Festive menu, part 3 (all about chestnuts)

Yesterday I told you about the cheese terrine we had for starters today its all about the chestnuts…mainly so you can make the chestnut stuffing from my festive menu but also so I can share my most recent blog for Francoise Murat Design on Christmassy foods and which also includes a fab chestnut jam and a chocolatey chestnut cake…so here it is….. (first posted 8 December the cakes are actually made now!)

One of the wonderful things about Christmas is the fact that there are lots of chances to cook up delicious meals and food gifts for friends and family. Some people will have started their Christmas preparation months ago baking Christmas cakes which are now slowly being ‘fed’ brandy or whisky to make them extra moist and tasty ahead of being decorated. I’m not quite that organised although I have ear marked some of my chutneys, pickles, fruit vodkas and vinegars as gifts and I’m planning on making lavender shortbreads and perhaps cheese biscuits too. The fruit is now soaking in whisky ready to make the cakes and I think I might try my hand at some home cured gravadlax.

For lots of people the big decision is what meat to have for the Christmas meal, should it be turkey or the supposedly more traditional goose, a classic English roast beef or perhaps a stuffed loin of pork. For me though it’s all about the trimmings and the other meals, the roast is almost irrelevant. I’ve often joked that you could easily serve me a plate piled with all the trimmings and I wouldn’t notice if the roast meat was missing. I just love the extras so much and they are the things that most of us only decide to do for Christmas…..stuffings, bread sauce, fruit jelly, sausages wrapped in bacon, about 5 types of vegetables all with little twists, proper gravy made from real stock, tons of crispy roast potatoes…we might do some of these some of the time but we almost never do so many together and of course that’s just the ‘main’ course…there will be a starter when perhaps normally there wouldn’t, there’ll be dessert and mince pies and cake and then somewhere in all this there’ll be a groaning table of cold cuts, pates, pork pies, cheeses, breads, smoked salmon following by an array of cheesecake, trifle, gooey chocolate cake…and lots of citrus fruit too to balance it all out.

My particular favourites are homemade mince pies with proper crumbly delicate pastry, baked ham, the sausages wrapped in bacon, roasted root vegetables, braised cabbage with lardons and a splash of white wine, chestnuts tossed with Brussels sprouts and butter, super crispy roast potatoes. Give me those over the festive period and I’ll be happy but there is one thing that that I wouldn’t ever go without at Christmas regardless of what else I chose to cook and that’s chestnut stuffing. Even if I’m not having turkey or chicken or pork I still make some in a sort of terrine style and eat it with chutney or pickle or as a sandwich filling. I love it, it’s the stuffing we always had at Christmas when I was growing up, so it’s a Christmas must (the recipe is from my Grandma). Its tasty and moist without being heavy, lots of stuffing’s use pork mince, which makes them very rich. This is simpler and with a little adaptation could easily be made into a fantastic vegetarian version as a terrine.

I really like chestnuts, their sweet mealiness lends itself well to a range of different dishes, savoury and sweet. They are good in wintery stews particularly with game. They are delicious roasted and eaten straight from the skins. And they work in cakes and breads, particularly with chocolate but they also have a long heritage as a flour substitute in southern Europe.  When I was doing a trial batch of the stuffing last week for this blog post I also decided to play around with some other chestnut ideas so as well as a stuffing I think everyone will like, for chestnut fans I’ve a chestnut jam recipe and also a chocolate and chestnut cake. So stop worrying about whether to have turkey, goose or beef, focus on the extras and I’ll bet almost no one notices which roast you serve.

Chestnut Stuffing

The way I like to cook means this recipe is just a starting point, pick your favourite herbs to go in the mix, don’t use bacon if you want a vegetarian version and perhaps add gently softened onions instead (or even as well if you like).

  • 1 tin chestnut puree
  • 8 oz breadcrumbs
  • 3 rashers streaky bacon cut into small pieces
  • zest 1 lemon (and the juice if you like)
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • big handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Break up the chestnut puree with a fork; add all the ingredients except the eggs and mix. Once mixed add the egg and bring together. Use to stuff turkey, chicken or loin of pork. Bake any you can’t fit in the meat in a dish or terrine. You can line this with streaky bacon and fold over the top or simply dot the top with butter. Cook the extra stuffing for at least 40 mins at R6 (200C), you may need to cover the top with foil half way through the cooking time.

