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Gingerbread houses are gorgeous, festive, and are made to be admired! For those who do not love gingerbread (i.e. children) we used our sugar cookie recipe to bake mini “Soetkoekie” houses. Soetcookies hold their shape well when baking, this lends itself to shaping the dough with cookie cutters or a knife. We created this little house by cutting dough to fit the following template.

Ingredients:

300g Butter 1 cup Sugar 1 Egg 1 tsp. Vanilla 2.5 cups Cake flour 1/2 tsp. Baking powder 1/2 tsp. Salt

Whip the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the egg slowly with the vanilla and stir. Sift the remaining ingredients and beat into the mixture till the dough combines and forms a ball around the whisk/dough hook. Place the dough in cling film and store in the fridge for 1 hour, or until firm.

Cut a slice of cold dough, place the template over the dough and cut along the template to create the walls x 2, roof x 2 and front/back x 2. Place on a lined/ non-stick baking tray and bake at 180°C for 8-12 minutes or until the edges are golden. Allow to cool on the baking pan.

We used royal icing powder mixed with water to create an icing which dries hard in minutes/ you could create your own by whipping egg whites and icing sugar. We decorated our houses using Nicoletta Christmas Tree ConfettiHeart ConfettiSnowflake Wafers, Pearl Drops, and Nicoletta Soft Pearl balls in cream, green and red. We created an edible glue using CMC and water to stick our decorations to the houses.

Mince pies are a staple food around Christmas time, and we just love to munch our way through these tempting Yule tide favourites! The mark of a great Christmas mince pie is the filling. Each pie must be filled to the brim with yummy ready-to-use fruit mince. Phyllo pastry (named after the Greek word for leaf “filo”) are paper-thin sheets of unleavened flour dough. Using this light, crisp pastry instead of short-crust pastry is a unique way of making mouth watering mince pies!

Ingredients:

Phyllo pastry Butter – to baste Ready-to-use fruit mince

Cut 15cm squares of phyllo pastry – 2 square sheets per parcel, and brush with melted butter. Arrange the phyllo pastry in a muffin pan and fill with a table spoon of fruit mince. Bake  at 180°C for approx. 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

We cut out star decorations using Nicoletta Marzipan and White Fondant; and sprinkled a few white Star Confetti for that extra special Christmas effect.

Now is the time to decorate and embellish your rich Christmas cake. Wow all your friends and family with a superbly adorned cake! With fondant and marzipan as the traditional means of decorating, we have outlined a step by step approach to covering a Christmas cake in fondant, as well as making a few easy little figurines to top the cake.

Paint the surface of the marzipan-covered cake with alcohol or water (not too much as you certainly don’t want a “mushy” wet marzipan surface), or use smooth apricot jam. This allows the fondant to stick to the marzipan layer below. Roll out your fondant on a lightly dusted surface, measure the top and sides of your cake and compare this against the rolled out fondant – just to be sure that the fondant is sufficient to cover the entire cake. Use your rolling pin to lift and gently drape the icing onto the cake. Flatten the top before tucking the icing around the sides. Trim off the excess fondant with a knife. Smooth the top and sides of the cake with a warm hand or by using a cake smoother.

For a few more tips on covering cakes with fondant, have a look at our post on Nicoletta’s guide to playing with fondant, where we have calculated how much fondant is needed to cover cakes of different sizes, and also displayed our colour chart for mixing fondants.

We made a small fondant Christmas tree decorated with metallic “Bling” balls, and brightly coloured presents to bring our Christmas cake to life. These figurines were so easy to make, all we needed was corn starch (Maizina) for dusting surfaces and hands, and edible glue (make edible glue by mixing a piece of white fondant with a small amount of water). Moulding decorations can be festive fun for the kids, just think of fondant as “edible play-dough”.

The fabulous scent of fresh baked Christmas mince pies and fruity Christmas cakes fill our homes during Christmas. This lovely inviting aroma comes from the spiced minced dried fruit, which is all too easy to make, and once you make your own, you will never go back to “store bought”. Fruit mince is customarily made using dried fruit, apple, warm spices and almonds, all soaked in alcohol (ideally brandy). These delightful ingredients are then mixed and placed in a jar which is stored for at least a week to allow the flavours to infuse.

But we like to use fruit mince when we need it, and we need it now. By cooking the fruit mince, it allows the flavours to “melt” together to create one rich, delicious, gooey ready-to-eat Christmas mince. Use this addictive mince when creating fruit mince muffins, mix it in with ice-cream, spread on scones, or even use is as a filling for your home made Christmas mince pies.

