azy mince pies

>It is the Christmas season, and time for mince pies. But when you are busy there is no time for finesse, and if you (like me) dare to bake when it is 37C outside, you need to be as quick as possible.

I hate the mince pies you get from the supermarket, or even the local bakeries. They seem to be heavy on the pastry and light on the fruit mince. So I make my own every year, using shop-bought ingredients.

In Australia they sell shortbread pastry already rolled out so the work is even easier.

My three tips are:

1. Lace the fruit mince with a generous quantity of rum, sherry or brandy before starting.

2. Don’t bother with lids. Just cut out circular shapes for the shells, fill with the fruit and bake.

3. Decorate afterwards with chopped glace cherries and blanched almonds.

Finally, dust the baked pies with Splenda or any other granulated sugar substitute instead of sugar. It gives you a reason to eat more than one at each setting!

mummum’s fairy cakes

>My mum’s recipe is really easy to remember and to increase or decrease according to how many you want. You can make them with just raisins in, or make them without raisins and decorate them with cream or jam and coconut or whatever you want.

Raisins 125g (optional)
Butter 125g
Caster sugar 125g
Self raising flour 125g
2 eggs beaten
1 teasp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk

Pre-heat oven to 190˚C

Beat butter and sugar till fluffy

Add egg a little at a time, whisking as you go

Add raisins (optional)

Beat in the vanilla

Stir in half the flour

Add milk and the rest of the flour

Fold until well combined

Spoon into cups and bake 10-12 minutes or until golden on top

Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack

bajan sweet bread

>Orlando’s mum makes the best Bajan sweet bread. When I visited Barbados to meet her for the first time, she baked come fresh every day for my breakfast. Divine. Best eaten slightly warm, either on its own or with a little butter.

Desiccated coconut 200g
Melted butter 60g
Plain flour 475g
Margarine (or baking shortening) ½ tbsp
Baking powder ½ teasp
Salt ½ teasp
Sugar 90g
Raisins 120g
1 small egg
Evaporated milk 150ml
Almond essence ½ teasp

Grease the baking tin with the margarine

Pre-heat the oven to 350˚C

Mix the flour, baking powder, sale, coconut, sugar and raisins in a bowl

Add egg, evaporated milk, butter and almond essence and mix to a firm but wet dough

Fill baking tin

Mix 2 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp hot water and brush on top

Bake in centre of oven for about 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean

Cool in the baking dish

proper irish scones

>My mother makes the best scones on earth. When I was in university I lived at home, and I used to leave early on Thursdays to get home in time for the scones to be taken out of the oven. They are best eaten slightly warm with as much butter as your heart can handle. Not butter substitute, REAL butter.

2 oz butter
1lb self-raising flour
4 oz caster sugar
4 oz sultanas
½ pint fresh milk
Beaten egg to glaze

Rub four, sugar and butter together

Rub in sultanas

Bind with milk

Knead and roll to 3/4 inch thick

Cut into scones with a glass and glaze with the beaten egg

Bake 20-25 minutes at 200˚C

Cool on a wire rack

mummum’s tea brack

>Mummum’s tea brack is one of my mother’s specialities. She is a plain cook but a wonderful baker. This traditional Irish cake is not too sweet and – unsurprisingly – uses tea to moisten it. It would often be served sliced like bread and buttered.

1 lb of sultanas or raisins
1 cup of cold tea
1 egg
3/4 lb flour

1. Steep fruit in tea for at least one hour (preferably overnight).

2. Add egg and swirl around.

3. Sieve in flour and mix well.

4. Pour into 9 inch square tin.

5. Put in oven in middle shelf at Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes.

6. Cover with tin foil and cook for a further 45 minutes and Gas Mark 3.

7. Test with a knife to make sure centre is cooked.