Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sweet Things

I've been talking about making gifts for friends and family for years and this year instead of just talking about making them, I actually set to and drew up a plan and made some gifts for some of my hubby's family, making sweets was sort of his idea after we'd found a book by Annie Rigg entitled "Sweet Things" in a book shop a few months ago. We went through it looking for ideas, and in the end we drew up a list of 4 items to make, Cherry Brandy Fudge, Chocolate & Stem Ginger Fudge, Turkish Delight and Chocolate Peppermint Creams.

We collected together items we needed like a sugar thermometer, moulds, packaging items and of course the basic ingredients which included enough sugar to sink a ship. The downside was all the items we'd chosen to make had to be made as close to Christmas Day as possible due to shelf life. Not to be deterred we decided that the weekend before Xmas eve was perfect, we tackled the fudge first, the Cherry Brandy Fudge came out perfect, but despite reheating and whipping the chocolate & stem ginger fudge to within an inch of its life, we couldn't get it to set despite following the recipe to the letter. We ended up with a product that had the consistency of chocolate spread, which was a real shame as it tasted heavenly, its on the list to perfect for next year!

Cherry Brandy Fudge

This recipe makes about 40-50 pieces of fudge depending on how big you cut the pieces.

Sunflower oil for greasing
100g (3½oz) dried cherries
3-4tbsp cherry brandy
½ a vanilla pod
450g (1lb) caster sugar
50g (1¾oz) golden syrup
2tbsp liquid glucose
170ml (6fl oz) evaporated milk
170ml (6floz) full-cream milk
50g (1¾oz) unsalted butter

Grease the base and sides of an 18cm x 18cm (7in x 7in) baking tin with oil and line with a sheet of baking parchment. Place the dried cherries in a saucepan and add the cherry brandy. Cut the vanilla pod to expose the seeds and add to the dried cherries. Set the pan over a low heat for about 3 minutes to warm the brandy but don’t boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

To make the fudge, tip the remaining ingredients and the brandied vanilla pod into a saucepan and set over a low heat to melt the butter and dissolve the sugar. Pop the sugar thermometer into the pan and raise the heat to bring the mixture to the boil – as it reaches the required temperature, it will turn a rich caramel. Stirring frequently, continue to cook on a steady low-medium heat until the fudge registers 114°C (237°F) on the sugar thermometer.

Slide the pan off the heat and plunge the base into a sink of cold water for 20 seconds to stop the cooking. Using a fork, remove the vanilla pod and leave the fudge to cool for 3 minutes. Beat with a rubber spatula for 3 minutes until it thickens. Add the brandied cherries, then spoon into the prepared tin. Leave to cool completely then cover with clingfilm and leave overnight before cutting into squares.

Next we turned our hands to making chocolate peppermint creams, this recipe isn't from Sweet Things its from a magazine from a few years ago. N.B. you can also make chocolate peppermint creams using beaten egg whites, which is the way I always made them when I was younger, but these days a lot of people worry about eating raw egg whites, so the recipe given below is a safe alternative.

Chocolate Peppermint Creams

450g Icing Sugar, sifted
125ml Condensed Milk
4 Teaspoons Peppermint Extract
Green Food Colouring
200g Plain Chocolate (70% Cocoa or greater)

Sieve the icing sugar into a mixing bowl, then add the condensed milk, peppermint extract and a few drops o
f green food colouring and mix thoroughly until you get a smooth but firm 'dough' and the colouring is blended in evenly, use a wooden spoon to begin and then use your hands to knead the peppermint 'dough'.

When the dough is ready, roll it out on a clean surface that has been dusted with icing sugar to about 4-5mm in thickness and use a small cookie cutter or a milk bottle top to cut shapes or rounds. You can also take a piece of dough about the size of a large marble and roll it in your hand and the squash it flat with the back of a fork to give texture.

Leave the peppermint disks to dry out over night, next day, melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of hot water, once melted, dip each of the peppermint creams in the chocolate to half cover and put on to greaseproof paper while the chocolate sets. Once the chocolate has set firmly, pack into bags or boxes.

Turkish Delight

The recipe we followed from the Sweet Things book was for a traditional Turkish Delight based on cornflour and sugar, the texture was lovely and it tasted divine, but we noticed that it went 'sweaty' very quickly. In this You-Tube video it shows keeping the delight in a large amount of icing sugar, which would work, but it doesn't look very attractive. The cornflour recipe contains no gelatine though, making it suitable for vegetarians.

A word of warning regarding rosewater, some brands just taste like water with a slight citric acid edge and hardly any rose flavour, as was the case with the rose water we purchased from Tesco. Luckily I had in a bottle of Rose Extract we'd picked up from the Lakeland for making an Indian dessert. When I find a brand of rosewater that is rosier than Tesco I'll update this section, but for now be fore warned!

Next time we make Turkish Delight we're going to use a recipe like this one for making a gelatine based Turkish Delight and see what happens when you come to store gelatine based recipes.The plan is to experiment with recipes and variations over the next 12 months and to improve the sweets, hindsight is a wonderful thing, if we'd had more time we'd have tweaked and played to perfect the recipes. As it stood we gave the gifts warts an' all and explained that it was our first time.

We're both thrilled with the results, and we're inspired to do something similar next year, there were a few minor problems, one small burn from red hot sugar syrup and a little frayed temper from having to do something we'd never done before at the last minute, knowing if it went wrong, we were stuffed! In the end we had some edible goodies to give, our favourites were the Turkish Delight and the Peppermint Creams. The best part of the experience for me was my better half and I worked as a team, we laughed, we danced around the kitchen as we mixed, boiled and decorated.

We enjoyed doing it so much we've vowed that all adults friends and family on both sides are getting homemade gifts in 2014, I'm already halfway through one gift and have a list of other gifts to make, some will be cosmetic, some knitted, some sew, some baked as well as sugared confections, all will be made with love. Some of the best gifts I got given this year were handmade one off's which I truly appreciate and will treasure. Handmade is about the love and effort that goes in to a gift, its about one person giving their time to create something they hope you'll like, my idea of christmas gifts has changed radically and I'm not sure I can go back to the mass produced stuff that everybody gets and gives. The icing on the cake for me was hearing from a friend that myself and a few other friends who make their own gifts have inspired another friend to have a go for next year :)

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Thanks for your comments on my cards and posts, they are very much appreciated, I'll get back to you as soon as I can if a reply is required. Hugs - Debs x