My guest for today is the lovely and incredibly talented knitter and designer Ann Myrhe who you will probably know as Pinneguri or The Needle Lady.
In this post Ann shares her recipe for making one of my most favourite sweet treats, marzipan or Marcus Bread as it is sometimes called. It’s a slow but mindful process giving you time to mull things over and reflect on the festivities going on around you.
There was a time when only the pharmacies were allowed to sell marzipan, and perhaps there are many who still think it’s like that, or at least, that it is difficult to make?
It is not: A few simple but exquisite ingredients, an almond grinder and plenty of time. Do you know a simpler sweet?
Time is perhaps the biggest problem. I suggest three days, but it can be reduced to two if the almonds are dried in an oven.
And it is such a joy to make. Store bought marzipan never contains as many nuts as homemade, but more sugar. There is a Lübeck marzipan that contains 90% nuts and 10% sugar, but the German Edelmarzipan, premium marzipan is the one that is the most commonly used in the best confectionery. It contains 50% nuts and 50% powdered sugar, and is the one I usually make for my family here in Norway for Christmas.
Here’s what I do:
250g almonds – come in different qualities, but I tend to take what I find there and then
250g powdered (icing) sugar…so really: use equal quantities of almonds and powdered sugar
If you want a little taste beside sugar and nuts then add a few drops of whisky, brandy, Cognac etc.
An almond grinder or hand grinder. I have found this gives the best results rather than using a food processor
A small saucepan for blanching the almonds and a larger one to melt the chocolate in
A mixing bowl
Plastic bag or plastic bowl with a lid
Blanch the almonds by cooking them for a couple of minutes then leave to cool and remove the brown coat. Let them dry on a cloth until the next day, or to speed it up, you can leave them in 50-100C oven for 1 hour. It is quite important for the flavour of the marzipan that the almonds are dry. The moisture in the almonds can cause incorrect weight and when sugar is mixed in, and the humidity of the marzipan evaporates, they taste more of sugar than nuts.
Grind them, preferably twice, maybe even three times, but at least once.
Weigh the almonds and blend in as much powdered sugar as there are almonds, for example, 250g of almonds and 250g of powdered sugar – equal quantities of each.
If you want a little taste of brandy or whisky mix only half of the egg white in, and then a capful of your chosen alcohol. If the dough feels dry add more egg white. If the dough is sticky it is better to add almonds than sugar, but if you have used up all the almonds, sugar is the alternative.
Using your hands, mix everything together and place in a bag or airtight box in the fridge overnight.
Next day, gently melt the chocolate over a saucepan of barely simmering water taking care that the bowl doesn’t touch the water.
Roll the marzipan between a large sheet of baking paper. Cut it into smaller pieces. Use a fork to dip the pieces in the melted chocolate and let it dry a few minutes on the baking paper.
Do not eat all at once!
I learned from an Indian lady that a handful of almonds keeps the digestive system working well. I can’t find any written information on this, so I cannot guarantee it’s true though! And apparently marzipan can also be helpful for insomnia, in addition to all the other good feature almonds as such have: Magnesium, the right kind of fat, vitamin E, iron, protein and fibre.
Here in Norway we eat marzipan traditionally both at Christmas and Easter, and beside marzipan we have two other important almond traditions: almond cake called ‘Kransekake’ and to place one almond in the porridge on Christmas Eve; whoever finds the almond gets a marzipan pig. Everything is connected to everything.
Thank you so much Ann for such a wonderful feast for the eyes and the tummy. I’m scurrying off to find some almonds!
During the move earlier in the year, I unearthed a number of old portfolios from my art school days. One of the folders contains drawings, paintings and other bits and bobs from playgroup and very early school years. I’ve picked a few festive treats for you all to see.
Exhibit 1: Mary and Joseph
I have clear memories of painting this picture, depicting Mary and Joseph riding into Bethlehem on a donkey, whilst in my first year of primary school. It was painted at an easel and one of the colours dripped and ran down Joseph’s tunic causing a huge amount of upset. I think I managed to hide it pretty well?
Exhibit 2. Cotton Reel Wise Man
Sadly no memory of making this printed work but isn’t it wonderful! The things you can do with an old cotton reel, a few sticks and some rarely seen metallic poster paint. I always loved art class and this picture is testimony to the creative mind of my teacher, Mrs Brady. This noble Wise Man looks as though he may be wearing roller skates and carrying a gift of fried eggs which is entirely possible.
