Tidings of Comfort & Joy

And here we are our second Holiday season in Toronto, Canada. Thankfully this one is a LOT less hectic than last years’ where it wasn’t so much Rudolph & Co. dashing around as it was me, trying to get unpacked and set up in our new home. As you could imagine not much time was left for baking the traditional festive wares, never mind experimenting and trying out new recipes!

This year however I’ve allowed myself the pleasure of being ahead of the game. A slew of expected visitors may have something to do with that. As crazy as it sounds having the tree trimmed and house decorated in November DOES free you up to do so much more. Or at least plan it!

The last Christmas spent in the UK, I created some food gift hampers to gift to friends and included some of my favourite festive foods. “Twinkling” caramel sauce (subtly spiked with rum); Crunchy spiced cookies; Christmas cake (with the emphasis more on chocolate than fruit) to name a few. This got me thinking as to what I would gift this year if given the opportunity. The first three recipes here would make ideal food gifts for those nearest and dearest to you.

Biscotti make such a great alternative to the stalwart festive cookie. Enjoy their crunchy texture studded with roasted hazelnut and cranberries with a hot cup of coffee while you put your feet up, taking a break from the looming festive onslaught. Stollen has always been my preference to the traditional Christmas fruit cake- maybe the inclusion of sublime marizpan has something to do with it? Here I’ve omitted the usual mixed peel in favour of apricots and cranberries- for no reason other than I personally hate the stuff. I find it too bitty and chewy for my liking. Fudge has always been a favourite of mine. Smooth, creamy and sweet it never fails to warm me. Bringing my ever present twist to things I’ve added some liquid smoke to lend a subtle smokiness which works so well with  the maple flavour of the fudge. Finishing it off with a gentle sprinkling of Kosher salt gives it a lip-licking quality that sings of pure indulgence. Not to mention making the finished treat visually reminiscent of the coats of baby deer in winter snow.

The fourth recipe I’ve included is not so much a food gift for other people but rather for yourself. I  know too well how frenzied and manic Christmas morning can be so I wanted to make something that might help alleviate some of the culinary pressure of that time. Preparing them the evening before is a massive shortcut that helps no end on the big day. Packed full of filling and flavours of cinnamon, apples, cranberries and pecans  they’re an extra special treat that’s sure to get the day off to a wonderful start.

I do hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I have, both creating and tasting them, and I’d like to wish you and yours a wonderful, peaceful  holiday season and happy new year. (Wow! never thought I’d be writing that so soon!)

Biscotti (3)


Hazelnut & Cranberry Chocolate Biscotti

Makes 20-24

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa, unsweetened
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2/3 cups of hazelnuts (filbert) , toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • All-purpose flour for dusting


  1. Heat your oven to 150°C/300F
  2. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and dust lightly with flour
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with balloon whisk attachment,  beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and doubled in size.
  4. Fold in the vanilla and almond extracts
  5. Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder
  6. Add in the nuts and fruits and fold thoroughly until the mixture comes together a dough
  7. Tip out onto a lightly floured work surface and lightly roll out into a log shape. Divide the log into two, halfway along it’s length
  8. Place the logs on the lined baking sheet and with your hands lightly flatten logs to approximately 40mm wide x 20mm high
  9. Bake in your pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes or until firm
  10. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes. After this time cut the logs into slices (10-15mm thick) and  lay  them flat on a baking sheet (with cut-side uppermost) and bake again for 10-15 minutes or until crisp
  11. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack
  12. These can be kept for up to a week in an air-tight container


Biscotti (6)

Stollen (4)

Alternative Stollen

Makes 1

  • 4 cups white bread flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fast action yeast
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 almond extract
  • 2/3 cups almonds nibs
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon zest
  • 8 oz marzipan

To finish

  • 1/4 stick butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp icing (confectioners’)  sugar


