Teacakes, of the marshmallow and chocolate variety, may not appear to be the most obvious choice for a festive post. Pimped up appropriately however, they can become so, lending themselves quite obviously to the form of a Christmas pud.
I am attempting to redeem myself having almost entirely missed the opportunity for a festive post. Storms have resulted in no broadband for 6 days and hence an enforced break from blogging over the festive period, ironically, the first time in months I have had more time to prepare food and post than usual. So, belated Merry Christmas to all those who sent good wishes, sorry I have been slow to reciprocate.
The storms here, as elsewhere in the country have had considerable impacts. We were very fortunate not to lose power on Christmas day, and the Christmas Eve storm was not quite as fierce as it was forecast to be. We also had a turkey-cooking contingency plan. A friend kindly offered a gas oven should the power go off which thankfully it did not, other than for a couple of minutes. That said, it was windy enough to affect the radio signal. We spent Christmas day without broadband, our phone line still is not working and to top it all off, no radio signal. We felt disappointed not to be able to communicate with friends and family freely, or to listen to Radio 4, as we enjoy doing, on Christmas Day.
That said, our issues felt trivial compared with those unfortunates in the south of England with no power, properties and possessions ruined by flooding and no certainty of when normality may return, with further unsettled weather forecast and flood warnings in place. This really put our minor issues in perspective and our thoughts were with people who will have had a very unpleasant Christmas.
For us, Christmas, in all honesty is no biggie, although we do enjoy the relaxation, chance to catch up with friends and family (although many are dispersed and far away) and indulge. I know, it is a bit bah humbug, but I cannot help but reflect on the fact that for many people, Christmas is a very difficult time. This is especially the case for those who have suffered loss or whose loved ones are missing. Many people are not surrounded by family and friends but spend Christmas isolated and lonely. This must be amplified for many by the general media portrayal of the cliched scenario that Christmas Day is all about multiple generations of family coming together to harmoniously and joyously celebrate around a table groaning with food. I commend Radio 4 and Channel 4 for reflective coverage of the more difficult but realistic side of this time of year for many people. This year, I have lost my Uncle, a friend, a neighbour (another friend) and, sadly, last week, a work colleague. My thoughts are with those most affected by these losses. Much as I am not at all prone to nostalgia, I will certainly not be looking back on 2013 fondly, and look forward positively to what 2014 may bring. And so, back to food….
A seasonal food summary
While it may be a bit late now to recount in full those seasonally appropriate recipes here, I summarise. Christmas Day was straightforward and traditional. We enjoyed Eggs Benedict with parma ham on homemade muffins for brunch. Canapés included slices from a side of local peat smoke roasted salmon we purchased from the Hebridean smokehouse, conveniently only 2 miles from the house. A bit of luxury and well worth it. We also enjoyed goose rillettes, made from confit wild greylag goose legs, another local luxury which only cost me my time to prepare.
Dinner was traditional – local turkey and all the trimmings. We still enjoy an annual Christmas turkey, something we very much missed when we were vegetarians. Turkey seems to be a bit passé just now, with goose or capon trending, but we regularly eat wild goose, so a free range very local turkey from our neighbour was a much bigger treat. Literally. Dessert was a simple refreshing orange panna cotta with a sharp blackcurrant compote, made during the summer fruit glut and kept in reserve for mid winter.
Dinner was a relaxing affair, but for the point half way through the meal when we turned round to see the Christmas tree lights flicker and a cascade of smoke drifting upwards from a melting light housing on the tree! The Man Named Sous took quick action to unplug the tree and avert disaster. Phew! A new set of lights required for next year.
On the baking front, I made good old traditional mince pies, topped with almonds and frangipane, filled with homemade vegetarian mincemeat I made back in November. The frangipane topping idea is courtesy of Richard Bertinet, the recipe can be found here. The pastry was wonderfully crisp and thin. These mince pies were devoured hot from the oven by our ever eager visiting musician friends just before Christmas.
Stollen also featured, currently trending as the seasonal cake of choice this year. It was reassuringly solid, about the weight of a breeze block, an indication of its authenticity. It was also delicious with a swirl of marzipan, added non-traditional cranberries and a good hit of ground cloves and nutmeg. This was a gift for a friend and stollen aficionado, and was well received. This was Mr Hollywood’s Christmas GBBO stollen recipe. Darwin also assists as a prop in the photo, looking longingly at the stollen.
Tunnock’s Teacakes – legendary Scottish product
Finally, a more quirky offering as a tribute to Tunnock’s teacakes. For those not aware of these products of legendary significance for Scottish gastromony, a Tunnock’s teacake should not be confused with the traditional English teacake, an enriched dough sweet pastry roll with dried fruit and spices, usually served toasted and spread with butter.
