Nigella’s Chocolate Pistachio Fudge [vegan]

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Between the unrepentant 100% humidity and anticipating Christmas and finally emerging from lockdown (only to find that having people expect things from me again can be as overwhelming as the numbing nothingness of the last three months), I have been witless, utterly witless. I had great intentions to achieve things this week but kept blowing all my energy and acuity on relatively innocuous activities—the Succession finale, sending one single email—and with them, my battery life would plummet like a six-month-old smartphone. I suspect I’m not the only one in this hole-punctured boat, so this is not going to be a long blog post, nor is it an emotionally taxing recipe.

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And fortunately I have the reason for the season—Nigella Lawson—to be the one set of footprints in the sand carrying me through with her boundless enthusiasm, knowledge, and reassurance. This recipe for Chocolate Pistachio Fudge couldn’t be easier—melt and stir, that’s literally it—and the results are so luscious, so elegant, so immediately celebratory and generous, you can practically tell just by looking at it who must’ve come up with the recipe.

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Somehow the simple combination of dark chocolate and condensed milk produces a flavour of immense, complex richness, almost as if there is a liqueur involved, or at least a significantly longer list of ingredients. I haven’t done anything particularly clever here in making Nigella’s recipe vegan; the sweetened condensed oat milk is very easy to find nowadays (and condensed coconut milk, even more prevalent) and the refined coconut oil is an easy replacement for butter. The pistachios sprinkled across the top (modestly, since it’s near-on double figures for a very small package of them at the supermarket) provide mellow, buttery crunch and visual opulence, their bright green almost neon against the moody chocolate backdrop.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan chocolate pistachio fudge 🍫 inspired by Nigella 🍫 recipe at hungryandfrozen.com #vegan #chocolate #christmas #homemadegift #recipes #foodblog

♬ Sugar Rum Cherry – Duke Ellington

It goes without saying that this fudge makes an excellent gift. Just make sure you keep it in the freezer (or at the very least, the fridge) both before and after it’s received. And of course, if you’re in the mood to make edible gifts for people this year, there’s my recipe list/round up at your service, and I’d also like to draw your attention to my 24 Hour Party Seitan if you’re after a main course idea for the day itself. I hope everyone out there has a Christmas that’s as peaceful and mellow as is feasibly possible, whether it’s a great big deal or just another day of the week, and I’ll see you all in 2022—a year whose repetition of numbers makes it feel impossibly futuristic, but apparently it’s coming, and it’s real! (Also It’s Coming, It’s Real by Swans was my most-listened to song on Spotify this year. You know what they say, the medium is the message!)

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Nigella’s (vegan) Chocolate Pistachio Fudge

This is almost shockingly simple, for how delicious and elegant the results are. It’s not the traditional kind of fudge—more of a general rich confection—but who cares, it tastes amazing and looks gorgeous. I’ve simply swapped the condensed milk for condensed oat milk and it works perfectly, you could also use condensed coconut milk, both are usually next to each other on the shelf and both are made by the good people at Nature’s Charm. I’ve also reduced the pistachios to a mere sprinkling on the surface, because they’re so expensive at the moment. If this isn’t something that bothers you, by all means add more. Recipe adapted by me, from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express.

  • 375g dark chocolate (50% is good here), roughly chopped
  • 1 x 320g can of sweetened condensed oat milk or sweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, roughly chopped

1: Place the chocolate, condensed milk, (making sure to spatula out every last precious, sticky drop) coconut oil, and salt into a heavy saucepan. Stir constantly over a very low heat until the chocolate melts, turning everything into a glossy, thick brown liquid. This only took a couple minutes at most for me.

2: Line a 23cm square tin with baking paper (or, as Nigella suggests, use a throwaway foil tray) and spatula the chocolate mixture into it, spreading it gently towards each corner in an even layer. Sprinkle over the pistachios and refrigerate till firm. That’s all there is to it!

Makes 64 squares if you slice it eight times vertically and horizontally, which seems like a magically enormous quantity to achieve from such a small amount of ingredients, and definitely justifies the cook trying a few pieces.

Store the fudge in an airtight container in the freezer (I re-use the baking paper between the layers of slices) where its texture and flavour only improves. This does soften quite quickly, or at least in this vicious heat it will, so if you’re going to give this as a gift, still keep it cold.

Notes: 

  • If you need this fudge to be gluten-free, use the condensed coconut milk instead of the oat milk
  • Refined coconut oil, specifically, doesn’t taste at all like coconut and won’t impart any such flavour to your fudge. If you get regular/unrefined coconut oil it will probably give a distinct flavour to your fudge, but will behave the same otherwise 
  • Because our tins of condensed oat/coconut milk are smaller than the dairy condensed milk tins, I increased the quantity of chocolate a little to compensate 

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music lately:

Have Fun Go Mad by Blair—just when I think I’ve excavated every possible memory, something will appear that I haven’t considered since the turn of the century and I’ll suddenly be flung back in time. The title of this song and artist may not ring any bells but click through and if you’re of a certain age you, too, can experience this backwards-flinging towards the mid 90s. This song is so uncool that it comes full circle and is in fact the coolest thing I’ve ever heard, and I’m glad to have heard it again after so long.

O Holy Night by Mahalia Jackson. It simply isn’t Christmas without Mahalia, her voice rises up to heights we can only see by telescope without even breaking a sweat.

Cherry Cherry by Neil Diamond, look, he’s not a man to whom I’ve ever given the time of day (to the point where I had to search for this song by typing “what is that one Neil Diamond song that I like, you know, that one that slaps”) but this song! It unequivocally slaps! He really pulled a rabbit out of a hat here! I’m not ashamed to say it!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up 

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To egregiously paraphrase Dickens, though I’m sure he’s quite used to it by this point: you there! What day is it? Why it’s my annual edible gift recipe round up! 

In case this doesn’t make any sense, let me explain: each December I gather a list of recipes from my prior blog posts here on hungryandfrozen.com which I believe would make ideal edible gifts, in case you want some kind of prompting in that direction, despite having the entire internet already at your disposal. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process. I’ve kept a lot of the text in this post the same as last year’s as there’s only so many ways you can launch into this thing, and appreciate your understanding.

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This time last year I was naively hopeful that once 2021 drew to a close COVID-19 would be behind us but instead, it’s managed to get on top of us in new and innovatively terrifying ways. Just last week, after a quarter of the year spent in lockdown, I was (somewhat dramatically) not sure if Christmas would be happening at all, even now it feels like a bit of a mirage and I’m somehow overthinking it yet entirely unprepared at the same time. All of this is no reason not to cook though, if that’s what you like doing. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep (perhaps also with a note reassuring of your vaccination status if they’re a stranger that you’re giving something to). But even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake.

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As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, spices, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love beans? Get them beans! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.

I realise to heaps of people Christmas is – quite reasonably – just another day of the week! But generally, there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)

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Anyway, let’s get to the list. I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the years.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from absolute years ago, as will happen when you have a fourteen-year-old food blog, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also, I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient that either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

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The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up 

Category One: Things In Jars

No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and makes an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.

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Savoury:

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Sweet

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Category Two: Baked Goods

They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune. I’ve made the first three (four, technically, since the Christmas Stars and Hundreds and Thousands Biscuits are basically the same) cookie recipes in this list a LOT this year and recommend them the most enthusiastically out of the biscuits on offer.

