Getting ready for Christmas part 3 – Fudge!

So I’ve been promising this recipe for a while and have finally  found the notebook it’s scrawled into. This recipe is a little trickier than the truffles in as far as there’s more that can go wrong, but it’s super worth it. As usual, this will be a long winded recipe that will hopefully steer you clear of the pitfalls I have already come across.

Fudge

Ingredients

– 1 can condensed milk

– 115g butter

– 450g Soft brown sugar

– 150ml milk

– Few drops vanilla essence or other flavouring

Method

– Grease, and preferably baseline a tray to set the fudge in. I have a sheet of teflon which is ideal for the job.

– Melt the butter, and mix together the ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Try to mix as thoroughly as you can to avoid lumps. Take a short break to pick the condensed milk tin clean.

– Put the pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. As with the Turkish Delight, you will need to get this to softboil stage in order to have it set. This takes around 15 mins or so of fairly intense boiling the mixture, and the magic temperature is 115*. I personally think the most consistent way of achieving this is with a sugar thermometer but have made it without one before – just google ‘softboil sugar’ and there are plenty enough videos of how to test sugar temperatures.

The difficulty here is that stirring tends to lower the temperature, but this stuff will burn to the bottom of the pan if left unattended. We have a lovely double ring gas hob for really packing heat into something – if you don’t, then the best thing you can do is at least get it to reduce a fair bit – that 15 mins of heavy boiling should do the job.

– Once it has reached softboil temperature, take off the heat and tip into a fresh, cold saucepan. Although this will add to the washing up it’s very difficult to cool it without it. Put the original saucepan in to soak straight away. You also want to add your vanilla at this point.

– Your next task is to beat the fudge mixture until it sets. This takes time. Your arms may fall off. You’ve been warned. It needs to crystallise and cool – you’ll be able to tell when it’s done when the texture is grainy, and not glossy. You can double check by cooling a spoonful and seeing if it sets nicely.

– Once it has been set, spoon the fudge into the tray you prepared earlier (if you’re like me, you didn’t, but we can pretend you did. You should go prepare that tray now). Smooth it out, and wait for it to cool. Slice up, and eat. Nom nom nom.

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Getting ready for Christmas part 2 – Chocolate Truffles

This is a recipe I found on a forum back in the day when I was about 17. I have no idea where the original came from any more, but I had never seen anything like it at the time and have been using it for years. Now that people like Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith (whose recipes, incidentally, I can’t stand since the great coffee cake disaster of ’06…just ask my poor nan!) have websites, there are a proliferation of similar recipes all over the internet now. They’re very simple to make and taste delicious. Great for Christmas, or in fact, just for scoffing. Either way, they’re going in the hampers!

(Pictures to follow on Friday once I have actually made them – just thought I’d give you all the recipe as early as possible!)

Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients

– 225g dark chocolate (milk doesn’t set so well – plus you’re adding loads of cream. Dark is fine milky chocolate lovers.)
– 250ml thick double cream
– 55g butter
– Unsweetened cocoa powder to dust
– Flavouring of your choice – more on that at the end!

Method

– Chop the chocolate into small chunks. A pain in the backside, but important to have it set properly.

– Put the cream into a heavy bottomed pan and slowly bring to a gentle simmer. The intention is not to boil it to death, just get it hot. Tip in the butter, and keep simmering until it is melted.

– Pour the cream and butter mixture over your melted chocolate in a heatproof bowl. The smallness of the chunks of chocolate is important here because you want the chocolate to gently melt under the influence of warm cream – slowly and gently. This will make it set better. Don’t cheat by just nuking your chocolate – if it persistently won’t melt, make a bain marie by putting it in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir constantly. Don’t let the water touch the bowl – we’re going for a gentle heat here.

– Sometimes it separates a little at this stage. I don’t fret too much as once it’s chilled this usually resolves itself with a bit of stirring. Leave to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, and then give it a little time in the fridge until it’s quite firm and cool to the touch.

– Spoon out the mixture into truffle sized pieces and with COLD HANDS (run under the cold tap if necessary) roll out into a surface dusted with cocoa to get a good shape. Keep refrigerated (fresh cream won’t keep that long at room temperature!).

– Eat. Or give away as presents. Or serve at your Christmas party. If you have the self restraint.

I said I’d talk about flavourings didn’t I?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. You have a few options here – your imagination is the limit. Some flavourings are better added to the cream, some are better added to something approximating the finished mixture.