The Tunnock’s Teacake is a dome of chocolate filled with marshmallow, similar to Italian meringue, sitting on a shortbread-like biscuit base (also encased in chocolate). The packaging is iconic and distinctive, each teacake encased in striped silver and red foil (milk chocolate) or silver and blue foil (dark chocolate, less common/popular than the milk version).
The Tunnock’s factory is in Uddingston in Lanarkshire and their products even inspired traditional fiddler John McCusker to pen a tune entitled ‘A Mile Down the Road’ in honour of Tunnock’s since he lived close to the factory at one time. Apparently, there is a 2 year long waiting list for tours of the factory, which churns out 10 million biscuits a week including another biscuit icon, the Caramel Wafer. However, the teacake is not my personal favourite, I always preferred Tunnock’s coconut and chocolate-coated Caramel Log. Controversial.
My attempt to make teacakes came about because of the affection others have for this enigmatic sweet treat (you know who you are!). Pressure came to bear when contestants were set a technical challenge of making them on the Great British Bake Off and a Paul Hollywood recipe was posted online. I was gifted a silicone teacake mould, the caveat being I had to, of course, make some. I was delighted with the gift and happy to oblige.
Home made teacake homage
I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe. I usually use very high quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, but stuck to his advice to use lower cocoa solid chocolate, to avoid discolouration / cracking. It worked very well. I made a second festive batch with milk chocolate, as a gift for a friend who is a Tunnock’s teacake lover, but prefers milk chocolate. I used 50% cocoa solid milk chocolate (Co-op Fairtrade), and was surprised how much more delicate and hard to work it was than the dark Bournville I used for the first batch. For the second festive batch, I also reduced the amount of salt to 1/4 teaspoon as I could detect too much salt flavour in the first batch.
The recipe also wisely advises the turned out teacakes should not be handled as the shiny exterior is easily marked with fingerprints. Also, they should not be put in the fridge as they will lose their shine. So, best eaten fresh.
Although time consuming and a bit fiddly, the recipe gave good results and they were great fun to make. Even better, they were very much appreciated and enjoyed by the teacake lovers. I don’t have a sweet tooth, and this became very apparent when I sat down to eat the teacakes with a few aficionados. The presentation of the teacakes had a sense of occasion and anticipation.
Firstly, these teacakes are massive compared with Tunnock’s. By the time I got half way through, everyone else was finished eating theirs, commenting on the delights of the teacakes and thinking of going for a second one. I however, was feeling slightly queasy at the thought of eating the second half of mine. It was simply too big and sweet for me. The others though there was clearly something wrong with my palate, or the wiring of my brain. One muncher commented with an air of disappointment that he was not able to get the whole thing in his mouth at once, as you could a Tunnock’s (!). There were also heroic tales of entire boxes of 6 being consumed in one sitting. Finally, they are extremely messy to eat, so prepare to roll your sleeves up and to wear meringue from ear to ear.
The milk chocolate versions were given a festive twist, a dollop of melted white chocolate and some marzipan coloured with natural food dyes transforming them into Christmas puds, giving them that bit more bling required for a gift. I stopped short of including a blob of mincemeat within each, although I was tempted. Maybe next year….
Hogmanay is almost here, so Happy New Year, all the best for 2014, see you on the other side!
I loved this post, although I’m sorry 2013 has been a sad year for you. I wish you joy and good food in 2014.
In my local supermarket (Adelaide, South Australia), there is a couple of shelves of food for nostalgic expats. There’s Colemans mustard, Paxo stuffing, Branston pickle, AND Tunnocks Tea Cakes! I love the packaging and the thought of them, but at AU$5.99, I’ve resisted so far 🙂
Thanks Rosie, these teacakes get everywhere, suspect they are on occasion irresistible, despite the price tag! Looking forward to 2014, have a great New Year!
Your lovely relaxed sounding Christmas feasting all sounds delicious and very impressed by those teacakes!
Thanks, it was relaxed, now starting to crave light meals and salads as a result of all the lovely rich food! Hope you have a great New Year.
WOWSER! – the Christmas versions are stunning! – what about an Easter version for the musicians – Yes?????
Yes, perhaps with a nest of mini eggs on top? 🙂
Wow, great work on the teacakes, though I probably would not be able to eat an entire teacake either. The Christmas food sounds lovely. Here’s to 2014.
Thank you, yes, super sweet! All the best for 2014, hope you have a great New Year.
I fear I’m one of those munchers who would happily wear meringue from ear to ear—at least if those teacakes were involved. Happy new year!
🙂 Thanks, Happy New Year to you, all the best for 2014!
A wonderful, thoughtful post! I want to come to you house for Christmas! Your serve beauty and joy with every morsel….
Happy New Year! Looking forward to our blogging adventures in 2014! 🙂
Thank you so much, have a great New Year, best wishes for 2014, and to more blogging adventures to come!
We are heading over to your part of the world sometime next year – the bagpipes are calling…
🙂 🙂 🙂
Plenty bagpipes out here, though mainly fiddles in this house! You would be most welcome to visit if you get this far north west. Happy New Year!
