Gluten free pecan and vanilla shortbread

This is the pointy part of the year when our ‘busy’ lifestyles become more hectic than usual. Fighting for a carparking space and battling the multitudes at crowded shopping malls is not my idea of a good time. Completing my present purchasing early, allows me to enjoy the process and maintain some semblance of sanity.

When I think of childhood Christmases, certain gifts I received stand out (hello wholesome Sindy doll, no pneumatic Barbie for me.) What I remember most however, is that feeling where the world has slowed down. Of spending it with my crazy beautiful family, of the steadfast family friends who tethered us, of decorated pine trees hauled from the paddock next door fat and laden down with old school tinsel, Dads long walking socks used as Christmas stockings stuffed full of small and thoughtful delights.

I think of all the delicious things we ate; shiny glazed hams studded with cloves, homemade pavlovas crunchy on the outside and gooey in the middle, enough boiled new potatoes to feed an army and freshly shelled green peas – a job shared by all. Of scorching hot days when our bums stuck to vinyl car seats, us kids making whirlpools in above-ground swimming pools and running wild through sprinklers in baggy one-piece swimming cozzies. I hope one day, my own children will look back and remember the traditions created and moments spent together and not the ‘stuff’ that they received.

My goal has always been to spend the last week before Christmas away from the shops. Soaking in the festive feeling, spending time with loved ones, enjoying the Christmas lights on our street and of course baking shortbread for Christmas gifts. This year I find myself in the kitchen as the temperatures in our part of Sydney soar into the high thirties and low forties. (Celsius that is.) Working with butter in extreme heat is tricky but is manageable if you work fast. I do admit to turning on the air-conditioning once the oven starts to warm up. Pecan and vanilla is a winning combination and so far, no-one has complained. (They wouldn’t want to, there’s no saying what an overheated possibly perimenopausal baker might do if offended.)

Christmas isn’t always an easy time. Grief, pressure, depression,ill-health, financial woes and difficult family dynamics don’t just disappear because the calendar tells us it’s December. Terrible things happen at any time of the year and not everyone has it good. With that in mind; whatever you do or don’t bake this Christmas and whatever kind of Christmas you are experiencing, I wish you good tidings, peace and love.

GLUTEN FREE PECAN AND VANILLA SHORTBREAD

WHAT YOU NEED
250g butter, room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 tsp vanilla essence
2 3/4 cups plain gluten free flour (for non gluten-free shortbread use the same amount of plain flour)
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 tsp fine salt
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 170C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and sift the flours and salt together into a bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually (I used a mixer), beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and mix until evenly dispersed.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined.
Add the pecans and give the mixture another quick mix.
Knead the mixture lightly in the bowl for a few minutes to bring it together.
Divide the dough in half, roll each half out to a 3-4 cm log. Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for half an hour to an hour.
Slice the logs into 1-2 cm thickness, depending on your fancy, place 10mm apart on a baking tray and prick each piece all over with a fork.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and straw-coloured. (Regular shortbread will be quicker to bake, probably only 15-20 minutes.)
Cool down on wire racks.
Makes about 20-25 pieces.

A Cheergerm Adaptation of a Margaret Fulton recipe.

Cooking Notes: Gluten free shortbread can be delicate creatures so please handle carefully when rolling and cutting. When adding the flour to the mixture, I pop a teatowel over the mixer to stop the flour ‘floofling’ (an exact culinary term) all over the joint.

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Christmas 2016

Christmas was spent somewhere different this year. Mr Bagpipes was housesitting a lovely large property in White Rock, outside of Bathurst in country NSW. This once working vineyard is perched on a hill in a charming bucolic setting. The Yak, myself and sproglets had visited there before and we were excited to celebrate Chrissy with all of our extended family. Our special guest was ‘Christmas Alf’, harking all the way from Manchester in the UK. (Not a real elf of course but the funny, kind and gentle man who happens to be Manchurian Bro-in-laws Dad.)