When adding dried fruit to the recipe, feel free to add the fruit in variable proportions – starting with what you like best, or make creative additions like pineapple, dried mango and or cranberries.

Ingredients:

70ml balsamic vinegar ½ tsp. ground nutmeg ½ tsp. ground cinnamon ½ tsp. ground mixed spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, coriander) 2 apples. peeled and diced 70g raisins 70g sultanas 70g currants 70g dates 35g candied, mixed citrus peel 100g treacle sugar 250ml white wine 250ml water 70ml brandy 1 heaped Tbs. slivered almonds 1 tsp. lemon zest 1 tsp. orange zest

In a pot, heat the balsamic vinegar and spices till boiling, add in all the ingredients (keep back 30ml of brandy for the end). Simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on, and mix often to avoid the fruit mince sticking to the bottom of your pot. Uncover for the last 10 minutes and let some of the juices reduce, if the mince is too dry, add more water. The mince is done when the dried fruit is plump and juicy, and the apples have gone dark. Take your fruit mince off the stove and stir in the remaining brandy.

Sterilise a glass jar and lid by filling it with boiling water and allowing it to stand for a few minutes. Fill the jar with the hot mince and tightly seal the lid.

This recipe will be enough to fill a 750ml large jar, or 2 medium size jars – which make great Christmas gifts! The mince in a sealed jar may last up to one year in the fridge, but I doubt that any will be left over after this Christmas season…

Whether you are a lover of ginger or not, you have to admit that gingerbread men are just adorable, not to mention a quintessential favourite of Father Christmas and his reindeer. Gingerbread cookies store well, and can be made in advance for Christmas. We made mini men (perhaps called “Gingerbread Boys”), to nibble on with our tea. We decorated them by dusting them with Nicoletta gold shimmer. We also added soft pearl balls for those fabled buttons.

Ingredients:

½ cup softened butter ½ cup brown sugar ½ cup molasses (treacle) 2 ½ cups cake flour 1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda 3 tsp. ground ginger (add grated fresh ginger if you love the “ginger-heat”) 2 tsp. ground mixed spice 1 tsp. ground cinnamon Pinch of ground cloves ¼ cup strong cold tea 1 tsp. vanilla essence

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the molasses to the butter mixture and beat well. Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the tea and mix well. Add the vanilla and mix to form a dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 24 hours to allow the dough to rest and stiffen for rolling. Roll the dough to the desired thickness and cut into gingerbread men. Arrange the shapes on greased cookie sheet or a Nicoletta non-stick baking sheet and bake at 180°C for 8 – 10 minutes.

The ginger and spices in this recipe give the cookies a warm and spicy yet mildly sweet taste and aroma. Store in tins, and dust with Nicoletta gold shimmer to decorate. Use Nicoletta soft cream pearls as buttons by sticking them to the “The Boys” using Nicoletta silver writing icing.

For those of us who have forgotten the fairy-tale: Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man..

 

Christmas cakes have earned a bad reputation for being “rock hard”, chewy, boozy, and dry. The truth is a good Christmas Cake should be delicious, dense, light and rich… all at the same time. This recipe is one that we have tweaked (and perfected) over several years, and is a combination of a few recipes (plus a sprinkling of trial and error!).

Don’t be intimidated by making your own Christmas cake, it is super easy and well worth the effort! November is the prefect time of year to prepare your Christmas Cake. Traditionally you can prepare you Christmas Cake up to 3 months in advance, so as to allow it time to rest and develop the rich complex flavours of a masterful fruit cake. Take note… Christmas cake that hasn’t been allowed to mature isn’t that great, it really does need time for the ingredients and flavours to infuse.

To store a fresh Christmas cake – wrap it tightly in a layer of baking paper, and then wrap it in foil and store it in an airtight container or tin.  Most people “feed” the cake occasionally by brushing the cake with a few tablespoons of brandy, whiskey or bourbon; but our secret is to soak the fruit overnight in a “lot” of brandy, this means that you very rarely have to feed the cake before Christmas, as it remains moist and yummy – this safe-guards against a strong alcohol taste in the cake – as the raw alcohol dissipates during baking. The soaking also plumps up the dried fruit so that it remains moist in the cake, and not dry and chewy!

Ingredients:

400g currants 220g sultanas 220g raisins 70g glace cherries (rinsed, some chopped and some left whole) 55g candied, mixed citrus peel 1 – 2 cups brandy 225g cake flour ½ tsp. salt ½ tsp. grated/ ground nutmeg ½ tsp. ground cinnamon 1 tsp. ground allspice 225g unsalted butter 225g dark brown sugar 4 eggs 1 Tbs. molasses/treacle

Step 1: Get the cherries, fruit and citrus peel drunk – allow the fruit to soak overnight in the brandy so that they plump up.

