Archive for November, 2013


I know what you’re thinking: “Potato candy? I’ll pass!” That’s what just about everyone says when they encounter this little slice of sweetness. And those who are too cowardly to take a taste end up missing out on a fantastic, unique candy with almost no perceptible taste of potato. I know this because I was almost one of those people. When I was little I hated mashed potatoes. It was a texture thing. I loved french fries, which are basically mashed potatoes with a crunchy exterior. But I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that. How could my beloved french fries be akin to something so squishy and bland? Having that aversion to mashed potatoes, I was horrified upon being offered a piece of “mashed potato” candy by a relative when I was about 7. I remember thinking “How could someone ruin candy with mashed potatoes?!” I was convinced it was a trick to get me to eat something I didn’t like. I was rather a conspiracy theorist, even then. But there it sat on the tray in the kitchen… sweet looking with a beautiful ribbon of peanut butter in the center… “Hmmm…” I thought. “Peanut butter is my favorite food… maybe just a tiny taste and if I hate it I can spit it into the trash…” I would like to say that was a life changing moment for me. That it was a lesson in being bold in trying new foods. It definitely was not. I learned no such painfully obvious lesson. I remained resolutely picky for several more years. BUT I took a piece of that candy and, ready to cause a scene and run to the trash can to perform my most dramatic spitting-out yet, took a small bite. There was no scene. Only knowing smiles from the relatives standing closest to me. The candy was amazing! Incredibly sweet and rich and peanut butter-y with only the merest hint of potato- certainly not enough for an incredibly picky 7 year old to pick out and reject. I ate several pieces that holiday, proving that there really isn’t such a thing as “too rich” for me.

Sadly, I’ve had potato candy only once since then. I was a bit hesitant to try it because I was older and knew from experience that things one loved as a child have a tendency to be awful when tried with more mature taste buds. But I was pleasantly surprised- the candy was still wonderful that second time! So when I made dinner the other night- slow simmered beef stew served in hollowed out baked potatoes (“baked” in the slow cooker)- I didn’t know what I was going to do with the small amount of potato left over from the 4 potatoes I used. Then it hit me: potato candy! I immediately texted my BFF with my idea and found she had never heard of such a thing but was very intrigued so I should blog it. I took her advice (she’s a very wise woman, after all) and here we are. Hopefully you will be as curious!

I’ve studied all the recipes I can find and they are all pretty much the same- and incredibly basic. All you need is almost definitely already in your pantry and fridge.

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If you want your candy to keep a bright whiteness you will need clear vanilla, available in the baking aisle. As vanilla beans are almost black and exude a brown color when soaked, I don’t trust clear vanilla. It’s fake. I don’t like fake. And, honestly, there’s something I find a tad unsettling about stark white potato candy. So I use regular vanilla and it ends up off white- I’m ok with that.

As I said, you only need a small amount of potato for this. But it needs to be just plain potato. As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, I always use chicken broth when I make mashed potatoes and that won’t work here. Then you’d have chicken-y potato candy and that would just be too weird. So make sure you have PLAIN potatoes (from a baked potato would be ideal) and make sure they are room temperature- they will be easier to incorporate that way. Put them in a bowl along with the vanilla, salt, and the lesser amounts of the milk and powdered sugar. Start stirring with a spoon, not your hands because it will be gloopy. Once everything is mixed together add another cup of powdered sugar and start mixing with your hands. I used 5 cups when I made mine and that was enough. The dough should be soft but not sticky. If your dough is still a little too sticky add more powdered sugar by the 1/4 cupful until it’s not sticky anymore. If you get the dough a little too dry, add more milk by the teaspoonful until it’s at the right consistency. You want something like this:

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You don’t have to worry about getting it completely mixed in the bowl. It’s actually easier if you turn the contents of the bowl out onto a countertop that has been dusted with powdered sugar (NOT flour!) and then work it into a smooth ball of dough. Knead it just like bread dough for a about a minute to get all of the sugar mixed in and you will end up with a beautifully smooth dough…

