Welcome to Life Images by Jill

Welcome to Life Images by Jill.........Stepping into the light and bringing together the images and stories of our world.
I am a photographer, writer and multi-media artist. Through my blog I am
seeking to preserve images and memories of the beautiful world in which we live and the people in it.



Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas baking while it's baking hot in Australia!

Hi everyone and welcome to my 2013 Christmas baking edition.  

While the far northern hemisphere enjoys a white Christmas we here in Australia swelter in the heat. But true to our European backgrounds we still bake the traditional goodies for Christmas - well some of us do anyway! 
I set last Monday aside for my Christmas baking. It really wasn't the weather for it (in the high 30sC), but Monday is my day off work, so it had to be done, heat or no heat. So I turned on the aircon and the overhead fan, put some cds in the player, and got to work. 

First off a new recipe for pear tarts which I saw in a Christmas magazine and wanted to try out. It is a fairly simple and easy recipe made with a base of bought puff pastry. While not technically for "Christmas cooking" we were going to our street "Christmas party" so I thought these would be something a bit different.

First you need pears - I used a pear variety which has a golden brown skin. 

Please click on "read more" to keep reading and see more Christmas baking!.... 

Heat oven and tray to 200C fan-forced or 220C conventional. Combine 60g butter, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 egg yolk, 2 tblspn flour, 1/2 cup ground almonds, and 1 tblspn finely chopped glace ginger. Put one sheet of puff pastry sheet on a piece of baking paper and spread the mixture over the pastry leaving a small border around the edge. (I found the mixture was enough for one and 2/3 sheets).
Cut pears into quarters, remove core and thinly slice (don't peel). Arrange pear slices in groups of threes over the pastry. (I brushed the pears with a little melted butter and sprinkled over a little brown sugar). Lift the tart and the pastry onto the hot tray and bake 15-18 minutes until puffed and golden. Dust with icing sugar and cut into squares. 

I have a new oven, which I am struggling with a bit. For some reason the bottom of the pastry didn't crisp up in the oven. A friend suggested cooking the pastry for a short time before adding the topping, but I have just seen in the recipe that I should heat the tray in the oven first - so perhaps that would help. Hint: read the recipe properly!

Next fruit mince pies. I have been making these for years...BUT...this year they didn't turn out as well as I had hoped. I think it was just too hot for pastry making as the pastry was sticky and then turned crumbly. And the fruit mince! Well the brand that I have been buying for years I will never bother with again. You would be hard pressed to find any actual pieces of fruit in it! so I tossed in a few sultanas to add some body. 
Here are some pics - as you can see those pies won't be winning any cooking prizes. Can you see the icecream melting on the plate?

Next year I am definitely going to be trying Liz's recipe from her Red Bistro blog - you can see her recipe and explore Liz's fantastic food blog by clicking here - The Red Bistro 

And the winner is! Mini Christmas Puddings. Honestly this recipe is so easy and so yummy!

All you need is 1x800gm fruit cake (any plain wrap supermarket brand is fine), 180gm dark chocolate - or use a mixture of light and dark chocolate, 1/4 cup brandy (or substitute with orange juice), white chocolate bits and glace cherries to decorate (or you could use jelly fruit lollies).

Crumble the cake, melt the chocolate, and mix with the cake, and add the brandy. Mix well and then form into balls with your hands. Place on a tray. Melt white chocolate bits and drizzle over the puddings. Use glace cherries cut to shape to decorate.
Tip - only pour white chocolate over a few at a time as it will set very quickly and you need to stick on the glace cherries before the chocolate sets.  Store in the fridge. 
They look delicious don't they all lined up in rows. 

I had fun experimenting with the self timer on my camera to get the top two pics you see below. You need to use a tripod and focus on the spot where you are going to be working. I was pretty happy with the results - and the puddings are so yummy!

After all that sweet stuff we need something savoury. So sausage rolls. These freeze well and then you can just take them out when needed. I just use bought puff pastry sheets. Much easier than trying to make pastry in the heat!  Not much styling in these shots. I had had enough cooking and standing in the kitchen by then!

 A couple of photo tips for you.  
All these shots were taken in my kitchen. I pulled up the blind to let in as much light as possible through my east facing window, and turned on the over bench lights. I used a tripod and remote shutter to steady the shots. The images of the little puddings and the pear tart were taken on my sink under the east facing window where there was nice light coming in diffused by the shade-cloth awning we have over this window (which keeps out some of the heat during summer).  

White balance - Have you ever thought the colour of your image was a little odd? The incorrect "white balance" setting could be the answer.
When using basic or "automatic" settings the camera makes the decision for you and uses Automatic White Balance - which does works fairly well.
However, if you are using manual settings please think about adjusting your white balance to match the available light.  It makes a huge difference to the "warmth" or "colour cast" of your images. A household, or tungsten light, has a orange cast, while fluorescent tubes produce a green or purple cast - and using the wrong white balance setting will affect the final image. 
As an experiment try the different white balance settings and see what the results are. It can make a huge difference as shown in the shots below. Even when photographing inside try "sun", "cloud" or "shade" and check the results. However in situations where you have to take shots quickly or are moving through changing light, Automatic White Balance may be the best option. If you are shooting in RAW, white balance can be fine tuned during processing. 

