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Archive for the ‘Sweets’ Category

These are my fallen angles. For a Day of the Dead gathering with Mexican friends I made two things: a traditional calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin) and these creatures, my Catrinas. The classic calavera, or sugar skull, is an icon of Día de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico, but, no surprise, that they are impossible to find where we live in the UK. I could not find chocolate skulls either, nor any three-dimensional moulds to make any sort of calavera. I couldn’t find even two-dimensional skull or skeleton forms, despite Halloween. But I did have a Christmas angel cookie-cutter, and if you look closely…

I should be clear: I do not claim these as ‘authentic.’ I’ve no research to suggest that anyone in Mexico left anything like this on an altar this weekend. But they are inspired by a famous icon that has become associated with Día de los Muertos in Mexico, the Catrinas of José Guadalupe Posada. These are my far-inferior version of his wonderful etchings, albeit in gingerbread form. It really is meant as an homage.  Had I more talent, my cookies would have had hats and handbags.

What did my Mexican friends think? That there must be something heretical about turning angels into skeletons. There probably is. But my Catrinas were warmly accepted in the spirit of the afternoon regardless, next to the pollo recado rojo in tortilla and the pan de muertos. They know I mean well, stumbling through life with enthusiasm, if not clarity.

PS: For those in need, I used the gluten-free gingerbread men recipe from the Sainsbury’s site, with real butter instead of dairy-free spread, and making sure to have xanthum gum onboard. They were stealthily good, and are well worth repeating at Christmas…with a different glazing pattern.

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I rarely adapt bread recipes to gluten-free, because the results are so often disappointing compared to the real thing, but gluten-free steamed puddings are an exception. A traditional steamed pudding is essentially a quick-bread cooked in a very gentle and moist environment, and it never relies much on gluten for its success. Steamed pudding is also made of completely crumbled bread and is highly spiced, and so cleanly deals with two shortcomings of most gluten-free loaves. In Newfoundland, our “figgy pudding” is called figgy duff, and it is an old, old recipe. It is made with the kinds of sweeteners and spices brought to Newfoundland from the Caribbean by ships that were picking up salted cod on their way back to Europe. The recipe makes economical use of bread crumbs, and employs ingredients that do not require refrigeration, including cinnamon and raisins, which retard mold growth. It is very moist, chewy, dark, sweetened but not terribly sweet, and full of the wintery spices.

The traditional figgy duff recipe measures moistened bread crumbs that have been squeezed dry and rubbed loose again. That wasn’t feasible using my everyday store-bought gluten-free loaf: the squeezed crumbs remained too compact and a lot of water-soluble components dissolved and washed away. Gentler was wetting the crumbs, letting them drain in a sieve, and adjusting the batter consistency at the end with a little gluten-free flour. The inexactness of this wetter method doesn’t seem to matter: the batter is filled with thirsty raisins and hygroscopic brown sugar, and it is all cooked in a very wet environment. Likewise, I doubt it matters much which kind of bread or flour you use (I used a rice-potato-tapioca blend with a touch of xanthum gum in it); steamed puddings are very forgiving creatures. You may notice a great deal of baking soda in this recipe, but it is needed in such a dense and unbeaten batter, and the acid in the molasses finishes it off easily.

After having used a messy pudding bag in past years, buying a proper English pudding basin this season has been quite a revelation. If you haven’t seen one, a pudding basin is a ceramic bowl with thin sides, a grooved outer base that allows water to circulate beneath, and a thick outer lip that allows a paper top to be tied to it. Mine cost £3 and it turns out perfectly shaped, evenly cooked figgy duff. The recipe below could be poured into a pudding bag, but it would be less shapely. Probably, you could use any ceramic bowl put to rest over an inverted saucer (to keep it off direct heat) and covered with foil, but I haven’t tried that myself. gfhbe3.jpgI might recall metal pudding tins with lids in my mother’s panty, but perhaps I’m confused by a memory of jelly moulds and bundt pans. Perhaps your grandmother had yet another contraption for this cause. At any rate, as steaming is the closest I’ll come to baking this season, this post is for the Gluten-free Holiday Baking Event, as instigated by Kate of Gluten-free Gobsmacked, and hosted these few weeks by Sally of Aprovechar.

The traditional accompaniment to figgy duff is a molasses syrup called a coady, but I find molasses-on-molasses a bit cloying. For some contrast, whip cream to soft peaks, then whip in a little confectioner’s sugar, and finally a splash of chilled rum. Either coffee or tea are lovely with the spice-island flavours here.