  • If you want to add cinnamon or similar, I’d recommend adding this to the cream as it heats up, then strain the cream before tipping over your chocolate to remove any chunks. This will make a lighter, more delicate flavour.
  • Whiskey, rum, and most spirits are pretty delicious with chocolate. I add a tablespoon or so to the cream just before pouring over the chocolate as it is the easiest way of incorporating the liquid.
  • On the other hand, citrus, such as orange, is easiest to add to the hot mixture – a tbsp of juice plus a little finely grated zest is good. Decorate the top with a tiny sliver of sliced peel, or candied peel if you can get it.
  • Chilli! Chilli chocolate is the business. Add some finely chopped chilli to the mixture and decorate with a thin slice of chilli so everyone knows these chocolates are HOT.
  • Cracked black pepper – also nice. Go for something fairly coarse.
  • Mint – I add a touch of mint essence to the cream. Be sparing.
  • Alternatively, roll your finished chocolates in flaked almonds, or stir in chopped nuts – hazelnuts are good, as are walnuts.
  • I personally can’t abide coconut but there are some depraved individuals who might consider ruining some perfectly good truffles by rolling them in dessicated coconut. I’ve heard they exist, anyway.

Hopefully these are enough ideas to get you started! Fudge recipe will go up shortly – once I find it!

Getting ready for Christmas – or how to make Turkish delight

The dried strips These are the ingredients - wine does not go in the Turkish Delight but is recommended as part of the process The chopped up Turkish Delight All dusted and ready to serve

Last year at Christmas Brunton Number 1 and I had no money. We had negative money, in fact. He was a student, I was a temp, and we were both in our overdrafts. Instead of cementing our debts further with expensive Christmas presents, we made hampers of home made gifts for our friends and family including booze, chocolates and fudge. This year we both have reasonably well-paid jobs, and for the first time, we have money. Having begun asking what our relatives wanted for Christmas though, the resounding answer was: ‘moar sweeties’.

I’ll probably supplement some of the hampers with other non-edible home-made gifts but they will be the basis of all our Christmas presents this year. Some of the items have been specifically requested again – Irish Cream in particular – other things are being replaced or added to with more challenging recipes, the first of which is Turkish Delight.

My mum loves the stuff. She can scoff in seconds what a lesser woman wouldn’t be able to stomach. For those poor souls who haven’t encountered the delicacy that is real Turkish Delight (or Lokum as it is properly called) it is like the inside of a jelly bean, but lightly flavoured with lemon or rosewater, and usually full of hazelnuts and pistachios and dusted with icing sugar. The chewy, soft texture is basically the most luxurious foodstuff there is – and real Lokum bears no resemblance whatsoever to Fry’s Turkish Delight before you ask.

The maker of the original recipe of this delicious sweet came up with the idea mid 1700’s – and his descendants still run a shop in the same premises today. It swept across the Ottoman Empire as a delicacy and quickly became popular in England, best exemplified perhaps by Edmund’s deception by Turkish Delight at the hands of the White Witch in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Modern recipes recommend the use of gelatin as the setting agent – I don’t. I tried making one of these recipes, and you will achieve something with the same consistency as one of those jelly concentrate cubes, and the flavour is nothing like as rich. The real stuff is set with starch. First of all you prepare a sugar syrup, then cornflour is boiled with water to form a gel. The two are mixed together and then boiled and reduced to form the slightly springy, yet ultimately squishy texture of real Turkish Delight.

What you will find by doing it properly is that the sweets may have a tendency to ‘sweat’. You’ll make something that looks gorgeous, dust it in icing sugar, all for it to be instantly absorbed. After a day or two, the box you put it in will be covered in sugary water and your beautiful plump Turkish Delight will resemble nothing more than pink, rose scented mush. This is a bitch.

I have since tried the recipe again with a few amendments and a bit more science to much more success. I would recommend being slow, patient and careful all the way through this recipe – it’s the only way to ensure you keep the firm texture.

Yay, science!

So apparently Lokum is the confectionery of choice for the discerning geek. First – sugar syrup. Mix together more sugar than would ordinarily dissolve in water and heat the water. It will now absorb your sugar (win!). Keep going and the water will evaporate, leaving behind an increasingly dense sugar mixture. The boiling point will keep rising and at the magical 115*c, you will have reached the ‘softball stage’, that is, the point at which if you tipped a drop into cold water, it would form a soft, pliable ball when cool enough to touch. 3* too high, and you have ‘hardball’ stage sugar and it will form a solid, crunchy sugar. This is not desirable for soft squishy Turkish Delight. If I impress anything on you today, let it be to buy a sugar thermometer. They cost around £15 and are the only way to do it without risk of scalding your fingers trying to test the damn sugar. Confectionery is a precise art, and it requires precise measurements.