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Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos

The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it. Note: unless you can find overproof vodka, the passionfruit and mandarin liqueurs won’t be ready in time for Christmas; either give the intended receiver an IOU, or save it for their birthday – or next Christmas.

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music lately:

Turkey Lurkey Time from the 1969 Tony Awards performance of the musical Promises, Promises. If you’ve been here a while you’ll know that I have a small tradition where I wait till December and then watch this extremely grainy video of a very goofy song being performed and CRY. (Here I need to really emphasise that this is absolutely not a song you’re supposed to cry at.) It’s Donna McKechnie’s rubber spine, it’s the diagonal thing they do at the end, it’s the anticipation, it’s Christmas, it’s everything.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals, by The Fun Lovin’ Criminals. Why am I consistently drawn to rap rock? Because it’s fun and great, that’s why!! (When does rap rock become nu metal? Not here, but I’m very happy on either side of course.)

The Only Heartbreaker, by Mitski. Anxious and beautiful and synthy! I don’t know what it is about synths, specifically, that makes me all “this song sounds like it has already existed. How can this be a new song” and here I am again saying that this song sounds like you already know it. I don’t mean that it sounds derivative of anything – I mean that it sounds like it was your favourite song from a long time ago and you’ve only just heard it again for the first time in forever. I guess the obvious answer is that synths sound like they’re from the eighties and it tricks my brain into thinking I’ve already heard it but I think it’s something more in the neon yearning quality of synths themselves? Anyway, I love it!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Vegan Christmas Star Cookies

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My friend Harriet recently tweeted suggesting that Christmas be moved to every four years, like the Olympics, and as is usually the case with her opinions, I simply have to agree. I say this as someone who loves so much about Christmas – little brings me more joy than the scent of pine, a smooth jazz interpretation of a classic carol, experiencing some customary hustle and bustle, watching holiday episodes of TV shows, cracking open the seasonal text Nigella Christmas, and vibing near some baubles. Even so! It does seem to come around a little more often than usual these days, right? And all the things I like about it most are anticipative in nature – love Christmas Eve, routinely struggle to keep my head above water on Christmas Day itself – and what’s more anticipational than shifting the goalpost further away? And while we’re changing the fabric of western society, why not move Southern Hemisphere Christmas to July, in the middle of winter, where it belongs? Christmas in summer feels so gauche, trying to think about roast potatoes and fruitcake while also not being sure where the humidity starts and your violent sweating ends is no way to live!

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Unfathomably, no one’s put me in charge of anything yet, so till then we have to work with what we’ve got, and what we’ve got is Christmas rapidly approaching like a fleet of sturdy, purposeful reindeer. And so with it goes the food. Real hungryandfrozen-heads will note that this recipe is literally the same as the biscuits I blogged about a few weeks ago, just a different shape and colour with some spices added, to which I say: that’s right! Recycling is chic! And surely you’re used to me doing it by now! For what it’s worth, my improved method of icing the cookies by dunking them directly into the bowl of frosting will save you absolute minutes, and they really do taste different with all the warm and friendly spices added – cinnamon, the spice of the season, plus ginger and a little clove, a batch of these in the oven will have your house smelling like a scented candle which smells like a batch of cookies baking, and I’m convinced it’s neurologically impossible to be around this much cinnamon and not feel the slightest bit merry and bright, even if you’re not sure why.

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Something about the particular combination of blue, white, and gold is monumentally pleasing to me – the colours feel very old-fashioned, like a dress that Lena Horne or Lana Turner might have worn, or like a mid-century tree ornament. Of course, you don’t have to make these star-shaped, nor do they need to be blue, nor do you need to track down specialty sprinkles. Any colour icing, any shape, any decoration, they’ll still taste excellent. This recipe is pretty easy – one bowl, quickly mixed, the dough behaves beautifully under the rolling pin and the finished biscuits are quite durable. If you’re looking for something to either laden your table with or to wrap up and give as a present, these cookies are an easy choice.

And you don’t even have to make these for any kind of Christmas-related reason! This is a cookie for all seasons. The sweetness of cinnamon, the calm-yet-almost-reckless nature of the blue food colouring – not to mention, the pure deliciousness – is welcome any time of year.

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Vegan Christmas Star Cookies

A seasonal variation on my hundreds and thousands biscuits, these cinnamon-spiced one-bowl vegan cookies are SO easy, and – if you choose to keep my blue icing with its night-sky scattering of white and gold – really quite beautiful. Most importantly, whichever shape or decoration you choose, these cookies are delicious. And for a more visual guide to the recipe below, see my tiktok. Recipe by myself. 

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil, or other neutral vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup treacle, golden syrup, or molasses
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup soy milk, oat milk, or similar

Icing:

  • 2 and 3/4 cups icing sugar
  • A few drops blue food colouring
  • White and gold sprinkles – about 80g

1: In a large bowl, mix the three cups of flour, the teaspoon of baking powder and baking soda, the pinch of salt and the quarter cup of sugar. It’s important to mix the dry ingredients together first to prevent any baking soda lumps – I also tend to sieve in the baking powder and baking soda to help with this.

2: Add in the two teaspoons of cinnamon, or three if you like, the teaspoon of ginger and the 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves. While these cookies can withstand a lot of cinnamon, I wouldn’t increase the ground cloves any more than this, unless you’re very certain of your preferences. Stir to combine, then make a well/excavate a little hole in the flour mixture with your spoon, and pour in the half cup oil, then the half cup of treacle – doing it in this order means the syrup will slide right out of the measuring cup – and the smaller quantity of milk. Stir everything together till it forms a rough, crumbly dough. If it’s too crumbly, add a little more milk. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for twenty minutes.

3: Meanwhile, set your oven to 190C/375F, and line a cookie sheet/flat baking tray with a large piece of baking paper. I find the dough to be pretty well-behaved and easy to roll out on a flat surface lined with baking paper, but depending on your capacity for doing dishes/the humidity levels etc you may wish to roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper. Either way, only roll out a smallish portion of the dough at a time so the rest can stay chilled in the fridge.

4: Cut star shapes (or, obviously, whichever shape you’d like using whatever cookie cutters you have) and transfer the stars to your baking paper-lined tray, continuing until your tray is pretty full. These cookies don’t really spread, so you can have them fairly close together on the tray. Bake the cookies for eight minutes (on the dot!) and shift them to a cooling tray while you continue rolling out, cutting, and baking the remaining cookie dough.

5: Once the cookies have cooled, place the 2 and 3/4 cups icing sugar in a mixing bowl, along with about 2 tablespoons of water and either a couple of drops or dots of your food colouring. Whether you’re using liquid colouring or gel colouring, I find a toothpick inserted into the bottle then stabbed into the icing sugar to be the safest way of colouring the icing. You can always add more colour, but it’s very hard to take it back! Keep adding water, a small spoonful at a time, and stirring until you have a thick but pliant frosting. You can, if you like, just spread the icing straight onto the cookies, but I currently like to dip the cookies into the icing, then use a flat-sided knife to scrape off any excess – doing it this way is much quicker and less messy. Keep the layer of icing fairly thin, so it sets easily without dripping off, and place each iced cookie back onto the paper-lined baking tray (you may need to line another one to fit all the iced cookies on.)

