It’s baking time

When it comes to Christmas, my thoughts turn immediately to food. But I know that if I make a big tin of fudge or toffee, I’ll inevitably end up eating it all myself. (This is, apparently, a Bad Thing.) So I decided at the weekend that I’d make a selection of sweets and send them to the various members of my family.

I started off with biscotti. This gets baked twice, once as a loaf and for a second time once it’s been sliced into biscuit-sized portions. Mine wasn’t as crunchy as I’d have liked, as the temperature control in the over seems to be playing up, but it wasn’t too bad for my first attempt. Here’s the finished product.

Biscotti

I then moved on to fudge. I’m a big fan of the Roly’s Fudge franchise and buy a big bag of their fudge whenever I’m near their shop in Sidmouth. I’ve never been able to replicate Roly’s fudge at home, though, so was very excited when I found a recipe on the internet purporting to be theirs. Needless to say, it wasn’t. But I did end up with some rather crunchy, chocolately fudge. Here is it.

Chocolate fudge

Eager to get at least one thing right, I turned to one of my old favourites – white chocolate fudge. When you mix sugar, double cream and white chocolate, it’s very difficult to go wrong. And the result is delicious. This is the only fudge recipe where I use liquid glucose, and it gives the mixture a very silky texture. Here it is on the boil.

Making fudge

And here’s the fudge itself. I really should chop it into tinier pieces. My brother-in-law once had three chunks of this at one sitting and was on a sugar high for about a week.

White chocolate fudge

At Natalie’s request, I then tried a Nigella recipe: Hokey Pokey. This is, essentially, honeycomb and is supposed to be extremely easy to make. In fact, if you are able to tell the difference between a pot of bicarbonate of soda (the required ingredient) and baking powder (what I used), it is indeed remarkably straightforward. I noticed my mistake when the mixture (below) still hadn’t set after 24 hours. I tried again the next morning, though, this time with the right ingredients – and it worked a treat. (This time, it set in two minutes.)

Hokey pokey

Next up was sea salt caramel. This recipe is similar to the one for fudge, except that you boil it to a higher temperature. (The temperature goes up as the water evaporates.) It’s much chewier than fudge but not as crunchy as toffee. If you can resist the temptation to chew, it melts really slowly in your mouth. (Not that I ate half of it, or anything.)

Sea salt caramel

Last up was a recipe that I’d tried before but not really been very happy with : Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s vanilla fudge. This time, though, I followed the recipe very carefully and let it stand to cool in all the right places. And the result was divine. Sorry I doubted you, Hugh. Here’s the fudge cooling in the tin, waiting to be sliced into squares.

Vanilla fudge

A very productive afternoon. And immense fun. I hope my family enjoys eating these sweets as much as I enjoyed making them. I’ll have to make some more, now, so that Natalie and I have something for Christmas, too.

It’s the thought that counts

It’s been quite a long week. And I’ve spent far too much of it in airport lounges, on trains, in hotel rooms, on the phone and in long, drawn out meetings. But I was at home today, so had some time to wind down and get on with some of the more enjoyable things on my to-do list, like catching up with my studies, playing with the dog and doing a bit of cooking.

It’s my mum’s birthday tomorrow, and I’m off down to the southern tip of Somerset in the morning to meet up with her and my siblings. Being me, I had of course completely forgotten to do anything in the way of getting her a present, so decided this evening that I’d make her some white chocolate fudge.

I’ve made it a few times before, and she always seems to like it – or, at least, is too polite to say that it tastes like glue – and it seems nice to make something as a gift rather than just go out and buy her a book (which is, I must admit, my usual strategy).¬†And if I may say so myself, it turned out fairly well.

White Chocolate Fudge
White Chocolate Fudge

For anyone who’s interested, it’s actually quite easy to make. Tip 500g of golden caster sugar, 250ml of double cream and 250ml of milk into a big saucepan and heat it gently on the hob, while stirring lightly, until the sugar has dissolved. Then heat more vigorously and stir periodically until it reaches about 116 degrees celsius (called ‘soft ball’ stage – use a jam thermometer).

Take the saucepan off the hob and stir the mixture like a lunatic for five minutes. Avoid the temptation to stick your finger in the mixture, because this will be very, very painful. Then add 140g of broken-up white chocolate and stir a couple of times to swirl the chocolate in a bit. Pour it into a greased 20cm tin of some kind and leave to harden.

I find it useful to etch lines in the mixture, in an eight by eight grid, before it hardens completely. When it has cooled, tip the tin upside down over a chopping board or big plate, and your fudge will fall out in handy bit-size chunks. Yummy. Don’t eat more than three at once, though.

It’s not the healthiest snack in the world, but you do burn off a good few calories with all the stirring. And it makes a great present. Or, at least, I hope it does. I’d better take a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine, too, just in case…