2 hours, including 90 minutes steam; serves 6

Newfoundland (Gluten-free) Figgy Pudding (Figgy Duff)

4 cups fine (gluten-free) bread crumbs (about half a loaf)
butter for greasing
1 cup raisins (do not plump)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup melted butter
3 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp baking soda
gluten-free flour blend (eg. rice-potato-tapioca blend)

1. Put the bread crumbs in a large bowl. Fill it with water to the level of the crumbs. Turn the sodden crumbs into a sieve and let drain for twenty minutes.
2. Grease your pudding basin. Choose a pot with a tight-fitting lid, fill it with enough water to come half-way up the basin (a few inches, usually), and set it to boil.
3. In another large bowl mix the raisins, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Mix in the drained bread (you should have about two cups in the sieve).
4. Stir in the butter and molasses. Wait for the water in the pot to boil. Dissolve the baking soda into 1 Tbsp of room temperature water, and mix this into the batter.
5. Mix 1/2 cup of gluten-free flour into the batter and judge its thickness. You want a consistency like that of a medium cake batter – not runny, but not stiff. If it isn’t there yet, stir in another 1/4 cup and judge again. This is probably enough.
6. Turn the pudding batter into the basin.
7. Prepare the barrier that will keep condensation out of your pudding while allowing it to rise. Take a piece of parchment paper (or double two sheets of greaseproof paper) that is a few inches larger than the basin, and make a one-inch pleat in it. Centre the pleat over the basin and mold the paper down over the sides. Tie this little paper hat onto the basin by running a piece of twine under the lip. Trim the excess.
8. Lower the basin into the pot and steam for 90 minutes, checking every 30 minutes that your pot hasn’t gone dry.
9. Remove the greaseproof paper. Cover the top with a pretty plate and invert the basin. One good quick shake downward should release your pudding.

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Kisiel (or kissel) is a pan-Slavic dessert, served either warm or chilled, the texture of which typically falls between a soup and a pudding. A traditional kisiel is made of a sour fruit, and Belarusians have a well-developed appreciation for the sour (eg. rye bread, soured cream, saurkraut). For the holidays, here is the simplest cranberry pudding, quick and easily made the day before if you like. The balanced sweet-sourness of a kisiel is a refreshing change from all those creamy holiday desserts, as it concentrates on the tart flavour of cranberries, the quintessential holiday berry. That said, this kisiel would love some sour cream or creme fraiche stirred into it, and perhaps a pinch of powdered cinammon dusted over, too.

There is very little to say about this pudding, technically. As it cools the percieved sweetness will change, so if it seems too sweet when warm rest assured that this will dull with chilling. Conversly, if you’d like to serve your kisiel warm you might like to reduce the sugar, too. What will change much less with cooling is its thickness. A classical kisiel has a rather fluid set, more fluid than western-European puddings, and I suspect that the incredible pectin level of the cranberries does as much of the setting as the potato starch (it is also true that available pectin levels change as fruits ripen, so any particular batch may give results that are a little more or less firm). But on any occasion what you see hot in the saucepan is essentially what you’ll get: the kisiel will thicken some more as it cools, but not much. If you would like it thicker, heat it back to a simmer add another 1/2 Tbsp of starch slurry in water, and see if you like that better. This recipe is for a simple naked cranberry pudding, so use the best ones you can find. To jazz-it-up, the aforementioned creams and cinammon would be nice, and a contribution from an orange would be lovely, too.

Belarusian Cranberry Pudding (Kisiel)

20 Minutes; serves four

hot water
3/4 lb fresh cranberries
3/4 cup cup sugar
1 Tbsp potato starch (may substitute 1 1/2 Tbsp corn or tapioca starch)
1 tsp sugar

1. Put the kettle on the boil. Don an apron; cranberry stains are stubborn.
2. Pick through your cranberries for rotten ones and give the cleaned bunch a rinse. Place them in a small saucepan with 3/4 cup water, bring to the boil, and simmer for ten minutes to pop them all open.
3. Mash the cranberries with a potato masher in the saucepan. Strain through a sieve, pushing the pulp around with a spoon. When it has mostly drained, rinse the pulp with 1/2 cup of hot water. Repeat. Scrape off the underside of the sieve.
4. Return the strained juice to the saucepan and heat to dissolve 3/4 cup of sugar in it. Stir as you heat to a simmer.
5. Make a slurry of the potato starch with 1 Tbsp room-temperature water. Stir the slurry into the cranberries and keep stirring as you heat to thicken.
6. Grind the 1 teaspoon of sugar in a mortar. Pour your pudding into serving vessels (via a funnel, perhaps) and sprinkle the sugar lightly on top to foil its attempt to skin-over. Chill and serve.