6: Once you’ve iced five cookies, use a teaspoon to drop a little of the sprinkles over one side of the cookies, as you can see in the pictures. Continue, every five cookies – for me this was the ideal interval, because the icing wasn’t so wet that the sprinkles fell off, but it hadn’t firmed up too much yet either. Once the icing is completely firm and dry – I sat my cookies in front of a fan because it’s so humid here – store them in the fridge in an airtight container.

Makes about 34-ish cookies? Maybe more? If I may be frank with you I completely forgot to count them after they were baked, besides which the quantity of cookies all depends on the size and shape of your own cookie cutter anyway, but nonetheless, I apologise for not being able to offer specifics.

Note: I ordered my sprinkles online from a place called Sweet Pea Parties, they stock a charming range of decorating tools and ingredients and I happily recommend them.

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music lately:

Do You Love Me Now by The Breeders. I’ve listened to this song so many times that it feels like a meditation, it seems so much longer than its mere three minutes and yet there is never enough of it.

Return by Emma Ruth Rundle. It’s new, and it’s otherworldly beautiful, and that’s it really.

Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t like this song when I first heard it on the radio in early 1990-something but sometimes songs just find you when they’re supposed to and now I am penitently and enthusiastically making up for lost time! (I hear what you’re saying – wasn’t I like, seven in the early 90s? Yes, and that’s no excuse for bad taste in music!)

Losing My Mind, from the musical Follies, specifically Liza Minnelli’s all-neon 1989 version. I’m still getting to grips with the death of Sondheim and staying immersed in his music and you wouldn’t necessarily think that one of his most delicate and poignant songs would work when smashed together with every last available synth, a four four beat, and the Pet Shop Boys’ production, but really, is there any place more poignant than the dancefloor? Somehow this – and a lot of it is to do with Liza’s gutsy voice and fully committed performance – is every bit as fragile as any acoustic version.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Three-ingredient Vegan Chocolate Caramel Hearts

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You and I both know that the “three-ingredient” bit of this title is doing a LOT of heavy lifting and lede-burying, but if I’m going to get you to cook a can of condensed milk for hours on end with a potential boiling explosion of caramel hanging over you like the Sword of Damocles, I’ll try to at least make life easier for you elsewhere. Are these chocolates fast? Absolutely not. Are they easy? Not exactly. Are they messy? To an unhinged degree! But do they require only three ingredients? Yes, I can legally confirm that. Is it possible that the most strenuous part is reading my overly-talky, explanation-heavy recipe, and these actually aren’t that bad, especially if you’re not trying to make the chocolates, photograph the chocolates, and film the process for a TikTok video that no one will watch at the same time? Yes, that is also something to consider!

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Three things will make this all a lot easier for you: firstly, just make the chocolates and don’t try to involve a camera while you’re doing so. Secondly, do not use a brown silicone chocolate mould as I did, thus making it impossible to see whether the chocolate had sufficiently coated its surface. And thirdly, make peace with the fact that you’ll have to set aside some time to cook the can of condensed coconut milk in a slow cooker (much easier) or a pan of water (risky, but also the way it’s been done for generations by people of stouter courage than I).

@hungryandfrozen

vegan chocolate caramel hearts ♥️ recipe at hungryandfrozen.com ♥️ #chocolate #vegan #christmas #nz #caramel #homemadegifts #fyp #whittakerschocolate

♬ Sweet Love – Anita Baker

Now that I feel content that I’ve thoroughly briefed you with all the information, let me reassure you that I wouldn’t make you do all this for nothing. These chocolates are REALLY delicious, with burnished caramel barely contained by a delicate, bittersweet chocolate shell, and each bite releasing a wave of toffee into your mouth. Condensed coconut milk is a miracle of modern invention for the sweet-toothed vegan about town and it’s really opened up a world of possibilities for me, cooking-wise. Heating it over a long period of time in its little can concentrates the sugars even further, giving you a rich, dark-golden caramel which ably emulates the fillings of the sort of chocolates which always disappeared first in the sampler tray.

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We all know Christmas is less than a month away, and while it’s hard to plan for, between our still being in lockdown (day one hundred and…something?) and persistent anti-vax nonsense and general confusion, there’s no denying that these chocolates would make an excellent gift, and I’m definitely not going to coyly act like I wrote about these for any real purpose other than to put that thought into your head. (I mean, I always want caramel-filled chocolates, but lies do not become us.) Make sure you give them to someone you genuinely love, given the effort involved – but if plans remain uncertain, you could also simply, and serenely, and justifiably, make a tray full of these handsome, gleaming little hearts all for yourself. Should you wish to really push the boat out you could tint the caramel with instant coffee powder, or peppermint essence, or orange extract, but as they are – just chocolate, caramel, and salt – well, there is no finer combination.

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Three-ingredient Vegan Chocolate Caramel Hearts

These vegan filled chocolates are fairly messy to make and involve some significant legwork between acquiring a silicon mould and caramelising the condensed milk but the finished chocolates are delicious, gorgeous, and make a wonderful gift. And there really are only three ingredients. Despite all the instructions here there’s nothing unexpected: just melt, fill, and chill. And whether you’re keeping these for yourself or wrapping them up, store them in the fridge at all times. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 320g tin sweetened condensed coconut milk, caramelised (see notes)
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • a pinch of salt
  • equipment: 1 x 15-heart silicone chocolate mould, clean and completely dry

1: First, sort out your caramelised condensed coconut milk (see the notes below). It’s best to do this the day before you plan on making the chocolates, to allow time for the cooking and the cooling and so on.

2: Melt your chocolate – I do a sort of half-assed attempt at tempering by melting 3/4 of the chocolate in a metal bowl resting on a pan of simmering water – without the water actually touching the bowl – stirring fairly vigorously, and once it’s hot, removing it from the heat, stirring in the remaining 1/4 of the chocolate, and returning it to the heat for a few moments once it’s combined and fully melted. Does this make any noticeable difference instead of just melting the chocolate all at once? I don’t honestly know, but I’ve committed to this bit and can’t back out now.

3: Use a teaspoon to ferry chocolate generously into each heart indentation of your silicon mould, and use a toothpick or a small, clean paintbrush to make sure all the sides are coated in chocolate. Now, upend your silicon mould over your bowl of chocolate and shake it gently to allow any excess chocolate to drip out. It’s very hard to do this without being messy and I am sorry! Place the silicone mould on a small tray and put it in the freezer for about five minutes to let the chocolate set.

4: Meanwhile, tip out roughly half the tin of caramelised condensed coconut milk into a small bowl and stir in the salt (see notes). Now, the easiest way to fill the chocolates is by fashioning a piping bag out of a sandwich bag, sitting it in a cup and carefully pouring the condensed milk into it. Remove the silicone mould from the freezer and then – and only then! – snip the very end of one of the corners of the sandwich bag. Carefully fill each chocolate about 3/4 with the caramel, carefully lifting the sandwich bag up and perhaps using your finger to stop the caramel dripping as you move between chocolates (again, messy, but if you come up with a better method please let me know). Return the mould to the freezer for another ten minutes – the caramel won’t freeze, but it will firm up slightly. Keep the remaining chocolate in its bowl sitting on the pan of water, turned off, and it should stay malleable.

5: Remove the silicone mould from the freezer once more, and spoon the remaining chocolate generously over each heart, thus sealing the caramel inside. Use a flat-bladed knife or bench scraper or something similar to scrape off most of the excess chocolate, and return the mould to the freezer one last time. Ten minutes later, eject the chocolates from their moulds – they should pop out easily and cleanly from the silicon – and store them in an airtight container in the fridge until required.