  1. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and lightly dust with bread flour. Set aside until needed
  2. Put the flour and sugar in a stand mixer bowl and stir to combine. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other
  3. In a pan combine the milk, butter, lemon zest, orange zest and heat gently until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool and infuse. Stir occasionally to prevent the zests clumping
  4. With the dough hook attached and on a medium speed, add the cooled milk/ butter liquid in a steady stream. Leave the machine to knead for 6 minutes until smooth and pliable
  5. Whilst the dough is kneading, mix the nutmeg, cloves, vanilla and almond extracts, dried fruits and almond nibs together in a bowl
  6. Remove the dough from the stand mixer bowl and place the dough on top of the fruit mixture and knead from the outside into the centre. When everything has been fully incorporated, return to the bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for 1-1 ½  hours in a warm place, until doubled in size
  7. Flatten the dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 45cm x 35cm. Shape the marzipan to about 25 x 15cm and place on top of the dough. Wrap the dough so it encloses the marzipan and place the full loaf on your prepared baking sheet, with the joining seam at the underside. Cover and leave to rise for 45mins – 1 hour until risen and doubled in size
  8. Preheat the oven to 190C /375F and bake for 40mins. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Brush the baked loaf liberally with melted butter, and dust with icing sugar. Leave to cool completely before serving
  9. This will keep for up to a week, wrapped and stored in an airtight container



Stollen (2)

Fudge (4)

Salted Smoky Maple Pecan Fudge

Makes 36 pieces

  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter, chopped
  • 1 cup icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure Maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves, roasted and roughly chopped
  • Kosher Salt, to taste


  1. Line and butter an 8-inch square baking pan or silicone pan with baking parchment, allowing the parchment to extend over sides of pan
  2. Mix the evaporated milk, brown sugar and butter in large saucepan. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 236°F on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage). (Be patient- this will take about 30 minutes. Also DO NOT leave it unattended!)
  3. Remove from heat and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. (Careful! The sides of the bowl will become VERY hot)
  4. Add the icing sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract and liquid smoke and beat together with on low speed. Increase speed to medium; beat until thickened and smooth.
  5. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in the chopped pecans. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle the top of the fudge with kosher salt to your taste. (I usually use 2 good pinches, evenly sprinkled)
  6. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm. Use baking parchment to lift out of pan onto cutting board.
  7. Cut into 36 squares and enjoy!
  8. If stored at room temperature this will keep for up to a week in an air-tight container, if stored in the fridge it will  last for up to two

Fudge (1)

Cinnamon Rolls (5)

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Buns

Makes 12

For the dough

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon zest
  • 4 cups white bread flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon fast-action yeast
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the filling

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/3 cup fried cranberries
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup apple butter

For the glaze

  • 2 cups icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • 1/4 cup eggnog


  1. Put the milk, butter, cinnamon, orange zest and lemon zest in a small saucepan and heat very gently over the lowest available heat until the butter has melted. Set aside and leave it to cool to a lukewarm temperature
  2. In a bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the flour and sugar. On one side of the bowl add the yeast, and on the opposite side add the salt
  3. Into the flour bowl add the cooled milk/butter mix and the beaten egg.
  4. With the dough hook attachment, knead this on medium for 8 minutes. It should become smooth, pliable and come together in a ball
  5. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, large bowl and cover tightly with lightly oiled cling film. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1- 1 1/2hrs
  6. Grease with butter a 23cm x 33cm high sided baking tin and set aside until needed
  7. Prepare the filling by mixing together the brown sugar, cinnamon and softened butter in a bowl. Beat until well combined. Set aside until needed
  8. When your dough has risen, tip it out into a lightly oiled surface and roll out to 40x50cm
  9. To fill , spread the cinnamon butter (as evenly as you can) over the surface of the dough. Next spread the apple butter in an even layer. After this sprinkle on the dried cranberries. Once this is done, finally sprinkle on the chopped pecans
  10. Starting at the long edge, roll the dough into a tight log shape
  11. Trim the ends off the roll and then cut into 12 even pieces*
  12. Arrange the rolls in a 3×4 formation (cut side up) in your prepared baking tin. Cover loosely with oiled cling film and pop into the fridge. Leave to slow-proof overnight
  13. On the morning of baking, remove the tray of risen cinnamon rolls from the fridge 30 minutes prior to baking
  14. Preheat your oven to 180C/350F
  15. Bake the rested rolls in the oven for 30 mins. If the edges start to brown too soon, lightly cover the pan with foil
  16. When baked, remove the rolls from the oven and set aside to cool while you prepare the glaze
  17. To prepare the eggnog glaze, combine the icing sugar and eggnog in a bowl or jug. Whisk until well combined and smooth
  18. Drizzle the glaze over the still-warm cinnamon rolls and enjoy

A word of warning- these are very sticky and moreish…unwrapping gifts at the same time is not recommended!