Chestnut Jam

  • 2 tins of whole cooked chestnuts (i.e. 400g) or whatever weight you have of cooked peeled chestnuts
  • For each 100g of chestnuts you need 75ml water and 100g of sugar
  • Lemon zest
  • Vanilla pod

Put the chestnuts in a pan and add the water, the lemon zest and the vanilla, simmer gently for 30 mins (covered) to allow the flavours to infuse. Drain but retain the liquid and top back up to the 75ml per 100g weight of chestnuts using either water or brandy. Push the chestnuts through a fine sieve then add back to the liquid. Bring to the boil and simmer until thick and when a drop is put on a cold plate in the fridge for a few minutes it forms a skin and is a jam consistency. Put in warm sterilised jars and seal. It’s great on toast, especially sourdough and can be used with chocolate cake (see below).

Chocolate Chestnut Cake

I was inspired by a whole range of ideas when I came up with this recipe: from Mont Blanc, various brownie recipes, Nesselrode pudding to a store cupboard cake of Nigella’s that uses jam or marmalade with chocolate…..

  • 100g of 100% cacao (grated), I used Willie’s Supreme Cacao Peruvian Black, San Martin
  • 300g of chestnut jam (see previous recipe, you can also buy online)
  • 150g sugar (or 150g more chestnut jam, this is what I used)
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 150g self raising flour
  • round cake tin (20cm) or better still a brownie tray, lined with silicon paper

Melt the butter in a bain-marie then add the cacao and allow this to melt and stir to mix as the cacao melts. Remove from heat and add the chestnut jam, mixing well, then add the sugar (if using) and eggs. When its all well combined add the flour a heaped tablespoonful at a time and mix. Pour into the cake or brownie tin and bake at R4 (180C) for at least 50 mins and a skewer comes out clean. My cake was very deep as it was in an 18cm tin and so it took and hour and half to bake, in a brownie tin it will take much less so start checking from 35 minutes and adjust cooking time accordingly. Leave in the tray/tin for 15 mins to cool and then remove.

I served the cake sliced like a Victoria sponge and filled with more of the chestnut jam and whipped cream, topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed meringues. As the cake was so deep this made it rather difficult to eat and it collapsed so I think doing it brownie style and topping with the jam, cream and meringues would be more effective.

Fresh from the oven: Turkish Pide

I’ve been a bit remiss on contributing to the Fresh from the Oven challenges of late, I missed out on doing croissants and pizza, both things I really fancied trying. Well i did do the pizza but I forgot to blog in in time, oops!

So this month I got well ahead of myself and made the challenge almost week for the deadline instead of on the day!

The bread we baked was Turkish Pide and the challenge was hosted by Mrs Ergul.

I had a bit of fun with the US measurements getting muddled and almost using a whole stick of butter instead of half. But I got there in the end. The bread was really easy to make and very tasty. Mrs Ergul says the dough might be very wet but mine actually started off quite dry so I had to add more water to get it fairly sticky. I used my usual kneading technique of short gentle kneads spaced out through the rising.

To go with the bread I made some Turkish inspired kebabs (minced beef, chilli, cumin and coriander), some minty yoghurt and some tomato and onion salad. It was very yummy and I think they bread’s soft texture would be great with burgers. We used up the rest of the bread with dips the next day.

Here’s the method as given to us my Mrs Ergul (with some UK annotations by me):


4 cups (to 5 cups) All Purpose Flour (ie plain flour, I only needed 4 cups and I used a cup measure as I have a set. 1 cup is approx 130g of flour)
1 and 3/4 cups Warm Water (1 cup = 236ml)
1/2 stick Butter ( melted ) (1 stick = 113g)
1/2 tablespoon Instant Yeast
1 tablespoon Sugar
1/2 tablespoon Salt


Black and White Sesame Seeds (I used cumin seeds as I didn’t have sesame seeds)

