Gingerbread Houses with Royal Icing!

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I have always loved Christmas time. There is beautiful food, lots of laughs and just general family time.

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This year has been a big year for us, we are looking forward to having a lovely relaxing weekend for Christmas. For my mother’s birthday, I made a quick trip home to catch up with her. I thought that this was the best opportunity to go back on a long held pact about making gingerbread houses.

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A few years back, we started taking on larger challenges for Christmas baking. We bought a gingerbread house flat pack from the local bakery, but thought we could do better… So began the gingerbread village. What started off as a simple gift from me to my mother, grandmother and (future) mother-in-law, soon became a long, hot construction job. I think the first year there were three. Then they started to multiply into a spiralling chaos that caused us to sour on the fun. This is the gingerbread village, I think we made about 18 houses that year.

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As Christmas draws near, I put aside all the angst from previous gingerbread villages, and remembered how much fun it was to create something so personal to gift to family. This year I made two beautiful little houses and had some help decorating. It was a lovely weekend spent baking, laughing, sharing and just generally enjoying the company.

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This recipe is a Women’s Weekly recipe, the gingerbread is not too overpowering and is tough enough to hold it’s shape under the copious amounts of lollies and chocolates.

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Gingerbread House

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups self raising flour (or plain flour and baking powder)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 90g butter, chopped
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup treacle
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly

Method:

Using baking paper cut out templates: 13cm x 17.5cm for the roof, 10cm x 15.5cm for the side walls and 10cm x 18cm rectangle for the front and back walls. For the gables, trim the walls so that there is still 10cm of vertical wall to match up with the sides, then taper to a point in the middle. I only cut one of each of these and used each twice to ensure I had all the right bits.

Process the flour, spices and butter until crumbly. Add the sugar, treacle and egg, and process until combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F. Line baking trays with baking paper.

Roll the dough on a floured surface in separate batches until even and 5mm thick. Use the templates to cut two of each the roof, side and front shape of the house. Carefully move to baking trays (mine kept their shape pretty well, at the end of the dough the later templates got a little dry, I used a splash of water to moisten it enough to be able to work it again.)

Bake the gingerbread for 10 minutes or until shapes are barely firm. Remove from oven and quickly tidy the edges of the gingerbread with a sharp knife. The pieces will become crisp as they cool. (If you are feeling dangerous you can cut out a door but if you are not careful this can just reduce the structural integrity of the building if the gingerbread is not stiff enough!). Allow to cool.


 

Royal Icing:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 3 cups PURE icing sugar (not icing mixture), or to correct texture

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. Gradually add the icing sugar until the icing is firm and hold definite shape. It should be thick and glossy, if it is too runny, add more icing sugar until it hold its shape very well, otherwise your house might not stay up…

Alternatively, the recipe I saw called for milk chocolate to use as the glue for the house, but in an Australian summer I didn’t trust it would hold properly. Either would look lovely.


 

For the assembly-

Using a piping back with a thick tip on the end, pipe a rectangle on your desired board/plate. Using extra hands, pipe the sides of each wall together and the bottom to the plate. When the sides have set firmly, gently pipe around the tops of all the walls and carefully place the roof. You may need to hold the roof in place for a few minutes until the icing is set enough so it doesn’t slide down.

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I like to use extra icing under the eaves of the roof for added support, there is always room for extra stability…

If you are worried the gingerbread is too thin or weak, you can reinforce the underside of the roof before placing it on the house by using wooden skewers are setting them in place with royal icing. (I didn’t need to with this recipe because the gingerbread was quite firm).

Decorate as you desire! Some useful ideas:

  1. Freckles and chocolate buttons for roof shingles
  2. Smarties and M&Ms for colour
  3. Musk Sticks for uprights/doors
  4. Candy canes for the roof or doors
  5. Honeycomb bars make great chimneys
  6. Gummy bears as roof shingles
  7. Jubes and other chewy lollies give lots of colour.

ENJOY!

Chocolate Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Sour Cream Ganache

I love baking for people, it is so much fun to create something to share with people. I made this devil’s food cake for a friend’s birthday at work. I am always looking for a recipe that is different and unique and inspiring. I have used this recipe in another post, but I feel like the rough photo I had didn’t do this amazing recipe justice!

