Butternut squash soup

It might just be damp outside but I can feel a proper cold snap coming and when a friend wrote on Twitter she’d seen frost I knew it was time rescue some vegetables from the allotment.
The problem with frost is it’s frozen water from the air but it will also mean frozen liquid in all my surface lying beetroots and squashes. They go mushy as the molecular structure changes as it freezes and defrosts and while this is great when you want to tenderise something like squid it’s less great when you want to preserve structure or flavour.
Butternut squash properly stored lasts for months so I cut mine, making sure to leave plenty stalk – this is where moisture can get in and you don’t want that.

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So with a few hardening off in my spare room (radiator turned off) I thought I’d whip up a favourite winter soup recipe with a butternut.
This comes from Dom Chapman the head chef at the fantastic Royal Oak pub in Berkshire and alumni of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchens.
I used a fresh red chilli added at the beginning instead of the cayenne and very little milk as I like my soup thick and this came out thinner than I expected. I also roasted the skins of the butternut tossed in olive oil and on a baking tray for 30min at 150C then scattered on top

Ingredients (makes four generous servings)

Butternut squash soup
1kg of butternut squash
1 large onion
200g of butter
1l of water
700ml of milk
salt
1 pinch of cayenne pepper

Method

1. Peel the butternut squash. Cut it in half lengthways and scrape the seeds out. Then slice the squash with a mandolin as thinly as possible

2. Halve the onion, peel and slice as thinly as possible

3. Take a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients and melt 150g of the butter over a low heat, being careful not to burn it. Add the onion and butternut squash and sweat off over a low heat for 10 minutes

4. Turn the heat up and add the water, then simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are completely soft

5. Remove from the heat and liquidize the soup. Pass through a fine seive. Now add the milk to obtain the right consistancy. The soup should be silky-smooth. Be careful you do not add to much milk, so diluting the flavour

6. Finish the butternut squash soup by whisking in the rest of the butter and check the seasoning. Stir in a dash of cayenne pepper just before serving

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Christmas cake

I have very strong memories of making cakes with my late mother.
Standing on a chair at the table stirring various egg, sugar and flour combinations with the promise of being able to run my finger around the mixing bowl.
The taste of uncooked cake mixture transports me back to my childhood.
One of the best cakes my mum made was the annual Christmas cake – heavy with fruit and brandy and seemingly never-ending.
Our family one was cooked and “fed” with brandy for months and then wrapped in marzipan before being covered in Royal icing and decorated with ancient Santa Claus and plastic holly.
This year I have decided to make some cakes as presents and pass them on and hopefully start a tradition which my mum would approve of.
As she did before me I’ve turned to Delia Smith as for Christmas her recipes generally cannot be beaten when it comes to staple dishes.
We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, just make a cake.
A quick warning this recipe takes 12hours to soak the fruit and four hours to bake and this cake is supposed to get better with age – some people make theirs a year in advance – so don’t leave it to the last minute.

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Ingredients

For the pre-soaking:
450g currants
175g sultanas
175g raisins
50g chopped glacé cherries
50g mixed chopped candied peel
100ml brandy

For the cake:
225g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ level teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
½ level teaspoon ground mixed spice
225g dark brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
One dessertspoon black treacle
225g spreadable butter
50g chopped almonds (skin on)
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

For feeding and topping:
Brandy to ‘feed’ the cake
100g whole blanched almonds (only if you don’t, like me, plan to ice the cake)

Method – this recipe is from Delia’s Cakes

You should get the pre-soaking ingredients ready the night before you make the cake. Put all the fruits in a bowl and mix them with the brandy, cover with a cloth and leave them to soak for a minimum of 12 hours.

When you’re ready to cook the cake, pre-heat the oven to 140°C.

Now all you do is sift the flour, salt and spices into a very large roomy mixing bowl then add the sugar, eggs, treacle (warm it a little first to make it easier) and butter and beat with an electric hand whisk until everything is smooth and fluffy.

Now gradually fold in the pre-soaked fruit mixture, chopped nuts and finally the grated lemon and orange zests.

Next, using a large kitchen spoon, transfer the cake mixture into the prepared tin, spread it out evenly with the back of the spoon and, if you don’t intend to decorate the cake with marzipan and icing, lightly drop the blanched almonds in circles over the surface.

Finally take a double square of baking parchment with a 50p-sized hole in the centre (for extra protection during the cooking) and place this not on top of the mixture itself but on the rim of the brown paper.

Bake the cake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4 hours until it feels springy in the centre when lightly touched.

Sometimes it can take 30–45 minutes longer than this, but in any case don’t look at it for 4 hours.

Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, then remove it to a wire rack to finish cooling.

When it’s cold, ‘feed’ it by making small holes in the top and bottom with a cocktail stick and spooning in a couple of tablespoons of Armagnac or brandy, then wrap it in parchment-lined foil and store in an airtight tin.

You can now ‘feed’ it at odd intervals until you need to ice or eat it.

Happy Christmas cake making!