*To cut the cinnamon rolls I use a length of either dental floss or fish-line. Loop it around the dough log where you want to make the cut, pull in opposite directions and there! You have a perfectly cut cinnamon roll ready for baking. Failing this of course, feel free to use a knife!

Cinnamon Rolls (2)

Mother Pic

This post is dedicated to my mother, Anne, who passed away earlier this year. The lady who inspired a thousand cupcakes and so much more.

“But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins”

Mitch Albom


Christmas Cake Parade

This December saw me at my busiest in the kitchen. In fact it’s safe to say that the festive month positively came and went in a flurry of flour and icing sugar. Word of Mr. Mom’s seems to have spread from which I am truly grateful to you all.

However, it wasn’t cupcakes that had me in a baking flurry- for some reason there was a run on the traditional Christmas cakes. Needless to say me being me I decided a little experimentation was in order. Not with the overall cake mix- that would be a travesty even I couldn’t bear! So I decided to push the envelope in other areas – increasing size; changing structure; and trying hand-painting to name a few.

Now I know the festive season has come and gone, and we’ve all had our fill of turkey, stuffing and figgy pudding (after all the Easter eggs are already on the shelves don’t you know?) but I couldn’t resist gathering the cakes together for a final look. Now that I don’t reek of brandy and dried fruit!

Holly & Ivy

“The Holly & The Ivy” traditional Christmas cake

Holly & Ivy detail 1Fondant “Holly” detail

Holly & Ivy detail 2

Fondant “Ivy Detail”

The Night before xmas“The Night before Christmas traditional Christmas cake

The North Pole

“The North Pole” Christmas cake

Painted Fondant

Hand-painted fondant detail

Gingerbread Hatbox

“Gingerbread Hatbox” tiered traditional Christmas cake

Gingerbread Stars

“Gingerbread Extravaganza” 12″ square Christmas cake

Large Holly & Ivy

“The Holly & The Ivy” 12″ square traditional Christmas cake

Winter Starfall

“Winter Starfall” traditional Christmas cake

Winter Bouquet cake

“Winter Bouquet” traditional Christmas cake

Winter Rose detail

Fondant “frosted rose” detail

Last December also saw me baking my Christmas cookies en masse. Crisp, spiced and with just a hint of orange these are as close to a secret family recipe as I have. I’ve lost track of the original recipe I used for these thanks the number of preferential additions, omissions and tweaks I’ve made along the way.  Having now baked these each Christmas since my husband and I have been together they really are woven into the fabric of our family. A sidebar annotated with dough flour fingerprints along with scribbled and smeared amends stands testament to their enduring popularity in our house. I will, in fact, confess to having moments of misty-eyed sentimentality, standing in wafts of clovey aroma as the cookies bake,  where I think of passing the recipe onto my children (one of which seems to have an affinity for baking whilst the other is wholly interested in the end product alone!) I think in total there was over 250 baked this year, and there’s still 2 batches of dough in the freezer- that is another experiment waiting to happen!

Cookies 3

Cut and ready to go

Cookies 4

About to go for the bake

Cookies 2

Spicey, zesty and warm – Christmas in a bite!

Cookies 1

I hope you’ve enjoyed this stroll down Santa Claus Lane? Thanks for stopping by. Wishing you all a (belated!) happy New Year and here’s to 2015!

In the meantime, “Remember Mom’s the word- that’s Mr. Mom’s!”

“Repeat the sounding joy…”

This will probably be my last blog post of the festive season so I’d like to wish all my friends, followers and readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. In what has proven to be a very busy year Mr. Mom’s has taken some huge steps forward and I can honestly say I can’t wait to see what the new year brings. I’d like to thank you all for the words of support- the FB likes and the Twitter retweets are like little nods of encouragement in the late-night glow of the oven. Special mention also needs to go to my family- my husband for being a “Baking Widower”; my sister (-in-law) for her endless sampling duties and my children for not crossing “the kitchen line”.