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If you’ll notice, this is not a ball. It’s more an oblong blob of dough. This is for very good reason, actually. If you roll the dough into a ball it will form a circle when you roll it out. Some of the recipes I found called for rolling the dough into a circle and then cutting the edges off to form a rectangle. That just seemed completely ridiculous to me. Why on Earth would you roll it into a circle, then cut edges off and waste them when you can just roll it into a rectangle to begin with?! So I made the dough into an oblong shape, coated my rolling pin and the surface of the dough with a bit of powdered sugar, and started rolling. I didn’t end up with a perfect rectangle, but I was close…

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It’s close enough for my purposes, anyway. You will need to keep the rolling pin and the surface of the dough coated with a little powdered sugar so things don’t stick. And if you get a tear, just pinch it back together. You can see where I had to do that at the bottom edge. It’s a really easy fix!

Once you have the dough rolled out to about 1/4 inch, spread your peanut butter. I have an amount listed below in the recipe but this is approximate. I don’t measure the peanut butter, I just keep spreading it on until I have a very thin layer. Don’t go overboard- that will just make it hard to roll.  Here’s how mine looked:

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Now comes the tricky part: rolling this up. Start at the edge farthest from you and roll towards you. Go slowly! You will probably need to scrape the dough up from the counter in a few spots as you go and the edges may be a bit crumbly. Just go slowly and be patient and you will, indeed, get a cinnamon roll-style log of peanut butter filled candy dough. Now take a sharp knife, cut the ends off… and share them with whomever is nearest. Seriously! That’s why I wasn’t worried about getting a perfectly neat rectangle. I just cut the unsightly ends off and share them with whomever is closest at hand. That way there’s no waste! As for the rest of the log, cut it into slices no thicker than half an inch and either plate it up or put it into an airtight container. If you put it on a plate, wrap it well in plastic wrap. If you put it in a container and have to have layers, put plastic wrap between said layers.

Once you slice and arrange the pieces you will have what looks like minature cinnamon rolls, ready to be baked:

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These are a little rough and not exactly perfect but it’s also my first try… well, ever. I’ll get it a little cleaner next time. But even if they aren’t the prettiest they are SO tasty! These would be beautiful alongside your other candies on a platter at your Christmas shindig. Maybe they’ll inspire you to dig out the old time cookbooks and make some other classic candies for the Holidays! It’s definitely got me thinking now! We’ll see if any other old school ideas catch my fancy! 🙂

  • Difficulty: intermediate
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The Recipe:

1/3 C Mashed Potato, room temperature
1-2 T Milk (I used only 1 T)
1 t Vanilla
Large Pinch Salt
4-6 C Powdered Sugar
4-6 T Creamy Peanut Butter

The Method:

*In a large bowl, combine mashed potatoes, salt, vanilla, and the lesser amounts of powdered sugar and milk.

*Mix with a spoon until well combined.

*Add 1 C more of powdered sugar and begin working the dough together with your hands until everything is combined and the dough is no longer sticky.

*If needed, add more powdered sugar by 1/4 cupfuls until the dough is the required consistency.

*If the dough gets too dry (crumbly) add more milk by teaspoonfuls until the proper consistency is reached.

*Dust the counter top liberally with powdered sugar and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough until it is smooth and not sticky at all; about 1-2 minutes.

*Pat into a rough oblong shape.

*Coat the surface of the dough and a rolling pin with a thin layer of powdered sugar and roll the dough into the rough shape of a rectangle, rolling until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick.

*Spread with a layer of peanut butter (I would say I used the larger amount listed above, maybe a tiny bit more).

*Start at the long side farthest from you and roll the dough up cinnamon roll-style, rolling it towards you.

*With a sharp knife, trim up the edges (read: eat the ugly bits!) and cut the roll into slices no thicker than 1/2 an inch.

*Place on a platter and wrap well with plastic wrap or put in an airtight container with plastic between the layers.

*Keep up to 4 days.

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Something rather upsetting happened last night: fruit flies became VERY interested in our Christmas Pudding 😦 We took it down from it’s happy hanging place and put it in the fridge. We still have high hopes for enjoying it after our Christmas feast and I will still follow up with that post to let you all know how it turned out.