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This recipe is really easy and is always received well. I bought a few new piping tips and I am having a play with the different looks. I have recently made 130 cupcakes for my sister’s engagement party, so I am starting to get much more uniform in my icing. I was also playing with different ideas for the photography (I am very much stumbling through!).

This is my absolute favourite chocolate cake! The cake is beautiful and rich without being too heavy or over the top. The cake is still light and the ganache really makes the recipe amazing. The recipe was for a full sized layer cake, but it makes about 36 cupcakes, depending on the size of the patties used. I make a lot of ganache icing for various recipes, but the sour cream really gives the chocolate a stand out flavour. I often enjoy the washing up after this cake…

Devil’s Food Cupcakes
Ingredients:
For the cake:

  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • 3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup of whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of unsalted butter (250g), softened
  • 1 1/4 cups of packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup of castor sugar
  • 4 large eggs
For the sour cream ganache:
  • 2 cups of dark chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups of sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
Method:
 
For the cakes:
Preheat the oven to 180’C and line muffin tins with decorative patties. This mixture will make more than 12 cupcakes because it is a full cake recipe~ 36 cupcakes. (If making a cake- grease and line 3x 20cm cake tins with baking paper.)
Whisk together boiling water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in the milk and vanilla. Set aside. In another bowl sift the flour, baking soda and salt.
With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar (both brown and castor) until pale and fluffy, the add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In alternating batches, add the flour and cocoa mixtures, starting and ending with the flour mixture. (The batter will look curdled- but this is NORMAL!)
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Divide batter into the tins (if making a whole cake use 3x 20cm round tins and smooth the tops). Bake the cupcakes for about 16 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean (20-25 minutes for a cake). Once out of the oven, cool completely.
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For the sour cream ganache:
Melt the chocolate using a double boiler, once melted remove the top bowl from the heat and whisk in the sour cream then vanilla. (I find that this can be really tricky to not split, I find that mixing really quickly helps and also making sure that the sour cream is at room temperature makes a big difference). Let the ganache come to room temperature and stir occasionally to ensure it remains that beautiful, shiny appearance.
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Assembly:
With a piping bag, pipe the sour cream ganache to the top and decorate the tops to suit your tastes!
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Chocolate Almond Macaroons

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This recipe is heaven. I came across it and knew that I had to make it immediately. I didn’t need any excuse, I would eat these all myself! They were definitely a hit!

I have had a few crazy months. Time has just slipped away and I have not had a chance to blog lately. The weather is warming up, and the days are getting longer, before we know it the holiday season will be here and we will be living from one delicious meal to another delicious meal. I love this time of year. It is lovely to have time off to spend with family and friends.

I am already looking for mouthwatering recipes to post, I have a few up my sleeve that I have been waiting to share.

I am very excited that my sister and her long time partner are engaged! Today I am busily baking away and trying out delicious recipes to have at the party. I found this recipe from Chef In Training and I had to try it out!  I have made a few minor adjustments, but I am pretty sure I have captured the essence.

I love the coconut base for this biscuit, it reminds me of the ANZAC biscuit which is a very popular biscuit in Australia. The macaroons are delicious on their own, but the chocolate takes the humble macaroon to the next level. I have never shied away from adding chocolate to anything and my husband is always asking me where the chocolate layer is….

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This recipe called for sweetened coconut which is something that is not found on the shelves of our local supermarkets here in Australia (I don’t think the UK have it either). So with a little bit of research, I found a way of sweetening the coconut used in this recipe. I have attached it at the bottom of this post. The sweetened coconut is not as dry and is much sweeter than what we can get here, so I thought it was worth sharing.

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Chocolate Almond Macaroons

Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut**
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 cup toasted almonds, slivered

Chocolate ganache:

  • 150g milk chocolate
  • 1/4 cup cream

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180’C (350F). Line 3 baking trays with baking paper and set aside. Make the sweetened coconut if necessary.

