Fruitcake failure

I made a Christmas cake yesterday and it hasn’t turned out very well so I’m making another one.

It's a bit dark
It’s a bit dark

Last year I put it in the roasting oven for 20 minutes and then in the simmering oven for five hours.  This year I followed the book’s advice for people with a four oven AGA, which was to put it in the baking oven for about an hour and then put it in the simmering oven.  I kept pulling it out but my skewer wasn’t coming out clean so I left it in the simmering oven for my longer this time – about nine hours in total (although to be fair, the book says that a cake can take between five and ten hours).  The top is a bit too hard – my husband wondered if this was because he was cooking a casserole in there at the same time.

This was the batter
This was the batter

The batter itself was much darker this time because I used the really dark sugar.

Never mind, I’m sure the next one will be better.

Found a knife

We found that knife in the end – when we arrived in the IoW, it was sitting on the draining board, all washed up.  I suppose our builders must have borrowed it – I hope for food purposes rather than opening cans of paint.

Here is the knife
Here is the knife

It’s funny but no one seems to make this kind of knife – about a four inch long blade which is rounded at the end.  During our search, my husband bought a set of three Wusthof knifes (they were very reduced) and the middle one was about the same size but had a longer, pointier blade.

At least we'll be able to do some marvellous pumpkin carving this year
At least we’ll be able to do some marvellous pumpkin carving this year

Not a whole lot else to report really.  I’ve done as you suggested, Kal, and split those chives in the front garden – I put some in the herb garden, left some where they were and put some others in another bed.  I’d never realised that chives were separate bulb plants but I suppose it makes sense.

I didn’t take any photos of the garden because it was raining rather hard.

I’ve also done some pruning of my herbs (English mace, oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage) and have put the clippings in the compost bin.  I had a go at turning the compost but I don’t know how effective I was.  There seems to be quite a lot of compost from the middle downwards and I have loads of worms.

My Mum says that she is quite worried about the worms in her compost bin.  She has one of those black dalek bins and the worms keep going up into the ridges of the lid.  She thinks it’s because they want a rest but I think that they are too hot.  In summer, they cook and then stink the whole bin out.

Sheltering from the storm

Last night, we had a fire (which, in the end, I had to get the logs for.  In the wind.  Perhaps this isn’t unreasonable, considering that my son is only four and the log shed is spooky).

My lovely Norwegian log burner.  Warm AND stylish
My lovely Norwegian log burner. Warm AND stylish

I had a glass of the red wine we had open.  Now, usually, I would have just said that it had gone over but this, I think, had just been mulled somewhat from being next to the AGA.  This, I thought was a great thing as I love mulled wine.

Mulled wine
Mulled wine
It's actually really nice if you don't leave it next to the AGA
It’s actually really nice if you don’t leave it next to the AGA

Christmas cake

On Saturday I had a go at making a Christmas cake, using a recipe out of The AGA Bible, which was written by Amy Willcock (who used to live round here but now lives on the mainland, I think).  Taxi drivers gossip about her – a few years ago she was in a documentary called The Hissing of Summer Lawns and was about her attempt to modernise the WI in Yarmouth.  I only met her once, at the yacht club, but the show was amusing enough if you find time to watch it.

Anyway, the AGA Bible is a good book – one of the things about having an AGA (if you didn’t grow up with one) is that you really need a guide to using it or you risk being rather frightened of it.

This also includes instructions on how to make things using a conventional oven
This also includes instructions on how to make things using a conventional oven

One of the helpful things about this book is that it includes different recipes for the celebration fruitcake (which I think means Christmas cake) for different sized cake tins (round and square).  One problem I had was that, although I have cake tins, the manufacturers don’t put the sizes on them – we ended up measuring my square tin and decided that it was 20 cm across.

Here you go
Here you go

The day before you make the cake, you need to put all the fruit, candied peel and orange / lemon zest in a bowl with the treacle and brandy to marinate.  I have no idea whether I chopped the glace cherries small enough and I didn’t have a zester – I used a microplane to do that job.

Coarse microplane
Coarse microplane

Then you cover the bowl with some clingfilm.