The cornflour gel is also a lot of fun. Under heat, the starch molecules begin to break up, and can be persuaded to take on more water. You’ll be merrily mixing away something with the consistency of skimmed milk, and then in a matter of seconds you can stand your whisk up in it. Crazy stuff.

Your mission after this point is to boil and reduce the mixture and drive out as much water as you can without making the Lokum too dry. This is what will ultimately determine whether or not you get sweating mush, or plump delicious sweets. After you have made your Lokum if you dust it with sugar/cornflour too quickly, you’ll draw out all the liquid and make mush. The recommendation is to leave it to air dry first, then lightly dust in cornflour, and leave for half an hour to form a protective crust of sorts before smothering with icing sugar.

I normally credit recipes that aren’t mine to the appropriate sources but in this case I have honestly read the whole of google on ‘Turkish Delight’, ‘Lokum’ and variants thereof so I don’t really know where to start. This recipe uses a basic mixture I found here, but amended a little and with enough of my own experience and advice thrown in I’m pretty happy to say that this is tried, tested and edited. So here’s the recipe!

Turkish Delight (Lokum)

Ingredients:

– 400g caster sugar
– 70g cornflour (cornstarch if you’re from the other side of the pond)
– water
– ½ tsp cream of tartar
– 1 ½ tsp lemon juice

To dust:
– extra cornflour
– icing sugar

To flavour:
– I split mine in half and used 1 tsp rosewater (and some red colouring) in one half, and ¼ teaspoon lemon essence (a bit strong actually, you could use even less!) and a little yellow food colouring. You can chuck in pretty much anything though, and lightly toasted pistachios or hazelnuts are traditional as well.

With regard lemon essence – it’s more than worth your while to get something reasonably fancy – namely the ingredients should only be oil, and lemon oil. It will be strong tasting, delicious, actually made of lemons, and won’t have any additional stabilisers etc that will affect the stabilisers you’re already using in the mixture. Be sparing with it – it’s usually strong.

Method:

Preparation

– Be anally retentive. There aren’t that many ingredients and it’s easier to have them weighed out ready. You’ll also need to cover a mould in oiled greaseproof paper for your Lokum to set in. Make sure you oil it with something fairly flavourless like corn oil – do not use olive oil.

Make your sugar syrup

– Mix together the sugar, lemon juice, and 185ml water. It doesn’t look like much water but that’s the idea. The lemon juice isn’t for flavour – it’s a stabiliser. The citric acid will help stop crystals forming in your sugar syrup and it’s pretty essential.
– Put on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to avoid sugar crystals forming.
– Use your sugar thermometer to test when it gets to 115*. Try not to stir it too much or you may struggle to get the required 115*. This takes time. The water has to evaporate for this to work and that isn’t instantaneous – it can take up to about 25 mins. Once it has hit the magical 115*, remove from the heat. Give it a few minutes to cool and decant into a pyrex jug, and soak the pan in hot water IMMEDIATELY or you will live to regret it.

Make the cornflour gel

– Cornflour is weird. Under heat it will go nuts for water and form an odd sort of wallpaper paste. Mix your cream of tartar, cornflour and 250ml water thoroughly before heating. If you don’t mix thoroughly you’ll get lumps that you will be able to do NOTHING ABOUT.
– Whisk constantly over a low heat, taking care to get right to the edges of the pan. All of a sudden it will start to get lumpy – man up and whisk harder. Get it so that it is so thick that your whisk/a wooden spoon will stand up in it unaided. Again, your aim is to drive out excess liquid, so make sure it really is crazy thick. This is your main setting agent. Take off the heat once it’s sufficiently cooked.

Mix it up!

– Gradually pour in the sugar syrup, beating until smooth after each addition. Take your time. This recipe will not reward you for rushing.

– Boil gently on a low heat for half an hour and stir constantly. Most recipes at this point will tell you to stop once it’s golden brown – mine was golden brown from the start when I added the sugar syrup. This advice is balls. Keep going until it’s so thick that when you drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan, the mixture doesn’t rejoin the gap. My sugar thermometer read somewhere between 82-88*C (ish) for this whole section if this helps. Getting this sufficiently set is the key to stopping the sweets going mushy.