Exhibit 3: Fruit Bowl Calendar
A very early masterpiece created for gifting. I have absolutely no memory of this but love the late 70′s textured ceramic bowl. I think I can still name all the fruits; from left to right: Banana, orange (possibly a satsuma but then the scale would be off), pear, Granny Smith apple and I’m guessing the last one is a festive pomegranate or maybe a plum. Mum always used to have a pineapple and a pomegranate at Christmas so I’m going with my first guess.
I also unearthed a written masterpiece which I’ll save until next week as it deserves it’s own post.
Do you remember crafting at school? Any treasures lurking in the back of a cupboard that you would like to share as I’d love to hear all about them.
Our first Christmas card arrived in the post yesterday:
It’s from a dear friend in Yorkshire who I don’t see as often as I would like to, but I know if I turn up on her doorstep I will be welcomed with open arms.
There’s a few friends on my Christmas card list who I only contact at this time of year, even with all the modern wonders of the internet we only write to one another at Christmas. Every once in a while we are both in the same place at the same time and have chance to catch up, but as we get older and our lives veer off in different directions, there seem to be more years rolling by in between the get-togethers. But with some friends that simply doesn’t matter does it?
Many moons ago Mr K studied furniture at Edinburgh College of Art where he met an amazing circle of friends, including glass designer and maker Wendy Jeavons who established and runs Red Brick Glass.
I now keep up to speed with Wendy through Twitter but managed to grab 5 minutes with her as she puts the finishing touches to last minute personalised orders and beautiful handcrafted pieces for the home from her Winter Wonderland on the Dorset coast.
R. Hi Wendy, I guess you’re a busy lady at the moment! Tell us how you became interested in glassmaking…
W. Whilst studying for a foundation art course (now 18 years ago) I realised that everything I made explored transparency, layers and light. I then when on to study glass including glass blowing, stained glass, architectural glass and fused glass at Edinburgh College of Art, graduating in 2000.
R. And from there how did Red Brick Glass become established?
W. Following graduation from ECA I was very lucky to receive a Setting-up Grant from The Crafts Council to establish Red Brick Glass. Originally I specialised in architectural glass creating large scale glass installations in public places such as hospitals and shops. After taking a couple of years off to look after my three children, I returned to glass making and decided to focus on making glass home and gift wares which could be sold through my own website.
R. 2013 has been a really good year for you and congratulations on becoming a winner of the Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday award. Do you have any tips for other small craft business start-ups?
W. 2013 has been fantastic, I feel very lucky to be so busy making work I love. I have also held loads of glass making workshops and therefore had the opportunity to share my studio with some wonderful people. My tip for setting up a small craft business is to go for it, take it slowly, but most importantly make work you love and hope others will love it too.
R. Your work is so pretty and modern but remains firmly handcrafted. How do you strike a balance and where do you get your ideas from?
W. I enjoy using a range of glass making techniques in my work and I’m working on some new samples at the moment which are particularly exciting. My work is influenced by many art and craft disciplines such as print making, paper cutting and photography.
R. I hear you are in training for the London Marathon, and aside from that what are your other plans for 2014 and beyond?
W. I do like a challenge so yes, I’m training for the London marathon, and flippin heck it is a challenge! Other than running around the countryside like a mad women, 2014 will be focused on developing a range of lighting and large scale glass wall art, using some fancy new techniques. I also have more glass workshops planned and will be offering some free workshops for local charities. I hope that in the future I have the opportunity to collaborate with others on some interesting projects.
R. If you could design a piece of glass for one person, place or event what would it be…your dream commission?
W. I would love to make a large scale installation, or scenery for the theatre; thinking a winter wonderland with thousands of glass snowflakes and lots of glass fairy lights or a secret garden with hanging glass butterflies and layers of glass with my embossed meadow design.
R. A glass set for The Nutcracker would be amazing!
W. You read my mind!
Wendy has very generously offered one of my lucky readers the chance to win a set of her beautiful handcrafted glass Snowflake Decorations. All you have to do is reply to this post before midnight GMT on Friday 6th December and Mr K will draw a winner at random from his woolly hat.
See and read more about Red Brick Glass over on the website where you can also discuss personalised pieces for gifts and wedding favours, plus read more about Wendy’s workshops which give you the opportunity to have a go at kiln formed glass design for yourself. Last date for Christmas orders is this Sunday 8th December and please note that the order book has closed for personalised pieces but will re-open in the New Year.