In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients
Add melted Butter and Warm Water into this mixture and knead
The dough should be sticky
Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and keep it in a warm place for rising
Let the dough rise to double its size
Knead the dough again until it is bubble free
Place a parchment paper on a 13″ by 10.5″ baking tray
Take the dough to the tray and make it flat with your hands until it cover all of the surface of the tray
Dampen your hands with Water if the dough stick to your hands on this step
Then take a knife and give the dough square shapes going deep down
Sprinkle some Sesame Seeds on top
Preheat the oven to 350F (R4/180C)
Let rise the dough for half an hour
Bake it for 30 minutes or until the color of pide turns light brown
Take the pide out of the oven and let it cool for 20 minutes and cover it with a clean kitchen towel to keep it soft

Fresh from the Oven: Savoury Kringel

Its been a while since I’ve taken part in any of the Fresh from the Oven challenges; either I had the time but the recipe didn’t appeal (usually because it was sweet, I don’t really do sweet baking) or the recipe looked great and I was mad busy. When I first looked at this challenge from Jo’s Kitchen my heart sank to my boots, yet another sweet recipe I thought and rolled my eyes. Then I spotted tucked at the bottom that instead of sugary raisiny chocolately sweetness there was an option with cheese. Yes CHEESE one of my ALL TIME favourite foodstuffs.

The finished article

I still left making it to the last day though, now there’s a surprise! So this morning I was dashing about making sure I had the right ingredients. Naturally my instinct to not follow ANY recipe to the letter immediately sprang into action and instead of getting some cheddar at the shops (which they had) I was drawn in by some hard goats cheese from Lancashire and bought that instead. This may have something to do with the fact that cheddar, even really good cheddar, is not really that high up my list of favourites but Lancashire most definitely is.

So off I set to make the recipe. The original recipe does not give full instructions for the savoury version so this is my adaptation (note I did half of these quantities). You can see the original recipe here.

Savoury Kringel

Ingredients (Makes 1 large loaf)

  • Dough
  • 40g fresh yeast (I used 1 sachet fast action yeast for ½ the flour)
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • 250ml milk, lukewarm (I had to add about another 10ml to my 125ml as the dough was too dry)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 600-700g flour (I used 300g of strong white bread flour)
  • I didn’t add any salt as I know my cheese was very salty.
  • Filling and topping: 4oz grated hard strong cheese such as cheddar


Mix the yeast and sugar in a bowl. Add the lukewarm milk and egg yolks, then mix in the flour and melted butter and knead well. Shape the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. (I did three fast Dan Lepard style kneads over a 1 hour rise)

Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Dust your work surface with flour (I used oil I never use flour). Take the dough out of the bowl, knock it back and roll out to a thickness of 1cm (mine was prob less than 1cm). Sprinkle about 2/3 of the grated cheese over the rolled out dough.

Roll up the dough like a swiss roll and cut it in half with a sharp knife (lengthways). Starting from the uncut end, plait the dough, lifting each half over the other in turn. Finally, shape the plaited bread into a B shape (mine was circular as I only had half the quantity) and transfer to a greased baking tray. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden.

Once cooked turn off the oven, sprinkle the bread with the rest of the cheese and put it back in the cooling oven for 5-10 mins until the cheese melts. Allow to cool fully and serve.


Ready to eat

Was it good, yes. Will I make it again, I might. I think it would be good with soup (we had a chunk with salad). It looks rather attractive and it is easy to make so it would be a good loaf to make if you have guests. I’m not 100% sure I like savoury filling that much with an egg enriched dough as I find the taste and texture a little too cakey with the savouriness, but that’s just me.

Fresh from the oven: white tin loaf

I know I’ve been gone a while but hey now I’m back! First post after 5 weeks is this Fresh From the Oven Challenge that I hosted. I am going to do a post about going AWOL  so watch out for that coming up in the next few days, but here to whet you appetite for upcoming posts is some delicious bread I can highly recommend.