Will keep in touch! Looking forward to Robbie Burns Day – we are having Haggis. Vancouver has a wonderful Scottish Community! 🙂
Lovely post, as ever. Hope your 2014 is happier than 2013. Your tea cakes are amazing! Love the way you have done them for gifts. I need to look for the Richard Bertinet mince pie recipe too, it looks like a good one. Happy new year!
Thanks, I’m looking forward to 2014. The mince pies were tremendous, I’ll be making them again next year. Have a great New Year and all the best for 2014!
You outdid yourself on those teacakes – absolutely stunning. Once upon a time, I’s have been in the Gimme More camp, but I have less of a sweet tooth now…next time, I’ll have the other half of yours 😉
Happy New Year…may she be a damned sight better than the last.
🙂 Glad I found someone willing to share! They were OTT but very popular. All best to you and yours for 2014, have a great New Year!
Ahh…Tunnocks Teacakes! The snack of my youth. Glad to see you didn’t forget their delicious caramel wafers too Tracey, guaranteed to ease out any loose fillings! I was amazed (but not surprised) by the sheer quality of both your own teacakes, and that delicious looking stollen. I am sure it tasted much better than the one I had, bought from the Co-oP.
Sorry you didn’t have such a good year. We had some ups and downs too, but 2012 was a lot worse for our families. Unlike you, I am very much prone to nostalgia, and find great comfort in the past. I can never see the future competing in quality, with the times of my youth.
I send you my very best (and early) wishes for a Happy New Year, and to your family and friends, as well as those in that inhospitable land that you call home.
I look forward to more excellent articles in the year to come. Pete. X
Thanks Pete, Tunnocks is an institution! The stollen was packed with flavour, I had a bit of co-op stollen last year, it wasn’t bad! In truth, I can’t be completely devoid of nostalgic thoughts, not least about food 🙂 Every year has its ups and downs, looking forward to 2014. Hope you, Julie, Ollie and your extended family and friends have a great New Year, all the best for 2014, look forward to more quality and varied posts from you! Tx
what a beautiful post – thank you. the frangipane mincepies sound divine and the tunnocks teacakes that you made are really pretty. Did you post the vegetarian mince-pie recipe? if not would you post it please that would be so great. thanks
Thank you so much. I didn’t add the mincemeat recipe, I should have done when I made it back in November, but was too busy to post! I will include it as a footnote in my next post for you. Happy New Year when it comes. All the best for 2014!
Those Christmas pudding teacakes are a work of art – I bet those in charge at Tunnocks are making notes for next year! I hope 2014 brings calmer weather, a restored phone line, and many good things for you.
Thank you Sarah, I must try the caramel wafer next! Good news is we got our phone line back this morning, looking forward to 2014. Happy New Year to you and yours. Look forward to your enlightening posts in 2014 🙂
I have warm memories of Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers at a former workplace. Keep dry over the new year!
Thanks Gareth. One you are touched by Tunnocks, they stay with you 🙂 Sunny day here today, Happy New Year when it comes!
You’re so right. Happy New Rear. Battening down the Welsh hatches here.
Best eaten fresh was the best bit of advice!! I have sat at my laptop catching up on my reading and whilst doing so enjoyed a cup of hot water and a Tunnock – no sooner had I finished it but I clicked on your page!! All your pictures looked lovely, especially the mince pies. Happy New Year!
Thanks Maria, a favorite catchphrase in this house! Hope you enjoyed your Teacake 🙂 Happy New Year, all the best for 2014. Look forward to your posts over the coming year.
I don’t think I’m a Tunnock’s Tea Cake fan, but I’m definitely a mince pie fan and I have two of Richard Bertinet’s bread books. I love his technique for repeatedly thwacking a wet gooey mass of dough until the whole thing miraculously transforms into a well-kneaded ball of bread dough. Best of luck for an improved 2014. Ken
Thanks Ken, Happy New Year to you and yours, all the best for 2014. Much Bertinet style thwacking here tonight, my favoured bread making technique now, only the dogs don’t much like the noise 🙂 Baguettes this eve.
The teacakes are a real blast from my past; I must try and find some on the shelves, better still attempt them one day, they will be quite a novelty in Poland.
All the best for the New Year.
Thanks Eddy, Happy New Year to you and yours. Maybe there will be demand in Poland as workers return home from Scotland having had the Tunnocks experience, or worse still, some kind of Teacake addiction 🙂
I look on at your creations and culinary skill with such admiration — you are soooo good at everything you do, like water off a duck’s back, all so natural, lots of quality and sticking to standards but no showing off or preening. So sorry about the unpleasant turns of 2013 (not my favourite year either) and wish you all the very very best for 2014 — it’s the year of the horse and that might make it a little more fun!
Thank you so much for your kind words. Happy New Year to you too. Lots of potential for a good year, given it is year of the horse 🙂