I remember with fondness the Christmases of my childhood… My grandmother would cook and bake the most fantastic food and the whole family would spend Christmas together, eating, laughing, exchanging gifts, squabbling over games of Scrabble and watching television. I distinctly remember watching The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Wizard of Oz MANY times over the years!
The culinary highlight was dinner on Christmas day, but in many ways what I always loved most was the tin of homemade treats that my grandmother had stored away for any unexpected guests who would arrive. Hidden in this tin were her mince pies made with homemade mincemeat and loads of her rich and buttery shortbread biscuits. I absolutely loved them! The tin had to be kept away from me because, in the face of such delicious temptation, I found it impossible to limit myself to just one pie or just one piece of shortbread! To this day, I always make a big batch of shortbread and also mince pies using my grandmother’s mincemeat recipe.
My grandmother also made her own cranberry sauce as an accompaniment for the traditional roast turkey. She used fresh cranberries and gently flavoured the sauce with some orange zest and although this was delicious, it never occurred to us to try using the cranberries in any other way. In recent years, I have experimented with cranberries quite a bit and have used them in a lot of my cooking and baking. They are quite sharp, so do need some sweetening, but don’t overdo it as you don’t want to mask their distinctive taste. I especially like popping them whole into cake and muffin batters and love the way that they burst as they bake to release their ruby red juices – they look so Christmassy!
I was delighted with how this traybake turned out… it is an easy recipe and when baked easily cut into slices/bars which are a great alternative to many of the richer bakes on offer at this time of year. The finished slices can be stored in an air-tight tin or container for up to 5 days.
Ingredients:450g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
225g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
225g butter, cubed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
115g caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Method:1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line a 30cm x 23cm shallow baking tin (I used a shallow roasting tray) with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the caster sugar and lemon zest. Mix together so that everything is evenly distributed.
3. Add the cubed butter and using the tips of your fingers, rub into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and water and using a fork mix everything together to form a soft dough.
4. Evenly press two-thirds of the dough onto the base of the prepared tin and set aside, reserving the remaining dough.
5. Mix all the ingredients for the filling together in a small bowl and then scatter over the dough lined tin. Take the reserved dough and break of little pieces and scatter evenly on top of the cranberries. There is no need to level or press the filling down.
6. Once you have used up all the dough, place the tin on a baking tray in the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 45 minutes until golden brown and the cranberries have started to pop and release their juices. Allow to cool in the tin and then cut into slices/bars and serve still slightly warm or at room temperature, dusted with a little icing sugar.
Makes 20-24 slices/bars.