I just love Christmas! It’s such a magical time of the year and the older I have become the more I appreciate that bit of magic. It’s a time of year when we all tend to over indulge somewhat with festive food. Things like Christmas Cake and Pudding, Mince Pies with Brandy Butter. Very tasty if not a little naughty.
My life is pretty hectic at the best of times and over recent months I have been struggling with becoming overwhelmed with everything that I have to do. Christmas time as you can imagine is likely to compound my feelings of being overwhelmed and send me into a downhill spiral of stress. That is if I let it.
I have made a few changes to my life and routine since the summer months and I have been making progress in re-organising my work and family life and trying to get a more manageable and healthier work life balance. Starting this blog was one of the first steps in my new direction. The biggest change I have made, and it is really just in my head, is to stop procrastinating, just make a decision and get on with it.
Every year as Christmas approaches I have these great ideas about making a Christmas cake and or a Christmas pudding and mince pies, Christmas wreaths; really just anything Christmassy. I like to have friends round for a festive Mulled wine and catch up. Every year I do manage to do some of the things I have planned but it all tends to be very last minute and I don’t really enjoy it as much as I hoped as I am usually exhausted.
Don’t Wait to make the Changes
This year is going to be different, in fact it is already different. I’m not waiting until the New Year to make some resolutions that I probably won’t keep. So, for the first time ever I have made my Christmas cake before we have entered the month of December. A Christmas cake can, in fact, be made up to 3 months in advance and they say no later than a couple of weeks before Christmas Day otherwise the cake can be crumbly. I have never managed to be so organised as to have made a cake 3 months before but I have made one only 2 days before. I didn’t find it noticeably crumbly and I didn’t even bother to ice it. So if you are pushed for time and still want a cake for Christmas then don’t be afraid to have a go at the last minute.
My recipe is based on the lovely Mary Berry’s recipe. Several years ago I picked up a Mary Berry’s do it yourself Christmas cake from the supermarket. It was reduced so it was either just before or just after the festivities. It came with individual packets of flour, sugar and pre-soaked fruit so you just needed to buy some eggs and combine the ingredients. I kept the list of ingredients and have used this as my guide in future years.
When I went to my baking cupboard I found I had some dried fruits that were out of date. I quite often find
things out of date in this cupboard as I go through phases of baking. Baking your own goods is cheaper than shop bought cakes and biscuits, but sometimes (a lot of the time) my life just gets in the way and the convenience of the supermarket wins. My out of date fruit hasn’t gone to waste though, the birds in the garden are enjoying some winter treats.
Back To The Cake
This year the Christmas movies have been on the television for a few weeks now so I found myself with a Christmas movie on in the background while I got to work.
To begin with you need to soak your fruit in a festive tipple. I use brandy but you could use sherry or if you want to be alcohol free just use some orange juice. You could possibly even just purchase the pre-soaked fruit from the supermarket. I like the smell of the fruit and brandy soaking in the kitchen for 3 days.
For the pre-soaking of the fruit you will need:
350g Glazier Cherries – rinsed and quartered
Zest of 2 Oranges
150ml Brandy (or your preferred festive tipple) – orange juice if you want the cake alcohol free
Combine the fruits in a large bowl, pour over the brandy, mix thoroughly, cover and leave in a cool place for 3 days. Give the fruit a stir daily (if you remember).
Once your fruit has had some time to marinade in its festive tipple (mine had 5 days this year) it is time to combine with the remainder of the cake ingredients.
For the cake batter you will need:
250g Softened Butter
250g Light Muscovado Sugar
1 tbsp Black Treacle
75g Chopped Blanched Almonds
175g Plain Flour
75g Self Raising Flour (I have used all Plain Flour in the past)
1.5 tsp Mixed Spice
Brandy (festive tipple) – to feed the cake with following baking
Before you begin, pre-heat your oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1. Grease and double line a 23cm (9″) cake tin with baking paper. This is pretty easy, just fold your paper in half, place your tin towards one edge and draw around the base. Cut out the circle and place in the bottom of your tin. The long piece left over at the edge should be long enough to line the sides.
Beat together the softened butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, add the eggs and treacle and combine. Then add the flour and mixed spice (I sifted mine) and finally the chopped nuts. I did all of this by hand but you could do it with an electric mixer.
Now you are ready to put your mix into your prepared greased and lined cake tin.
Place your cake in the centre of your pre-heated oven and bake for 4hrs. After 2hrs if the cake looks cooked on top place a piece of tin foil over the top and cook for the final 2hrs.
Allow the cake to cool fully and remove from the tin, using a thin skewer make some holes over the surface of the cake and gently pour and table spoon of brandy (or whatever your festive tipple is) over the surface. Wrap in a double layer baking paper and tin foil and store in a cool place. Give your cake a little tipple once a week.
The final thing to do is to ice the cake. I will be doing this about a week before Christmas.
I’m looking forward to a slice or two of my cake in a few weeks time. It would be great to hear about your Christmas cake experiences.