We are definitely disappointed that we had to put the pudding in the refrigerator. Not so much because we don’t want cold pudding, but because this was also an experiment in keeping food in the Victorian way. I know what some of you are thinking: “That’s why they invented refrigerators. Duh!” My husband & I are trying to move away from things like microwaves, refrigerators, ranges, and- well, electricity in general. Our goal is to start putting food by in it’s most nutritional form which DOES NOT include refrigerators. Refrigerators are actually very bad for food- that’s why they have to be so cold. Fridges create a very damp environment, which bacteria like and is why they have to make the internal temperature so cold. And the cold temperature diminishes the nutrient content as well as the flavor of foods. Traditional pantries, cold pits, and root cellars are actually MUCH better places to store food and that is what we are working towards. That is why this was so disappointing.

But we think we’ve also found a solution for next time: another flour sack towel. Yep. It’s that simple. All we should have to do is wrap the pudding in another clean, dry flour sack towel and then hang it. Problem should be solved! But for now, we’ll keep the pudding in the fridge and see how it turns out.

First off, it came to my attention from my dearest friend that the links in the previous post were not working. I corrected the problem and they work a treat now!

So! Here we go! I’ve been very excited to try this recipe- I hope it works out! This is a bit of a plunge for me because this will be the first recipe I’ve ever posted that I haven’t tried first and therefor have no guarantee of success. I have to admit that I am the type of person who doesn’t do what I’m not certain I’m good at. This affects my life in lots of ways, one of them being a certain amount of perfectionism. My cooking doesn’t have to come out looking like food porn, but it does have to come out tasting how I wanted it to. The dish has to WORK. If it doesn’t I usually get somewhat mad then get back to the drawing board. I certainly don’t post about a dish before I actually try it. What if it doesn’t work?! But I really wanted to try this recipe and I really wanted to share it for this Christmas. And to do that I have to get over my various neuroses and post it as what it is; an experiment. A long, drawn out experiment. This will be sitting in my pantry until Christmas night- just like the Victorians would have done it, with no refrigeration, for almost 7 weeks. There was just something about doing it this way that was… intriguing. Yes; I’m nervous about it, but it’s also fun!

If you’re familiar at all with Victorian recipes then you know that sometimes they can call for some pretty interesting things that aren’t really widely available anymore. Things like whole pheasants, tincture of ginger, and apple marmalade, to name a few. But, as you can see below, the ingredients for this very traditional pudding are rather mundane. You more than likely have most of them in your kitchen right now. The exceptions being the suet and possibly some of the fruits. I don’t usually keep dates on hand. We really like them but our desire for them goes in cycles so I usually buy them when I need them for something and we enjoy the leftovers. Use whatever fruits you like. You want to actually enjoy this when it’s done. If you don’t like raisins, don’t use them. You can use whatever dried fruit you enjoy- go traditional or contemporary. It’s up to you! A note on the bread: this is what was recommended on another blog with a recipe for Christmas pudding. You need fresh breadcrumbs- not canned- and this bread has a very good texture for making fresh crumbs.

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To make the above mentioned breadcrumbs, simply lay the needed number of slices out on a cookie cooling rack overnight. We live in a somewhat dry climate, so they bread slices were nicely dried after about 8 hours. I needed 8 ounces of bread crumbs, so I weighed about 10 ounces of bread to make sure I still had enough after the bread lost some weight due to moisture loss. I was just about spot on in the end. After I got the kids fed & the girls on the bus I got out my box grater and grated the bread slices on the side that finely shreds cheese. It worked perfectly!

Speaking of the grater, I used that for the suet too- only the larger cheese grating holes this time. You can usually get suet from the butcher counter at the grocery store- that’s what they use to add fat to the fresh ground beef they do every day. Let the butcher know that you are using the suet for a dessert so the fewer meat scraps on it, the better. Get a few more ounces than what is called for in the recipe because there is a membrane on the suet that doesn’t grate well. That means there will be bits that you can’t use so you need a little extra to make up for it. This was a messy job but it went pretty quickly.

