Not perhaps as significant as the other 2 major highlights of the year which have impacted in a major way on all of us, but as a personal highlight, it ranks pretty highly (and who am I kidding, the mob are pretty chuffed that these are now no longer a dessert dream, but a very real pudding possibility).
Another major milestone was my parents' celebrating a milestone birthday in March, which saw all of us (my parents, me, my brothers, our spouses, children and Fred the dog) gathered at a rather luxurious barn conversion outside Bristol for a long weekend. Significant in itself that we were all together in the same place which is at best an annual event these days, it was lovely to spend time with my parents and brothers, all of whom I love very much and don't see enough of, and to see the cousins getting on so well. It was also endlessly entertaining watching Fred the dog do his best to catch one of the Koi carp that floated langorously in a pool outside...
The barn had the most amazing kitchen with the most enormous AGA I've ever seen - I suspect you really needed a licence to drive it - and plenty of gadetry, but astonishingly hardly anything to actually cook with or on, pans and tins-wise. We who had elected to cater had to be inventive. My contribution to proceedings was a massive Sunday roast, with one of my brothers knocking up dessert.
And knock up he did - profiteroles, just like that. Choux pastry made with no scales or anything. As far as I could work out he just did it by eye - and this from the bloke who's spent a significant part of his adult life mapping jungles in Africa (or something). To say the man has hidden talents would be an understatement.
And while I was, as you'll understand, delighted not to have had to make a pudding, having slaved over roast pork for 12, that little corner of my soul reserved for sibling rivalry that we all like to pretend doesn't exist now we're all grown ups and can put the the irritants of childhood behind us (yeah, right), was definitely awakened, agitated, and up for the challenge.
Or not - because at least once a week since Easter, I have thought to myself, right, choux pastry. And then thought - may be not, After all, it's quite decadent once you fill everything with cream. And the leftovers will only get left in the fridge and I'll just eat them. And we're busy this weekend... Nervous? Afraid of failure? Too worried about whether I'd be unable to better (or frankly, even equal) the brother's efforts? You bet. Sibling rivalry sucks...
But no longer, I have broken by choux pastry duck thanks to the magic of Vicky North and her nascent Vic North Cookery School (runner up in the Best New Cookery School of 2014, doncha know?!) nestled in the beautiful North Pembrokeshire countryside not very far from here. A day of pastry included sweet, savoury, puff and choux. Inspiring and practical, I am no longer scared of making pastry, and am now fully equipped to make profiteroles, much to the delight of my family.
These are filled with a mixture of the orange curd I made the other day and softly whipped cream and topped with the most divine chocolate 'ganache' which is not ganache at all in the conventional way, but made with coconut oil, cocoa and honey. A complete revelation. You should try it.
And in a break from tradition, I made sure everything was ready before I began. Another revelation...
Chocolate orange profiteroles
125g plain flour,
225g water (yes - weigh it!)
60g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
300ml double cream
jar of orange curd (or whatever you fancy - or not at all)
60g runny honey
30g coconut oil, melted
pinch of salt
Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, and put the water, butter and salt into a pan.
Put your eggs by your mixer, K beater/paddle attachment fitted, and get a piping bag ready with a large nozzle.
Line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof paper - I usually secure it with clothes pegs for the piping part but remember to whip them off before putting them in the oven.
Ready to go?
Bring the water butter & salt to the boil.
Tip the flour into the boiling water, reduce the heat and beat the mixture as vigorously as you can with a wooden spoon for 4 minutes. It's a killer, but worth it.
When the mixture is glossy and comes away from the sides of the pan, tip it into the mixer bowl and beat for a minute.
Keep the beater running then add the eggs one at a time. You may not need all of them - keep an eye on the mixture. You're aiming for a smooth glossy mix that will hold its shape when being piped.
Dollop this into your piping bag and do the thing. I'm no expert piper - you could also dollop the mixture out using spoons I think. Leave space between your mounds of paste to allow for rising during baking.
Bake for 15-20 minutes till puffed up and golden. When the buns come out of the oven, immediately make a small slit in each one to let out the steam and stop your buns going soggy.
Leave to cool.
Whisk the cream up with half a jar of orange curd if using and pipe that into the buns - easier said then done - I made a bit of a mess if we're honest, but the cream tastes darn good, and really is anyone going to mind??
Mix together the honey, coconut oil and cocoa, and working quickly, smear on the buns and chill till required.
So it just remains for me to wish you all Happy New Year. Thanks for following my blog this year - looking forward to 2015. xxx