happy with a double recipe. Never mind, I'm sure I won't have to throw any away!

They're a fairly standard sort of brandy ball, of the kind most people would be familiar with: biscuit-crumb base, occasional currant or piece of walnut, slightly chocolaty but with brandy as the background flavour. In short: quite tasty but nothing out of the ordinary.

This morning I moved on to the shortbread. There aren't too many ingredients that go into shortbread, just butter, icing sugar, flour and cornflour. Most shortbread recipes are pretty similar, which makes it interesting how much variation there is in the result. I usually use Mum's recipe, which makes lovely smooth melt-in-the-mouth shortbread. I also like the kind that has a bit of crunch and texture.

The shortbread I don't like is the sort that's thick and dry and makes you want a glass of water before you've got halfway through the biscuit. A lot of bought shortbread is of this kind, which makes me think that people who say "oh, I don't like shortbread" just haven't tried the decent stuff.

I was interested to see what kind of shortbread would result from the Edmonds recipe. I creamed the butter and sugar in the mixer, then added the flour and cornflour. Since this makes quite a stiff dough, it's best not to try and mix it by hand. I'm sure it can be done, but it'd be hard work!

I soon had a nice smooth dough to work with. The recipe indicated that I should roll and cut it or form it into a circle and bake it that way. I felt I'd spent enough time with a rolling pin in my hand this past week or so, and decided instead to use Mum's method of forming it into a log, and cutting slices off.

I chilled my shortbread logs briefly, hoping to make them easier to cut. I don't think it had much effect, but it was worth a try. Cutting slices off a log of dough sounds really easy, and Mum always manages to get hers nice and even, but I'm not nearly as good at it. I cut my slices as evenly as possible, but there were still plenty that were too thick, or wider at one end, and I had to squish them a little flatter on the tray.

Despite the fact that I felt most of my biscuits were probably thicker than the 5mm indicated in the recipe, the shortbread cooked in less than 20 minutes, instead of the 30 indicated in the recipe. These in fact had more colour than I like in a shortbread, so I put the rest of the trays in for 18 minutes.

I probably made those logs a bit large. I hadn't anticipated that the shortbread would spread out so much in the baking. I wound up with quite large biscuits - not my intention as I like to keep things bite-sized where possible, especially around Christmastime.

Even though they're large in size and inconsistent in shape, I'm happy enough with my shortbread. It's not the best shortbread I've ever made, but since the recipe is almost identical to Mum's, I can't really lay the blame there. It's probably my uneven cutting and constant squishing of the slices of dough that have made the difference. Still, it tastes ok, and that's the point, right?

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