Makes 15 caramel-filled chocolates. If you want to make more – and there’s certainly enough caramel leftover for at least two more batches – I recommend only melting as much chocolate as you need each time.

Notes:

  • If you have a crock pot/slow cooker, caramelising the condensed milk is a snap – simply remove the paper label, place the tin on its side in your slow cooker, cover it with freshly boiled water – and really cover it, make sure there’s plenty of water submerging it – place the lid on top, and cook it on high for four to six hours, then let it cool completely, removing the can only once the water is cool to the touch. I recommend doing a couple of cans at a time since caramelised condensed milk is useful to have on hand and it feels less squandering of time and resources to turn on the slow cooker for more than one tin.
  • If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can simmer the can for three hours – label removed, on its side, fully and generously submerged in water – in a pan on the stove, with the heat on low and keeping a careful eye on the water level. Top up the water level frequently, and rotate the can occasionally to stop it scorching. Not to sound dramatic but if the water level drops enough so that the can is no longer submerged, the pressure could explode the can, sending boiling caramel everywhere. Please don’t let this happen!!
  • If you really don’t want to/have the energy for caramelising your condensed milk in its can – entirely reasonable!! – you can simply empty the contents of the tin into a small saucepan and stir it over a low heat till it darkens and thickens slightly, then allow it to cool.
  • If you don’t want to unnecessarily get a bowl dirty just to stir the salt into the caramel, you can either sprinkle the salt directly into the opened can of caramel or attempt to mix it in once the caramel is in the piping bag, and to be honest if I wasn’t filming it for TikTok, this is probably what I would’ve done, too.
  • Finally, the brand I used, and the one that your supermarket probably also stocks, is called Nature’s Charm, it tends to be hidden away in the dank corner where the vegan food is hidden instead of being next to the condensed dairy milk, or at least it is in my local supermarket. 

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music lately:

Stephen Sondheim died yesterday, aged 91, and I am grieving. You know that scene in Derry Girls when the 97-year-old nun dies and Granda Joe is solemnly like, “struck down in her prime.” That’s how I feel! His impact on me – let alone his impact on musical theatre – let alone on the world – can’t be overstated, it just can’t. We spent yesterday honouring his memory by listening to wall-to-wall recordings, and his is the only music I want to share with you today, so. This is just four songs that I love, it’s not meant to be a definitive cross-section of his work.

Move On by Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, from 1984’s Sunday In The Park With George. If you only listen to one song, let this be it. “The choice may have been mistaken/the choosing was not” – the harmonies one minute and thirty-five seconds in – I’m crying already.

Ladies Who Lunch by Elaine Stritch, from 1970’s Company, my favourite Sondheim musical – I had to lie down for an hour the first time I watched this video, where she’s singing directly and menacingly into the camera. One of the many things I love about Sondheim is that he wrote songs and roles for women who were old, who had lived, who had been around, songs that make no sense unless performed by a person of significant experience. This is inarguably one such song.

Could I Leave You? from 1971’s Follies, as performed by Dee Hoty in the 1998 My Favourite Broadway concert. Sondheim’s songs were so funny! His little internal rhymes, and the arch, conversational tone they suggested, and the way he kept you guessing – and the way that a song would become bleaker the funnier it got – no one did it like him. This isn’t necessarily his most humorous song, but it’s one of my favourites, and I love Hoty’s rendition.

No One Is Alone, from 1987’s Into The Woods, as performed by Norm Lewis – one of Sondheim’s most reassuring and comforting songs, yet it doesn’t patronise you for a second. Norm Lewis with his rich voice is just who you want to hear this from but there’s not a version of it I don’t love, and each is a classic in its own right.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up

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Once more Christmas lurches purposefully towards us, engorged with expectation, and emotion, and the hopes and fears of all the years, and capitalism. Which means one thing, round these parts: it’s time again for my annual list of edible gift idea recipes, gathered from my prior blog posts over the past thirteen years. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but also hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process.

Time is forever a strange and fluctuating thing – and never in such a collectively experienced manner as this year with COVID-19. We all felt how it was March for six months, now next March is inexplicably three months away – and I know for many, this Christmas is not going to take its usual form. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep. Even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake. I also realise to heaps of people Christmas is quite reasonably another day of the week! But generally there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)

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As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love noodles? Get them noodles! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.

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To the list! I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the last year.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient which either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

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Category One: Things In Jars

No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, it always looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and it’s an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.

Savoury:

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Sweet

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Category Two: Baked Goods

They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune.

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Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos

The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it.

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music lately:

Supervixens by AR-Kane, I love this song so much, the way the woozy vocals slide over the melody, the way the melody slides over the beat, in fact this whole album (“i”) is exhilaratingly glorious.

Brooklyn Blues, by Clifford Gibson. Okay so I love early blues, but if I’m honest, I only initially got into Gibson because I found him on Wikipedia under the list of people who have the same birthday as me (April 17.) Fortunately this rather vain curiosity was highly rewarding because he was a wonderful musician (of course!)

Irma La Douce, by Shirley MacLaine from her fantastic Live at the Palace album. This is the English version of the title number of the French stage show on which the film of the same name was based, in which Shirley MacLaine played the title character – Irma La Douce – very straightforward. It’s one of my very favourite films and I love her performance of this song, from its wistful, introspective beginning to its unhinged, full-throated conclusion.

Also – I was genuinely heartbroken to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, icon, star, Ann Reinking. I could say SO MUCH about her, and Fosse’s choreography, and Gwen Verdon, and the way they all worked together – but instead I’ll just link to this clip of her dancing in a dream sequence in All That Jazz – a film I could watch every day and never tire of. It’s a deceptively simple number, but her precision and ownership of the movements is astonishing. Everything she does – even just lowering her eyelids in a blink at 46 seconds in – is a dance movement, on a level the rest of us can only dream of.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area, where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, short stories, all for just $2 a month.

24 Hour Party Seitan

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“One Christmas,” wrote Dylan Thomas in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, “was so much like another…I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” It’s that sudden, concentrated repetition which defines the season – the same songs, the same pine tree smell, everything squashing into one red and green fever dream until it’s over, and we put it away for another eleven months. It’s much the same with food – even Nigella Lawson, with every new cookbook she releases, still returns to that one brined turkey recipe every Christmas Day. If you’re vegan, however, there’s a decent chance you’re more amenable to trying new things at this time of resolutely clinging to old things, which is why, eleven days in to December of 2020, I confidently suggest my 24 Hour Party Seitan as your perfect new Christmas Day recipe. I’ve made seitan many, many times before, but this one is easily its ultimate iteration – I certainly wouldn’t suggest anything less for such an occasion.

Despite all this talk of Christmas I’ve given it the seitan a more secular title in case you (a) don’t do Christmas or (b) want to make this at any other time, because it is absolutely worthy of being wheeled out year-round. (I also just thought this name was kind of crack up.) Unfortunately I couldn’t resist taking photos festooned with the apricot-coloured eighties Mardi Gras beads from our decorations and the tree lights glowing in the background. The “24 Hour” part is quite literal – you rest the seitan overnight in the fridge – but this is entirely in its, and your, favour. First of all, it means you can just pull it from the fridge and briefly sear it on Christmas Day – or whenever you want to eat it – meaning minimal on-the-day toil for you. Resting it also significantly improves the flavour, and I assume, being largely made of gluten, it must do something for the texture as well.

