Having spent a good chunk of yesterday completing my short story writing, and getting it on this blog, I had to pay the piper today. The Christmas cake that was baked in November still awaited some decoration.
It was big decision time. In former years, the Christmas cake has occasionally been a bit dried out by the time we get to the end of it in January when it's been one large cake. A few years ago, I diverted from the usual and made the square cake become 2 rectangular cakes. Things being as they were, that particular year, I gave away both of those cakes as gifts to my daughters.
Although I like to try out new recipes for a heavy fruit cake, it isn't generally eaten on Christmas day. That is the day we reserve for my husband's Christmas pudding. He makes double quantities bienially and stores the unused one for the following year.
My Christmas cake is made for Boxing Day or for that 'fly cup' when relatives or friends call in during the holiday fortnight.
This year I excelled myself and made four. Well, that's not strictly true - I made four small cakes.
So what was the process like this year? This isn't a cooking blog, so I'm going to condense the whole affair into a photo shoot. No recipe will be printed here because I decided to use a very traditional heavy fruit cake recipe from an old book that graces my kitchen bookshelves.
It's an old 'Good Housekeeping' one from the 1950s (last edition 1954 as stated in the front matter) - the 'compendium' of 3 cookery books having belonged to my mother-in-law.
The aims of the book were to provide everyday recipes but I have to say that the rich fruit cake recipe that I used, and countless millions before me used, is not an everyday recipe.
Some of the cooking ideas in the book were very 'swanky' for the1950s! The book is a treasure, though, and I'll never throw it away. I think the processes of some of the recipes contained in it ( not the cake, but other sauces and meat dishes) are only 'basic' if someone has taught you some ins-and-outs, as my own mother did, because she was an excellent baker.
I started with tons of fruit. Since most packages were from 'Fairtrade' packages, I've done fairly well with the acquisition of fruit.
Mix a whole bundle of things with the fruit. My mother swore by 'Be-Ro' flour so I tend to also use it for my special baking recipes but... I'm a cheapskate and Tesco/ Asda is used for everyday stuff!
I'm purposely making this image larger because I want you to see that I'm using my mother's earthenware baking bowl. This was her medium sized bowl but I also inherited her large one. Large really does mean large. Pity is that I can hardly lift the thing because it weights a ton. I'd need to be a Sumo wrestler to lift it when filled with ingredients.
Pop the well mixed 'gunge' into a baking tin and bake for a long time. Approximately 2 and a half hours but my oven is a bit 'iffy' so I need to check regulary to see if it's cooked/burning.
This is the fun bit!
After around a half an hour after the cake is cooked ( a slim knife coming out 'clean' when poked down the middle of the cake), or when the cake has cooled in the tin, I pricked it with a slim tined-fork before I poured over 4 tablespoons of brandy.
(NB.I may have diverged a bit from the original recipe at this point :-) )
This baking was done in mid -November.
A week later, I opened the wrappings and re-did the brandy soak.
Unfortunately, I'm about to blame the grandkids for distracting me (maybe it was and maybe it wasn't them - maybe it was the extra brandy in the bottle) but I forgot at this point to cling-film the cake. The greaseproof paper it was cooked in was refolded over it and the tinfoil also folded. This sadly wasn't enough since I think the cake has dried out too much over the last four weeks in storage. I'm now wrapping my knuckles because I'm remembering what my mother would have done in the 1950s. Cling film wasn't invented, and though tin foil was available, it was expensive. My mother would have used the greaseproof paper but would have put a muslin layer over that and would have tied it really tight. Since the kitchen was like a fridge in the house I grew up in, the drying out of the cake wouldn't have been such an issue!
Back to today (21st December).
In past years, I've done the decorating of the cakes at least a week before Christmas, but this year has been manic. All is not lost, though, since Christmas Day is still 4 days away.
The marzipan went on, though I made it a thinner layer than usual. One of my sons-in-law is alergic to strawberries and guess what? I only had strawberry jam so I ad-libbed yet again. To make the marzipan 'stick' to the cake I used some honey. I have never ever done this before so it might be interesting. Again belatedly, I remembered that my mother might have used egg white for this 'sticking' process.
I searched the net- actually easy since I went to Pinterest - and found ideas that had the colours available to me for decorating.
The first layer went on each of the four cakes. Two completely white. One completely red and one half and half.
Then the decorating started! Yipee. This is the bit I like. My completed cakes are never perfect but they are a challenge and fun to do.
A simple tree was first.
Next came the prezzie.
Then came Rudolf.
And then Santa.
So, my four cakes look like this. Who needs a Christmas Cake? Who will get one of my experimental cakes?