Here's one I made earlier

Although I’ve made this loaf a lot of the past few months either white or a 50:50 white-wholemeal mix I still thought I’d do one especially for the challenge. Unfortunately the day I was baking it I was in the the final stages of web project and wasn’t really concentrating properly. It was also quite a cool day so the 2nd rise seemed to be taking for ever so I put it in the oven regardless (it was no where near the top of the tin!) . I got okay oven spring but in the first 10 minutes of cooking I lost track of time as the client called to sign off the website ready for go live and to say how pleased they were. Result a rather dense chewy loaf, with a very crusty crust and a borderline burnt top. Still tasted better than anything you get in most bakers….

Less than perfect but still very tasty
Less than perfect but still very tasty

Here’s what I said to the Fresh from the Oven group when I set the challenge:

I’ve done lots of um-ing and ah-ing about what to pick for the challenge, I wanted something where I could show you the kneading technique I learnt from the Dan Lepard course I went on, something that seemed specifically English and something not so time consuming that you all decided not to participate. Crumpets and pikelets were out on the basis they don’t require kneading, sourdough on the basis that you might not all have starter so that would be a week of building one. Stotties were almost in but the recipe I found had potato in and that’s not how I remember them. Staffordshire oatcakes popped up but they don’t have to be kneaded either and so on and so forth.

At last I decided to keep it simple but still English. There is lots of talk of how bad English bread is (and it is when its made on an industrial scale using the Chorleywood process) but then everyone decides to ignore all thought of English bread and fall into the arms of French and Italian and other baking heritages. I love all these other breads but I also love a good old fashioned properly made tin loaf that is soft but slightly chewy, has a nice medium crust, that toasts brilliantly and makes a mean sandwich. The secret of course is in using milk for part of the liquid this gives a softness that’s just right without making the loaf a full on slightly sweet milk loaf (although when I found this on the Lakeland site I did nearly decide to do milk loaf).

If you don’t fancy doing a tin loaf then perhaps you can take part by using the kneading technique for your favourite loaf because it seems to work for everything from sourdough to rolls to pizza base and more.

First the technique:

Dan Lepard says he developed this when he was working full time in commercial kitchens (that made artisan hand kneaded bread) because there wasn’t time for full 10 minute knead of all the different bread batches so he switched to short kneads spaced out and found it works just as well, part of the development of a good gluten structure is dependent on the time elapsed not the vigorous kneading. I liked the idea because I’d not been getting good textures with either a machine or a normal hand knead. I am now a wholesale convert.


You must use oil not flour on the kneading surface and your hands. Something like vegetable oil is good.

The dough must be quite sticky and soft to start with. It will firm up when kneaded and as time progresses.


  • Once you have soft sticky dough leave it covered in the bowl for 10 minutes.
  • Now oil your kneading surface and hands and tip the dough out.
  • Knead for about 12 seconds by folding in the edges to the centre, a bit like shaping a round loaf, rotate the dough as you go.
  • Flip the dough over, leave it on the surface and cover with a cloth. Wash out the bowl and then oil it lightly. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover.
  • Leave for 10-15 minutes and then do another 12 second knead. You will notice the dough is already less sticky and firmer.
  • Leave for 20 -30 mins and repeat the fast knead. You are aiming to have kneaded the dough 3 times in the first hour.
  • Leave covered to rise until at least 50% larger but not more than double in size (kneading once per hour if it takes more than hour to increase in size).
  • Tip out onto the oil surface and press the air out of the dough using the tips of your fingers so its square-ish in shape. Repeat the fast knead process (or fold in to thirds then rotate through 90, flatten again and fold into 3rds again).
  • Shape the dough as required for the particular loaf you are making. Put it in a tin, or supported in a floured cloth in a bowl.
  • Leave to rise until at least 50% larger and preferably almost double in size.
  • Slash top and bake as per your recipe.

White Tin Loaf (based on Dan Lepard’s Quick White Loaf, p63 of the Handmade Loaf)

2lb loaf tin greased and floured or lined with baking parchment (no need to line the short ends just oil them).

Oven to be pre-heated to its maximum setting (R10/250C) and with a tray of water in the bottom to create steam.


200g semi skimmed milk at room temp (Dan uses whole milk but semi skimmed seems to work fine)

150g water at room temp (remember 1g = 1ml but its easier to be accurate weighing fluids)

1 tsp fast action yeast (or 2 tsp fresh yeast crumbled)

200g plain white flour

300g strong white bread flour

1 ½ tsp fine sea salt


Mix the flours and salt together in a bowl.