All images © Wendy Jeavons/Red Brick Glass and used here with permission.
Well, here we are again!
As tradition goes in our family, my nativity scene Advent calendar arrived from Mum a couple of weeks ago with ‘open 1st December’ written on the envelope and not a chocolate in sight.
It’s hard to believe a whole year has passed since the 2012 Advent blog and I’m really excited to launch the 2013 Advent blog! For the next 24 days, myself and a number of amazing guest bloggers will be sharing a whole host of festive topics with you. There’s knitting and crochet, food and drink, plus a sprinking of traditions and some less traditional but equally fabulous posts.
At Christmas I always support a charity and as our gorgeous little niece will be spending her first one in hospital, this year the organisation will be Project Linus who have kept her warm with gifts of knitted blankets and patchwork quilts since her birth.
It’s a wonderful group and the blankets make a real difference in the intensive care units and childrens wards where not only are they put to practical use, but also bring a splash of colour and something homemade and comforting can be just the lift that many children and their parents need.
If you enjoy one of the posts this Advent, and have a spare pound or two for their collection bucket, please do consider popping over to the Project Linus UK site or Project Linus US where you can donate directly to the project. Donations of yarn, fabrics and handmade blankets are also accepted and there are a number of local volunteers who you can liaise with regarding materials and finished items as there are guidelines to follow for dimensions, fibre content, stitch patterns etc. Thank you in advance for thinking about this from both me and my niece.
So without further ado, let Advent commence!
There’s a Santa hat behind door number 1! What did you find behind yours?
Are you looking for a quick Christmas knit? Then you’ve come to the right place!
My Festive Gift Bag pattern is perfect for using up odds and ends of DK weight yarn to create a handknitted pouch you can fill with little goodies or a special treat to hang on the tree or give as gifts.
Knit in the round from the bottom-upwards, the small size of the project gives the perfect opportunity to learn, try and practice a few new knitting techniques that will come in handy in later projects. A different version of this pattern appeared in Knit Now magazine last year and has been spruced up, rewritten and now contains 6 different motifs for you to adorn the bags with including, a snowflake, Christmas tree, hearts, reindeer, a bell and a snowflake flurry pattern.
I am running a special promotion on the gift bag pattern: You can choose to enter the code HOHOHOLIDAY at the checkout and save 20% on the price or alternatively, pay the full price and I will donate the 20% (50p) to Project Linus UK.
This is a charity very close to my heart at the moment as they have been providing beautiful hand-crafted blankets and quilts for my new niece who has been in hospital since her birth just over a month ago. The blankets have made such a difference and mean a lot to her family and all the families in the units who receive them. It’s a wonderful charity and really does make a difference. You can read more about their work over on the website where you will also find details about making donations of finished blankets and materials for knitters and quilters to craft the blankets. For those of you in America, find out more via the Project Linus US website.
The promotion runs from now through to end of day GMT on 24th December 2013.
Let the festivities begin!
Yesterday was the day traditionally known as Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent and a day for making your Christmas cake, pudding or mincemeat.
I love making Christmas cakes. Love! All those beautiful ingredients, the lining and wrapping of the baking tins, the medatative process of combining and mixing, then the glorious scent that wafts through the house…just wonderful.
The difficult part is having to wait a few weeks to eat it and then the irony of all this is that I actually have to be very careful about how much dried fruit I eat as the sulphites are one of my migraine triggers. However, my waistline is grateful for this as I could all too easily chomp my way merrily through December gorging on all the fruit laden goodies on offer!
I have been baking Delia’s Classic Christmas Cake and Nigella’s Traditional Christmas Cake. For an easy no-soak recipe I recommend my Great Aunt’s favourite recipe, the Be-Ro Christmas Cake which you can then choose to feed or leave as is if you prefer not to include alcohol. Yum Yum!
Strangely enough, this months Belleau Kitchen Random Recipe uses the product I baked for last months challenge; bread!
Mr K played random recipe generator, picking Newmarket Pudding from a random book and a random page for me.
‘A Pudding Book‘ by Helen Saberi is, as the titles suggest, a small selection of varied British puddings, many of which have historical context or a story behind them. Unbeknownst to me, Newmarket Pudding, taken from Newmarket Racecourse in Suffolk, is another name for Bread & Butter Pudding which in turn can also be called Nursery Pudding. I adore milk puddings but somehow I have never made a bread and butter pudding before and oh my goodness, I have been missing out!
