In the run up to Christmas I have my annual date with the Portmeirion Food and Craft Fair . Now in its sixth year the market combines all that’s best of our local crafters, small businesses and food producers.
I have a love hate relationship with Christmas. I detest the corporate grasp, on what was once a pagan festival to mark the shortest day and a turning point as the light creeps back in. Even the Christian story is the antithesis of what Christmas has become. On the other hand I love a traditional family Christmas; I love small handmade presents, gifts with meaning and sentiment, carefully chosen or made. I love to make my own presents, food gifts wrapped in tissue and ribbon, bottles of home-made liqueur, chocolates and Christmas puddings and I love browsing the stalls of Christmas markets; eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine as Christmas carols drift along on the breeze.
My kids are now older; both wish for nothing more than hard cash towards a fight to India (the twenty-one year old) and a new drum kit (the fifteen year old). But I still take pleasure in getting them little presents to go along with this distinctly unromantic Christmas gift.
This was my fourth year presenting on the demo stage at Portmeirion. I tend to stick to dessert making as the stage is always heavy with meat offerings, so its nice to provide a contrast, something different that can be recreated at home. I’m also very aware that more and more people have special dietary requirements, myself included, so I concentrated on some tasty alternatives. On the menu this year was traditional Christmas pudding (but a quicker, Gluten free version), mulled wine oranges and fruit and nut dairy free chocolate fudge. The oranges are an awesome accompaniment to the Christmas pudding, on their own with dairy free ice cream (or normal ice cream) and the fudge is a great alternative to pudding if you end up too full to eat Christmas pudding, but want something sweet with coffee. The fudge also makes a great present for anyone avoiding dairy.
Let’s begin with the mulled wine oranges..
To serve four
- 4 medium oranges
- 190ml red wine
- 40g caster sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 star anise
- 3 allspice berries
- 6 black peppercorns
Peel off 6-8 thin strips of zest from one of the oranges
Put the wine and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
Add the pared orange zest and remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then bubble gently for about 10 minutes until the wine is reduced by about half and is lightly syrupy. Leave to cool completely.
Slice the peel and pith away from the remaining oranges. Slice the oranges horizontally into 3mm thick rounds, then put them in a large bowl along with any juice.
Pour the cooled mulled wine syrup over the orange slices. Cover and leave to macerate in the fridge for at least a few hours for the flavours to develop.
Take them out of the fridge half an hour or so before serving, to bring to room temperature. You could also warm them again gently. The oranges and their sweetly spicy liquor are delightful just as they are – but a little ginger biscuit or two on the side is rather good, as is ice cream, or use to pair with Christmas pudding.
Easy Christmas pudding
175g gluten free plain flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ginger
Half a teaspoon nutmeg
175g gluten free breadcrumbs
175g brown sugar
850g mixed fruit
75g mixed peel
Rind and juice one orange
120ml gluten free brown ale
Mix the dried ingredients together (the first five on the list)
Rub in the butter until it resembles course breadcrumbs. It doesn’t have to be perfect)
Stir in the sugar
Add the fruit and stir to combine then mix in the wet ingredients (orange zest and juice, eggs and beer. I used a beer from Cwrw Ogwen, our local micro brewery, which I’m aware is not gluten-free. But there are several gluten-free ales now on the market that can be substituted).
Turn into a pudding basin (3 pint) and cover with greaseproof paper or a pudding cloth and foil
Steam for 6 hours topping the pan up with boiling water if it gets low
Cool, change the paper and store in a cool dry place. It will keep for months!
When ready to use steam for another 2 hours.
***For the speedy version: Make smaller puddings and use individual pudding basins then cook in the oven. Set the oven at 160 degrees/ gas mark 3. Fill a roasting tray with water and cover the puddings as above. Stand the bowls in the tray so the water comes half way up the sides. Cook for two and a half hours. Cool and rewrap as before. When you want to use them reheat in the same way, heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 5 and reheat for 30 minutes.
Dairy free Chocolate fudge
375g very dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa solids)
1 can of full cream coconut milk
(Chopped pecans / fruit soaked in rum or brandy/cinnamon/vanilla)
Break chocolate into a bowl
Heat sugar and coconut milk in a saucepan until just bubbling
Pour over the chocolate and stir briskly to melt
Add cinnamon or spices / vanilla (feel free to experiment!)
50g of fruit and 50g nuts (I used a berry and cheery mix soaked in rum overnight and chopped pecans but you can experiment with your favourites)
Turn in to a dish lined with greaseproof paper and refrigerate. Cut into chunks and serve. Or package in neat little boxes and send as presents.
I couldn’t pay a visit to Portmeirion without adding to my photo collection, or getting fuelled up on Poblado coffee. It must be one of THE most photogenic places I’ve ever visited; even in the mud, rain, or on a cold dull Welsh winters day I see a new angle, a new view… a wander with the camera and a warm, smooth coffee from one of our best Welsh producers (they roast their own coffee) and my afternoon wound up perfectly.