If you’re making double the quantity – double the cooking time. If it’s not sufficiently gloopy, give it another 10-15 mins. You can always test it by taking a bit out and cooling it down – it should be chewy like the inside of a jelly bean.

– Add your flavouring and colouring of choice. Smooth out into your moulds but DO NOT TOUCH THE MIXTURE IT WILL BE LIKE SUGARY NAPALM. It sticks, and it retains its heat remarkably well, and it will unforgivingly burn you. Use an oiled silicone spatula if you need to, but not your hands.

– Leave to set overnight. Again – no rushing.

Do your washing up right away. You’ll regret it if you don’t!

Finishing off

– Get the Turkish Delight out of the moulds. Getting them out is a tricky process because it sticks terribly. I ran a sharp knife under it a little at a time, dusting with cornflour as I went until it was all free from the greaseproof. The dusting is essential because otherwise as soon as you let go it will stick to the greaseproof again.

Put the blocks of Turkish Delight on some fresh greaseproof lightly dusted with cornflour, and dust lightly with cornflour on top. Slice into strips, and dust the exposed sides with moar cornflour. I’ve heard other recipes recommend dousing them in sugar and letting it dry them out, but to me this sounds like it will only produce wet mush like mine did. Air drying seems to be key. Suffice to say do not put them in the fridge or any other moist environment.

To to try to avoid the sugar sweating you may need to give this a while: if you give it a couple of days to reach a sort of equilibrium that seems to be best. Save yourself hours of wild goose chase online and believe me that two days seems to be the recommended drying time. It may need slightly less if you’ve got a dry mixture (I overboiled mine a bit, so it was quite dry, and only took a day). You’ll know if this is the case if when you lightly dust it with cornflour, it doesn’t absorb it up over the next couple of hours.

Once they have dried, cut your slices into chunks, and dust again with cornflour. After half an hour, dust with 3 parts icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar if you’re north American) one part cornflour.

Store in more icing sugar, on greaseproof paper. They should keep for at least a week.

Nom nom nom!

Next stop – fudge!

Bristol Christian Union – or what I like to call ‘doing it wrong’

So I was hoping not to have to get on my feminist Christian high horse again in such short order following the Church of England rant. However, after reading an article on the Bristol University Christian union’s policy to bar women from teaching or speaking at their events, the rage got so great that I have felt compelled to take to my keyboard in anger.

I will first of all outline the news story as I saw it unfold. First off, a friend sent me this HuffPo article on how Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) had banned women from speaking at Christian meetings. I cannot account for the veracity of the internal email communication they obtained, so rather than paraphrase I will quote what I read from the article directly:

The Huffington Post UK has seen the email sent out by president Matt Oliver to all BUCU members which said: “It is ok for women to teach in any CU setting… However we understand that this is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our weekly CU meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away, or as our main speaker for mission weeks.

“But a husband and wife can teach together in these.”

It seems as though this is actually the communication that was sent, but I’d hate for you to think I had been the one paraphrasing and potentially misrepresenting what had been said. This is all I have to go on.

HuffPo quickly revised their initial article, stating that this ban was not new, but in fact a long standing policy. Revised article here. I’m not sure that this actually constitutes a defence of the BUCU policy, but it does (to an extent) exonerate the individual who sent the email. He was just following orders, not making them (if you think that’s much better).

Since that shitstorm was unleashed, several things have happened. The first is that BUCU have released a statement (which you can read here) ‘[deploring] the recent exaggerations and misrepresentations in some parts of the media of its position on women’s ministry in the church’. I have some sympathy with them here, because what the news media have failed to do is make a distinction between a church and a christian union, and it certainly makes them come off a lot worse than they would have anticipated. This view is backed by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (read here). I will explain why although I still think BUCU give me rage, this distinction is very important.

A church is an organised body which by its nature has a commitment to being theologically ‘right’ (whatever their interpretation of that may be) and serving the needs of people who align themselves with that theological outlook. They have to make distinctions about things like women bishops, because a church is pretty much required to take a theological standpoint, which will in turn, directly affect how it operates. The CofE have fucked this up beyond all recognition, but we get what they were trying to do.