Just in time for the festive season and if you haven’t already had your fill of festive baking here’s my recipe for a festive take on the classic brownie. An indulgent twist combining the classic festive flavours of chocolate and orange. If you want to make this “child-friendly” then omit the Cointreau. In the course of research I have discovered what I would now call me ideal Christmas dessert – a slice of this brownie pie, gently warmed, topped with my Christmas cake pimped ice-cream*, and served with a glass of Alcoyne Tannat dessert wine. Serve, pop on your favourite Christmas movie (mine being The Family Stone – hence the title reference)  and put your feet up.


Festive Brownie Pie


Cinnamon Shortcrust Pastry
500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g icing sugar, sifted
250g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
1 splash milk

Brownie Pie Filling
185g unsalted butter, cubed
185g 70% cocoa dark chocolate, broken into pieces
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
85g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 tablespoons Cointreau
2 Clementines, zest and juice
100g dark chocolate chunks
100g Pecans, toasted and chopped roughly

Fesive Brownie Pie


To make the pastry
Sieve the flour on to a clean work surface and sieve the icing sugar and cinnamon on top. Work the butter into the flour and sugar using your thumbs and fingers until you end up with a fine, crumbly mixture.

Add the eggs and milk to the mixture and gently work it together till you have a ball of dough. Flour it lightly. Don’t work the pastry too much at this stage or it will become elastic not the crumbly, short texture you want. Flour your work surface and place the dough on top. Pat it into a flat round, flour it lightly, wrap it in clingfilm and put it into the fridge to rest for at least half an hour before using.

Set your oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Spray a 23cm fluted pie dish with release spray. Roll out your chilled pastry and line the pie dish. Blind bake in the oven for 15 mins lined with baking beads. Remove the baking beads and leave to cool while you make the brownie batter.

To make the brownie filling

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (or bain-marie), stirring occasionally. Once melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cooled stir in Cointreau and clementine juice.

Beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is thickened and fluffy, then, in a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, and mixed spice. Fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Sieve in the dry ingredients, and fold together.

Fold in the chocolate chunks, pecans and clementine zest.

Pour the batter into the blind baked pastry case and place in the oven to bake for 25-30 mins until a “papery” crust forms on top. You’re looking for firm edges and a slightly wobbly centre.
Remove from the oven to cook and while warm dust the top with icing sugar. For an extra seasonal touch try a flavoured icing sugar like vanilla or cinnamon.
Serve with lashings of cream or a huge dollop of pimped ice cream.


*Christmas Cake Pimped Ice-cream

If, like me, after making a glut of Christmas cakes you find yourself swamped in offcuts and trimmings one tasty use of the surplus is my pimped ice-cream. Takea 2-litre tub of vanilla ice cream and leave to soften at room temp for about 1o mins. Crumble about 350g of Christmas cake offcuts into a bowl. Add in the softened ice-cream and mix well to combine. Once fully combined return to the ice-cream tub and place in freezer to re-freeze.

“It’s comin’ on Christmas…”

Well that time of year has rolled around again. From the kitchen stream the dulcet tones of Joni pining to skate away from her uncomfortable familiarity with the festivities. But also coming from there is the heady, luxurious smell of maturing fruit cakes- rich, enrobing and comfortably nostalgic. This year has seen me churn out the grand total of 8 christmas cakes. Not bad going for someone who’s not exactly their no. 1 fan!
Making these it struck me again how much I had unwittingly absorbed in the kitchen as a child. From my mother’s hip I watched as she wove Yuletide magic steeping and stirring; trimming and tying. I loved being in the kitchen at Christmas time whilst growing up. It was one of best places to forget whatever trials and tribulations had occurred. Christmas was always peak season for arguments in our house (I dare say as probably in most). That mix of self-imposed stress and duty mixed with excitement was a delicate scales in which the looming frenzy of the Christmas day often tipped the balance.
It was in these time I could loose myself in my mother preparing and baking the festive season’s fare. From cakes to puddings; mince pies to brandy butter- they were all homemade weeks in advance. It’s somewhat sheepishly that I admit to having a bizarre fascination with the latter. I don’t just mean over-indulgence. I mean smearing it in everything from toast to biscuits- even eating it like yogurt from the reclaimed tubs. There was nothing quite like a spoonful of that sugary paste melting sublimely on my tongue. The things we do as children! In a rather paradoxical turn of events post-puberty I cannot stand the stuff. Eating it with pudding or cake is bad enough but to have it “raw” (as I used to think of it when younger) absolutely beggars belief for me! To quote my Scottish family it “gie’ me the boak”.
So parking the idea of brandy butter and the associated puddings this year I decided to have a go at making mince pies and mincemeat. Basing my only knowledge of these so far solely on childhood memories, I always thought of them as being too complicated and time consuming. All those ingredients together and THEN you have to bake them. Who on earth had the time to do that normally – let alone at this time of year? I also have to confess to not being a particular fan of mince pies (come to think of it dried-fruit bakes in general- horror I know!) However there’s usually one that will find it’s way on to my plate in flurry of “devil may care” festive abandonment. I prefer it unadorned- no cream; no custard; no brandy butter (!) In contrast to my husband, who will throw every diary-based condiment at a mince pie thus turning it into a festively Frankenstein Iles Flottantes, I prefer to let the sweet waftings the of cinnamon sugar dusting speak for itself.
And since it be the Season of Giving ….

