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The joys and perils of Christmas baking

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Christmas Fudge
Christmas Fudge

Here are five baking tips to avoid the perilous pitfalls of baking this Christmas

Mulled Pear Tart
Mulled Pear Tart

There are plenty of things I dislike about this time of year, but almost all are cancelled out by the wonderful, warm waft of mulled wine and the glow of roaring fires when you enter one of our restaurants. I was at The Tickell Arms last week during a busy lunch service when I heard a table singing Christmas carols. Not Christmas pop songs but old school traditional carols tastefully sung. It reminded me of those really special times at Christmas which are more often than not based around ritual and tradition.

However, on the food front I must admit I have mixed feelings about tradition. My role in Cambscuisine is to keep us innovative and interesting but at Christmas innovation has to be balanced with those traditional dishes everyone expects. With fussy relatives and a handful of food intolerances to cater for this year, I’ve been forced to keep Christmas lunch simple and traditional despite my love of experimentation. Normally this might dampen my Christmas cheer, but instead I’ve decided to throw everything into dessert! Alongside a clementine, amaretto and almond trifle I’m making a mulled pear, chocolate and hazelnut frangipane tart and Christmas pudding fudge to go with coffee (see a couple of recipes left and right.)

Needless to say Christmas can be stressful even when everything goes go to plan. So just in case, here are my top five baking tips to avoid the perilous pitfalls of baking this Christmas:

1. My butter isn’t soft enough! Creaming butter and sugar requires really soft butter but don’t worry if you’ve forgotten to take it out of the fridge. Place a glass of water in the microwave for 1 minute, pour out the water and place the glass over a stick of butter and leave for 2 minutes. If it’s still not soft enough I sometimes use a blowtorch on the outside of the bowl (provided it’s not plastic), or dip the bowl in a basin of hot water, then carry on creaming.

2. Split ganache. When making a chocolate ganache, if the cream is too hot the ganache may split. There’s an easy remedy for this. Warm a tablespoon of milk to just warmer than body temperature and whisk into the mix. This will help the mixture to re-emulsify.

3. Don’t mix up greaseproof paper with baking parchment. I made a batch of brandy snaps recently using greaseproof paper (the brown stuff) – to my dismay they became so irretrievably stuck to the paper; I had to bin the lot! The next batch baked on baking parchment (the white stuff) came out perfectly. The same can happen with macarons.

4. My fondant has teared! Covering fondant cakes perfectly can be tricky. If you have a small tear to try to repair, take a small lump of excess fondant and mix with a few drops of water. Keep mixing until it forms a thick paste then pipe it over the tear. Use a damp finger to smooth it out. Once dry it’ll look like perfect fondant again.

5. Let it cool… I know it’s tempting to start unmoulding and touching your bakes as soon as they’re out of the oven but a little patience really pays off here. Wait until they’ve cooled to room temperature otherwise you’ll end up with crumbled cookies, broken cakes and a real mess. There’s plenty of washing up to do in the meantime!

Cambscuisine is a group of seven local restaurants and an event catering operation. See cambscuisine.com.

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