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(I actually initially intended this to be sixty hour seitan, imagining that the prolonged relaxation period would do wonderful things for the gluten. And so I rested the dough overnight three times – after kneading, after cooking, and after searing. Unfortunately the dough relaxed so hard that it was essentially sedated, positively tranquillised, and had a texture akin to partially solidified PVA glue. And yeah, I contritely ate it all before returning to the drawing board. Excess: sure! Wastefulness: no!)

Seitan is, more or less, a meat substitute made from gluten flour, which is, contrary to how it sounds, extremely high in protein. The gluten flour, when combined with some kind of lengthener – in our case, pureed cannellini beans – kneaded, and steamed or simmered, forms a chewy, dense, flavour-absorbing mass, with the kind of toothy bite and texture one might associate with the memory of meat. The longer I continue with this vegan thing, the less necessary it seems to describe food with its proximity to meat, but I realise it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into. Ultimately, to me, seitan is seitan: an ideal main ingredient and when done well, incredibly delicious. And although you could make various risottos or pastas or just eat the roast vegetables on Christmas Day, it’s sometimes nice to have something on offer which matches what everyone else is eating.

The size of the recipe may appear needlessly fiddly but it’s mostly because I like to really explain every step to make sure you’re okay with it, as opposed to the method itself actually being arduous. When you break it down, it’s just three steps: making the dough, steaming it, and then giving it a final caramelising sear. I’ve included finely shredded jackfruit to add even more fibrous texture, plus a proprietary, specific blend of spices and flavourings to make it taste the way it does: savoury, herby, perfectly salty, rich, pinging with umami, with a crisped, chewy crust. It looks fabulously celebratory sitting on a plate strewn with rosemary ready for carving – a Christmas offering you can be proud to call your own. I would strongly suggest a sauce alongside this – basil pesto, aioli with horseradish stirred in, cranberry sauce, mint sauce or, of course, plenty of gravy, would all be ideal. Even just wholegrain mustard would be excellent. And I can’t even tell you how good the leftovers taste, cold, the next day.

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24 Hour Party Seitan

The very best seitan I’ve ever made, ready for Christmas Day dinner or any time you need to impress someone.

  • 1 x 400g can jackfruit in brine
  • 1 x 400g can cannellini beans
  • 1 vegan chicken stock cube (I use and heartily recommend the Massel brand)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried celery (or, a dash of celery salt)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup/tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Maggi seasoning/liquid aminos or soy sauce (Maggi is preferable)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup, maple syrup or treacle
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

To serve:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper

1: Drain the jackfruit. Remove any of the seeds (I just ate them.) Finely shred, with your fingers, the feathery softer parts of the jackfruit, and finely slice the more firm parts lengthwise. Set aside.

2: Drain, but don’t rinse the cannellini beans, and place them in a small mixing bowl along with the vegan stock cube and water. Puree until completely smooth using a stick blender. Alternatively, you can puree this in a blender or a high speed food processor, making sure you keep blending until it’s very smooth with no visible beans left. Stir in the celery, ketchup, Maggi seasoning, and golden syrup, and the shredded/finely chopped jackfruit. It’s important that you add the jackfruit at this point, rather than after the liquid has been added to the gluten, otherwise it will be incredibly difficult to mix it together.

3: In a larger mixing bowl (sorry about the extra dishes here) combine the rosemary, sage, vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast. Tip in the bean and jackfruit mixture and carefully stir it together to form a ball, then briefly knead it, just until it is firm and springy and quite dry to the touch, and strings of gluten form when you break off a piece of the dough. If it’s a little damp and sticky still, sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons extra of the wheat gluten. It will look (and smell) very unlikely at this point, but bear with me.

4: Place a rack inside a steamer snugly fitted on top of a pan of water. If you don’t have a steamer basket, you could try to engineer one by placing a round metal cake rack inside a metal colander and finding a lid which will fit snugly on top of that. A large bamboo steamer will also work perfectly. Press the seitan dough into a vaguely pleasing shape about an inch or so thick (making sure it can fit inside the steamer.) Cut a piece of baking paper to about the same size as the seitan, lay the baking paper on the steamer rack, and the seitan on top of the paper, and top with the steamer lid. Let the water in the pan underneath come to the boil, and once it is – you’ll be able to hear it and see the steam forming on the underside of the lid – let it steam for a full half hour, without turning. Leave the seitan to cool in the steamer, then place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.

5: About half an hour before you plan to cook it, take the seitan out of the fridge. Heat up about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan and fry the seitan for five minutes on each side, turning carefully with the help of tongs and a flipper.

6: While it’s on its second side, mix the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Press about half into the exposed side of the seitan, carefully turn it over, and cook for another minute or so. Repeat on the newly exposed side with the remaining breadcrumb mixture. Some of it will fall off, which absolutely doesn’t matter. Transfer to a serving plate, and serve while hot.

Makes around 10-12 thick slices. Store any leftovers in the fridge and reheat in a hot pan as necessary.

Notes:

  • You can make this up to three days ahead, but I wouldn’t start it any later than Christmas Eve.
  • Vital Wheat Gluten, sometimes labelled Wheat Gluten or Gluten Flour, should be available from most supermarkets, though if you’re near a Bin Inn I found it there in larger quantities for much cheaper than the supermarket.
  • Some seitan recipes – including ones that I’ve written – call for simmering the seitan submerged in water rather than steaming it. I find the steaming here is better for the texture and flavour, and you don’t have to worry about the bits of jackfruit falling out. Unless it’s absolutely impossible to steam it, I would advise against simmering this particular recipe.
  • This seitan can be used for pretty much anything once it’s steamed – you can stir-fry it, eat it cold, glaze it with various sauces, etc. Sometimes I make a glaze to brush on before searing – usually involving Maggi seasoning, oil, sugar, and Chinese Five-Spice powder.
  • Don’t skip the step where you take it out of the fridge before searing – letting it come closer to room temperature means you can thoroughly brown it on both sides without worrying that the centre will still be ice cold.

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music lately:

I Enjoy Being A Girl, by Pat Suzuki, from the 1958 Broadway show Flower Drum Song. Unfortunately she wasn’t cast in the later film adaptation – instead the role went to Nancy Kwan who, while very beautiful, had the singing parts dubbed by another singer. Nonetheless, Suzuki’s rendition remains the definitive one, and her voice is incredible – easily enormous, so expressive, with that delicious growl.

Get Up Off Your Knees, by Ethel Waters. There’s something so reassuring yet sexy about her voice, and she had a number of songs from this era (the late 1920s) which were fantastically strident and sexy like this song about a trifling lover (and some songs which were near-outrightly raunchy, in the case of Do What You Did Last Night.)

Sweetness and Light by Lush. Fizzy, feathery, swoony, delicious, listening to this makes exciting things feel possible again.

Next time: Okay so I did make butter out of oats but it also might be time for my annual edible Christmas present round-up.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

The Very Best Christmas Cake (vegan)

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If growing old is humanity’s largely unavoidable curse, its reward is surely discovering and ageing into the untold experiences and possibilities and freedoms which adulthood affords you. Or at least, so I hear. Currently, the only one of these afforded freedoms I can afford, is that the years have sufficiently killed off my tastebuds, so I may genuinely enjoy eating Christmas cake.

