Diary of a Christmas cake
Lists are the framework of my life. Do you relate to this? Unless it’s on a list somewhere, it doesn’t get done. This is due to my head being in the clouds where I spend most of my days in a distant reverie where I randomly jumble ideas for work, writing things out in my head, daydreams, rehearsed imaginary conversations and eureka moments. Lists make sure that my feet sometimes hit the ground and a percentage of all this wool-gathering turns into reality.
So what’s on my October list? I know full well, as Autumn takes pace and runs away with the speed of an express train, if I don’t start putting some of my Christmas ‘cloud’ ideas in my head into action now, I’ll be leafing through Nigella’s Christmas in January saying ‘I meant to do that…and that.’
Part of the joy of Christmas cooking, for me, is the time (=love) invested in something to make it extra special and not every day. So when I found a recipe for a Christmas cake that advocated starting now, I was down to my local Choitram (supermarket) in the dried fruit aisle in a jiffy. The advantage of making your own cake, if you live in Dubai, is that you can have one that contains alcohol (essential in my book as it this transforms it from every day into luxury).
My entire family was glued to the Great British Bake Off last month – an excellent show on BBC TV. It’s a series about finding Britain’s best amateur baker judged by a Paul Hollywood, a stern sounding Northerner with twinkly eyes and the doyen of baking Mary Berry who is now in her mid 70’s (proving that a lifetime of cake is the secret of eternal youth). Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, the very witty presenters, interspersed tracing the history of British baking by visiting local baking landmarks with eating some vitally important ingredients (very funny, if a bit nerve-wracking for the contestant). It was interesting, informative and showed off some of the best of Britain both visually and culinary. Ruth Clemens was just pipped at the winning post and although I was happy about Edd Kimber being victor I suspect that Ruth had a sizeable vote willing her on. She lives up to her description on her blog The Pink Whisk of baker extraordinaire (check out her scone recipe). This Christmas cake fruit-steeping recipe is taken from it.
Shopping is the most arduous part of this recipe. You assemble a selection of dried fruit, steep in brandy-laced sugar syrup and give it a stir every day. Within one week the shrivelled pieces (including some cute little mission figs I found) have been transformed into plump, dark, shiny jewels. The pleasure in opening the lid of this concoction and disturbing its sticky depths with a spoon cannot be underestimated.*
Ruth’s recipe is below and I do urge a visit to The Pink Whisk. In the meantime, I though I’d share my Christmas list month by month and maybe you’d like to share anything on your list too (in the comments section). After Christmas I’ll make one big list (downloadable pdf) that you can file away for next year, or visit next Autumn and I’ll post a reminder, to ensure that your Christmas spirit in December will be as light as Ruth’s scones. Sound good? It’s a deal.
* If you live in Dubai and I still haven’t convinced you of the joys of making your own cake, you have the option of handing over some cash for some lovingly prepared traditional Christmas cake (with the essential added extra – nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Lilybakes is taking orders or contact @boozychef on Twitter for some homemade goodies.
Christmas list – October
- Steep fruit for Christmas cake (see below)
- Draft Christmas letter (if you write one) or a few lines to write in Christmas cards.
- Order photos for Christmas letter to be duplicated (e.g.nice pic of children, dog, hamster, golf clubs whatever).
- Buy Christmas cards, make a list and start writing them (a few at a time is better than a huge mountain)
- Make 2 x Christmas puddings (you’ll have one more item ticked off the list for next year). Stir up Sunday, the traditional time to make puddings is 21st November but I say get ahead. I’ll post my pudding recipe next week.
Boozy Christmas Fruit
This quantity will ultimately make an 8″ Christmas Cake.
55g caster sugar
175g dried figs
55g mixed peel
Start by chopping the dried figs and dates into chunks (I use scissors for this).
Place all the dried fruit in a large bowl and mix.
In a pan, heat the water and caster sugar stirring to dissolve the sugar to create a sugar syrup. Set to one side and allow to cool slightly. When cooled pour in the brandy.
Pour the liquid all over the dried fruit.
Place the whole lot in an airtight container.
Stir this daily for one week, after that you will only need to stir it once a week. At the end of six weeks it’ll be ready to use in a Christmas cake. Use your favourite recipe or check here in a few weeks for further instructions.