It was good to be together somewhere different and somewhere so very beautiful. In this freefall Christmas, I think we all felt a smidge unencumbered and a dash unrestricted by tradition. We kept that which suited us and gently nudged aside that which didnt seem necessary in this new setting.

Christmas Eve morn and our gaggle met at The Hub. Good coffee as always and darned good nosh. My poached eggs, asparagus, spinach and mushrooms on black rye arrived topped with hollandaise sauce and crispy sage. Be still my beating heart. (As long as my heart still ticks after that rich and creamy sauce.)

We stuck to our Christmas evening meal and more relaxed Boxing Day brunch. Two ethically sourced hams (yes, it does matter to us), were expertly glazed by Mum and devoured over the 4 day period. There was a delicious vegan gluten-free lasagna (the handiwork of Sister 2) for Christmas dinner, as well as a more traditional turkey, some much discussed ‘pigs-in-blankets’ that the Mancurian bro-in-law threw together, crispy stuffing balls and of course, a motza of side veggies. Desserts this year consisted of Sister 4’s fabulous pistachio ice-cream cake draped in a berry sauce and crowned with fresh berries as well as a batch of mini gluten-free, vegan sticky date puddings that I conjured up. We sat out on the vine draped patio, talking, laughing at ridiculous Chrissy cracker jokes, eating and drinking. The cicadas buzzed their Chinese operatic cadences and the sun set.

For Boxing Day brunch, the Yak made his now famous (well, within our circle) Boxing Day Fried Potatoes . They were as good as ever, and ‘it was said’ that they were the best thus far. When faced with a bag of heat affected ‘just past their best’ peaches, Sister 2 was inspired to throw together a peach puree. We added this fragrant mixture to some fizzy wine for delicious brunch bellinis and to soda water for a non-alcoholic tipple. (Nothing goes to waste when we roll.) There were fruit platters galore, fried eggs, croissants, homemade pickles, chutneys and jam.

The children ran and played endlessly; soccer, cricket, sword fights, Harry Potter incantations and movie making being the order of the day.

Naturally, there were some sad moments and those who died this year were remembered both aloud and quietly. Every one of us left our family get together with at least one precious memory, tucked safely away, to take out and savour in the year that is to come.

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Ginger shortbread for Christmas

Just as ginger is spicy and hot, I too, am a bit of a hot mess. Losing two absolutely beloved people in one year and all that comes with that, alongside some health issues; my blogging and writing mojo is sporadic at best. Frankly, my Cheergerm soul is weary, low and well, not so cheery as of late. As I tried to write this post, nine year old Kid 2 was beside me, wrapped in my doona; bouncing, rolling and banging his skinny bony knees into me. Asking me the same question over and over again. I snapped at him, then felt bad. He told me his new job ‘is messing up beds.’ This made me laugh. No chance of an idealised writing environment in my life, where is that solitary attic with a wooden desk that I once dreamed of?

Its been hard to get excited about Christmas, a season that usually provides much delight. Having children pushes me to make an effort. Writing the stripped back truth about your feelings can smack of self-pity and over-introspection. Whilst I am more than happy to read of others struggles, to write about my own leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable. In the midst of it, I also know that things are so much worse for so many and that our children are healthy and happy. Rather than continue in this vein, here is a list of little joys I have collated from this past week.

The young kindergarten lass at the school Christmas concert on Friday night who raucously and joyfully sang ‘la la la’ shaking her head (much as a headbanger would at a Metallica concert).

Watching Kid 2 at the same concert, impersonating a kookaburra during a song with great abandon, all self-conscious anxiety placed aside for a moment.

Our twelve year old Kid 1 picking out small Christmas gifts for his kindy buddies, selflessly and of his own volition.

All the appreciative folk who view our street’s Christmas lights with gratitude and wonder.

The ongoing support of family and friends and the camaraderie I have found in this online blogging community.

