Coming Home for Christmas – Is It Really That Time of Year Already?
The seasons are catching up with the weather. Night is drawing in, the first of the winter festivals is only two weeks away (with Guy Fawkes just around the corner after that) and then it’s time to break out the mince pies. Though with some supermarkets already piling them up by the tills (some for instance, have not one but two varieties of mince pie on offer), you might have overdosed before December comes…
There’s always a moment in the year when we wonder how much sooner the supermarkets are going to dare bring out the Christmas stuff. Mind you, while it isn’t time yet to start stocking up on pies, it is time to bake the Christmas cake, spread the cost of presents and send out invitations to your nearest and dearest.
Christmas is traditionally the most stressful time of year, something akin to having a small house move every December. A wintry financial climate doesn’t make it any easier. So the forward thinking grandparent can ease the burden considerably – not to mention taking time to find the perfect presents for everyone!
The first thing on your list, though, is the Christmas cake. If you haven’t baked it already, now is the time. Set aside a Saturday to teach the grandchildren how to make it. They’ll love helping, you’ll be doing them a favour – and you might start a family tradition too.
My favourite Christmas cake recipe comes from an old cookbook originally used by my mother. I’ve tweaked the recipe over the years so it’s got annotations and scrawls all over it – different coloured pens for different sizes of cake tin. In general I prefer a cake with fewer sultanas and currents, and more cherries and nuts. So I tend to get a rough overall weight for the dry ingredients, then change the proportions to suit.
The basic recipe is as follows:
9oz (255g) plain flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ground mixed spice – I tend to put in more like two though…
8oz (225g) butter (I go for 8 ½)
8oz (225g) light soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 ½ tbsp black treacle (I use two)
12oz (340g) raisins
2oz (57g) dried cut mixed peel
3oz (85g) glace cherries (I tend to use the whole tub)
2oz chopped almonds
2oz ground almonds
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp brandy
Grated rind of one orange
Grated rind of one lemon
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl (you’ll need a huge one) and set aside. Combine the sugar, the butter and the treacle to make a smooth goo; then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a little of the flour after the first one. Once you’ve beaten in all the eggs, fold in the dry ingredients – followed by the orange juice, the brandy and the fruit peel.
It’s surprisingly easy to make the batter for the Christmas cake – provided, of course, you have arms of steel. If you don’t, you’ll be glad of all the help you can get. That’s where the grandchildren come in. Get everyone to take turns folding the mixture and making a wish. Remember though – your wish doesn’t come true if you tell anyone what it was…
When you bake the cake, do it slow on a low heat and wrap the outside of the tin in a thin layer of newspaper. Too much paper and the batter won’t cook: too little, and it’ll burn the tin. My recipe calls for four and a half hours but it’s usually nearer five by the time it’s done. Start skewering the cake in the middle around ten minutes before it is supposed to be cooked and check back every ten minutes or so – you’ll know the batter has cooked when the skewer comes out clean.
Now for the fun part: keeping the cake moist until Christmas Eve (in our family, that’s cake decoration day). Wrap it in foil once it’s fully cooled (after around 15 hours) and store it upside down. Every two weeks, prick its base with skewers and add one to two tablespoons of brandy.
For a really flavoursome cake, try alternating brandy with Cointreau and Jack Daniels; or Amaretto and Jack Daniels.
Other great Christmas cake recipes can be found at:
Delia Online – one cake, rich and dark…
BBC Food – a range of recipes from famous chefs to try.
Ask Granny – the online guide for grandparents.