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Add the coconut to the bowl (if using unsweetened see below for the extra step) and mix in the sugar, flour and salt. Mix well before adding the egg whites and nuts. The mixture will be very much like any other cookie dough.

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Roll the dough into 1 inch balls (about a rounded tablespoonful) and place on the lined baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

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Remove the macaroons from the baking tray and allow them to cool on a wire rack.

In a microwave proof bowl, melt the chocolate in 30 second intervals (or over a double boiler). When the chocolate is melted, add the cream and mix thoroughly until the ganache has a highly glossy finish. (If the ganache looks really dull and like burned chocolate add a small amount of milk, a teaspoon at a time and keep mixing until the ganache becomes shiny.)

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Decorate the macaroons with the ganache and allow to set at room temperature.

Enjoy!

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For the sweetened shredded coconut:

  • 5 1/2 cups of shredded coconut
  • 5 tablespoons of hot water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (canola)
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar

Mix all the ingredients together and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before using.

 

Honey Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

I am in LOVE with these cakes! They are just perfect for an afternoon tea or a late night snack. After reading the recipe I thought these sounded amazing and I knew that I had to try them. A success- no complaints!

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Lavender is an interesting flavour. It is very polarising and I found that this recipe was a perfect balance between the sweet and floral flavours. An interesting perspective on different tastes, I only tasted the cream cheese and lavender but most people really enjoyed the honey undertones. Funny how everyone is just a little different!

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As I sit here on typing away at this post, I have been thinking that it is a really interesting way of communicating with people. I am an Australian girl who grew up in regional areas and I find that the people in the blogosphere are so diverse. I am following people in America, England, Australia, and some who prefer Asian flavours, baking or Middle-Eastern cuisine. I find that even through the comments and little blurbs that people put up on their pages, we are communicating in a very interesting way.

I started this blog because I love baking. I love to cook as well, but I have always been better at baking than cooking in a more nutritious format. I used to sift through the pages and categories in the wonderful world that is Pinterest and think about all these bloggers out there cooking and photographing amazing foods. I love that there is so much personality that can be expressed through a blog, and even if it is just a rambling post, it is nice to think that someone might take something from it.

Just a random thought. Apparently I have been getting philosophical this week.

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My sister is a very good baker too, and for my engagement party she made some phenomenal cakes. Earl Grey Cupcakes with Lavender frosting. I think that they have become a bit of a specialty of hers. I thought that I would try something similar because I thought the lavender was not too overpowering and the tea definitely shone through.

I wanted to try something a little bit more lavender focussed. I was looking for something delicate, not too overpowering and with a little bit of extra interest. I found these! They are absolutely delicious. As someone who loves chocolate, I am trying to break out of a single mould and try a few new flavours. I love something which has a unique take on a delicious treat and this recipe had my mouth watering from the title.

I bought really expensive lavender from a specialty foods store before I found out that my favourite shop T2 stocks a Just Lavender tisane which was practically identical, but so much cheaper. I knew hanging out in tea shops would pay off!

This is definitely a recipe to try out!

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Honey Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups of plain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 125g butter (a stick), room temperature
  • 1 cup of castor sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey (I used apple blossom!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup of milk

For the frosting:

  • 250g cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 1/2 cup of icing sugar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180’C (350’F). Line muffin tins with paper cases. (I needed 18 cases).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, lavender, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until it becomes paler, then add the honey and vanilla and continue to mix until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time beating well after each addition. Add half the flour, mix until just combined, then add the milk. Once just mixed, add the remaining flour and beat only until the mixture is smooth. Do not overbeat.

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Transfer the batter evenly into the prepared tins and bake for 16-18 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool.

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For the frosting, beat the cream cheese until it is smooth in texture, and then add in the honey and mix until well combined. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the icing is smooth.

Ice the cooled cakes and decorate as desired. Share with friends and family, or eat them all yourself!

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-Sam

Nutella and Jam Biscotti Cookies

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I love shortbread. There is something so perfect about the buttery crumbly texture and what makes these beautiful biscotti amazing is the delicious almond undertones. I love filling them with jam, but the nutella is definitely my favourite. They can be made into any shape, but I love using hearts and stars.