Step 2: Line a 20 – 25cm deep round tin with baking a double layer of baking paper. It is important that you line the tin, as the cake will cook for a long time, and the lining will prevent the sides of the cake from burning. One could also use a good quality silicone cake mould instead.

Step 3: Cream together the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Beat the eggs and add a little at a time to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. In separate bowl, sieve the flour, salt and spices; fold into the butter mixture. Add the drunken fruit and treacle to the mixture; stir the ingredients until they are well combined. Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin.

Step 4: Bake the cake on the low shelf in the oven, at 140°C for approximately  4 – 4 ½ hours. Let the cake cool in the tin for at least an hour.

Step 5: Wrap the cooled cake in baking paper and foil and place in an airtight tin. Feed the cake with additional brandy if you prefer a boozy cake, or if your cake dries out during storage.

When the cake is ready to be revealed and eaten during the Christmas season, it is traditionally decorated using almond marzipan and fondant icing. We rolled out Nicoletta Ready-to-Roll White Fondant and Nicoletta Almond Marzipan and cut out stars in order to simply, yet elegantly, decorate our magnificent Christmas cake.

A mousse that is really “speedy” to make, and “speedy” to eat. This recipe is courtesy of the Australian “Delicious” magazine, and makes a rich, fluffy, chocolatey mousse.

Ingredients:

300g dark chocolate, chopped 3 eggs 1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar 1 Tbs. cocoa powder, sifted 300ml whipping cream

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (i.e. place a bowl over a pot of simmering water, gently heat the bowl using the steam). Stir the chocolate until melted. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Place eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat for 5 minutes with an electric beater, or until mixture is pale, thick and doubled in volume. Fold in cooled chocolate and cocoa powder until combined.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream (do not over-beat!). Use a large metal spoon to carefully fold the cream into the chocolate mixture, trying to keep the mixture as light as possible. Spoon or pipe the mixture into serving glasses or ramekins and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Remove from fridge 15 minutes before serving, then top with Nicoletta nonpareils, extra whipped cream or chocolate popping candy.

This recipe makes 6 large servings.

This frosting recipe is a cooked meringue (no Salmonella here thanks!). There are three techniques to making meringue (French/Swiss/Italian), and each can be used to create the perfect meringue for its purpose.

French Meringue – is an uncooked meringue, and the least stable of the three. Granular sugar is gradually added to the soft-peak-beaten egg whites, the result is a smooth, fluffy and light meringue, which is perfect for soufflés and pie toppings.

Swiss Meringue – is made by whipping sugar and egg whites vigorously over a pot of simmering water (the sugar and egg whites should be very warm to the touch before whipping them). This method creates a more dense, firm and fine texture, perfect for baking crisp meringues.

Italian Meringue –  this is made with a sugar syrup that has been heated to the soft-ball stage (112°C). The syrup is poured slowly into soft-peak-beaten egg whites to create voluminous, firm and glossy peaks. It is the most stable of meringues and makes great icings and mousses.

This mixture will happily adorn 24 cupcakes:

1 cup sugar 1/2 cup water 4 egg whites

Place the sugar and water in a heavy based pan. Slowly bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for 8 minutes, or until reaching “soft ball” stage. If you are using a sugar thermometer this will be at a temperature of 112°C. Beat the egg whites until foamy, remove the sugar syrup from the heat and pour the syrup in a thin consistent stream over the beaten egg whites while beating. Continue beating the mixture until the icing is thick and glossy. Get ready to ice/ pipe this as a topping to cupcakes, baked Alaska or meringue pie.

We topped our meringue iced cupcakes with Nicoletta marzipan fruits and fondant fruits (made using Ready to Roll Fondant).

Check out our tips and tricks to making the perfect meringues. Here is a handy guide to heating sugar, whether you use a thermometer or the droplet method.

Sugar Stages

°C

Characteristics of Sugar syrup dropped into a glass of cool water – Thread stage 102 Forms a liquid thread that will not ball up. Soft Ball stage 112 Forms a soft, flexible ball. Firm ball stage 118 Forms a firm ball. Hard ball stage 121 Forms thick, “ropy” threads as it drips from the spoon, forms a hard ball in water. Soft crack stage 129 Forms solid threads that, when removed from the water, are flexible, not brittle. Hard crack stage 143 Forms hard, brittle threads that break when bent Clear liquid 160 At this temperature all the water has boiled away. The remaining sugar is liquid and light amber in colour. Brown liquid 170 At this stage the liquefied sugar turns brown in colour due to caramelisation Burnt sugar 176 The sugar begins to burn and develops a bitter, burnt taste.