A Christian Union is not the same thing. It’s a glorified social club. It’s a place where people who share something like approximately the same faith, or at least would describe themselves as as Christian, can meet, discuss ideas, worship, and feel part of a community without actually being a church. It is first and foremost, a service. This means that it has to be as neutral as possible in its official policies because it caters to a diverse group of people. It is reasonable for it not to have policies on anything which is considered secondary to the key tenets of the faith, because once you do that, you start dividing and excluding people.

As I have promised to propose the defence for BUCU, I will also state that joining is not compulsory, and there is always the option if you don’t agree with its operations, not to join.

However, as the main focal point for Christian students to meet and socialise and have discussions about their faith, there may not be many alternatives that provide a similar service, so many women who feel left out by this policy may still attend an institution for its other perceived benefits – as I am sure many still do at the CofE. Shouting them down by saying ‘if you don’t like it why don’t you leave’ is not productive. Because frankly if women deferentially left everywhere they were treated as inferior we’d have to leave planet fucking earth, and it is the bosses who stay behind to change things who make the world an awesome place. Sure, pick your battles – not every perceived injustice is worth your precious time and energy – but telling people to leave doesn’t improve anything.

And this is what I think is the essential problem. BUCU have had this policy for a long time in the name of not causing offence, or upsetting those misguided individuals who really believe God made women in his own image only to be second class – an afterthought. They haven’t tried to produce an effective solution or improve the agreement that have that fundamentally doesn’t work – they’ve just placed a blanket ban on women speaking for themselves. Allowing them to talk only with their husband is not a compromise – it’s an insult. It cements the idea (whether they meant it or not) that women require the permission and authority of a man for their words to be acceptable and worthwhile. In trying to produce a policy to cause least offence, BUCU has hamfistedly catered to the needs of the few and sacrificed the rights of the many.

Imagine you are a woman whose religious beliefs are that you are an equal in Christ as it SAYS IN THE BIBLE (Galatians 3:28). Have your beliefs been catered to? No. You have been met with the same kind of opposition you will find to a lesser or greater extent everywhere else in your life. You’re good enough to help out, maybe be treasurer or something – but not good enough to lead. If women were allowed to speak – as they are by the overarching Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, then those who didn’t like it can either provide some sound theological reasoning that makes it a discussion not a dictatorship, or choose to attend meetings where men speak. Excluding women is not, and never was the answer. In fact, to state that they have an attitude of tolerance to ANY Christian background rightfully should involve allowing women to speak, and equally tolerate that some Christian groups may not wish to attend.

So BUCU have now released a statement saying that women will be permitted to speak on all occasions (they haven’t said if this will be with or without their husbands – let’s hope there are no lesbians in BUCU) but the fact that it took being reported on international news sites for them to decide that what they were doing was wrong doesn’t suggest a healthy change – they’ve just been forced.

I am not afraid of any misogynist ‘Christian’ who thinks he is better than me. In fact, I am not afraid of any arsehole who thinks that possession of a penis represents a god-given right to superiority. I just don’t understand why Christian organisations have this fear of offending these inherently offensive people. The only way forward is to stop acting like the submissive little wifeys these people seem to want us to be and start raising hell. Whatever its intentions BUCU has been actively promoting the idea that women don’t get a say, don’t get to speak for themselves, are nothing without a man, and are second place in the eyes of God. And they can fuck right off with their excuses about ‘inclusivity’ and start getting on with being an institution that doesn’t need to justify its poor behaviour.

*MINI UPDATE*

Having had my suggestion of raising hell quoted on facebook by a fellow blogger I thought it was worth qualifying quite what I meant about raising hell.

1.) Start thinking. And start thinking for yourself. Things aren’t always the way they are because that is the best way – sometimes it is just the status quo, and sometimes that needs changing. The church’s attitude to leadership is one of those things that needed review. Attitudes to gay marriage and equality is another.

2.) Get educated. READ! Pretty much the sum knowledge of the human race is at your fingertips. I know this because you’re reading my blog, which is on the internet. Read the opinions of others, read the facts of the case, and start applying point 1. You could do worse than to start here for a bit of casual feminism: http://www.agirlsguidetotakingovertheworld.co.uk/

3.) Decide on what you want from life. Decide on what you think constitutes an argument worth having

4.) Fight your corner. Know your principles. Listen to the opinions of others and review them where you are persuaded that’s necessary. Be brave, but not rude.

5.) Take action. Write a blog. Start pointing other people in the right directions. Sign petitions. Talk to people. Discuss ideas. Stand up for yourself.

At all times be a good human being. There’s quite a bit to be said for that.