Halloumi & Leek Bread Pudding

Bread pudding as I've always known it is a great big bowl of spiced, fruited and sugared bread, all smooshed and squished together with milk until it's one homogenous mass, and then baked until it becomes a slab of darkly sweet perfection. A brilliant and thrifty way to use up stale or old bread and probably a cheap way to fill the kids up when they got in from school. I adore it, and am quite protective of it. (I've long felt that Bread and Butter Pudding was a bit of an imposter, the smaller, more delicate sister of the big, comforting and homely eldest.)

Then last week, someone mentioned a savoury bread pudding, a leek and cheese one to be precise. It started with Thomas Keller, went via Smitten Kitchen, and then ended up with me.

I admit I wasn't sure about it, but it would have been a shame to pass the idea by, especially as I'd bought some terrific leeks at our wonderful local farm shop and also had some rye bread to use up. (I'd used a Lidl bread mix, and it was extremely good.)

I read the recipe and, as is my wont, tweaked it when I actually came to making it. I believe that's also known as 'winging it when you don't have the right amounts of anything'...

I'd put dried mint in with the buttered leeks, because it's very tasty, and then thought hang on...halloumi goes well with mint, I wonder if I've got any?

I did. Of course I did. This is me, after all.

2 leeks, cleaned and chopped very finely
Approx. 250g cubed rye bread (2 large handfuls, really)
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs dried mint
3 eggs
1/2 cup double cream, divided
1/4 cup milk
200g halloumi, grated
100g cheddar or Red Leicester, grated
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg

Sprinkle the bread cubes with olive oil and mix well.

Spread them out on a tray and bake until they start to go golden and crunchy.

While they are cooking, fry the leeks in butter and oil until they are softened and starting to caramelise.

Take the bread cubes out of the oven, and allow to cool.

Mix the mint in with the leeks, fry for a few minutes and then leave to cool.

Grate the cheeses, and divide them in half.

Put the cooled bread in a bowl, add in the cheeses and the leeks and mix really well.

Beat TWO of the eggs with half of the cream, the milk and nutmeg.

Line the bottom of a 2lb loaf mould with half the leftover cheese, spoon in the cheese/bread mixture and press down.

Beat the remaining egg with the remaining cream, and a touch of salt, then pour that over the bread and press it down so that all the cubes have some of the liquid on them.

Top with the rest of the cheese.

Bake in a 170C oven for 45-50 minutes, until the whole thing is browned and bubbling.

Leave it to cool until you try and slice it!

Well you try having something coated in crisped bubbly cheese sitting in front of you, all warm and luscious...


My First Christmas Cake

Yes. I know. How can I have been alive for all of my considerable years and not made a Christmas Cake? To be honest, I'm not sure, but I hadn't. I have now, but let's just say it took me a long time to get around to it.

I've made cakes for Christmas, yes. But not one of those soak the fruit, cook for four hours, feed religiously and then decorate to within an inch of its life ones. My Nan was so good at hers, I had no need, and then nobody seemed to like it - I thought - and I can't have alcohol anyway so I just didn't bother.

To be honest, I didn't think I liked it either but then I learned of the marvellous Northern tradition of eating cheese with fruitcake, and I was sold. 

Thank you James Herriot and past me who stayed up late, reading until after midnight on school nights.

This year, I had a long Christmas holiday off work, and was at home in the UK, so I got around to cooking/making a fair few things that I'd wanted to. Nigella's mini Christmas Puddinis were first, and they made short work of some shop bought Christmas pudding. (I still do not like traditional Christmas Pud. I'm sorry Delia.) I've made two batches of them so far, and everyone loved them. I used icing pens to decorate them, not chopped glacé fruit, as it was far easier.

In a fit of retro madness, I'd ordered some traffic light glacé cherries from Wilton's Wholefoods (I highly recommend them by the way) and also some whole glacé peel, because I really dislike the chopped mixed peel you get in the shops, which seems to be made up of tiny cubes of the bitterest things known to man.

Look how beautiful this is! You could eat it as candy, it's that good.

By way of discussions about various other things, I discovered that Husband does indeed like Christmas Cake. "The kind with marzipan and icing?!" so that decided me. 
I knew I'd left it rather late, but then I figured that as I wasn't going to be feeding the cake, it would be fine.


Non Boozy Fruit Soak
750g sultanas
150g glacé cherries, some whole, some chopped
50g glacé peels, finely chopped
Enough cold strong black tea to cover the fruit
3 cinnamon sticks
3 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla

I left that all to absorb overnight. It hadn't completely absorbed by the next day, so I simmered it on a low heat until most of the liquid had gone, but I did need to drain the last bit off.

The cake recipe itself I got from The Pink Whisk. I'd faffed and floofled about this for ages, looking up recipes by Delia, then Mary Berry until I'd gotten myself all confused, so eventually I shook myself by the mental shoulders and said "IT'S JUST A CAKE WITH EXTRA FRUIT, GET ON WITH IT."

This post made everything clear, and simple. Oh it was like heaven smiled on me when I found it.

I had enough mixture for one large cake (8" x 4" tin) and one small one (4.5" x 2").

