‘Not my sisters mince pies’ Christmas cupcakes

Every Christmas, Sister Two bakes what may possibly be the most amazing mince pies in the entire galaxy. Some of you will shake your head and ask, ‘what kind of lunatic overstatement is that?’ Let me put it plainly. They just are. So there. These pastries are legendary enough to convert this mince pie loather into someone who actually delights in partaking of a few (delicate cough), every festive season. In the spirit of inclusivity for the gluten intolerant and coeliacs in our hoard, Sister Two also makes a gluten free batch. The Yak, who is English, adores these short-crusted and delicious wee morsels. Fruitcake, mince pies and plum puddings are the stuff of his festive childhood memories and dreams.

It is easy to know when The Yak is missing home. He hops onto the Information Superhighway and begins googling houses for sale in his hometown of Ulverston. (No Yak, we are not moving there.) A spot of coeliac cheering up was required but being a sensible woman, something simple was required. After all, it is only five more sleeps until the mince pie fairy works her magic and the roly-poly bloke in the red suit visits. I thought that a light cupcake version of a fruitcake would provide some solace to my far less portly old man. The weather is getting hot, hot, hot and these sponge-like, fruity, ever so slightly boozy cakes would be a super dessert on the day itself. Pop them in a fancy tin as an edible Christmas gift or just do as the Yak did. Happily devour them with a good strong cuppa tea.

Merry Christmas to my Yak and to you all.

GLUTEN FREE CHRISTMAS CUPCAKES

WHAT YOU NEED
175g butter, softened
150g soft brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
175g gluten free self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice
115g mixed dried fruit (I used 50g each of currants, sultanas and chopped dried tart cherries)
2 tbsp brandy or orange juice
115g icing sugar
1-2 tbsp hot water
White sanding sugar or edible white glitter or even regular white sugar for sprinkling on top
(2 tbsp extra brandy, liquer Muscat or rum or if you choose to soak the fruit)

HOW YOU DO IT
If you want a more traditional boozy Christmas flavour, soak the fruit in the extra tablespoon of brandy or rum for an hour or two before baking. I used a liquer Muscat. Delicious.
Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray , placing a circle of baking paper at the bottom of each hole. I used smaller brown cupcake papers and gave each one a light spray with a non-stick cooking spray.
Place the butter, sugar, eggs into a large bowl then sift flour, baking powder and spices over the top.
Beat with a hand held mixer (I used my stand mixer) for 3-4 minutes until pale and creamy.
Fold in the fruit and brandy or orange juice.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin trays or papers.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until they have risen and are golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Leave in the tray for 5 minutes then remove and let cool on a baking tray.
Once they are completely cooled, sift the icing sugar then add enough of the hot water to make a smooth and thick icing. Ice the cakes then sprinkle a shedload of the sparkly snow like sugar/glitter over the top of the cakes.
Makes 12 regular small muffin size or 14 smaller cupcake sizes.

Cooking Notes: These cupcakes freeze well, just don’t ice them. You can also pop a glace cherry on top of each with with some fake (or real) holly leaves so they look like mini-plum puddings.

A Cheergerm adaptation of a recipe from the Good To Know website. Website link after photos.

http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/536399/mini-christmas-cakes

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A Child’s Christmas in Wales and a family celebration

‘One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.’

These words are from the wonderful prose work, A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. It is an evocative and humorous anecdotal retelling of Christmas from the point of view of a child. Whenever I read it, it is our Uncle R’s voice that will always be in my head. He read this book to his children as they grew up and over the years, has often enjoyed sharing it with others in his mellifluous orators voice. He is the story teller in my Dads family and on the very near eve of his 70th birthday, I wanted to share his love of this particular literary work with you. Go look up a copy, either the book or the original recording that Thomas made back in 1952. Happy Birthday to one of the best people this world will ever know.

Come December, Mum and The Polish Stepfather throw a pre-Christmas celebration with family and close friends. Everyone contributes something, mine was an eggy pile of mini-mushroom frittatas. (Mini-Mushroom Frittatas .) Sister 4 baked a decadent vegan chocolate cake from the latest Nigella Lawson cookbook. There were croissants, tasty corn fritters and a platter of Polish charcuterie. Our dear friend concocted a fanciful fruit platter in the shape of a Christmas tree. There was a mound of tart plum jam filled Polish donuts, cheeses, a tumble of silky scrambled eggs, haloumi, bacon and fried mushrooms. And there were chocolates, of course.

Little gifts for children, home-baked gifts for grown-ups. The odd glass of fizzy wine and some good strong coffee. Cicada’s sang their summertime symphony and children guffawed loudly, running wild with the sugar coursing through their veins. Troubles forgotten for a brief window of time and the world slowed down. Stopping to look at each one of these beloved faces, I felt the fragility of life and the speedy passing of time. What each of us remembers of these celebrations in years to come will be different but we are making valuable memories. I leave you with one more passage from Thomas’s Christmas prose. He says it far, far better than I ever could.

‘All the Christmases roll down towards the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands into the snow and bring out whatever I will find.’

Excerpts from A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.

