December is already upon us, the evening chill announcing that the beloved "Christmas breeze" is making its presence felt! Many readers told me they appreciated how I broke down components of Christmas dining into a series last year and have asked me to do the same this season. Readers mean the world to me, and some of you mentioned it helped in planning your menus, or at the very least, gave you ideas to create something similar. I will follow the same pattern, beginning with the sweet variety.
Although traditional rum cake is, and always will be, the star, some people want alternatives to add to the sweet treats on offer. Before I get into those, though, have you started to stock up on your fruits yet? I know some people soak fruits in their wine and rum a year in advance but, really and truly, a minimum of three weeks will suffice. Raisins, currants, mixed peel, and cherries are in abundance now, so stock up quickly and begin your dried fruit preparation; the kitchen will smell lovely and get you into the holiday spirit.
In terms of the extras, think of after-dinner treats like chocolate truffles, rum balls, nut brittles and fudge. Little treats that pack a lot of flavour and fun. Pies and tarts are also delicious and make a change from too much cake. We are blessed with delicious fruits which would make great pie fillings or gorgeous fruit salads that you can make extra-special with signature syrups.
Create cheesecakes, mousses and ice cream with a spice element to keep the seasonal theme. Nutmeg and cinnamon are signature this time of year; you can add them to your punches as well, for extra pizzazz and intensity of flavour. Children love chocolate brownies; add some white chocolate chips or nuts to make them more festive. Cookies are also a treat for them, so make deluxe versions with sprinkles and/or colouring, and get cookie cutters that have shapes of stars, Christmas trees or angels. Why not make gingerbread houses? Look online for tips and make it a family affair.
JuicyChef's Free-Form Apple Tart
Although not a Jamaican fruit, American apples are a popular staple here, and relatively inexpensive. My thin tart is rustic at best with classic continental roots, a free-form dough almost similar to a galette, perfectly imperfect in shape. This is a delicious alternative to apple pie or rum fruitcake for your Christmas table. A few years ago, I told you about the lovely lady who gave me a fig tree, so I made jam from the fruit.
However, some local supermarkets now carry fig jam. If not, substitute with any jam you fancy that would pair well with apples. I like to make my pastry from scratch, but if you are feeling pressed for time, you can buy prepared puff pastry, although mine is more a buttery shortcrust.
4 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced.
500g/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
200g/1 cup butter, cold and diced
125ml/1/2 cup ice cold water
100g/ 1/2 cup butter, softened
100g/ 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
100g/ 1/2 cup ground almonds
50g/ 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsps apple brandy
2 tbsps fig jam, melted
First, prepare the dough. You can do it 2 ways: add all the ingredients except the water and pulse in your food processor and gradually add water until it begins to stick together, or in a large bowl add flour, salt and sugar, mix together then add the cold butter and rub together with your fingers until coarse, before adding ice water in stages until dough ball forms. Cover with cling film and allow to rest in fridge for at least an hour until time to roll out.
Next in your mixer, prepare the almond spread. First, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and smooth.
Add the egg and mix until incorporated.
Next, add cinnamon, ground almonds and flour and continue mixing until combined.
Stir in apple brandy.
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
Roll out dough to about 12 inches long and 1/4 inch thick and place on baking sheet.
Brush almond spread all over tart.
Layer on apple slices and bake for 45 minutes.
Remove from oven and brush all over with fig jam and continue baking for 15 more minutes.
I'm potty over tea as you all know, and scones are a great part of that tradition. Scones these days are made with all sorts of ingredients, both sweet and savoury. I had some leftover frozen strawberries, so I decided to make a batch of strawberry scones. You can use any fruit you fancy, really. Serve with guava jam, cream or lemon curd. This would be a lovely addition to a Christmas morning breakfast or brunch.
500g/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 tbsps sugar, divided
125g/1/2 cup butter, cold
300g/ 1 cup strawberries, sliced
175ml/3/4 cup cream or milk
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Grease a baking sheet and set aside.
In a bowl, add flour, baking powder, 3 tbsps of sugar and salt, and mix well.
Cut butter into small pieces and add to flour mixture. Use your fingers to rub into flour until mixture resembles crumbs.
Add strawberries (or other fruit, if using) into the mixture and add cream in stages and mix until a dough is formed.
Flour a surface and add dough to it. Using a round cutter, cut out circles, if not, cut into wedges — your preference — and place on baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes, remove from heat and sprinkle the remaining 1tbsp of sugar onto the scones and place back into oven for 10 more minutes.
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