 

This lemon meringue is the hero of desserts, it runs through the streets fighting crime and blasting villains with its Vitamin C super charged weapons of war. We love this recipe for its zingy lemon tart and fluffy meringue topping.

Ingredients:

1 packet tennis biscuits 3 Tbs. melted butter 1 tin Condensed milk 2 egg yolks 125ml lemon juice (2-3 small lemons) Zest of 1 small lemon 4 egg whites 125ml castor sugar

This recipe makes enough to fill a 20-25cm flan dish.

Crush the tennis biscuits and mix in the melted butter, flatten the crumbs into an ovenproof flan dish.  Mix the condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon juice and zest; and pour into the biscuit base. Beat 4 egg whites to soft peaks and add 1 Tbs. at a time of sugar till the meringue is voluminous, glossy and white; the meringue should have stiff peaks and no sugar granules present. Spoon the meringue onto the lemon tart and spread to create snowy peaks/ pipe the meringue using a piping bag. Use these tips and tricks to create the perfect meringue.

Decorate your meringue with cake crystals/ confetti; we used heavenly heart wafers that don’t disintegrate in the oven! Bake at 160°C for 10 minutes. The baking process is to cook the meringue and caramelise the top. Once your peaks are golden remove the lemon meringue from the oven.

Allow it to cool and then place in the fridge till the lemon tart is set. Do not leave in the fridge overnight, as this leads to a soggy meringue.

Enjoy your sweet, lemony, mouth watering piece of satisfaction.

Soggy, discoloured, collapsed, grainy, sweating meringue? We address some worries and let you in on some secret weapons for dealing with meringues.

Meringue (egg white and sugar) is a fussy animal. Creating a stable, fluffy, glossy and white meringue is all about incorporating air and keeping the bubbles intact.As egg proteins denature during the whipping/ heating process, and form a protective film around the incorporated air bubbles.

Certain techniques and ingredients can work to destabilise the protective film/ enhance the formation of a stable texture.

 

 

 

 

Here are 14 tips to make the perfect, no-flop meringues.

One of the most important rules of meringue making is that all of your equipment must be squeaky clean, without any water or oil present. (Metal or glass mixing bowls are best for yielding voluminous beaten egg whites as plastic can retain fat and grease.) Cream of tartar/vinegar/ lemon juice – work to stabilise egg whites, increasing their heat tolerance and volume; as well as prevent sugar syrups from crystallising; they also help the meringue to be white & crisp but remain fluffy and sticky on the inside. Use an automatic mixer, unless you want to do it by hand (in which case you will have 1 arm of steel, and your new nickname will be “the claw”). Use caster sugar as the small grains dissolve easily in the foamy mixture. Add the sugar in a painfully slow manner – tablespoon by tablespoon at the soft-peak stage. (When you have added all the sugar, spoon a little meringue onto your finger and rub to feel any undissolved sugar crystals).  Undissolved sugar will weigh down the meringue and attract moisture  to form beading, the formation of water droplets on the surface. Do not make meringues that have less than 2 tablespoons of sugar per egg white. If you use any less, the foam will not set and the meringue will shrink.  Soft, chewy meringues are usually made with equal parts sugar and egg white, while hard meringues uses 2 parts sugar for every egg white. Cold eggs separate easily, but eggs whip to a higher volume when at room temperature. The solution is to separate the cold eggs, and then set them aside for 10 or 15 minutes. Be careful not to drop any yolk into your whites. If you lose any bits of shell, scoop them out with a clean spoon rather than your fingers. Even a small amount of yolk can deflate the egg whites, so be careful. Don’t under-whip as the meringue will weep and become soggy, similarly, don’t over-whip as the meringue will collapse. Soft peaks are fine for a pie topping, but for a dessert base such as a pavlova, you need stiff, glossy peaks. Wedge open the oven door during cooking to develop crisp dry meringues and prevent overheating; use a low temperature and long baking time. Allow the meringues to remain in the oven after baking. This helps dry them out. Try and avoid making meringues on a humid day. The sugar in the meringue attracts moisture and makes it chewy. It may take longer for the meringue to bake and dry out in the oven. Don’t undercook your meringue as it may weep (water-loss), similarly, don’t overcook your meringue as this causes syrup beading. Meringues are finished baking when they are crisp on the outside, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Once ready to bake, add other ingredients. Fold through cocoa/spices /flavourings, or roll the meringues in nuts/ sprinkles.