Mix the water and milk together in a separate bowl and whisk in the yeast.

Add the liquid to the flour and mix with the fingers of one hand to a soft sticky rough dough. You may need to add a little more liquid do this a teaspoon at a time until you have a soft sticky dough.

Follow the kneading instructions above.

The first rise will probably take about an hour from the last knead.

To shape for a tin loaf, flatten the dough to a square about the same width as your tin. Roll the dough into a cylinder and press the seam firmly, fold under the two short ends and place in the tin seam side down.

Allow to rise (covered) to 1 ½ to 2 times volume i.e. to the top of the tin.

Slash the top of the loaf along it length and put it straight into the oven for 10 minutes at maximum temperature. After 10 minutes check how it’s browning and drop the temperature as follows (these baking guidelines are from the River Cottage Bread Book):

R6/200C if the crust is pale

R4/180C if crust is noticeably browning

R3/170C if crust is browning quickly

And cook for a further 40-50 minutes.

I usually check again part way through this time and either adjust temperature again or cover the top with foil if it’s brown enough. Also note that with a traditional gas oven (i.e. one without a fan) the top may brown far too quickly on the side near the heat at the initial temperature so you might want to start at a lower setting of R8/9 for the first 10 minutes. Adapt the setting for what you know about your oven and how things usually bake.

When it’s cooked turn it out of the tin and allow to cool.

Then when it’s cooled cut a big huge doorstop of a slice, toast it and slather with lashing of butter. Yum.

The recipe also works well with a mix of 50:50 wholemeal and white bread flours. You’ll probably need 2-3 tbps extra water.

Fresh from the oven – buns, curry buns

Last month I schlepped in right at the last minute with my Fresh from the oven challenge, this month I did better – hey I was there a whole week before the deadline baking away. How organised and complaint of me. Erm, well, maybe. Those who know me well know that doing what I’m told when I’m told is something I have mastered the art of mostly avoiding. So this month instead of taking the deadline to the wire I thought I’d ignore some of the very specific instructions and freeform the recipe a bit even though it wasn’t something I’d ever tried before. Did this lead me on a route to disaster  – lets see……

I was pleased when I saw that Ria (of Ria’s Collections) had picked what she calls stuffed buns, because I quick glance though the recipe suggested that these were going to be like the legendary curry buns I ate at a hill station in Malaysia with my husband on our very first holiday together. Wow. We have often reminisced about these little buns, which were wonderfully soft and had a lovely curry filling. We’d never tasted anything like them before and since I’m talking quite a few years back when only the (un)lucky few had email and the internetsuperhighwaythingy was in its very early infancy we never tracked down a recipe. They became a kind of mythical dish. Could Ria’s recipe live up to all this?? We both had very high hopes.

Curry buns right out of the oven
Curry buns right out of the oven

The recipe basically seems to be one for a kind of brioche type dough made with milk, a fair bit of sugar and also egg. Ria is very clear that it MUST be kneaded for 10 minutes to achieve the right consistency. The filling is a mild chicken curry, Ria suggests paneer can be used for vegetarians. And this is when I start to freeform. I happen to have some lamb curry leftover so I decided I’m going to use that as a filling – can’t go far wrong surely. The dough just sounds too rich – I quite like brioche but since this is a joint memory we are trying to live up to here and Ian doesn’t like sweet dough’s I cut back on the sugar a bit and swap the egg for the same volume of milk. Then I just go for it and ignore the 10 minute knead instruction as well. I blame Dan Lepard for this entirely. He doesn’t do a long knead and since learning his method in mid June I’ve become a bit of a convert…you make a rough dough, leave it for about 10 minutes, come back, 10 seconds of folding, repeat this rest and knead 3 times in the first hour and then once per hour during the first rise. It’s worked well on every loaf so far I can’t see why it won’t work here. The theory is that it’s not so much the vigorous kneading but the elapsed time that creates a good network of bubbles.