It's a surprisingly large amount of fruit
It’s a surprisingly large amount of fruit

When it came to actually making the cake batter, I made a couple of changes.  I didn’t have any rice flour and the nice ladies at the Co-op looked a bit baffled when I asked if they sold it.  However, my Mum said that cornflour would do the same job so I used that instead.

Cornflour
Cornflour

I also didn’t put any chopped almonds in, partly because quite a few people I know don’t like cakes with nuts in and partly because our nephew is allergic to pretty much all nuts.  Realistically, there is no change whatsoever that he will want to eat this cake but it does seem rather inhospitable to make something that he can’t safely eat.  However, I’ve now realised that if I want to ice it, I’ll need to cover it with marzipan (which I hate but my husband loves) so that point doesn’t really stand.

Originally, when I creamed the sugar and butter, I hadn’t waited for the butter to reach room temperature so it was a bit of a claggy mess.  I bunged the bowl on top of the AGA for twenty minutes and it softened up a bit.

Butter was rock hard
Butter was rock hard
Here you go
Here you go

Once I’d added all the fruit, the cake mix was actually enormous – came right to the top of my Kitchenaid bowl.  I greased the square tin and put greaseproof paper on the bottom (but not on the sides – I figured that, as my tin had a moveable base, this wouldn’t be needed).

Ready to go in the oven
Ready to go in the oven

I put it in the roasting oven for twenty minutes (as that’s what the recipe said) and then into the simmering oven.  The recipe said this could take between five and ten hours, depending on the AGA.  In fact, mine was in the simmering oven (at the top) for five hours – my AGA is new so is probably a bit warmer than the old coke-fired ones.

Here it is
Here it is

I’ve been told that I need to feed the cake with brandy or sherry.  By this, I prick it with a skewer and then drip a teaspoon of liquor into it, about once a week.  Sounds an awful faff, I may not bother.

Eggs in clouds

For dinner tonight, I had a go at something I’d seen in one of those Facebook videos that someone shared – eggs in clouds.

I googled it and found this recipe by Rachel Ray.  Now, I do need to point out that I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – we didn’t have any Parmesan, I wasn’t sure whether my husband was saving the pancetta for something so I didn’t use it and I have an AGA here so don’t know the exact temperature of the oven.  I LOVE my AGA but its temperature does rather depend on what sort of things it’s been used for that day and the time of day (it’s electric so goes into downtime in the middle of the day).

My AGA.
My AGA.

Ingredients (if you’re following the recipe correctly)

eggs

1/4 cup grated pecorino-romano – I took this to mean parmesan (which I didn’t have)

1/4 cup chopped chives – Woohoo! I grow this in the garden so I had it

1/4 cup crumbled bacon – should think pancetta would do (but I didn’t use it)

Pepper

Now, you will notice that the recipe calls for “cups”.  Being English, this is meaningless to me but I do have a volume converter on my phone and it says that quarter of a cup is just over 2 fluid ounces (or 60 ml).  So, as I was only measuring out chives, I took this to mean “some”.

I am not very good at chopping herbs.
I am not very good at chopping herbs.

Separate out the egg yolks and whites and put the yolks to one side.

Egg yolks
Egg yolks

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Beating the egg whites - this is the first time I've used the balloon whisk
Beating the egg whites – this is the first time I’ve used the balloon whisk

Fold in the chopped chives (and the other stuff) into the beaten egg whites.  Then put them in mounds on a lined baking sheet, putting a dent in the middle.  Bake in a hot oven (450 F / 230 C so I just shoved this at the top of the hot oven) for about three minutes.

Then put an egg yolk in the middle of each mound and put back in the oven.

Egg yolks in the middle of the clouds.
Egg yolks in the middle of the clouds.

Now, the recipe said to bake these for two to three minutes but I checked them after three and they were no way well done enough for my kids.  Unfortunately, I was also making the “proper” kids tea at the same time so got a bit flustered and ended up leaving them in the oven for about eight minutes.  They looked okay though.

Eggs in clouds
Eggs in clouds

My son announced that they looked “disgusting” but my daughter had some and said they were “yummy”.  My husband said that they were nice and had a second one.  However, I think he was being kind because he put pesto on the second one.  The egg yolk was overdone but not horrifically – next time I’ll do that bit for about five minutes.  Also, next time, I’ll actually use the ingredients listed.