225g salted butter, softened

110g light muscovado sugar

115g dark muscovado sugar

2 tbsps black treacle

5 eggs, large

285g plain flour

3 tsp mixed spice

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Taken from The Pink Whisk site:

Make sure your tin is deep sided (3″ deep), a shallow tin won’t do the trick here!

Be sure of your oven temperature, a long slow bake is what is called for to stop the cake from drying out too much and baking evenly.
(I bought an oven thermometer, as my oven is...special.)

Position your cake on a shelf about 1/3rd of the way up from the base of the oven.

Keep an eye on the baking – start checking your cake for doneness from 2 and a half hours in.  Insert a skewer in the centre and it should come out clean when it’s completely cooked through.  If your oven temp is any different to 110c then it may be done sooner, but it may also take longer if your oven runs cool.  You need to employ your cake testing skills!

When it comes to feeding the baked cake, you can miss this out completely if you would rather, wrap the cake well as described and set aside to mature.  The flavours of the cake still intensify and the fruit in the cake will soften and be delicious.

If you would rather you can feed with apple juice or tea for a non-alcoholic cake.

If you don’t have a tin big enough to store your cake it will be fine wrapped well with baking paper and foil alone.

Preheat the oven to 110c (fan)/130c/Gas Mark 1.

Cream together the butter and sugars until they’re light and fluffy.

Add the treacle and beat it in well.

Now for the eggs, add them one at a time working them into the creamed mixture before adding the next.

In goes the flour and mixed spice and a last mix up.

Now there’s the base for the cake.

Take your fruit and fish out the cinnamon stick.

Add the fruit (no don’t eat it!) to the cake.

And now a last stir up!  Cake mixture done!

Time for the tins – line the base and the sides of a 8″ round, deep tin (at least 3″ deep”).  At this lower temp you don’t need to wrap around the outside of the tin with newspaper to protect the sides.

Fill with your cake mixture 

and bake it in the oven for 3hrs 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin.

You have no idea how accomplished I felt just because I managed to line one cake tin. The smaller one just got sprayed with cake release spray, and floured.

And here they are! Oh the smell as they were baking was lovely. Christmas filled my house.

I like how the slow baking time meant that the cherries on the small cake stayed on top. Perfect!

Once the large cake had completely cooled, Tex kneaded the icing and the marzipan for me, and rolled them out while I brushed the cake all over with lovely sticky ginger jam.

I went for the minimalist approach to decoration.

I do like how this one looks like it's in the moonlight. What? Yes. I am five. That there is a Puddini.

And joy! Retro glacé cherry shot! I baked this on the 24th, and we cut the cake on the 28th, having found stomach room.

I finally got my wish, and had my own cake with cheese. It was perfect. The cheese is Wensleydale with Apple & Fig, and was just the thing to go with the rich cake.

The cake has kept extremely well. I will say that the ginger jam has started to melt the marzipan, but everyone has liked that slightly more squidgy texture. We do still have some left, but not for too much longer!

Roll on Christmas 2016!


Persimmons Everywhere

My American friends have spoken about persimmons for as long as have known them. I'd always wondered how Mr Gube's Persimmon Pudding would taste - not really knowing what a persimmon was - but sadly I think the recipe died with him. 

I never did get around to finding out what they were until recently when I was asked if I'd like to give them a try, so I said a definite yes.

They are really quite pretty. The ones I had were firm fleshed, so I assume they were the Fuyu variety. They certainly went down well at the office! The texture of these ones was a cross between an apricot and a pear, and the flavour was very fresh, slightly floral, but almost like a mango/apple cross.

I had three left to use up, so when I saw this recipe for a spiced squash cake, I felt that the persimmon would work perfectly. http://www.thepersianfusion.com/?p=744

Off I went.

The fruit grated easily.

250 g grated persimmon

300 g sugar (I used half demerara, half golden caster)

300 ml olive oil (half mild, half extra virgin)

4 medium eggs

230 g plain flour

1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon (yes, tablespoon)

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp allspice

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

120 g oat or wheat bran

40 g shelled unsalted pistachios, chopped

Line the bottom of a 25 cm cake tin with baking paper (springform tin is best). No need to oil. (I used a rectangular tin, as I had no round tins)

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

Put flour, oatbran, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and mix well with a whisk or fork.

Put the sugar in another bowl and add the olive oil. Beat with a hand mixer on medium speed until sugar is completely dissolved (about three minutes).

Add the eggs to the sugar one by one and beat about a minute on medium speed after adding each egg.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat on low speed to incorporate. Add the rest of the flour mix in two batches and beat to incorporate. Then beat the batter for 2 minutes on low speed.

Add all of the grated fruit to the batter and mix well.

Pour the batter into the lined cake tin. Sprinkle the chopped pistachio on the batter.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is browned and a toothpick or cake taster inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for ten minutes.

Put a platter or board on top of the tin and invert the cake on the platter. Peel off the baking paper and turn the cake out on a cooling rack so the pistachios are on top. Let cool completely.

It keeps incredibly well. I've still got some from when I made this before Christmas, and it's still moist and tender. I had some last night topped with rose scented Greek yoghurt and honey.

The last persimmon got chopped and and stewed down with cinnamon, butter and brown sugar. It made a gorgeous topping for porridge.

Thank you to Maryam for the original recipe!