The Scottish people, my ancestors, for creating that delicious biscuit called shortbread. Attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 16th Century, it was an expensive luxury for the ordinary folk. In Shetland, it was once traditional to break a piece of shortbread over the brides head as she crossed the threshold of her new home. (Not sure how I would have felt about buttery crumbs through my hair but this shows how special this biscuit was.)

My creation this year combines warm spices with small nuggets of ginger that add a chewy, toffee-like surprise. I used a brand that stated it was ‘un-crystallised bare ginger’ but it still has some cane sugar on it, so I am not quite sure what the difference is. (I imagine it contains less sugar.) There is nothing quite like giving something homemade as a gift. Pop your baked goodies in a vintage tin or wrap them in some pretty cellophane and finish off the parcel with a darling bauble. Another little joy to add to my growing list. Merry Christmas to you all.

GINGER SHORTBREAD, (CAN BE ADAPTED TO GLUTEN FREE)

WHAT YOU NEED
250g butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 3/4 cups plain flour or gluten free plain flour
1/4 cup rice flour
2 1/2 tsps ginger powder
1/2 tsp mixed spice
30g bare uncrystallised ginger, finely chopped (if you can’t find this ‘naked’ stuff just use crystallised.)
Extra white sugar for sprinkling on top

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 170C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper Sift the flours and spices together into a bowl.
Cream the butter in a stand mixer then add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy then stir in the finely chopped ginger.
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, place onto a floured board and pat each into a square.
Using a rolling pin, roll each square into a 16cm by 16cm square, roughly 1cm to 1 1/2 cm thick. Gently lift the squares onto the prepared trays and cut each square into 12 rectangle fingers.
Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork. (This helps in releasing moisture as it cooks, making the shortbread crisper.)
Sprinkle extra caster 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 to 40 minutes. It is ready when it is firmish to the touch in the centre and golden around the edges.
Remove from the oven and carefully run a sharp knife through the shortbread rectangles again to make it easier to break into fingers later.
Cool down on wire racks. Gently break the shapes apart.
Wrap up festively and give to your best people, and eat some, always eat some.

Cooking Notes: when making gluten free shortbread, keep in mind the mixture will be more fragile. You may want to shape it into a square rather than use a rolling pin particularly if you are baking on a hot day.

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

Click below for previous shortbread recipes.

Cardamom, cinnamon and brown sugar shortbread
Cranberry, chocolate, pistachio shortbread
Old school shortbread
Gluten free shortbread


Even Cheergerms need a little holiday

Just a wee note to say gidday and to wish all and sundry a Happy New Year. We are off on a camping trip for the next little while. Some may say our holiday collective ‘glamps’ and those people may or may not be correct. I suppose it depends on your perspective.

I leave you with a little pictorial insight into our Christmas and Boxing Day celebrations, which were held at Sister Two’s lovely family abode this year. Good times indeed.

Our camping destination is South West Rocks, a little piece of beachside heaven on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. If the muse hits me slap on the side of the head with a piece of nice fresh fish, there may even be the odd brief holiday missive as well. Until the next time we meet, lang may yer lum reek.

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‘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


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/


Gluten free rumpled plum pudding and a scary Christmas tin

The tins sat nestled amidst a cacophony of ancient kitchenware in an inner west secondhand shop. The search for some vintage tins had been going for months. These, in my opinion, fitted the criteria. A bit worse for wear and a tad unusual. One had tiny Christmas bells adorning the sides with an image of a child in a blue head scarf on the lid. A small concern lurked in the far reaches of my brainbox and I said to the proprietor ‘Do you think the girl child on this tin is a little bit, well, scary looking?’

He agreed, but also stated that he didn’t mind vintage objects that had images of creepy children on them. I concurred, purchased the tin and proudly raced back to the car. When I showed the tin to the Yak and lads, they screamed in horror and ran crying in t’other direction.

Here it is. The jury is out. (Actually, the jury has voted and decided this is the kind of tin that should probably be in a horror movie….)

On to the cooking bit.