Christmas cakes – or fruitcakes in general, be they secular or vaguely pious – were an extreme letdown in my childhood, not just because they tasted so foul to my dilettante palate – but because they looked so storybook spectacular, with that smooth expanse of uninterrupted white icing and that rich chocolatey-looking interior. But oh, such injurious, disgusting dissonance! The icing tasted like fimo modelling clay – the cake beneath like the inky pages of a King James Bible, recently flung into a puddle.

Anyway, time passed, now I like them.

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But if I’m going to eat fruit cake, it still better be excellent, and this recipe, let me assure you, is the most excellent. Yes, it’s vegan, but specifically, it’s not merely the best vegan Christmas cake, it’s, in fact, the best Christmas cake. It is vegan – and it is best. It’s even better than the recipe I put in my 2013 cookbook (pictured up the top there with its dashing star wreath icing – look, it’s a nice picture, and visually, an iced fruitcake is an iced fruitcake, so I reserve the right to repeatedly trot out this relatively old image.)

This fruitcake is wonderful both to make and to eat – as you’ll see in the recipe, the most stressful aspect is lining the tin with baking paper. The combination of dark rum, Guinness and tea give it such a robust backbone of flavour – for some reason, the combination of chai and rooibos is particularly buttery and rich, but if you can only get one or the other then so be it. Guinness tracks its muddy footprints through the batter, lending complexity and intensity. Dark rum speaks for itself (but in case you can’t hear it: it’s just very delicious.)

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I impatiently cut myself a slice as soon as the cake came out of the oven – needing to know whether the recipe actually worked or not – and it was incredible. Two days later, it was like a whole different cake. Deeper, darker, more settled, more confident, it tasted so good I’m ascribing human qualities to it. It tastes like the sound of Bing Crosby’s least phoned-in Christmas album. It’s amazing. It’s the Christmas cake you deserve.

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The Best Christmas Cake

Easy, incredibly delicious, only gets better with age – just like you – and it’s vegan – just like me. I recommend starting this about five days before Christmas, for it to be really peaking right when you need it.

Fruit:

  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup prunes
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sultanas
  • 1 and 1/2 cups tea made with two chai rooibos teabags (or one rooibos, one chai)
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

Cake:

  • 1/2 cup neutral oil, eg rice bran or sunflower
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup treacle, or golden syrup
  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 1/2 cup soy milk, or your preferred milk
  • 4 teaspoons malt vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 3 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3-4 drops pure orange oil

1: Roughly chop the prunes and dried apricots (measure them out first, then chop them) until they’re all more or less in quarters or thirds, and place them, along with the sultanas, into a small bowl. Cover with the hot tea and the rum, cover, and leave in the fridge overnight, or for at least six hours. But ideally overnight.

2: After a suitable quantity of time has passed, drain the fruit, retaining any of the steeped liquor (there won’t be much, it will be delicious.)

3: Now comes the most difficult part – lining the tin. Take a 22-23cm springform or loose-bottomed cake tin, cut a circle of paper to fit the base, then take a long stretch of paper, fold it in half horizontally/along the long edge, bring the two edges together to make a loop, and fit this inside the cake tin, overlapping the paper where necessary to make it more or less hug the tin’s inner walls. It doesn’t matter if it’s all a bit hodge-podge, the cake batter will hold it in place, but it might help to place a bowl or something inside the tin while you wait, to hold the paper in place. You should end up with the cake tin lined on the base and sides with paper, with a good-sized collar extending over the top edge of the tin.

4: Now comes the easy part – making the cake. Set your oven to 160C/320F. Mix the oil, sugar and treacle together in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Stir in the Guinness and milk – it will probably froth up a fair bit, but it will subside – followed by the vinegar and vanilla.

5: Add the remaining dry ingredients (you don’t have to sieve the flour but I always sieve baking soda, because I live in fear of lumps in my baking and unfortunately have the past experience to justify such fears) and slowly stir together till it forms a cohesive, liquid-but-thick batter. If you’re worried, the cocoa doesn’t make it taste chocolatey – it just adds another layer of dark intensity.

6: Fold in the drained steeped fruits. Taste to see if you think it needs a bit more of any of the spices – and also just because the batter tastes really good, and you deserve it – and then spatula it all into the waiting cake tin. Even out the top, and then bake for around one and a half hours, or until it’s no longer jiggly when you carefully prod the centre, and a skewer comes out more or less clean. You may want to cover it loosely with tinfoil halfway through, to prevent burning (I did!) Check after an hour, but be prepared to bake it for closer to two hours, it being a very dense mixture.

7: Remove the cake from the oven, spoon over the remaining tea/rum liquid, and allow the cake to cool in its tin. Once cool, carefully remove it and transfer to an airtight container till required. This gets better every single day, although I haven’t had it last longer than a week so I can’t say for sure how far ahead you can make it, but if you keep it in an airtight container still wrapped in its paper, it should be good for at least that long, and surely longer still.

Notes:

  • If you need this cake to be alcohol free, replace the rum with more tea, and I would definitely go for a chai/rooibos blend here rather than black tea. I would add an extra dash of vanilla and maybe an extra quarter cup of brown sugar too. It occurs to me now that the carbonation of the Guinness helps aid the texture of the cake, so try a good ginger beer or ginger ale in its place instead.
  • If you can’t get hold of orange oil, add the zest of a large orange instead.
  • If you lack dark rum, you could use bourbon or a decent-ish brandy – either of these would be preferable to white rum, but golden rum would work in a pinch, and spiced rum is obviously not going to do any harm.
  • You can quite reasonably use just sultanas and prunes if you don’t want dried apricots in it. These are the only concessions I will concede!

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Also, if you really hate fruitcake but seeing the word “cake” has triggered a response in the brain of your taste buds, I recommend this perfect mocha cake (go for the fudgy icing variation) or this molasses loaf which I make roughly once a week, it’s incredibly good and slightly more chill with treacle instead of molasses, too. 

music lately:

Lovely Head, by Goldfrapp. My dear friend Charlotte and I once listened to this song on loop for literally forty minutes – it was also about 1am – and this is exactly how you should listen to it too, and don’t even click through unless you’re prepared for that commitment.

Where Do We Go From Here? by Death. Where, indeed? This is sludgy yet crunchy, like a smashed car windscreen falling into your porridge (or vice versa, I guess.)

A Perfect Relationship by Judy Holliday from the film (based on the Broadway musical) Bells Are Ringing. She was so deadpan hilarious and yet there was something so heartbreaking and tremulous about her. This song, however, is very cute, and in theory is not at all heartbreaking.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

it’s time to face facts and not mince a word

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When I was a kid, it felt like every day from December 1 onwards was basically Christmas Eve. As an adult working in the hospitality industry it’s like, literally every day is just another shift to clock on and I might start idly organising Christmas-related things at 11pm on the 23rd if I’m feeling sprightly. This year I’m instead occupying the odd world of freelancing, where you’re always working but it never looks like it, where no thought can go unexamined but for the question, “is this content?” Working for yourself means no Christmas parties and a very biased HR department, but on the upside, most of the toil can be done in track pants on the couch. Nevertheless even with all this sitting down I still find myself astonished at the haste with which this month has moved.

