More Christmas Baking

‘Tis the season, eh? Baking is full scale out of control here, I should be a size 1,890 by next week I’m sure!

Marshmallows made, including another box mix from Marks & Spencer which was super duper easy. Again, you can’t have general groceries from them delivered, but if you live near a larger store, it’s worth trying for only £1.50 (as of last week) a box. It is hard to see lovely marbling due to having to really coat them in powdered/icing sugar to prevent them from sticking!

Pie cookies iced, butter cookies pressed out (and I broke the damn cookie press…SMH), Russian tea cookies done and dusted, and the Linzer cookies will be this coming week. And I think I finally found a mince pie I like! Woot. I was unsure. Because it seemed so traditionally British, for the last few years I felt like I owed it to the country to try to like them. No luck with a super posh box from Harrod’s (given away after 1) or some from M&S (again, given away). I technically should like everything in them – pie crust, raisins, sultanas, apples, other dried fruits, sugar. What’s not to like?

Process of elimination has led me to think it’s the rum (or brandy) that for me, gives it an odd flavour. Also, what about suet? Maybe it’s because traditional suet is meat based? I’m not sure, but after much research (I’ve said before I’m a marketing person’s dream) and double-checking the Good Housekeeping site, the rest is history. I purchased a box of the Iceland brand luxury mince pies! With vegetable suet. Seriously. 6 for £1.50.

Recipes found on BBC Good Food indicate you can make a mince filling too without using suet which is intriguing. I’m not at the stage yet where I’m ambitious enough (or really really like them enough) yet to try that, but this recipe looked promising. Could I substitute the alcohol for water or juice? Hmmm. A project for next year I think…

 

Well, that being said, Christmas is here, so enjoy yourself and time with friends and family! Merry Christmas!

 

 

Pie pictures are courtesy Iceland and Good Housekeeping, trademarks and all that. 
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Easy (Easier) Christmas Baking

My mom bakes up a storm over Christmas, but because she’s in England and didn’t pack lots of kitchen stuff (smaller kitchen, plugs are different, etc.) much of her baking in the last three Christmases has been scaled back considerably. So, for an easy, scaled back Christmas to get your GBBO on, here are two easy recipes (one isn’t even a recipe, really) – the reindeer cookies from Marks & Spencer and a recipe modified/adapted from Pinterest! The pie cookies started last year and are the newest cookie to grace my mom’s Christmas baking arsenal since, probably, 1975!

First, the reindeer cookies! Easy on a scale of 1-10, I’d say 6.5. Easy to make, PITA to assemble, but super fun if you have little kids (though supervised as some things have to be done when the cookies/baking tray are still very warm). And number two – the pie cookies are probably an 8 or 9 on the easy scale! There is no measuring or anything involved; they were made up and all baked in less than 2hrs – decorating for the next day.

Reindeer:

I was in a larger M&S food hall near my home and, on a whim, hoped they’d have cake mix. Yes, cake mix is more an American thing, but easy in a pinch when you don’t have time to make from scratch! Anyway, M&S did have the cake mix (carrot) and I found this box of reindeer cookies. The mix makes 12 cookies; comes with all the stuff – pretzels for ears, white chocolate for eyes, and jam for the noses! You literally just add butter. The cookies are shortbread, so when the come out of the oven use caution as typically, it crumbles easily. When I popped in the other day, the mix was on offer 3 for 2 or £1.50 per box!

HINT – put the pretzels in right when they come out of the oven and the cookies are still warm – don’t wait the 3-4min like the directions say!

Pie Cookies:

Adapted from Pinterest (if you have it, the link is here), they were supposed to be a topping for a turkey pie used from the leftover bits of Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey. How the idea came to turn them into cookies, I don’t remember.