You can zest the lemon on the box grater too. You can use the “burr” side that is impossible to clean effectively, or you can use the fine cheese grating holes and still come up with perfect zest. You want only the yellow part, of course, as the pith underneath is bitter. Don’t have an immediate use for the lemon juice? No problem…

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Wrap the whole lemon in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for later. I’ll be making my husband a big batch of iced tea tomorrow so this will get used quickly. If I wasn’t going to use it in the next few days I would squeeze the juice and freeze it.

Now the only thing left to prep is the dates if you’re using them. You could cut them into little pieces with a knife. But it’s sticky & messy & I don’t recommend it. I use a pair of kitchen shears to cut them into small pieces. If you don’t have kitchen shears I highly recommend getting a pair. There are SO many things that are made easier with shears! You’ll find new uses all the time!

So you’ve grated, zested, and chopped; now you just combine it all. I used cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg as the spices but feel free to use what you like, just like with the fruit. Put all of the dry ingredients in a big bowl & stir together. This step made me nervous. Here’s why:

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That’s A LOT of fruit for just a little bit of flour & breadcrumbs. I mean, I know this is supposed to be a dessert that goes to excess with “luxury” items like raisins & spices but that’s ALOT of fruit. The next step didn’t help the anxiety much. Now you add the wet ingredients…

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THAT’S A LOT OF FRUIT! I was worried this wouldn’t work. I was picturing a crumbly mess of fruit and dabs of cake here & there on Christmas evening after dinner. But I forged ahead. This was how the recipe said to do it and it worked for millions of Victorians before me.

You will need a flour sack towel for this recipe. You can’t get around it. I have several because I find them indispensable for just about everything but drying dishes. Wet the towel and then wring it out as much as you can. Spread it out on a table so that it’s completely flat. Take a small handful of flour and start spreading it in a thin layer on the damp towel. Like so:

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You don’t need a lot of flour. What you’re doing is making the layer that will seal the cake in and enable you to keep it unrefrigerated for several weeks (up to 3 months says the website, but I have heard about them being kept much longer) as well as keep the water out during the boiling process. Now put the batter in the middle of the flour thusly:

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Try to ball everything up in the middle and then bring all of the edges of the towel together and secure with kitchen twine (also incredibly useful in the kitchen & around the house. If you don’t have any, get some!). Pull the twine and tie it as tightly as you can manage- you don’t water to get in through the top.

Now you just drop this into your pot of water…

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I suppose I should have mentioned that you need a HUGE pot of water for this, like the one above. I’m using my 20 quart stock pot, 3/4 full, along with the rack from my pressure canner. The rack ensures the cake doesn’t come to rest on the bottom in the event of your water level going down too far. Keep some water hot in a kettle or another pot so that you can top up the boiling water every now and then.

I made a half batch of Christmas pudding and it took about 4 hours to get it cooked through. I was worried for awhile because I had no idea how to figure out how this thing was going to be done! I couldn’t stick a skewer into it or open up the cloth because I would break the flour seal I put on the towel and I wouldn’t be able to keep it without refrigeration. So I had to check on it often and pick it up out of the water (with tongs!) and poke at it a bit every now & then. At the 3 & 1/2 hour mark it started smelling wonderful- nice and spicy with a hint of the fruitcake peel & fruit mix I used- and when I poked it with my finger there was definite resistance. I let it go the final half an hour & checked it again. This time it sprang back when I poked it. I decided to call it done. So I put it in a strainer over a bowl & let the excess towel cool down enough to touch. My husband wrung the water out of the excess towel at the top while I made a place for the drip bowl downstairs in the pantry. Here is the sight that welcomes us upon going down to our space in the basement:

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This isn’t quite as dark a place to put it  as I had wanted but it will have to do. I’ll keep the drip bowl under it until the towel is dry. Beyond that all I have to do is watch for mold & bugs. Hopefully there won’t be any of either and we will enjoy a wonderful Victorian treat for dessert Christmas night! I’m so excited- I can’t wait to try it!

The Recipe: Please note that this makes a HUGE batch- enough for 10-12 people. I halved the amounts show here. 