2014-11-14 18.36.43
This is my first venture at making my own mincemeat and having passed the test with husband & children I’m mighty please with the results (even if info say so myself!) Wonderfully festive and lip-smackingly fruity it beats the shop-bought jars any day.
In this recipe the pastry is the one thing I will succumb to shop buying. It’s Christmas and who has all that time to stretch out yard upon yard of micro thin pastry! I use filo pastry as it allows the full, juicy flavour of the mincemeat comes through. There’s also something about the contrast between the crispy, flaky casing with the sweet, fragrant filling that just adds an extra “oomph!” to the pies.

2014-11-14 18.27.05


For the mincemeat
200g Sultanas
200g Currants
175g Dried Figs, chopped
100g mixed peel
75g stem ginger, chopped into small pieces
150g suet
1 large Branley Apple, chopped into small pieces
Zest and Juice of 2 Clementines
Juice of 1 Lemon
35g chopped almonds
35g pecans, toasted and chopped
4 tablespoons Dark Rum
5 tablespoons of Port
4 tablespoons Brandy
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
225g Dark Muscavado
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the poinsettias

12 sheets of Filo pastry
25g unsalted butter, melted
Cinnamon Icing sugar (for dusting)

  • Mix all the ingredients, except the alcohol, in a large saucepan until well combined. You want to make sure everything is covered in both sugar and spice. Heat over a gentle heat until suet has melted.
  • Remove from the heat, add in the alcohol and stir well.
  • Cover and leave to cool and infuse overnight (longer if possible) stirring occasionally.
  • Place into sterilised jars and store in a cool place. Once in jars the mincemeat will last for up to 6 months.
  • That’s it! This recipe will be good for 36 of the mince pies mentioned below.

For the mince poinsettia pies carry on to the next steps.

  • Preheat your oven to 180c/ 160fan. Spray a 12-hole muffin tin with cake release spray or oil.
  • Lay the sheets of filo pastry out on top of each other and cut them in half across the width. Then cut each half in half again to give four stacks, roughly square in shape. Using a pizza wheel-cutter makes this job a lot easier!
  • Line each hole of the muffin tin with a mini-sheet of filo. Brush with a little melted butter.
  • Repeat the above step until you have 3 sheets of filo in each hole. Rotate the sheets slightly so that the overlay each other staggered. Gently push the filo down into the hole so it takes the full shape of the tray. The edges of the sheets will drape over the holes giving the “poinsettia” effect. After repeating 3 times there will be 12 mini-sheets left, keep these under some damp kitchen paper for now.
  • Please the filo-lined trays in the over for about 5 mins, until pale golden.
  • Place 2 tablespoons of mincemeat into each pie case.
  • Using the remaining filo mini-sheets, scrunch one over each pie filling making a “cap” for the pie. You don’t need to be neat as the “scrunched up” / folded look adds to the effect.
  • Brush the new filo tip with the remaining melted butter.
  • Bake in the oven for 10mins until golden and crispy.
  • When ready remove the pies from the oven and place in a wire rack. If using, dust the hot pies with the cinnamon icing sugar and bask in the unmistakably festive fragrance!

2014-11-14 18.37.52