I also found a very good recording of this piece at the ABC shop recorded by a Welsh renowned Thomas-reader and literary professor.

https://shop.abc.net.au/products/a-childs-christmas-in-wales?CAWELAID=120152330000062731&CAGPSPN=pla&catargetid=120152330000216021&cadevice=t&gclid=CO7A1c_q18kCFYaYvAodKpMCWQ


Illuminating cardamom, cinnamon and brown sugar shortbread

Nigh on three years ago, by perchance, we happened to move to a street that ‘does Christmas lights.’ Christmas and all that is associated with it, has always brought me great joy. My childhood memories, our ever evolving traditions, the special family time, the food (always the food), the spiritual connection, the wonder of children and the gift giving. However, the initial thought of having to buy (figuratively and literally) into the whole ‘lights’ palaver, filled me with trepidation.

The possibility of failing to live up to the expectation of hundreds of complete strangers traversing past our home was somewhat perturbing. I questioned the environmental aspect and whilst we do utilise solar lights as well as electrical, at some point, they will always need replacing. Not every house on the street participates, and there is no ‘Christmas Lights Committee’ (a fact for which the rebel in me is eternally grateful for.) In the end, the excitement of all the boys in our house overrode any misgivings on my part.

I often recount how in our second year, a person at my children’s school joyfully told me how much they loved our Chrissy light display. I asked which house they thought we lived in. Upon hearing their explanation of the abode they had seen, I informed them that sorry, that was actually our next door neighbours. (Ensue awkward silence on their part but some mirth on mine.)

Putting up a Christmas light display is strangely addictive and allows you connect to a community larger than your usual. It’s not all tinsel and sugar plum fairies. Shame on the man two years ago, who loudly dissed our display and almost made my then 6 year old cry. People, we aren’t deaf. Also, you lot out walking the street at eleven o’clock with small children on a school night? Go back to bed.

In the main, most people are positive and happy to enjoy the lights, in whatever shape or form they take. Apart from the joy it has brought to my own children and children we know, the absolute pleasure it brings to others has become our ‘Chrissy illumination raison d’être.’ Early one December evening, the lads wanted to eat their dinner in the garage. We plopped ourselves down on camping chairs, happily eating and watching the growing contingent of passer-bys. One mum walked past with two young children under five. Seeing us sitting there, she stopped waved and said, ‘Thank you so much for doing this, our children absolutely love it.’

Then, just last night, as we finally completed our display (after investing in quite a number of new lights), two families with small children passed by. One wee lad in their contingent stopped and in the slightly sibilant way that pre-fives talk, pronounced, ‘I love your house. Its sooooo beautiful. Mummy, why can’t we have a house like this?’ Then his sister spoke in a voice dripping with wonder and awe, ‘I think that Santa probably lives here’. Our hearts stopped beating for a nano second. Yes, cheesy it may be but their delight set our souls aglow more than any electrical or solar light could ever do.

And that my friends, is why we put up lights. The world can always do with a little more illumination. The world can also do with a little more shortbread. This years concoction is a spicy, brown sugar version. The brown sugar adds a caramel-like flavour that pairs nicely with the cooling cardamom and warm cinnamon. This is one of those rare recipes where you can do a straight swap with the plain flour for gluten free. I lose track of how many batches of these biscuits are baked to give as gifts. They are either wrapped in cellophane or placed into adorable Christmas themed boxes. It seems a little nuts to be making butter based sweet treats in our hot climate, but then, some traditions just can’t be changed.

CARDAMOM, CINNAMON AND BROWN SUGAR SHORTBREAD (can be adapted to GF)

WHAT YOU NEED
250g butter
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
2 3/4 cups of plain flour or gluten free plain flour sifted (I use a good quality gluten free flour.)
1/4 cup rice flour
1 1/2 tsps cardamom
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
1 tbl raw brown sugar for sprinkling

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and sift the flours and spices together into a bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually (I used a stand mixer), beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined. Knead the mixture lightly to bring together to a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half and pat each into a round.
Place onto the prepared trays and with the heel of your hand, push the dough out until you have an 1 1/2 cm thick circle, this will be 16cm -18cm in diameter, ensure the mixture is very smooth. I use my hands to do this, the original recipe suggests using a palette knife and smoothing over the edge and surface.
Crimp the edges by pressing the edge of the dough with your finger, and then pinching the edge together.
Use a sharp knife to cut the circle into 8 or 10 even shaped wedges. Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork. (This helps in releasing moisture as it cooks, making the shortbread crisper.)
Sprinkle the extra raw sugar over the shortbread.
Bake in the centre of the oven for ten minutes then reduce the temperature to 150C and cook for about 30 minutes. The brown sugar in this recipe makes it difficult to judge if it’s baked, lightly press the middle of the shortbread to see if it’s not too soft. Should be firmish to the touch. My gluten free version took an about 35 minutes. It will depend on the flour blend that you use. (My first batch was a tad overcooked at 40 minutes.)
Cool down on wire racks. Wrap up festively and give to your best people, and eat some, always eat some.

A Cheergerm adaptation from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook 2004 Revised and Updated Edition published by Jannie Brown and Suzanne Gibbs.

Here are the links to my previous shortbread recipes.

https://cheergerm.com/2014/12/14/christmas-advent-calendars-and-cranberry-chocolate-pistachio-shortbread/

https://cheergerm.com/2013/12/13/shortbread-for-christmas/

https://cheergerm.com/2013/12/18/shortbread-for-a-hungry-silly-yak/

https://cheergerm.com/2014/06/01/chocolate-ginger-spelt-shortbread/