1 lb Beef Suet

8oz Flour
8oz Fresh Breadcrumbs (Bought bread crumbs can be used but the quality will suffer.)
8oz Sugar
1lb Raisins, Light or Dark (I used Golden)
1lb Dates
2 tsp Mixed Spice (I used cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger)
4oz Candied Peel, chopped (I couldn’t find candied peel at the store and didn’t have time to make any so I used a store bought fruitcake mix that has candied peel in it. You can leave this out. You could also substitute chopped nuts.)
Pinch Salt
1 Lemon, rind only (I halved the recipe but used the whole lemon rind anyway since I didn’t have the candied peel.)
8 Eggs, beaten
10½fl oz Brandy (I used Spiced Dark Rum because that’s what we like.)

The Method:

*Put a LARGE stockpot on to boil. You need a pot large enough to make sure the pudding floats and is completely covered the entire cooking time.

*Shred the suet, set aside. This can be done ahead of time & stored in the fridge.

*Wash & dry the grater.

*Grate the breadcrumbs, set aside.

*Zest the lemon, set zest aside and deal with the lemon- don’t waste it!

*Measure out the rest of the ingredients.

*Mix dry ingredients well.

*Add the wet ingredients, mix VERY well. Make sure all of the dry ingredients are incorporated and no dry breadcrumbs remain.

*Wet a clean flour sack towel that has not been treated with fabric softener. Wring the water out until the towel is damp.

*Spread towel out completely and rub a thin layer of flour into it.

*Dump the pudding batter onto the towel in the middle of the flour layer.

*Bring all the edges of the towel together and tie VERY tightly with kitchen twine, making sure that no water can get in through any gap in the top.

*Drop into pot of boiling water and boil, covered, 5-6 hours or until cooked through. (My halved recipe still took the full 4 hours)

*Drain, pat dry, and hang in a cool dark place.

*Check periodically for mold and pests. If either is present discard the pudding.

For those that don’t actually know me I must explain that I am a truly a dichotomy. I love technology and gadgets and there are a lot of things about modern life that I love. But I am also extremely old fashioned. I have a long list of time honored ways of doing things, I am well on my way to being a homesteader/self sufficient, and I believe the industrial revolution killed off a vast number of things that were right with society and life in general. Does that make me a hypocrite? In some ways I suppose it does. Do I particularly care? Not really. Things seem to be working out fairly well so far. Time will tell, I suppose.

So me being how I am, it’s only natural that I look to some thoroughly old fashioned traditions during the most tradition-rich time of year: Christmas. Last year I made a Yule Log cake, and it turned out beautifully.  The cake was incredibly tasty, I surprised even myself with how good it looked when decorated, and everyone loved it. Sadly, this year I am without an oven. This was a cause of distress because I, like most of the world, like to churn out a plethora of treats during Christmas time. I realized quickly that I would have to look to some different modes for treat-making this year. I will be making my family recipe for fudge, at least one other flavored fudge (there are so many it’s going to be hard to choose!), and a traditional British Plum, or Christmas, Pudding. This is a boiled dessert that is made several weeks- or even months- in advance. It is akin to fruitcake (as I’ve mentioned before, I have no problem with fruitcake) but is boiled instead of baked. The recipe I’m using is completely Victorian, meaning it has suet in it. I know perfectly well that this will turn people off of this dessert but it really isn’t as vile as everyone automatically assumes. Most people who are revolted at the thought of eating something with suet in it have never even tried. They’ve just been told for years that suet is disgusting so that’s what they believe. Give it a try before you turn your nose up at it. Or, if you’re really in the mood to be obstinate, you could make this recipe with butter. But it won’t turn out the same.

I got this recipe from the BBC TV show “Victorian Farm”. It’s one of our favorites and we watch it online fairly often. I took the recipe out of the book written to go along with the series, but you can also find it here if you’d like to check it out. I highly recommend at least checking out the link or possibly watching an episode. The link will take you to the page for “Victorian Farm Christmas”, which was a sequel to the original series. If you want to watch the original show, I would suggest trying here. The show is all about 3 historians who go to a Victorian era town (as in preserved in it’s Victorian state and the people who work there dress and act as Victorians) in England to renovate and live on a farm for a full calendar year as the Victorians would have done. It’s truly fascinating!

I will be making the pudding in the  coming week and will post the process next Wednesday. Please join me in what I hope will be a lasting Christmas tradition!