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Even with the big day itself getting precariously close it’s not too late to make one last objectively unnecessary but subjectively delicious thing, and this Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book Feast easily fits the bill. Fruit mince is confusing on so many levels – why does it sound like meat, why would I actually want to eat a bunch of sultanas, how is it overly sweet yet rudely flavourless? Not this stuff though. The inclusion of rhubarb, sour-sweet and fragrant as it collapses in the heat, and lush vanilla, makes for a wonderful rush of flavour. It’s hefty and plummy and wintery yet somehow lively and vivid. The dried fruit absorbs all the intense flavour as it cooks, and it all tastes immensely luxurious. Plus it’s incredibly easy to make.

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(I freely acknowledge that I went slightly overboard with these photos, like, you can barely even see the jar in this one, but the decorations were just sitting there on the table! What was I to do! Be tasteful? At Christmas?)

Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince

Adapted just slightly from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

  • 1kg rhubarb, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced into 5mm pieces
  • 300g brown sugar 
  • 2 vanilla beans*
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 250g raisins
  • 250g sultanas
  • 250g currants
  • 2 tablespoons brandy (or similar – I used dark rum)

* I only had one vanilla bean, so added a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract at the end. Vanilla beans are also sometimes called vanilla pods. I also just did double sultanas because I don’t really favour raisins. 

Place the rhubarb, sugar and mixed spice into a good-sized saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the pan and then slice up the beans themselves and throw them in too. Turn the heat to medium bring it to a good simmer, stirring to prevent the sugar burning. After five minutes, add the dried fruit and simmer for a further thirty minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the alcohol. Transfer into clean jars.

Nigella reckons this makes 1.25 litres, I got a bit less but still heaps so by all means have some jars on hand.

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Obviously you need to choose your audience here but a small jar of this would make a lovely gift. It can also, of course, be made into slightly untraditional pies, or stirred into cake batter, or heated up and spooned over ice cream. Nigella recommends spreading it on toast like jam, I think it would work particularly well on a toasted bagel. I do enjoy marinading myself in Nigella’s Christmas-related material – nothing else quite makes me feel so resolutely contextualised in the season.

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Meri Kirihimete! Whether Christmas is something you delight in, politely acknowledge, or have no connection to, I certainly hope either way that the 25th is a nice day for you.

PS I absolutely recommend my last blog post where I rounded up a ton of edible gift idea recipes. The day is still young!

title from: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Love by Barbra Streisand, an unreleased song of hers that would be otherwise a standard workhorse pleasantry if not for the remarkable D5 belt at the end that she holds for ages, truly one of the queens of possessing vocal chords.

music lately:

Pop A Top by Andy Capp. This early reggae track from 1968 is joyful and mellow at the same time, just what we need at this frantic time of year.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski. This song was my number one most played track on Spotify for 2019, which could be partially to do with my making a playlist consisting only of this song on a loop and spending many hours playing it while staring mournfully into space. It’s just devastating.

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! by the sadly late but never forgotten Elaine Stritch. If everything is feeling too comfortably sugary this Christmas, there’s always Stritch to reinvigorate your senses, her singular, matter-of-fact bark is like a cold bucket of lemon juice to the face. In a good way.

Next time: I did make some amazingly good fudge that I’d like to share with you, whether this happens before the end of the year or not is in the hands of Fate (and nothing whatsoever to do with my own diligence.)

PS: What is the true meaning of Christmas if not directly supporting me through my Patreon? It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, stories, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

c’mon everybody and rock with me, I am the one on the Christmas tree

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I love this time of year – no, not Christmas, I mean this precise moment, where I do my annual round up of recipes from this blog that I believe would make ideal potential edible gift ideas for the season ahead or indeed any time (which also coincides with my annual struggle to convey this concept in a concise manner.) It’s not just that it gives me a break from devising content, and it’s not just that it’s an opportunity to be self-congratulatory and self-serving in equal measure – actually, that’s more or less precisely it – but I also do love being useful, and I’d like to think this list is, in fact, of use to someone out there.

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Sake Pickled Radishes

Whether or not you subscribe to Christmas at any level there will still probably be an occasion throughout the year where a gift of some kind is required from you, and personally – second to flagrant quantities of money – there’s no better gift than something you can eat. By its very nature the space it takes up in the receiver’s home will be temporary and receding, it’s thoughtful, it’s fairly low-level as far as rampant consumerism goes, and you can completely personalise it. Giving food also lowers the fear of accidentally getting a person something they already have – as far as delicious food goes, more is more.

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chocolate-dipped pumpkin spice lemon pistachio cookies

This year I’m also going to be including some of the recipes I contributed to Tenderly, since the only thing I enjoy more than calling attention to myself is doubling down on calling attention to myself. They’re all separated out into helpful categories, and you should know that some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant.

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salted vanilla brazil nut butter, coffee cinnamon hazelnut butter, cumin and paprika spiced pumpkin seed butter

The HungryandFrozen Inviolably Unimpeachable List of Edible Gift Ideas For Life, Not Just For Christmas, But Definitely Also For Christmas

Category One: Things In Jars

Seasons change, fickle trends come and go, but still jars abide. Put some stuff in a jar and you’ve instantly got a simple, elegantly rustic benefaction which no one can deny looks as though some considerable effort was made. It’s also what we in the business (that is, show business) call a twofer, because as well as getting something delightful to eat the receiver also gets a handy jar for their own future shoving of food into.

Savoury:

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Berry Chia Seed Jam

Sweet

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Vanilla Chocolate Macarons

Category Two: Baked Goods

Baked goods! It’s right there in the name! They’re good!

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Peppermint Schnapps and Coffee-Orange Liqueur

Category Three: From the Unbaked to the Unhinged

This is everything else, the kind of thing that comes from such lines of thought as “what if I dissolved candy canes in vodka?” The results are remarkably almost potable! Some of these items have a fairly low melting point, so use your judgment when it comes to packaging and storing them.

Oh yeah, and all these recipes are vegan.

title from: Master-Dik by Sonic Youth, a sprawling and loquacious song where the less of a point it makes the better it sounds.

music lately:

Do You Love Me Now by The Breeders, I just love this song so much, there’s something about it that evokes running through an airport frantically but also trying to wade through syrup, like it’s on fast-forward and in slow motion simultaneously.

The Look, Roxette. RIP Marie Fredriksson. This is just literally one of the best songs in the world – that chord progression in the chorus that almost makes me feel carsick with its urgency, the fantastic devil-may-care bizarreness of the lyrics, the drama of the synths, the muffled 80s production making it sound like you’re running down a corridor trying desperately to find the locked, padded room that it’s being recorded in.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light, originally by Meat Loaf, as performed on Glee. I realise that is an extremely cursed sentence right there but hear me out. I genuinely hate all of Meat Loaf’s music and by all accounts the man himself is a Republican; I also realise Glee covers of songs do not necessarily represent the highest form of art. Nevertheless, this performance is incredible and it makes my heart ache to watch it, because it was really the last time things were good on Glee, on and offscreen. The cast looks like they’re having a ball, and there’s so many little moments – I love Santana resting her head in Brittany’s hand at 1:25 – but it’s Lea Michele’s entrance at 1:40 that kills me, I swear my achilles tendons nearly snapped when she growled “I gotta know right now.” I genuinely can’t stop watching this video. On that note you should definitely read this piece I wrote about Glee and Rachel Berry (Lea Michele’s Glee character) for Tenderly – it’s one of my favourite things that I’ve written this year.