Today, I had a terrible disaster! I went to upload the many artsy and lovely photos of the biscotti that I worked so hard to bring to you, when I realised that I had accidentally deleted them! Oh no!

I do have this one though, so I’m sorry that there are no in progress photos, but these biscotti are really quite easy and they look the same in real life…

I have been baking a lot lately to take things in to work, making sure I am getting along well with all the other kids… I have two jobs and I love both of them, there are so many nice people. After moving to Victoria, I have changed jobs and I am meeting lots of new people. Making friends can be a little daunting when you are the new girl. My husband has lived here for two years and is pretty good at occupying himself, so I am trying to find common ground with a lot of new people.

It has very quickly become apparent to me that in small towns, social occasions and sport are intertwined. Coming from a larger city, introductions often include “what do you do” and “what are your hobbies”, but I have quickly learned that it is “what sport do you play” here. Not being the really sporty or fit girl, I have to admit that I am not a very good team sports player. I am a horse rider.

IMG_5091(This is my sister’s horse Rem, who is such a sweetheart.)

So I have been starting to get to know a few people through that, and horsey people always have a lot to discuss at all times. My new pony is very cute too, but I don’t have any nice photos of him yet…

Anyway, I find its always easy to make friends with baked goods, so I’m literally buttering them all up. It’s always an easy conversation starter, and its such a wonderful hobby. I am definitely getting better and loving every minute! This is where today’s post is going, I made these biscotti as a treat for my workmates, and they didn’t disappoint!

Hazelnut and Jam Biscotti

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 cups italian 00 flour
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup icing sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt
  • Extra icing sugar for decoration
  • Nutella or jam to spread

Method:

Preheat oven to 175’C. Line three baking sheets with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer until the mixture becomes lighter in colour. Add the egg, salt, vanilla and then gradually add the flour and almond meal. This will start to resemble a crumbly dough, knead into a rough ball, wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. On a floured surface, roll out the dough until you reach the desired thickness. My dough was about 0.5cm thick (they suggested 1/8 inch- but I’m a metric girl). Using cookie cutters, cut into whatever shapes suit your fancy. I used stars for work and hearts for my engagement party, they were definitely a hit! Place the cut dough onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Once the biscuits are starting to brown, they are ready to be taken out of the oven. While they are still hot, sift icing sugar over the top to soften the look. Once the biscotti have cooled, they can be filled with nutella, curd, jam or anything else that spreads.

Enjoy!

 

 

Tangy Mandarin Meringue Pie

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I came home to an amazing surprise today! I had been working all day and was looking forward to changing into my trackies and uggs and settling onto the couch for the evening. I was feeling like an easy night in, when my gorgeous man comes running out to my car to inform me of the surprise that awaited me inside. My first hint of what might be to come was a delicious pastry smell that was wafting out the door, so I followed my nose and was delighted to find a lemon meringue pie! Only it wasn’t lemon but mandarin!

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We have been having a lovely time munching our way through our big bag of mandarins. We have made Mandarin Curd, and we have been dreaming of scones and pancakes and tarts. I am thrilled with the way that mandarin has been substituted into some of my everyday favourite items, and this pie has been no exclusion.

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The photos of the pie are not the best, we were too busy trying to eat it all to slow down for the photo shoot, you will understand why when you try this out!

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The mandarin made the recipe light and fruity, and it was a delicious twist on an old family favourite. (This is the first time we have gotten our hands on my husbands secret Lemon Meringue Pie recipe!). The curd is lovely and tangy without being too tart or sweet. The crust is lovely and golden and the meringue is light and fluffy.
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Mandarin Meringue Pie

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 250g plain flour

  • 35g (1/4c) icing sugar

  • 150g coarsely chopped butter

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated Mandarin zest

  • 1 egg yolk

  • 1-2 teaspoons cold water (as necessary)

For the curd:

  • 75g (1/2c) cornflour

  • 280g (1 1/4c) caster sugar

  • juice and (remaining) zest from 6 mandarins

  • 1/2c water

  • 60g butter

  • 4 egg yolks

For the Meringue:

  • 5 egg whites

  • 1/2c caster sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon creme of tartar

Method:

Pastry

Preheat oven to 180’C. Grease a large pie dish and set aside.