The dough is quite soft and a little sticky but not too difficult to work with as it has oil in it which makes it pliable. It rises quite quickly but it is a fairly warm day. After the first rise you divide it up and shape it into rounds put some curry mix in the middle and then shape rather like a round bread roll. It has a 20 minute rise like that and then it’s in the oven. You have to be careful because the richness of the dough means it browns very quickly – they are cooked in 10 minutes.


mmmm look at that delicious
mmmm look at that delicious

So were they any good? Absolutely yes. They had a good soft texture and certainly lived up to our memory from Malaysia. Even with my changes the dough was still rather rich and sweet for our liking so when I try them again I’ll cut back on that further. It was a good way to use up some leftover curry and I don’t think they suffered from all my meddling – of course I might be wrong, the real deal might be even more delicious, but I’m more than happy to have found a way to recreate a happy food memory.

Thanks Ria for the recipe and I’m not sorry I meddled with it :0

Recipe for dough (I used the cup measures in Ria’s original):

1 tsp dry yeast (I used fast action yeast)
2 tbsp warm water
1/2 cup milk
salt to taste
1/2 cup oil (I used rapeseed)
2 cups all purpose flour (I used strong bread flour)
1/4 cup sugar (I sued about 1/3 cup and the dough was still too sweet I thought)
1 egg beaten (I used another couple of tablespoons of milk)
egg white and sesame seeds to decorate if you wish (I didn’t)

  •  dissolve yeast in warm water with 1/2 tbsp of the sugar and 1/2 tbsp of flour. Leave for 10 minutes.
  • Boil the milk and allow to cool (gosh I didn’t do this either). Once cool add sugar oil and salt and mix until the sugar dissolves.
  • Add 1 cup of flour and mix to a smooth paste.
  • Add the egg and also the yeast mix then the rest of the flour and mix to form a soft dough.
  • Knead using your preferred technique.
  • Rest and when its doubled in volume shape into flat rounds, fill and shape into buns by folding the the sides of the rounds to the centre. Decorate with egg and seeds if you wish.
  • Leave to rise for 20 minutes covered with a cloth then bake at 200C for 10 minutes. I actually did them at R6/180C and they took 10 minutes. Be careful they brown very quickly.

Lovely lavender biscuits

Reading several other blogs recently (particularly ‘Domestic Goddess in Training’ talking about Bara Brith) made me think it was about time I did a little bit of baking. And visitors scheduled for later this week clinched the deal. What better to offer with tea or coffee than homemade biscuits or perhaps a fruitcake?

First up the biscuits – I fancied cooking something that would have a hint of summer to come and so I hit on one of my favourite tried and tested recipes (and, I know, well liked by these particular guests). The recipe is from Sybil Kapoor’s Simply British – a lovely book of unusual recipes using classic British ingredients.

You will need:

4oz/115g softened butter (I prefer to use unsalted though it doesn’t specify that in the recipe)
2oz/55g caster sugar
zest 1 unwaxed lemon
3 teaspoons of lavender flowers stripped off the stem (hopefully ones from your own lavender bushes that you have dried and saved or I’ve found them online at Phytobotanica)

6oz/170g plain flour
caster sugar for dusting 

Heat the oven to Gas 2/150C/300F and have 2 greased baking sheets ready – you’ll get about 16 biscuits.

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until it’s pale and light in texture. Then mix in the lavender flowers followed by the flour – use your hands as this will keep the butter warm and help incorporate the flour. You are aiming for a stiff but not too crumbly ball of dough – it will take a while to get to this stage (5 minutes or more). 

Then roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper until it’s only a few millimetres thick. Cut out the biscuits in whatever shape pleases you (yesterday I had to use an unturned wine glass because I couldn’t find the cookie cutters – it still worked). Place the biscuits on the trays using a palette knife – they are quite fragile so take care. Obviously use up all the scraps of dough, which will mean a few odd shapes for the cook to try later. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes until lightly brown – I usually start checking after 20 minutes to see how things are going. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately and dust with caster sugar. 

They are wonderfully crumbly, melting in the mouth, the lavender flavour is quite rich and the lemon zest helps balance this nicely. Eat with abandon – though I defy you to manage more than 3 in a sitting.

Now lets just hope I haven’t eaten them all before my guests arrive……..