Next time: Back to business as usual! Like I don’t know what it will be specifically, but it will be business as usual.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, a short story, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

which definitely is as exciting as pudding

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Christmas is approaching with all of the endlessly slow then suddenly in-your-face manner of, oh, to pluck an allegory from the air, the Golden Bangkok pre-amble to One Night In Bangkok from the musical Chess, you know the one, you’re like “oh nice, an overture to open the second act, that’s reasonable” and then after a while you’re like “they’re really just … going to repeat that third movement again” and after a while it’s like “look, when will we ever get to hear Murray Head attempting to rap somewhat incongruously in the middle of this sung-through musical?!” and then suddenly there’s a flurry of violins and there he is rhyming “oyster” with “cloister” and then it’s over! With all this in mind, I made up a pudding recipe for Christmas Day.

But first: I have not been feeling entirely like myself lately, I would say in fact pretty definitively that it has been, in fact, what would appear to the casual observer to be something approaching a depressive episode; the casual observer might follow up by saying “but Laura? Why? Everything appeared to being going fairly wonderfully, perhaps more wonderful than you’d ever dared to be possible and full of more possibilities than you could ever dare wonder, how on earth could you be feeling so down?” And I would reply “well that’s more of a fervent observation than a casual observation but I relish the attention nonetheless.” I would then say, “I’ll tell you why it is so, that I’m feeling kind of blank and absent and not inclined to do much other than lie in bed and watch Frasier. I’ll tell you exactly why.”

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The reason is: you just cannot predict when it’s going to happen, no matter how much trust and faith you put into your current situation, no matter how tightly you hold onto that handful of sand, no matter how long the overture to One Night In Bangkok goes on for, sometimes it just surprises you by not being that thing anymore with all the speed and subtlety of a brick thrown into a bowl of jelly. Now, what I am not saying is that you should go through life with your trust dried out and hardened like an old piece of bread just in case you start to feel down. Please, continue to enjoy a moment without suspicion. I’m just saying, sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. It is what it is. And while it is what it is, I found myself also feeling like, completely furious about it. I went from never better to better never and I didn’t want to cook or write and that was so infuriating to have these two things that are so crucial to my existence not available to me.

But anyway – because (a) it’s Christmas and I would like to bring this jingle-bell curve upwards and (b) because there is more to the story than me being intermittently subdued or incandescent with rage: I came up with a recipe! Which I believe is absolutely a sign of getting better. And now I’m writing about it! Cooking and writing! And indeed, before you get too worried (another thing I’m mad about: now I have to worry people? That’s so far down the list on my preferred forms of attention!) I genuinely am on the up and up and have been doing lots of good good things to augment my festiveness: my best friends Kim and Kate came over and we drank bubbles to toast 2/3 of us finishing work for the year; I’ve been watching Christmas episodes of my favourite television shows; I’ve been listening to the Christmas albums of various Broadway stars; I’ve done my Christmas shopping; I went to my work Christmas party and danced in the sun for roughly yet literally four hours straight and it felt really, really, really good.

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AND there’s this Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding! Which I made up out of nowhere! And it’s unbelievably delicious! It’s also a pretty straightforward concept: just regular sticky toffee pudding but with some Christmas elements added to make it aggressively seasonal, yet I cannot express how much of a crowd-pleaser it is. By way of illustration: on the day that I made it last week, a friend had come to visit on her way to therapy and we sat there just looking at it and I was like “tbh I’m too depressed to eat, do you want some?” and she was like “honestly I’m too anxious to eat, no thanks.” And so we carried on looking at it. But then, bolstered, united, and probably with a sense of friendly obligation on the part of precisely one of us, we decided to share a slice and agreed that it did indeed taste fantastic! That’s how good it is. So caramelly and butterscotchy and (*checks thesaurus*) caramelly! So dense and rich! So (*checks Nigella*) redolent of Christmas! (Nigella uses that word a lot, that’s the joke.)

Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup prunes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup/250ml boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (or neutral vegetable oil)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (optional tbh)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 and 1/3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa

Toffee Sauce

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk (look for one with 80% or higher coconut extract)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons custard powder (or cornflour) mixed with two tablespoons cold water

Set your oven to 180C/350F and lightly grease an oven dish, you know, one of those standard sized ones that you might bake a pudding or brownies in?

Place the dates, cranberries, prunes, baking soda and water in a large mixing bowl and allow to sit for five minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, with the flour and cocoa last (and consider sifting them, I reckon) and spatula the lot into the baking dish. Bake for 30-45 minutes – it will depend on your oven – until the centre springs back when you press lightly on it and a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean. Cover the edges with tinfoil if they seem to be browning too much while the centre is still uncooked. Again, depends on your oven.

While the pudding is in the oven, get started on the sauce. Tip the coconut milk, brown sugar, golden syrup, salt, and cinnamon stick into a saucepan and bring to a good solid simmer. Allow to bubble away very gently over a low heat for half an hour, swirling occasionally and scraping down the sides with a spatula if need be. Once the time is up, remove the pan from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick. Stir in the custard/water mixture. When the pudding comes out of the oven, stab it several times with a skewer or knife – whatever you’ve been using to check its done-ness – and pour over roughly a third or so of the sauce. Transfer the rest of the sauce to a jug for people to pour over as they please.

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Obviously cranberries are super Christmassy, I also feel the warmth of cinnamon drifting through the toffee sauce and the intensity of all the spices in the pudding itself offer that let-it-snow cosiness which I somehow feel impelled to conjure up despite the sweatingly intense heat of a New Zealand mid-summer Yule. Now, the prunes, they’re honestly just there because I happened to have some; you could leave them out and up the cranberries, or you could include some raisins or sultanas for a more fruitcake buzz. You could consider a splash of brandy or rum in the sauce, or the cake, or your mouth, to add to the general festivity, and you could also consider not worrying at all about the fact that this recipe happens to be vegan: it tastes fulsome and rewarding and abundant and like pudding should.

This morning I, the prodigal son, the fatted calf, am flying up to stay with my family and spend Christmas with them for the first time in a few years, and I am honestly extremely excited to cook this for everyone, and! To relive the traditions of a Christmas at home: seeing the tree decorations from my childhood, listening to the old Disney and Tin Lids and Bing Crosby albums, being studiously, ruthlessly ignored by the cats. As for you, I hope you also have a wonderful time however you observe the holiday: casually or fervently.

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title from: Sam, a mellow ballad as lethargically slow-moving as toffee sauce from my absolute favourites, Meat Puppets.

music lately:

I started watching this musical TV show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and while I tend to be cautious in terms of receptiveness to parody musical numbers the absolute homework that went into this show is genuinely extraordinary, it’s like, scholarly when it comes to musical references. The title refrain from West Covina, the song the lead character Rebecca sings about deciding on a whim to move cities in the hopes of running into a guy she used to date is really very beautiful. (I also recommend the impeccable Marilyn-ness on The Math of Love Triangles. and I think I also learned some maths from it?)

Mudhoney, Into the Drink. Good energy.

Velvet Underground, Heroin. As utterly bewitching as it is useful as a unit of time to sternly instruct yourself to clean your room for the duration thereof.

Next time: I’m going to try to blog again before the end of the year and also just generally continue hurtling ever upwards on a one-horse open trebuchet!