Thanks for taking the time to stop by.
I hope you have enjoyed my Christmas baking. Do you have a favorite Christmas recipe that you make every year? I look forward to hearing from you and appreciate every comment. 

Update - and finally some Christmas gingerbread I made today, 23 December - Our grandsons came to play today - we made gingerbread biscuits - if I didn't have my hands so full helping two of them make biscuits I might have got a better pic of the making! They also decorated the little brown paper bags we put the biscuits in for them to take home.
Darling 5 year old Grandson #2 said to me while we were making the biscuits - "grandma you are so lovely" - oh such precious words went straight to my heart xx 

 Have a safe and happy Christmas filled with sunshine, smiles, hugs, family, friends, good times and precious memories.

You might also enjoy
Christmas wishes from Australia
The trees are blooming for Christmas
Poppy seed cake 

I am linking up to Mosaic Monday, Our World Tuesday, Wednesday Around the World, Travel Photo Thursday, What's It Wednesday, and Oh the Places I've Been. Please click on the links to see fabulous contributions from around the world - virtual touring at its best!

Mosaic Monday
Our World Tuesday
Wednesday Around the World  
What's It Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
 Oh The Places I've Been



  1. Wow Jill you have been so busy and have made me feel super feeble. Love your mini cakes they look divine, so Chrissmassy, and the sausage rolls are something we always enjoy with Christmas drinks. Thanks for the great photo tips too :)

  2. OH wow thank you for the white balance suggestion on the food photography, Jill! I'm a novice photographer with a nice Canon and really nice 60MM Macro lens. So, I've really been trying to learn how to use the (horrible) lighting I have in my kitchen and on my table. I've tried using a "white board" next to it to bounce light back and that has helped. But, I will be trying your suggestions! You rock. Now, to your post with your amazing shots. Gawd, I aspire to take food photos (and photos in general) like you do! But, can you please mail me a box of those sausage rolls!! Loved this post and thank you again. Merry Christmas to all of you! From Mike and Phoenix :)

    1. thanks Mike for your comments. I am always chasing the light around my place, as the light changes throughout the day. The light on my patio which is generally lovely in the morning is much to harsh in summer, but I have found my kitchen window light diffused worked really well the other day. I know nothing about stobes/lighting set ups, so natural light is my focus. I virtually never photograph food in the evenings under the kitchen lights.
      Thanks Mike for your support over the year.

  3. Jill, everything you made looks delicious. I especially love the look of the Pear tarts. Your food photos are just awesome. Thanks for sharing, I hope you stay cool.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family! I Wish you and yours all the best in 2014!

  4. It all looks so yummy! I would LOVE to try celebrating a summer Christmas at least once. To me it sounds so exotic. ;)

    1. not so exotic in the sweltering summer heat when you are trying to cook a Christmas dinner. And then we just tend to collapse on the lounge for the afternoon because it is too hot to bother going outside! I myself, would like to experience a white Christmas one day.

  5. What a busy baking day you had. I have always baked mince tarts on the day before Christmas but this year I think I will buy them. Nothing would spoil the look of a good baking like the wrong light balance. Your photos look great. Merry Christmas. Valerie

  6. You were very busy baking all those treats in one day and they look so yummy. Have a very Merry Christmas. Jen

  7. Your baking looks delicious. Great photography. I love the pear tart idea. So yummy sounding. I do a lot of baking at this time of year - sweet and savory. I'd love to try the sausage rolls, too. With puff pastry from the freezer, they sound quite doable.

    Thanks for the info on the white balance. I usually shoot in automatic scene mode, but am experimenting a little with shutter speed. I'll check the white balance and see what difference it might make.

    1. Thanks Lorrie. Yes the pear tarts were really nice, and are something you can serve for afternoon tea.
      I am glad you found the little photo tips helpful. Experiment and see what you come up with.

  8. I enjoyed the sweet and savoury offerings you've baked and shared for the holiday. I have a fluted round cutter exactly like yours that was my mother's. It's nice for a change from round cutouts.
    Merry Christmas.

    1. Thanks Judith. This cutter belonged to my mother-in-law, so probably the same vintage as yours!

  9. Thanks for the photo tips at the end. I really need to work on my food photography as it's usually not all that good. My Malaysian kitchen is usually too hot to do any pastries at all.

  10. Your food photos are out of this world...ready for publication if you ask me. You make the pear tart look absolutely yummy. Your is the finest food photography I have ever seen. Kudos to you. Merry Christmas. genie

  11. I want to taste them all! The puddings are works of art.
    Merry Christmas!

  12. Wow..I could dive into the page and have some of these delicious food..SO yummy looking..

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  13. How delicious. I love those mini Christmas puds! Wishing you a delicious Christmas!

  14. I admire your grit. Cooking in those temperatures must be a nightmare. Love the miniature Christmas puddings or 'puddinis'. Fortunately both my kids love baking so I leave it all to them now. Have a fabulous Christmas.

  15. Look delicious..humm..
    。❊ * 。❊ 。 ❊ _█_ ❊ 。 * ❊
    _Π_____ (•.•) * 5☆★☆★☆
    ❊ /______/~\ ( ♥ ) ❊ MERRY CHRISTMAS ❊
    |田 田 |門| ( ♥ ) HAPPY DAY❊

  16. Happy Holidays! Wonderfull cooking!

  17. Thanks for the food tips and recipes


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