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Sunday, 4 January 2015

Christmas Catch Up

 So we've taken down the decorations and recovered from celebrating the New Year; it seems like a goods time to look back on my Christmas culinary adventures for 2014.

 As regular readers would know, this year I made gingerbread trees to give out to friends/family/work colleagues/school teachers/comic book shop guys/the school crossing man. So I ended up making a LOT of gingerbread. Each batch made 64 Christmas tress, and I made 3 batches. That is a lot of mixing, rolling, cutting, baking, piping and bagging. Suffice to say, I don’t want to even think about gingerbread for a few months! Ironically I actually got to taste my first Christmas gingerbread at the weekend (the last two trees left over from Christmas day) and they still tasted good, almost two weeks after baking!
 One thing I did different this year was an attempt at Gluten Free (GF) gingerbread. With a friend who is coeliac and several gluten intolerant friends, I felt bad that they couldn't share in the spoils of my baking. Luckily, the only ingredient that contains gluten in my gingerbread recipe is plain flour (it uses bicarb soda as a raising agent), so I thought it was be a fairly easy substitution. I had some GF self-raising flour in the cupboard from a previous GF baking session which I usually wouldn’t substitute for plain flour. However, using my Science Brain, I remembered that it was the gluten in the flour that bound the baking together and helped it raise, so GF self raising flour was probably closer to non-GF plain flour than non-GF SR flour. All clear??
 And it worked quite well. I went more on Feel than exact measurements when adding the flour; GF flour has a rather different texture to non-GF so I probably had to add more to made the dough sticky enough to roll out. And I think the GF SR flour did make a difference, in that they were a bit more rounded, a bit softer, less crispy-biscuit like (next time I'll buy GF plain flour). But the main thing is they still tasted (and looked) like gingerbread, and my GF friends were very appreciative, even though I didn't get a chance to ice them.

(the darker ones were chocolate gingerbread)
 My next step is to try and make a refined-sugar free gingerbread (have I mentioned that a lot of my friends are very health/diet conscious with a lot of “…. Intolerant” kids???). I figure that I can substitute coconut sugar for brown sugar, and maple syrup for the golden syrup. This will probably affect the consistency and “stickiness” of the dough, so will probably mean a bit of fiddling with the (GF or not) flour. Next challenge will be going dairy free – should be a straight swap with nuttelex for butter which would hopefully cream up well with the sugar. I thought I had almost got everything sorted to finally make a batch for one of my friends (who is gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugar free), who then informed me that she doesn’t eat refined oils, which nuttelex is. *sigh*  My other option is then trying to cream coconut oil and coconut sugar together (and hope that it holds together), mix it with maple syrup and GF flour, and hopefully the addition of ginger will make it still taste vaguely like gingerbread.
 (Or maybe I can just resign myself to not making her gingerbread!)

 Regular readers will also know that I love a good theme, and Christmas is a great excuse to get Creative with Cooking. Last year it was my Rudolph pancakes, which this, year when I made them in early December, Son 2 proclaimed that he wasn't much of a fan of because he doesn't like bacon (Son 2 LOVES bacon, so he didn't see the issue). Nerdy Nummies Ro had made some Snowman pancakes (its the third 'treat') but that wasn't really suitable for an Australian Summer Christmas (but will be great if we go to the snow!). I then came across this awesome blog called The Joys of Boys (they had blog on making Star Wars snowflakes. So cool). They had Santa pancakes, which apart from having a HEAP of whipped cream (which I would think would be that nasty stuff from a can – what is it with Americans and a tonne of fake whipped cream?!?), they also had cherries for the hat. I have a girlfriend whose kids would adore this version (their dad was raised on a cherry farm and they are massive Fresh Fruit Fans), but mine, not so much. So what to use? Coincidentally at this time, one of my girlfriends (She with the French husband) was getting ready to go the Paris to celebrate Christmas with the Hubby’s family. For 5 weeks. And so was clearing out her freezer. As well as a packet of breadcrumbs (which my chickens loved) she also gave me a bag of 5 frozen eggs whites; which were leftover from an awesome chocolate Crème Brulee she had made the last time I went for dinner. Hmmmm – how fortuitous! So on Boxing day (as Christmas morning breakfast was taken up with the traditional croissants and fresh fruit breakfast), I made these Santa Pancakes...

...bacon for the hat, an egg-white omelette (badly) cut into shape for the beard and hat trimming, blueberry eyes and a strawberry nose. I got big smiles from both Sons who then carefully removed the fruit, swapped the bacon for egg and happily devoured them!

 My last piece of Christmas faffing was something that had been hovering around my Christmas Pintrest board for a while – the Christmas fruit tree. There are lots of really cool variations (when you have a spare 5 minutes, type “Christmas fruit tree” in the search engine and check them out). I did like the 3D version, but it didn't seem to be able to support a lot of fruit and as I was doing this for our family Christmas lunch of about 15 adults, I wanted to make sure there was bit available. Plus I knew I would be assembling it after I had hosted breakfast but before jumping in the car to drive to lunch. So it trying to keep things less stressed on Dec 25th, I settled for the 2D version. I had no grand plans as to how it would look (how very unlike me! I must have had my brain filled with other Christmas Organising), but ended up using cantaloupe (or rockmelon depending on where you were born) as “boughs”. Small bunches of grapes were great for greenery, strawberries and blueberries for a touch of colour and some watermelon star cutouts to make it look Christmassy.

 So I hope you all had a fun and festive Christmas with lots of yummy food (as I did) and I look forward to doing it all again in 11 months time

(but maybe not gingerbread this time…..)

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