The Yak, being of the English variety, loves a spot of plum pudding. So a gluten free version was required. When a mere youngling, this Cheergerm loathed fruitcake and plum pudding type desserts. As an older cheery person, I have discovered that I quite enjoy a small piece of these fruity offerings. The key to success has been in only utilising fruits that I actually like and leaving out the dreaded dried peel, shudder. It is also important when choosing the alcohol to macerate the fruit in, that you use booze you like the taste of. In this case, I went for a luscious liqueur Muscat. On Christmas day, this dessert will be accompanying Sister No 2’s light, fruity Chrissy pudding ice-cream delight. The best of both worlds.

My plum pudding tin was looking slightly worse for wear so I had to line it with baking paper. This gave my finished product the slightly rumpled ‘I been sleeping too heavily on my pillow crease lines’ look. For quality control purposes, I took my trusty apple corer and snarfled a sample. It was bloody delicious. The smell of macerated fruit was intoxicating. It is moist, rich, not too sweet and you don’t miss the gluten at all. The pudding itself is now resting in stately grandeur. All tucked in, preparing itself for Christmas day scoffing.

The Cheergerm, the rumpled pudding and the little girl on the creepy tin wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.

GLUTEN FREE RUMPLED PLUM PUDDING

WHAT YOU NEED
4 cups of dried fruit in total, this is what I used:
1 cup dried figs, chopped finely
3/4 cup cranberries, roughly chopped
3/4 cup sultannas
3/4 cup currants
3/4 cup raisins, roughly chopped (if large, mine weren’t so I left them)
1/2 cup of the booze of your choice, I used a liqueur Muscat
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbl orange zest
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups gluten free breadcrumbs
1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup gluten free self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves

HOW YOU DO IT
Combine all of the fruits, alcohol, orange zest and orange juice in a medium sized bowl. Cover and stand overnight.
Grease and line a 6 cup pudding basin or tin. Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Stir in the dried fruit mixture, breadcrumbs, almond meal, gluten free self-raising flour and spices. At this point, every member in our family had a stir of the bowl and made a Christmas wish. If you really want to be traditional, it is here that you would place a silver coin in the mixture. I am not sure I would want icky money in my food, so we chose to leave that bit out.
Spoon the mixture in to the prepared pudding tin and cover with greased baking paper and foil. Tie around the rim of the basin with kitchen string, securing tightly.
Stand the pudding on a trivet (or saucer in my case) and place in a deep saucepan or stockpot. Fill with enough water to come halfway up the sides.
Cover and cook for 5 hours over a medium heat, topping up with water as needed.
Serve immediately or if you are making your pudding ahead, cool down completely before wrapping well and storing in the refrigerator until needed.
Pudding can be reheated by returning to basin, covering and steaming again for approximately 1 hour. It can also be microwaved for about 12-15 minutes.
Flame the pudding and serve with custard. (Flaming means to pour brandy over the top of the pudding and setting alight. Let the most sober person in the room perform this ritual and try not to burn your house down.)

A slight Cheergerm adaptation of a Coles online recipe

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http://recipes.coles.com.au/recipes/917/gluten-free-pudding


Christmas advent calendars and cranberry chocolate pistachio shortbread

It has become apparent to me recently why ‘child friendly Advent calendars’ were invented. It was to assist parent conversations with time conscious, anxious seven year olds. In a Christmas nutshell; it was to avoid the parent in question, doing their nut and rocking in a corner with their thumb tucked safely in their mouth.

Kid 2, in his hyper awareness of the universe and it’s going ons, likes to know exactly what we are doing and when, what time it is, how many days until…..I mean it folks. He wants to know the answer to these questions, more than once a day.

Kid 2, to me, for the zillionth third time: ‘Mum, how many more days until Christmas?’
Me: (Imagine a sweet mummy voice here full of patience and infinite love.) ‘I don’t know darling, go and count the days on the Advent calendar.’

It is because of this calendar that, when faced with a constant barrage of Christmas time questions, I can present a patient, non-yelling like a deranged banshee parental face. This mummy can now rest safely at night, knowing that the authorities will not be knocking on the door anytime soon.