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Process flour, icing sugar, zest and butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. 

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Add yolk and 1 tablespoon of the water and continue mixing until the mixture begins to form into a ball.  Add extra water sparingly if required.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured bench and knead dough until a smooth, slightly glossy texture is reached.  Shape into a flat disc, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for 30 mins.IMG_8046

Roll pastry out to an even disc approximately 3mm thick. Press the pastry into a greased pie dish. Trim the excess pastry from the edges, cover with baking paper and fill with baking beads (rice or lentils work too). Bake in a preheated oven for 15 mins.

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Remove paper and beads then return to oven for a further 5 minutes  or until the pastry is a light golden brown colour all over the base.  Allow to cool.

Filling

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Place cornflour in a medium saucepan and gradually mix in juice and water, until the cornflour forms a smooth paste. 

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Combine the remaining juice/water as well as the sugar and zest and place on a medium heat. Stir occasionally until the mixture begins to thicken and then constantly until all the liquid has become a smooth gel.

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Remove the mixture from the heat, then add butter and yolks and quickly whisk through. Stand aside to cool.

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Meringue

Place egg whites in bowl of electric mixer. Mix at high speed until soft peaks begin to form then gradually add sugar and cream of tartar.  Mixture is ready when a spoonful of mixture can be turned upside down without falling.

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Assembly

Fill pie crust with filling, then top with meringue.  Bake for approximately 5 mins, or until meringue tips have a soft brown colour.

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Deliciously fresh Mandarin Curd!

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I have been day dreaming of food at work a lot lately. When you work with people and sometimes need an escape from the day to day reality, there is always dinner to think about. OK, maybe I’m more of a dessert person.

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I was talking to a lady at my work the other day about lemon curd. There is something so alluring about the tangy, buttery goodness. We were talking about ways we use this delicious condiment, when she dropped in something that made my already watering mouth drop open in delighted wonder. Mandarin curd. There is nothing about those two words that would not be a match made in heaven. So the planning began.

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I have recently relocated to an area where there is a lot of fresh produce lined on the sides of the roads. Everywhere you look there are fruit trees, produce farms and dairies. There is something so down to earth about the area and I am constantly stopping on my way home to pick up something or another for dinner. My friend and I were talking about her little mandarin tree (her husband is an orchardist and grows completely organic fruit) and how for a small tree it was producing an amazing amount of fruit. My man is particularly partial to mandarins so I decided I would experiment.

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Off we went to pick some fresh fruit, and with the help of two gorgeous, little, overzealous girls, I ended up with almost too much fruit. Almost…

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So off into the kitchen I trot, with a giant bag of mandarins and curd on my mind. Delicious, delicious mandarin curd.

I used a couple different recipes to form this particular curd, and I used the juice of 8 mandarins, but 6 would be better for a more set curd. My curd was beautiful and runny like a thick honey, but this is my preference. More credit to the genius of the Country Women’s Association (CWA).

This recipe made 4x 250ml preserving mason jars.

Mandarin Curd

Ingredients:

  • Zest and juice of 6 mandarins
  • 250g butter, unsalted
  • 500g of sugar, jam sugar (has extra pectin)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites

Method:

Place the zest, juice, sugar and butter in a large bowl over a simmering double boiler.. Stir the mixture until the sugar and butter are completely dissolved.

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Whisk the 4 yolks and 2 white together and then mix into the sugar mixture and continue to stir until the curd becomes thicker. This will start to resemble honey and will coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 20 minutes. The curd will set more once it has cooled. Do not over cook.

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Pour the curd into sterilised jam jars (I used jars that had a waxed inner lid that sealed properly), and seal tightly before allowing to cool. Store in a cool dark place, and use within 1 month.

I used 4x 250ml preserving mason jars.

How to sterilise preserving jars:

Takes approximately 15 minutes.

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Remove lids, and place the jars in the oven at 220’C for 15 minutes. Boil the lids in a heavy bottom saucepan for 15 minutes covered in boiling water. They are now ready for filling. Jars are filled while they are hot with hot curd to create an airtight seal as they cool.

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