Cooking up a storm

When the going gets tough, the tough get baking…

I know it’s said that we Brits are always cheerfully whinging about the weather – it’s possibly because we have so much of it, so varied and generally encroaching on our daily lives. Yesterday’s vile downpours and winds were no exception and clearly had horrendous effects on those in the north of England, especially in Cumbria. Friends in the North – I am so sorry. I hope you’ve escaped the worst of the damage and floods.

Here in mid-Wales it was pretty horrible but not especially damaging. As we often comment to ourselves, if we had flooding here then the rest of the world would have disappeared. One advantage of living on a hill 1,000ft above sea level! The disadvantage of our high point is of course being buffeted by strong south westerlies that make my flexible wood and straw bale house bend and creak and yesterday I thought I was going half mad with the wind. It was the kind of keening wind that sucks health and sense out of your bones. At one point I was thinking of the Mistral of Provence – the wind purported to drive men and horses insane. I know what they mean…

I spent a deal of the morning fiddling around with bits of tedious paperwork, keeping ahead of power cuts and fighting the urge to abscond and curl up with knitting or have a big comfort baking session.  Sometimes on those days when you don’t know what to do with yourself, a flurry of cosy creativity and nesting seems the only remedy for the restlessness.

Once most of my tasks were done I noticed a welcome email update for a blog I follow. Non-knitting friends might not have come across the excellent blog of Kate Davies, knitwear designer and writer extraordinaire. She writes not just about textiles which is her subject and her own knitting designs but also aspects of life in Scotland with her husband Tom Barr, the talent behind the lovely photographs on both her blog and in her books and Bruce the Black Labrador who makes occasional guest posts and melts readers hearts with his general labradorableness. Well he melts mine anyway but it’s a well known fact I’d walk over hot coals for a Black Lab. I defy anyone not to enjoy the rich variety of the regular posts.

(If you’re a knitter and you haven’t come across Ms Davies’ blog then frankly, where have you been? Hie thee over there at once…)

Anyway, the new post was a mince pie recipe Tom had created complete with tempting festive photographs and twinkling lights in the background. In an instant I knew such home comforts could be mine, tea lights and all if only I did the recipe. All it lacked was an image of a labrador scoffing the lot when backs were turned (or is it only Marley that does that? Or maybe other labrador owners have quicker reflexes or are more savvy about locking up edibles whilst in The Presence). My last shreds of resistance to comfort baking fled with the next 70mph gust that smacked into my house and I bolted to the kitchen and started turfing almonds, mincemeat and sugar and other such delectable ingredients out of the cupboard before my sensible side started totting up calories.

This recipe is an ingenious hybrid between mince pies and ricciarelli – the Italian macaroon of Sienna. Tom’s recipe calls for Orange Flower Water which is one of my favourite things, especially in a delicate fresh fruit salad. I just don’t have any in at the moment. In fact I almost bought some last week but it’s one of those things that loses it’s flavour left sitting in a cupboard and I didn’t have any particular plans to use it just at present – if only I’d known! So I was forced to use some lateral thinking…

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OK… don’t worry. I didn’t use facial toner! Honestly, what kind of idiot would even consider that… (hmm… it tastes too bitter and not at all of orange flower in case anyone is wondering – don’t try this at home folks sigh. I told you the wind was driving me insane).

I added a touch of orange juice along with the zest. It’s not the same but the best I could do in my emergency storm-induced baking frenzy.

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From then on it was relatively plain sailing – the sweet pastry recipe is the same as I normally use for mince pies. I opted to halve the recipe and make mini pies in a petit four tray to salve my weight watching conscience which after several essential tastings of the ricciarelli mix was starting to prick somewhat.

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How did a jar of mincemeat survive uneaten in the cupboard from last year?! Am so glad it did though. That find made up for the lack of orange flower water. Almost.

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Amazingly I still had enough ricciarelli mix left by this point to put on the top of the pies. It was a close run thing. Probably opting for mini-sized pies saved the day here. Next time I’m just making the almond mix and hiding in a corner with a bowl somewhere and scoffing it privately Winnie-the-Pooh style.

I decided to put a whole almond on top rather than the toasted flaked almonds stipulated. What can I say; I was feeling rebellious by this point. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact I’d been checking the freshness of the rest of the almonds in blind-tasting trials whilst assembling the pies.

I didn’t burn them. I didn’t drop them. Reader, they looked lovely and cute and festive all at the same time in their lovely wind defying mincepie/macaroon-y glory.

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Don’t look so surprised Moominmamma!! You were in charge of telling me when they were done after all…

Mmmmmmm…

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There were still most of them left this morning for coffee time. I definitely recommend this recipe, it’s awesome. They’re even better eaten at room temperature than hot out of the oven because the flavours have time to settle and meld together deliciously.

Ok, it’s also because it’s less of an extreme sport (why does hot mincemeat always skin the roof of your mouth anyway?)

So why don’t you give it a go?

Desmond’s Mince Pies by Tom Barr

Excuse me, I’m just off out to walk the dog again. Who ate all the pies?

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