With the calendar turning over to November it's suddenly appropriate to make Christmas cake and kick off our personal Festival of Christmas Baking 2017. I like the ideas of laying down the flavours to develop in coming months. If you'd like to bake along, I'll share the recipes for our Christmas baking here. There are so many recipes to choose from to build anticipation for Christmas Day, take along to end of year functions, and include in your family traditions. You really have to start in November to work your way through them.
I don't have a go-to Christmas cake recipe. Each year I peruse my collection of magazine Christmas cooking features and see what takes my fancy. This year it was an Heirloom Recipe from Country Style
, December 2014 (In the same issue there's a recipe for Rich Little Christmas Cakes made in 7cm deep 10cm round cake pans by China Squirrel, and I might have to try them too). Paula Gladders and granddaughters, Matilda and Olivia, remember their father and great grandfather, Jim Gladders, as they cook from the recipe he used for 25 years. For me it is the traditional bowls and utensils I use that evoke memories of childhood, cooking with my mother, and enjoying the devoted presence of my grandmother. The bowls aren't inherited or hand-me-downs, Mum still uses her bowls, but are of a similar style.
As the cake cooks in the oven, the scent of ginger, mixed spice, raisins, sultanas, currents, and whisky combine. "It smells like Christmas," I tell our 12-year-old son. "Yes, it does," he agrees.
After cooking for three hours the cake is ready to take out of the oven. While it's still warm it's time to brush the top with whisky. "I'll do it," our youngest says. Once the cake is cool I remove it from the tin, and keeping the baking paper in place, wrap the cake in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge until December 25. Now I just have to keep myself from eating it.
Christmas Cake (serves 20), From Country Style, December 2014
Ingredients: 1kg mixed dried fruit, 1/2 cup sherry, rum, whisky or brandy, 1 Granny Smith apple, grated, 1 tbsp honey, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 4 eggs, lightly beaten, 250g butter, melted, cooled, 1 1/2 cups plain flour, 1/2 cup self-raising flour, 1 tsp mixed spice, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, extra 2 tsp sherry, rum, whisky or brandy to brush on surface.
Method: Preheat oven to 140°C. Grease a 23cm round or 20cm square cake pan, and line base and sides with two layers of baking paper. Place mixed dried fruit in a large bowl. Add alcohol, apple, honey, sugar and eggs, and stir with a wooden spoon, breaking up lumps of fruit, until well combined. Add cooled melted butter. Sift combined flours, mixed spice and ground ginger over fruit mixture, and stir until mixed thoroughly. Spoon into prepared pan and smooth surface. Bake for 3–3½ hours or until a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and brush top of cake with extra alcohol. Cover tightly with foil and set aside to cool completely. Remove cake from pan, leaving baking paper intact. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for up to two months to develop flavours.
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