White Christmas

I love White Christmas at Christmas time, but not stuff you buy from the supermarket. Yucky. This is much nicer. It's adapted from The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits published by The Australian Women's Weekly circa 1990 (but a reprint of an older series. I wish I still had the cake book from this series, the new one just doesn't cut it in my opinion). The success of this depends on the freshness of the ingredients, especially the milk powder. Don't be tempted to make it with some old powder you have lying around the cupboard like I did one year. It was foul. Buy a new tin. Also the original recipe uses glace fruit and sultanas but I just buy a packet of mixed fruit which works well. I've also doubled the quantity, assuming that you're making it to give away or share with a lot of people. It's not the sort of thing you want have lying around the house for too long.

You will need
  • 500g copha
  • 2 cups rice bubbles
  • 2 cups full cream milk powder
  • 2 cups coconut
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 375 packet of mixed fruit with glace cherries
To make

Place dry ingredients in bowl and mix well, making sure all the fruit is separated. Melt copha in microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Add melted copha to dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into lined tin. Smooth down and refrigerate. When set, cut into small squares.

Andrew's short crust recipe

This recipe was given to me by a chef I worked with when we had the kitchen. Making proper pastry didn't come naturally to me, kind people said it was because I had warm hands better suited to breadmaking. Anyway, with the demands of running a cafe kitchen as well as cooking, I never really had the time to learn. This recipe is different to proper pastry, it's made by creaming butter and sugar and not at all temperamental. It can be quite hard which means that it doesn't go soggy as quickly, which means that for tarts they will stay nice enough for a couple of days.

As this recipe freezes really well, I tend to make the larger quantity and freeze tart size portions. From memory it's enough for 4 domestic size tarts. Being untemperamental this mixture can be microvaved to thaw it out. It also makes quite nice biscuits, either plain or with passionfruit icing. But that's another story.

You will need

small quantity
  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar (sometimes I use brown sugar which turns out OK)
  • 350g flour (about 1/4 self raising and the rest plain)
larger quantity
  • 500g butter
  • 500 g caster sugar
  • 500g plain flour
  • 200 g self-raising flour
To make
  • Chop the butter into pieces and soften slightly in the microwave if really hard.
  • Cream butter and sugar with electric beater on high.
  • Add about three quarters of the flour and mix on low speed. (Andrew used to insist on it being mixed by hand, but I don't think it makes a difference if you use a slow speed) Add the rest of the flour until you have a moist but slightly crumbly dough. Most of the time you will need all the flour, but it can vary.
  • Knead just enough for the dough to cohere. If you accidentally add too much flour, add just enough cold water to bring the dough together. It will still be fine.
To make a pie or tart crust
  • Press into tin, making sure that you don't make the corners too thick. Trim.
  • Bake at 180C until crust puffs up a little and maybe starts to colour, depending on how tough, er crisp, you like your crust. Remove from oven and press out the puffy bits with the back of a spoon.
  • Fill with tart filling and bake as per filling recipe.
To make biscuits
  • Roll out quite thinly.
  • Cut biscuit shapes.
  • Bake at 180C until just brown.
  • Ice or not.

Plum jam

We have a plum tree in our backyard. The plums are small, not that nice to eat, but they make the best jam. Especially if there is a fair percentage of under ripe fruit. This makes the jam very tangy, slightly sour. It also sets really well due to the high pectin content of the under ripe fruit . I think making jam is fairly easy, but I learnt as a child from my mother and grandmother.

Sometimes it doesn't go well, which can be blamed on the fruit or the weather or poor timing. My tips for success would be:
  • Don't try to make too much at one time. 2 or 3 kilos of fruit at time, maximum.
  • Make sure you have a big enough pan. The fruit and sugar should fill less than the bottom quarter of the pan.
  • Plan ahead. Have ready jars, cellophane covers, scales and sugar.
  • Child minding. I had someone else around to look after Grace during the critical bits. Hot sugar and toddlers do not mix. Although she was fascinated, close supervision was the order of the day.
  • Do not attempt to do while you are doing something else. Jam making is not something that can be multi tasked.
  • Help with de-stoning small fruit is good. If others like to eat the jam too, suggest that help with this task would be welcome. It took two of us about an hour to prepare the fruit. In good company, that goes quickly. On your own, it's a drag.
  • Boiling sugar is hot. Use oven mitts or tea towells when moving the pan around. Wear sensible shoes.
You will need