  • 2 pre-made refrigerated pie crust (in the US, use your standard Pillsbury – in the UK use any standard shortcrust…I used some from Sainsbury’s that was on sale)
  • Chopped walnuts or pecans, or a mix (I just used a knife to coarsely chop mine)
  • Dried fruit (I had a mix of raisins, sultanas, cherrys, apricots, cranberries – or one or the other, whatever you prefer)
  • For the icing: Confectioners (icing) sugar, orange zest from a fresh orange, and rather than water, use the juice of the orange instead

Let the pie crust sit out for about half an hour to get to room temperature. Pre-heat your oven to 220c/425F.

Then lightly dust your work surface with flour so the crust doesn’t stick & is a bit easier to roll out. Roll out 1 crust so it’s a bit thinner and seal any seams (particularly in the Pillsbury crust). Sprinkle the nuts and dried fruit on the pie crust, then place the second pie crust on top and again, lightly roll out so the crusts are now even and the crusts are pretty well stuck together.

Cut out with a small 2″ round cutter, or be even more simple and use a knife or pizza cutter to easily cut them into squares! The pie crust will be a bit gappy – unless you go and try to pinch each individual round cookie together around the edges. Take all the bits of scrap dough together, ball it up, and roll it out again to get those last bits of cookie! (The cookies that are made with the scrap dough are square below, the just plain “sandwich” method had them round.)

Now, the alternative method, which I’m starting to think works better, would be to sandwich the nuts and dried fruit between the dough as above, but start with balling it up and then rolling it out (so you’ll have lots of cookies that will look like the square ones in my photos). The dough doesn’t seem to separate this way when baking. Go figure. Either way…

Bake for 15min (anywhere between 8-15 depending on your oven though – just lightly golden coloured). Based on the size of the cookies, and using up all the scrap dough, I got 58 cookies. If the square scrap bits had been a bit more even, easily 60 cookies – no bad.

After they’re cool, mix up some powdered sugar, orange zest, and orange juice to make a little royal icing glaze to drizzle over the tops. (Mine were still cooling at the time of this post). You could even sprinkle coarse sugar on the top before baking if you don’t like the idea of royal icing.

What’s not to like about pie crust, dried fruit, and nuts?!?!

 

The Christmas Conundrum

Everyone seems to be doing their gift suggestions at this time of year – affordable under £100, under £50, under £25 and so on. Many are repetitive, though I have found a few really unique finds that I would not have considered so bonus points there. The conundrum was whether or not to do one myself – I decided to do a complete over the top one as I didn’t want to fall into the same trap as everyone else!

That being said, as a kid, the most exciting thing was getting the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book in the mail. It was the most luxurious, extravagant, fancy catalogue I had ever seen. It came in an envelope too – not your run of the mill catalogue for sure! It smelled divine, and everything in it was surely beyond what my parents could afford (despite them having a store card) – but I WAS DETERMINED! I tabbed back pages of things I hoped for, and ever year, I got the same: the multi-coloured canvas Neiman Marcus tote bag with their script logo printed on the side. Sadly, the tote bag hasn’t appeared in the book for years 😦

If you are not familiar with Neiman Marcus, it is a Dallas, Texas-based department store that was founded in the early 1900s when oil and income suddenly boomed in Texas! The Christmas Book has been around since the 1950s, with the showcase “his and hers” gift, plus hundreds more at eye-watering prices. I’ve always been curious to know if people fight over that 1 gift… but then again, what do you buy someone who has everything and could buy anything themselves? There IS a week at Alnwick Castle, Wilson House, and Blenheim Palace for a mere $700,000 if you are so inclined…

Do you know anyone super rich who needs something to do this Christmas? Give him or her my list! Or, if you have some cash to burn… HA! My fantasy shopping bag is a whopping £275,863.87 (limited to items that can be shipped to the UK, which did, alas, leave a few things behind -ha!) Yet international orders are apparently limited to a £21,034.68. Darn.

  • Emerald bracelet £163,649.77
  • Emerald ring £108,959.62
  • Balloon dog bookends  (2) £84.14
  • Manolo Blahnik Hangisi £811.94
  • Burgundy lace dress £490.53
  • Valentino Rockstud flats £458.56
  • 12 Christmas plates £332.35
  • Laura Mercier makeup £105.17
  • Double faced cashmere coat £904.49

So, despite all that, go ahead, have a peek, and enjoy some ridiculous fantasy Christmas.