I blathered on about what shortbread means to me last year. In short, Christmas is shortbread and shortbread is Christmas. Up to today, this Cheergerm has baked good old fashioned shortbread, gluten free shortbread and chocolate ginger shortbread. (Hmm, I see a pattern.) Now I present to you a very grown up chocolate, pistachio and cranberry shortbread.

The buttery goodness of this biscuit mixed with tart berries, rich dark chocolate and a nutty crunch, is a festive delight and a wonderful Christmas edible gift. To top it off, this recipe can easily be made gluten free or not. The flour is a straight swap, just make sure you use a good quality gluten free flour blend.

It’s not so bad being a grown up if you get to eat biscuits such as these. Even if you do get asked the time and date more than one very human being ever should be.

CRANBERRY, CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO SHORTBREAD, GLUTEN FREE OR NOT

WHAT YOU NEED
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 3/4 cups of gluten free plain flour or regular plain flour (I use a good quality gluten free flour such as White Wings.)
1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup lightly toasted pistachios, finely chopped
1/2 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and sift the flours together into a bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually (I used a mixer), beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined.
Add the pistachios, cranberries and chocolate and knead lightly to bring together to a dough. (I do this in the bowl.) Knead a little longer for a regular version.
Divide the dough in half, roll each half out to a 3-4 cm log. Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for half an hour to an hour.
Slice the logs into 1-2 cm thickness, depending on your fancy, place 10mm apart on a baking tray and prick each piece all over with a fork. This mixture was a bugger to cut due to the chocolate and nuts, so the colder the better. Some shortbread may go out of shape but just form it back into a similar shape using your hands.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and straw-coloured. (Regular shortbread will be quicker to bake, probably only 15-20 minutes.)
Cool down on wire racks.
Makes about 20-25 pieces.

Cooking Notes: When adding the flour to the mixture, I pop a teatowel over the mixer to stop the flour ‘floofling’ (an exact culinary term) all over the joint.

A Cheergerm adaptation of a Margaret Fulton recipe from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook

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

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

Chocolate, ginger and spelt shortbread
https://cheergerm.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/chocolate-ginger-spelt-shortbread


Chocolate ginger spelt shortbread

Kid 2: I am bad at smelling things but really good at hearing.
Kid 1: I am good at everything except doing the splits and things like that.

Me, I am good at baking shortbread at Christmas time. (I am not good at the splits and things like that either.) The kids had been asking for shortbread a lot lately. Being the kind and doting parent I am, I acquiesced and thought I would bake them some.

The idea of spelt shortbread has been creeping and a crawlin around the deep dark recesses of my brain box for quite a while now. A little flavour experimentation was in order. (Cue mad scientist laughter.) Then it dawns on me. Chocolate and ginger. A culinary match made in heaven. (They got married quite a while ago but nobody asked me to the wedding.)

These biccies give you a punch of bitter chocolate with a peppery ginger hum in the background. Kid 2 loved them, Kid 1 wasn’t a fan. All other grown up human beans who consumed them were enamoured. You be the judge.

Chocolate and ginger spelt shortbread

WHAT YOU NEED
1 cup spelt white flour (I use an organic brand of spelt flour)
1 1/2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tsps ground ginger (seems like a lot but you need it to get past the chocolate)
250g butter, room temperature (but not too soft)
1/2 cup raw caster sugar

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Sift the spelt flours, rice flour, cocoa powder and ginger into a large bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Work in the flour gradually and with a light hand, knead to form a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half, roll each half out to a 3-4 cm log. Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for half an hour.
Slice the logs into 1-2 cm thickness, depending on your fancy, place 10mm apart on a baking tray and prick each piece all over with a fork.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until crisp. It is a bit tricky telling when chocolate shortbread is ready. Also, because of the wholemeal spelt, hese little beauties needed a little more time in the oven than regular Joe shortbread.
Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 20-25 pieces.

A cheergerm adaptation from a Margaret Fulton shortbread recipe


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