2 to 3 kilos of plums
equal weight of white sugar (usually I prefer to cook with brown sugar, but I think jam works better with white sugar)
glass jars
cellophane covers and elastic bands
big preserving pan

To make
  • Wash jars well in hot soapy water. Rinse well in water with vinegar. Air dry. Preheat oven.
  • Wash and dry fruit.
  • Remove stones. Some people prefer to make this type of jam with the stones in and skim at the end. I prefer to remove the stones and know that I won't have any on my toast.
  • Weigh fruit progressively as you complete stoning a bowlful. Weigh out the same weight of sugar and add to pan. Keep going until the pan is quarter full of fruit and sugar, you have stoned three kilos of fruit or you think you have enough. Mix well.
  • Place jars on a tray in a warm oven, with heat turned off.
  • Place pot of jam on medium to low heat and stir regularly. Make sure you scrape along the bottom of the pan and into the corners. Do not let the sugar catch on the bottom of the pan or burn. Ensure all the sugar is melted.
  • Once all the sugar has melted, turn the heat up. Stir frequently. It will froth up and then die down again, after boiling for 10 or fifteen minutes. Skim. (I'm not a big skimmer, I don't mind a little froth in my jam.)
  • Start testing for set by spreading a little jam on a plate. When it has cooled, run your finger through the jam. The surface should wrinkle. Plum jam usually takes about twenty minutes. Towards the end, I take the pan off the heat while testing for set.
  • Once the jam is ready remove from heat and get your jars out of the oven.
  • Ready your cellophane covers and a little dish of water or vinegar.
  • Pour jam into jars. I use a gravy boat, filling the gavy boat with a ladle.Then tipping fairly neatly into the jars, which I have spaced out on a tray.
  • Clean any spilled bits around the neck of the jar. Moisten cellophane with water or vinegar, place over jar and secure with an elastic band. I like to do this while the jam is still hot. This causes the covers to tighten and seal well.
  • After the jam is cool, clean any spilt bits from the outside of the jars and label. I've called this one Early plum, 2006.
  • If you have the jar lids, place loosely over the cellophane before storing.
  • Jam made this way will last several years. We finished the 2002 batch earlier this year.

Boiled pineapple fruit cake

This is a cake that my mum used to make quite a bit. It is so easy, no creaming of butter and sugar. It probably doesn't even matter if you use the wrong type of flour. Sometimes I make this to take when we go camping or on road trips. It keeps well in a tin and goes well with a port in the evening after dinner. Or with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

You will need

I cup brown (or dark brown) sugar
440g can of unsweetened crushed pineapple
375g packet of mixed fruit (I like the brand with the real glace cherries)
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of mixed spice
100g butter
1 cup plain four
1 cup self-raising flour (some of the flour could be wholemeal, all wholemeal tends to be a bit hair shirt)
2 eggs

Place the sugar, pineapple, mixed fruit, bicarb, mixed spice and butter in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Allow to cool. Typically, I do this bit while making dinner and once the mixture has cooled, shove the saucepan in the fridge overnight. You could leave it out, but I'm a bit paranoid about such things and about the cat getting it.

When the mixture is cool and you are ready to make the cake, preheat the oven to 180C and line a 22C springform tin with baking paper and brush some oil around the sides.

I usually mix the cake in the saucepan. If the mixture has been in the fridge, the butter will have hardened. Don't worry about this, just give it a good stir. Add the eggs and stir thouroughly. Add the flour and stir until well mixed. Plop it into the prepared cake tin and smooth out a bit with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 1-1/2 hours, turning mid way. It smells lovely when nearly cooked. Test for doneness in the centre with a knife. I am inclined to not worry too much if the middle is a teensy bit under done. That means the cake will be lovely and moist. Better than letting it dry out. 

Cool in the tin and then transfer to a cake tin on the baking paper.