London

I spent the day in London with my mom (which is rare as she never takes time off work for anything frivolous, real or imagined). The plan was to attend the Bella Freud sample sale (seriously, it was good as I scored 75% off a cashmere sweater), then check out the Christmas offerings at Fortnum & Mason, St. James Square and that general area.

A word about sample sales if you’ve never been to one (most of this is commons sense, but always helpful to get some suggestions, right?):

  1. Get there first thing. If they announce 10am, be there at 945am!
  2. Wear layers (like a thin t-shirt or tank/vest top for shirts, or tights if you may purchase sweats/trousers, etc.). Depending on the designer, it makes it easier to try things on if you aren’t familiar with that designer’s particular sizing, or if you want to be 100% sure of a purchase, as all sales are final.
  3. Leave your kids at home. Unless it’s an event for children’s clothing, trust me, don’t bring them. Politely (or not) wrangling for something amongst 50+ other women doesn’t make it kid friendly.
  4. Set a budget. I’ve never been invited to a Gucci sale (I think you’d have to spend WAYYYYYYYY more than I do there to get that invite!), but you should have a reasonable idea of what the designer’s clothes normally cost. That being said, sample sale prices should be 60% off or more – giving you reasonable “spend” expectations.
  5. Know the style of what you may/not be looking for. Easy, right? But just remember, we all get sucked into the huge savings dilemma. If you know the designer does “fun” clothes and colours, no matter how good a deal it may be, do you really need the lime green and orange dot shirt for £20 that’s regularly £300 if you’ll never wear it when you really wanted a plain white shirt?

For me personally, I got there about 10min later than I hoped due to some tube/train delays. Not a big deal, but there were easily already 50 women in the small conference room literally grabbing ARMLOADS of knits! And in that 10min, I missed out on the candle sets that would’ve made the best Christmas gifts for friends. Boo. I picked up a fun sweatshirt for the price of one at NEXT and a cashmere sweater that I should get lots of use out of!

img_5299

Poor lighting this morning, but this is really cobalt blue, with light blue and yellow accents

Plans, of course, went awry, when we had to go to the Apple Store to see about fixing a problem with her phone. Unable to get a set Genius Bar appointment, we (surprisingly) were able to get a “walk-in” appointment within about 3 hours (trust me this is a miracle in itself), but it also meant we couldn’t stray too far from the store as they could text at any time saying the appointment was imminent! So, pounding up and down Regent Street it was! And of course, the minute we finally decided to get lunch, they texted to say it was appointment time – resulting in a sprint back up Regent as it now or never, as there were no more appointments that day! Ugh. Kudos to Apple though as they fixed the problem!

We also escaped London by the skin of our teeth, as we grabbed the tube and train from Kings Cross before the massive tube and train shutdown that plagued the rest of the city about an hour later on Wednesday evening!

Calendars

halloween-thanksgiving-christmas

I thought I was immune moving to the UK, but I’m not. Clearly, there is a problem in this country that seems to have crept over from the US. Calendars. October comes before December, no? Even the infamous Chicago Tribune newspaper noted this becoming more prevalent!

Well, then what’s up with 90% of stores putting up Christmas decorations before Halloween? It’s a bee in my bonnet. Trying to avoid shops that do this these days is beyond annoying. But I like my holidays one at a time. Typical of ASDA/Walmart, Costco and the like, everyone wants to do it now. Jump on those holiday sales. Even at Waitrose today, the Halloween candy is snuggled right up to the Lindt reindeer. Like a freakin’ Nightmare Before Christmas. *sigh*

nightmare-xmas

The only upside is there are a few big shops left that actually believe in calendars. Nordstrom throughout the US and Selfridges in the UK wait. Nordstrom waits until the day after Thanksgiving to put up its Christmas decorations and Selfridges until November. If you believe in the sanctity of having your holidays one at a time, shop there, and support all of the other local shops in your area that do the same.

Thank you, rant over…