The following recipe is reproduced in the book from the 1829 Cook and Housewife’s Manual by Meg Dods so is fairly sparse and a bit muddled. You have to make up and guesstimate a few bits and pieces but my notes follow the recipe to help you on your way:
Boil a pint and a quarter of good milk for a few minutes, with the rind of half a lemon, a stick of cinnamon, and a bay-leaf. Put in fine sugar to taste, and as the milk cools mix it gradually with the well-beat yolks of six eggs, and three of the whites separately beaten. Let this soak, and cut and butter thinly with fresh butter, slices of bread about a quarter-inch thick. Line a pudding-dish or mould neatly with the bread, and then place a layer of cleaned currants and a few raisins stoned and chopped, then again bread, and the fruit; but have the top layer of buttered bread. Pour the prepared custard through a sieve over this; let it soak for an hour, and bake or steam the pudding for half-hour, or rather more. A few raisins or small French plums, laid in order in the bottom of the mould, and embossed in the bread, have a good effect when the pudding is turned out.
1 and 1/4 pint of whole milk
Rind of half a fresh unwaxed lemon
1 stick of cinnamon
1 bay leaf
6 eggs, separated but you only use 6 yolks and 3 whites (I made the leftover whites into meringues)
White bread – I confess, not homemade but Warburtons white sliced Farmhouse loaf, approximately 10 slices, buttered on one side with unsalted butter
A handful of raisins and some chopped dates (it’s what I had on the shelf)
I followed the custard part of the recipe, infusing the milk with the lemon, cinnamon and bay, adding a tablespoon of caster sugar then cooling slightly before whisking in the beaten egg yolks, followed by the beaten egg whites. 4 slices of buttered bread was then arranged in the bottom of a 22cm square, 4cm deep ceramic dish, followed by a sprinkling of the dried fruit, followed by 6 slices of buttered bread cut into triangles and arranged in an almost standing overlapping fashion. I sprinkled on the remaining fruit, poured the sieved custard over it and left it to soak for 30 minutes before sprinkling with a spoon of sugar and baking in a 180° non-fan oven for about 40 minutes but check after 30 minutes. The custard should have set but still have a nice wobble.
It’s delicious! Soft, fragrant, comforting and not overly sweet, so good! Mr K has requested it again topped with a coating of homemade marmalade. Yum Yum!
Issue 7 of Pom Pom Quarterly magazine dropped through the letterbox last week full of beautiful wintery projects:
It’s my first issue as Tech Editor meaning I had the privilege of getting a head start on making a few of the projects! First onto my hook was the beautiful Vintage Bullion Scarf by Marie Segares.
I was intrigued by the textural bullion stitch which I hadn’t seen before and worked in a chunky yarn it gives a lovely bounce and squish to the fabric. The yarn, which I’ve had in deep stash for an age, is discontinued Polar by Rowan, a blend of 60% wool, 30% alpaca, 10% acrylic which means there is a soft halo but good stitch definition and is a very similar yardage to the Quince & Co. Puffin used in the original sample. I couldn’t find a 6.5mm hook in my collection and being the impatient soul that I am ploughed on with a 6mm hook instead. The squares have blocked out slightly smaller at 12cm but that’s fine with me.
There is a little more fringing than suggested as I got carried away with the tassles! I love it and the colour is just perfect for almost Sister-in-Law who will find this in her Christmas stocking.
It’s the perfect project for curling up on the sofa with during an autumnal weekend and cable cable cable to your hearts content.
I was more than pleasantly surprised by the TOFT yarn. I’m generally not a fan of alpaca as I find it too drapey but this has been spun in a way that gives the fibres a lot of structure to the point where it behaves very similarly to pure wool…so clever! The alpaca bunny tail pom pom tops it off perfectly and the temperature has dropped just enough for me to wear it without completely overheating!
There are 8 more gorgeous projects in the magazine so I’m slightly spoilt for choice as to what I will make next…might have to Eeney, Meeney, Miney, Mo and stick a pin in to choose something!
Pom Pom Quarterly issue 7 is available now from all excellent LYS’s or you you can order a print copy with bonus electronic download code direct from the Pom Pom website. If you prefer a straightforward digital copy well that’s fine too! Oh, and don’t forget the Pom Pom Christmas party on Friday 6th December…hope to see some of you there!