Sunday, 3 June 2007

"Cath's School Dinners"

My Mum was still here today, so I finally made James' christening cake this morning while she looked after the boys for a bit. The recipe comes together quite quickly, then it needs a good long stretch in the oven, which gave us time to pop down to the park in the village before we had lunch and Mum had to go home (boo). This is the cake I make for special occasions like birthdays and christenings when a fruit cake is needed (or simply desirable). It's also the cake I make every year for Christmas. When I was still working full-time outside the house, I used to take one to work just before Christmas to share in lieu of Christmas cards, as I thought it a little excessive to give cards to people I saw every day. I think the cake went down better anyway.

Celebration Fruit Cake

175g unsalted butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
750g mixed dried fruit
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
100ml brandy
3 large eggs, beaten
100g ground almonds
200g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp each of ground mixed spice, cinnamon and ginger
¼ tsp ground allspice

Put the butter, sugar, dried fruit, lemon zest and juice and brandy into a large pan. Heat gently, stirring to melt the butter. When it reaches boiling point, remove the pan from the heat and leave it to cool for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 150°c. Grease a 20cm cake tin and line it with baking paper. Stir the eggs and ground almonds into the fruit mixture. Add the flour, baking powder and spices to the pan and mix well, then transfer the mixture to the lined cake tin and level the top. Bake for 45 minutes, then turn the oven down to 140°c and cook for a further 1 hour until the surface is dark golden brown and firm to the touch. Put some foil over the tin if the surface starts to colour too much. Check that the cake is cooked through by piercing the centre with a skewer. It should be clean when removed. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, then wrap the cake in a double layer of baking paper and foil. It will keep in a cool, dark cupboard for two or three months.

If you like a boozier tasting cake (I do), you can make little holes all over the top of the cake with your skewer, then spoon about 60ml of extra brandy over the surface.

For the last couple of days, Hubby has been bringing home some lovely things from the end-of-the-day reductions at work. Included in the haul was an organic free-range chicken (reduced from nearly £7 to 9p!) and dozens of sausages (ditto). Most of it is now in the freezer.

Thinking I had better do something with some of the sausages, I made something tonight that was my absolute favourite when we used to have it for lunch at school when I was a child. In light of the recent hoohah about school meals, I feel very proud to look back with such culinary nostalgia. The food we got was GREAT, God bless Mrs Owens! I honestly can't praise it enough, and this recipe, based on the memory of my schooldays, goes down very well with everyone I give it to. Christopher adores it, as does Karl. I think its pretty much ideal food as far as they're concerned; after all, when you look at it, it's a big sausage roll! On that note, I should add that leftovers are great cold the following day, as you would no doubt expect.

Sausage Plait

For the Pastry:

300g plain flour
150g butter
a little cold water

Make the pastry. I use my KitchenAid, but use a processor if you prefer, or do it by hand, rubbing the fat into the flour and using a knife to mix in enough cold water to bind it.

For the filling:

12 pork sausages or 800g pork sausagemeat
1 large onion, coarsely grated
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp fine semolina

Mix all the filling ingredients together. Using your hands is easiest (and quickest), but a spoon will do if you feel a bit squeamish about handling raw meat. Please remember to take off your rings, or one might go astray and break someone's tooth! Wash your hands well before and after.

Roll the pastry out into a largeish (about 30cm) square. Spoon the filling down the centre, then make cuts down the sides at right angles to the filling, every 3cm or so. Fold these strips over the filling to form a ‘plait’. Tuck the ends in, then transfer it to a oiled baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg and bake at 180°c for about 40 minutes, or until cooked through.

I served the plait with baked potatoes and a big bowl of salad. For pudding we had some of the lemon tart my Mum bought for us to eat while she was here, which we didn't eat because we were all too full of curry lunches and other good things.

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