Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas baking

I can't believe Christmas has come and gone already. It feels like I just finished last year's Christmas dinner and here we are again, bellies groaning from good food while we pack up presents and throw out the wrapping paper and rubbish.

Christmas is my favourite time of the year and I love the preparation for Christmas: soaking the fruit for puddings and cakes, setting aside a day to steam the pudding, choosing which sweet treats to make for gifts (nougat, chocolate fudge, panettone, spiced biscuits) and making our family's traditional favourites of shortbread and mince tarts.

This year though, my Christmas preparation and baking was very limited, as we have a newborn in the house and there was not much free time available to do any baking. However, I've been stockpiling a collection of new recipes to try next year. Of course there's no reason why I can't make shortbread or panforte at any time of the year but it just doesn't feel right!

Two days before Christmas, my reservation at the local library for Nigella Christmas arrived. It's a sumptuous book, lavishly photographed and full of delicious and inspiring recipes. There's cocktails and canapes to start, followed by soups, salads and side dishes, different ways to cook turkey, goose, pork and beef, main dishes for vegetarians, sweet treats and edible gifts. I love the way Nigella writes about food. Her comforting, practical tone is combined with a sweet turn of phrase that makes you feel you can tackle any cooking task she sets. I must admit though that, although I've been collecting Nigella recipes for years, I've never actually made any of them, even though I've been inspired to many times. So, when I saw the recipe for the Yule Log, which looked impressive but used only a few basic ingredients (eggs, caster sugar, cocoa, butter), I thought it was the perfect dish to quickly whip up for our Christmas Eve meal.

And so it proved to be. I made a basic chocolate roulade that is spread with a rich chocolate butter cream and then rolled up into a log shape and covered with the rest of the butter cream. A few squiggles with a skewer to make it look like a log, a dusting of icing sugar to make it look like the log is covered in snow and voila! an authentic yule log. Although Nigella says in her recipe notes that the recipe looks finicky and is not a doddle to make, I found it quite easy to put together and thought that the final result was impressive and made it look more difficult than it actually was.

Christmas might be over for this year, but I'm looking forward to trying many more of the recipes from the Nigella Christmas book. A lot of the salads and the sweet treats, such as rocky road and gingerbread, can certainly be made year round. It will elevate your Christmas feast to a domestic goddess level but it's not a book that needs to be put away and only referred to once a year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cocoa Farm shiraz chocolates

I find the rich, sensual taste of chocolate hard to match with wine. It tends to pair beautifully with the honeyed richness of Rutherglen tokays, muscats and ports and I've been to several Melbourne Food and Wine Festival events where we sampled a range of chocolates matched with these Rutherglen wines, with some interesting combinations.

But I've tended to steer clear of matching chocolate with other wines. Now, however, I've discovered that the peppery flavours of shiraz can match wonderfully well with smooth dark chocolate - and it can happen without the need for separate glasses and plates.

Farm By Nature is a Melbourne-based chocolate company that makes the Cocoa Farm brand. I've discovered their range of Wine Chocolate: milk and dark chocolate combined with raisins that have been infused with shiraz, pinot noir or merlot. The latest release is shiraz wine chocolate barrel gift boxes. Cutely shaped like a wine barrel, the individually-wrapped chocolates are studded with plump raisins and have a distinctive peppery shiraz aroma. The first mouthful yields strong peppery notes on the palate, followed by a smooth wine aftertaste mixed with satisfyingly rich, but not cloying, dark chocolate. The aftertaste is long and you could almost believe that you had just had a sip of shiraz. I found it impossible to stop at just one chocolate and had to hide the box to ensure Adam didn't polish them all off. I hope Santa brings me some more of these in my Christmas stocking!

For stockists, see