Skye McAlpine, acclaimed food writer and blogger 'From my dining table', creates a visual feast and presents a fabulously festive recipe exclusively for La Coqueta...
This is my favourite time of year. That build up towards Christmas: the first of the twinkling street lights, the fancy shop windows decked in holly and baubles and piles upon piles of sugared plums. The carols, that crescendo of excitement that builds and builds as presents pile high under the tree. The days getting shorter and the nights getting colder. I relish every last moment of it with glee and excitement, and a heavy dose of nostalgia. It is a feeling I hope I will never quite grow out.
Christmas is rituals and traditions, and somehow manages to have a different yet special meaning for each and every one of us. Perhaps your thing is family board games or brisk winter walks, or the sound of bagpipes playing Good King Wenceslas through the streets. For my part, it’s time that I relish spending in the kitchen. As the windows frost over, I busy myself about the business of making all those treats we have come to associate so fixedly with this time of the year: fruitcake laden in marzipan and glacé fruits; mince pies with little stars on top; rich brandy butter; dense, sugary panforte and buttery shortbread, all carefully wrapped up in crinkly tissue paper and labelled to give away as gifts.
A mouth-watering Candied Orange and Star Anise Upside Down Cake accompanied by a delicious Mulled Apple Juice... I often make this candied orange cake, not because it is Christmas fare in the strictest of terms. But because there is something about candied citrus - sharp and dripping in sugar syrup - that always feels so very festive; and, between you and I, I can’t help but be a little entranced by the way the star anise look like shooting stars set in a blazing, golden sky. All of this has somehow led to this simple almond cake becoming a favourite in our household at this time of year. Part of its charm, of course, lies in its sheer simplicity to make: like any other upside down cake, you just pour the batter over the fruit (here, lightly caramelised in the pan) and then bake in the oven - it doesn’t call for any greasing, lining or flouring of tins, nothing fiddly and very little washing up.
While I have been known to place this orange cake at the centre of our Christmas table, more often than not I find myself baking it for afternoon tea - you know, when friends pop by for a visit, to exchange gifts and say ‘Happy Christmas’. As my three year-old, Aeneas, and his friends wreak havoc under our tree, I’ll serve up crumbly cake, dripping in a syrup that has an almost marmalade quality to it, and ply everyone with glasses of hot, spiced apple juice. It’s the kind of indulgence that Christmas is really all about.
Candied Orange and Star Anise Cake Recipe... I make this in a frying pan that is roughly 20cm in diameter - make sure that it has an ovenproof handle, as you will put the whole thing in the oven. Serves 8 Ingredients 2-3 medium to large oranges 220g demarara sugar 125ml water 6-8 whole star anise 150g butter 4 eggs 150g self-raising flour 1 tsp ground cinnamon 120g ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees centigrade. Use a very sharp knife to finely slice the oranges and set to one side. Pour the sugar and the water into the frying pan and set over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar, then add the orange rounds and star anise and leave to bubble away for 10 mins or so, until the fruit has softened. Now take the pan off the heat and set to one side to cool.
Toss the butter into a small saucepan and set over a low to medium heat to melt, then set to one side to cool. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl; add the sugar and cinnamon and whisk vigorously for 8-10 mins until the eggs become light and fluffy, and have almost trebled in volume. Sift the flour over the egg mixture and gently fold through the batter. Add the ground almonds and pour in the melted butter, before folding through.
Pour the batter over the orange slices and set the pan in the middle of the oven to bake for 40-45 mins, until a knife comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. Leave the cake to cool in the pan for a few minutes, before gently loosening the edges with a knife and turning the cake out on to a platter. Most delicious served still lightly warm.
Mulled Apple Juice Recipe...
Serves 6-8 Ingredients
1l clear apple juice zest of an orange
10 cloves chunk of ginger (roughly 2cm long)
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp runny honey
Pour the apple juice into a medium sized saucepan, add the spices and the honey, and set over a medium heat to bring the boil. When the liquid begins to gallop, turn the heat down and leave it to simmer for 5-10 mins to allow the flavours to combine nicely. Serve warm, as a nice alternative to mulled wine.
All words and imagery courtesy of Skye McAlpine @skye_mcalpine Aeneas wears clothing by La Coqueta Kids Follow Skye’s blog 'From my dining table' here In the next post Skye will be sharing the secrets behind laying an instagram-worthy Christmas table... Celia x