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burficapp.jpgWe have come upon the Hindu, Sikh and Jain festival of Deepavali (or Diwali, or Divali), the Festival of Lights, and that means candies! Most Asian traditions do not normally close meals with dessert, but rather sweets and puddings are reserved as feastday treats. Burfi (or barfi or barfee) is a type of fudge popular throughout India, made of a sugar syrup, nuts and/or a flour, perhaps with a dairy enrichment, and seasoned with local spices. Coconut burfi (called thengai burfi in Tamil), both vegan and dairy, is popular in the south, and is typically seasoned with cardamon or saffron, sometimes thick with cashews or pistachios (lovely green colour). Here I provide two nut-free recipes, the first vegan and the second with dairy. The dairy-free burfi is sweetly crystaline with spicy, lemony cardamon. The milk fudge is buttery and floral with saffron. Neither is for diabetics.

Most burfi recipes written by Indians insist on fresh coconut, and I’m sure that is the more authentic ingredient, but I’ve tried both fresh and dessicated for each of these recipes, and I recommend dessicated for both. The cardamon recipe as written below only works well with dessicated coconut because I use the simple sugar syrup technique familiar to Western candymakers. Without getting too technical, the late addition of fresh coconut will dilute the sugar syrup too much with its moisture and inhibits its ability to set properly. Some similar recipes that I’ve read do start by driving the moisture off of the freshly grated coconut on the stovetop, but this still introduces an uncertainty, and in a way just brings us back to the dessicated coconut in the bag. And while there is more subtlety and avocado-like flavour in fresh coconut, I think that subtlety is lost in the end when making highly seasoned burfis like these, with lots of cardamon and lots of saffron. The biggest difference in my experience is texture: the fresh coconut makes a chewy fudge and the dessicated a flaky one. So while the saffron burfi recipe is more intuitve and does not require a candy thermometer (although it is more efficient to use one), I still don’t think that it is necessary to kill a live coconut for it. Personally, I need a very good reason to undertake the extraction of meat from that hairy little rock; it is even less fun than killing artichokes.

These recipes each make a very small batch of fudge. By “serves four,” I mean that four adults have a piece or two and then it’s gone, not sitting on the counter the next day tempting people away from their best intentions. I made mine in a ceramic loaf pan, and the long rectangular shape helped me to cut them in the traditional diamond shape, although it did leave a lot of little half-pieces, too. I really do recommend seeking out cardamon and saffron, but if you can’t find them, I might suggest allspice and (1/8 – 1/4 tsp) nutmeg, respectively. Happy Deepavali!

Crystalline Cardamon Coconut Fudge (Thengai Burfi)

Twenty minutes plus two hours setting; serves four

butter for greasing
1 cup water
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup dessicated shredded coconut (fresh is too wet)
1/2 tsp cardamon (seeds from about 6 green pods, ground in a mortar)

1. Butter a bread loaf pan, as if you were making a short loaf. Place it in the freezer.
2. In a small saucepan over medium flame heat the sugar in water and stir to dissolve it. Clamp on your candy thermometer and keep heating until the thread stage when the temperature reads 112-115C, about ten minutes. Feel free to stir.
3. Stir in the coconut and the cardamon. Turn it all into the loaf pan.
4. Leave the candy to cool and set on the counter. Cut with a buttered steak knife before it is completely cool.

Creamy Saffron Coconut Fudge (Thengai Burfi)

Twenty minutes plus two hours setting; serves four

butter for greasing
1/2 tsp saffron threads (a big pinch)
1 Tbsp warm milk
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup shredded coconut (fresh or dessicated)
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp milk

1. Butter a bread loaf pan, as if you were making a short loaf. Place it in the freezer.
2. Put the saffron to steep in the tablespoon of warm milk in a little cup or pan, and keep them warm if you can.
3. In a small saucepan over medium flame heat the sugar in the milk and stir to dissolve it. Stir as bubbles come, then become so numerous the height of the syrup is doubled, keep stirring until it becomes nice and thick. This description is fairly imprecise, but you are not yet at any critical juncture, so don’t stress. However, if you have a candy thermometer, then go just to the softball stage, about 115C.
4. Once the temperature is attained, or you feel the syrup is pretty sticky, stir in the coconut, and when it is well-combined melt in the butter.
5. Keep stirring, scaping away all over, as this mixture thickens. It will start to pull away from the sides – keep stirring. When it starts to pull away from the bottom, too, and the coconut shreds start to look distinct in the syrup, turn off the heat and stir in the warm saffron milk. Quickly rinse out your little cup or pan with the teaspoon of milk to get all the goodness out, and stir that in, too.
6. Turn it all into the loaf pan.
7. Leave the candy to cool and set on the counter. Cut with a buttered steak knife before it is completely cool.

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