It is so ridiculously easy to cook rice in an Aga that I thought I’d tell you how I do it, in case you haven’t discovered this method. It’s the absorption method; nothing new there, you might say, but doing it in the Aga simmering oven takes simplicity to a whole new level. I discovered it in the original Mary Berry “The Aga Book” (now out of print) which came with my brand new Aga twelve years ago. I still use this book a great deal but some of the recipes are somewhat dated and I suspect that nowadays new owners get her updated “The Complete Aga Cookbook”, which also includes the rice instructions.
Once you have learnt how to cook rice this way, you will not look back. I always use basmati and my favourite brand is Tilda but this method is for any long grain rice.
For 4 servings
- 225g/8oz white basmati rice
- 350ml/12 fl oz water
- 225/8oz brown basmati rice
- 420ml/14 fl oz water
- Wash the rice by rinsing it in a few changes of water until the water runs clear
- Tip the rice into a saucepan with the water and 1 tsp salt
- Bring to the boil on the boiling plate
- Give it a single stir, put the lid on and place in the simmering oven for about 20 minutes (for white) and 40-45 minutes (for brown) until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, but in both cases it will not come to any harm if left in the simmering oven for twice as long
- Fork through the rice before serving
It’s that time of year again. I always resist the commercial pressure to start Christmas shopping in September. It infuriates me that Christmas cards and decorations start appearing in the shops in August, throwing everyone into panic, and the more I’m urged to prepare, the less inclined I am to do so. Oh, and no mince pies are allowed in my house until December. But there are some things which it has always been necessary to do a few weeks or months ahead of the event and one of those is baking the Christmas cake. The same goes for the pudding but I must be honest and say I do not always make my own pudding. I’ve found there are excellent ones you can buy. For the last two years I’ve bought a pudding from Bertinet’s in Bath and they’ve gone down well with my family. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do about pudding this year; I might try Richard Bertinet’s recipe which is to be found online here. But the Christmas cake has to be homemade and I am always happy to set aside the time to make it.
Since owning my Aga I’ve used the Mary Berry Christmas cake recipe in The Aga Book. It’s delicious and I see no reason to change. She gives quantities for many different cake sizes, square and round. My usual size is the 10″/25cm round cake and that is what I have made this year. As with all fruit cakes, it is best when baked slowly in the simmering oven. I made mine in the afternoon and it was happy to wait in the tin and be placed in the oven at bedtime. This year it took nine hours and last year ten. Am not sure why the timings were different but it’s nothing to worry about.
Here’s the recipe for those of you who haven’t got The Aga Book.
Mary Berry’s Aga Christmas Cake (with a few modifications by me)
You will need a 10″/25cm loose bottomed or springform sturdy cake tin, greased and the base and sides lined (I used bake-o-glide)
- 675g currants
- 450g sultanas
- 225g raisins
- 450g glacé cherries
- Grated zest of 2 oranges
- 300ml sherry (I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream)
- 350g butter, softened
- 350g dark brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 100g self-raising flour
- 225 plain flour
- 100g blanched, chopped almonds
- 2 tbsp black treacle
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice
- Rinse, dry and quarter the cherries
- Put all the fruit and orange zest in a container, pour over the sherry and give it a stir
- Cover with a lid or a couple of layers of tightly sealed clingfilm and leave to soak for 3 days, stirring daily
- Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and chopped almonds into a mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid) and beat well
- Add the flours and spice and mix thoroughly until blended
- Stir in the soaked fruit and sherry
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level out evenly
- Bake in the simmering oven for about 9 hours, but keep an eye on it at the 8 hour point. It is done when a warm skewer comes out clean
- Leave to cool in the tin then turn it out, feed it (see below) and wrap it. I like using parchment lined foil for this (from Lakeland)
On a weekly basis from now on you are going to need to feed your cake: take a darning needle and pierce the cake all over, top and bottom; drizzle over a couple of teaspoons of sherry, let it sink in and then turn the cake over and do the same on the other side. Then wrap the cake and place it inside a (large!) airtight container.
About a week before Christmas I ice my cake with marzipan. I usually buy it but have been known to make my own: homemade is definitely better but sometimes I go for the quicker option. Once the almond icing has dried out, after a few days, I place the final layer of icing on my cake; invariably on Christmas Eve. For this I use ready-to-roll fondant icing. I do not make my own.
My husband took photos and I added captions to some to indicate the different stages.
First soak your fruit for three days
Grease and line your tin
In your bowl put butter…
Add flours, mixed spice and mix
and black treacle
until it looks like this
Fold in the fruit…
Turn mixture into your prepared tin
It’s done. Leave to cool
Turn it out and place on foil like this
Pierce all over
Feed then wrap
And finally the finished cake, which we first sliced into on 28 December:
I believe it’s still the case that when you take delivery of a brand new Aga, you also receive (for free!) a copy of “The Aga Book” written centuries ago (only joking) by the now, thanks to the Great British Bake-Off, incredibly famous Mary Berry. My own copy of this book is still in regular use. In addition to recipes, it explains how the Aga works and there are lots of helpful tips about cooking in an Aga. I could not have done without this book in the early days.
I don’t think Mary would mind me saying that the recipes are a little old-fashioned now because this must be partly why she, her assistant, Lucy Young, and Aga have published a new, updated book. There’s still a section on how to get the most out of your Aga but now it includes all the new models which have been introduced in recent years. Some of the original recipes are there (all good basics) but also plenty of more modern ones, like Nasi Goreng and various pasta dishes. Can you believe the original book has NO pasta in it?
My boys gave me this book for Christmas and on Saturday I made a scrumptious shepherd’s pie from it. The lamb was cooked with a little port and redcurrant jelly and the mash topping was a mixture of potato and celeriac. (Note to self: if you make it again, add some garlic to the mash.)