While I hate to mention the "C" word while we're still in November, baking the Christmas cakes a month or two in advance means one less thing to think about when December does come around.
Last weekend marked the end of a flurry of baking activity for one reason or another, with the Christmas cakes being baked in October, wrapped up and put away until they are ready to be decorated. I've got a tried and trusted recipe which I have used since 1982, though that year marked my first attempt at 'proper' royal icing, which was nearly a disaster. My mother did the traditional icing when I was a child, mixing egg whites and icing sugar, though she never mixed it to the consistency that allowed it to really set. I realised that this was because the mixture is supposed to be beaten for about 10 minutes, with the addition of glycerine to give it a melt in the mouth quality, so thought I would give it a bash. Unfortunately, my first attempt had me failing to realise that the glycerine is added at the end of the beating stage and not with the other ingredients. The cake that came to the table on Christmas Day looked lovely but practically needed a hammer and chisel to get through the rock-solid outer layer - a lesson in how to impress your prospective in-laws! Eventually, after several attempts to cut the cake - the original knife bouncing off it, the electric knife proving ineffective - the cake was cut! I don't recall what knife finally got through the concrete icing but, once broken into, the cake was delicious and the icing, once fractured, was edible. So, lesson learnt.
I have had a break from tradition this year with one of the cakes (ours) being a recipe I tried a couple of times earlier this year when making it for the bottom layer of a friends wedding cake - it comes from Ruth Clemens blog "The Pink Whisk". It was among her recipes for the twelve days of Christmas last year, which I didn't view until after Christmas, but was really taken with the recipe and can vouch for it being a lovely cake. That said, here is the recipe for my 'tried and trusted' since 1982 :
110g Glace cherries, halved
175g Chopped candied peel
4 tbsp stem ginger in syrup, drained and finely chopped
5 tbsp Brandy
350g Butter, softened
400g Dark muscovado sugar
8 Large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp Treacle
450g Plain flour
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
1.5 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Salt
Put all the fruit in a large bowl, add the brandy, cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave overnight.
Line a 10-inch cake tin (25 - 26 cm) with greaseproof paper. Have some brown paper ready to tie round the cake tin before it goes in the oven. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.
Sift the flour, salt and spices in a bowl. In another bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Gradually add the eggs, mixing well after each addition, then stir in the treacle.
Gradually add the flour and spice mixture and fold in well. Add the fruit in two or three batches and mix well. Spoon into the tin and make a slight hollow in the centre.
Tie the brown paper collar around the tin and place on the shelf in the oven just below the centre. Bake for one hour then lower the temperature to 140C/275F/Gas 1 and bake for another hour. Check to see that the cake is not browning too much, folding in the brown paper if necessary (I've never found this necessary) and bake for a further three hours. Leave in the tin to cool overnight and then wrap up well to store.
For an 8-inch cake (21 - 22 cm), halve all the ingredients except the spices and treacle. The baking time is around the same.
I usually unwrap the cakes once or twice in the preceding weeks to drizzle with brandy, re-wrapping them and storing them until ready for decoration.
I have moved away from the royal icing, now using fondant to decorate after the marzipan layer, but each to their own. I try to make all the decorations of an edible variety - I know some people use plastic decorations and if that is a preference, I would always advocate that they are on the large side and can't be swallowed along with the cake. I do remember my mother using small plastic novelties (white ones!) on a cake one Christmas - when she did a count of the said novelties lying on the plates at the end of the meal, the novelties having come out of Christmas crackers the previous year, there was one less than had been on the cake. It was always suspected that my Grandfather had eaten it - I don't know if he ever found out.......
As I say, there has been a lot of kitchen activity going on recently - cakes baked to take into work to celebrate my Birthday, baking to raise money for Children in Need, jam made when I was given a load of apples. The last week has been a bit more relaxed but there have still being three cakes baked - a lovely Sacher Torte, an apple and marmalade cake and a coffee and walnut cake made for a running friend who missed out on the Children in Need baking.
|Chocolate Orange cupcakes and Bakewell cupcakes|
|"Cheese" Ginger biscuits - a Frances Quinn recipe.|
|What the Doctor ordered.......|
|Apple and Ginger jam.|
|A fair swap!|
Two of the jars of jam have being given away - while I like my jam, it's always nice to share - so one to the man who gave me the apples and one to a friend for a jar of his apple and blackberry - pretty to look at and tastes great! Now I'll just have to get cracking with some bread and scones to go with it......