It’s that most wonderful time of the year when you can’t escape Classics FM’s ‘the only ten Christmas carols we can afford to play’ and cross stitch patterns of the same tired Christmas motifs that have been hauled out for the ten thousandth time. If you enjoy any crafting magazines, you’ve probably had to stop buying them since October as heaven forbid your hobbies are not seasonably fashionable.
I’m not really a fan of Christmas-inspired crafting apart from in the kitchen. I can barely cope with getting gifts ready on time for individual birthdays or other events, let alone multiple gifts simultaneously. With the time-investment nearly any handmade thing requires, I’d also rather it wouldn’t look out of place the other 334 days of the year. While you’d think robins and other festive birds would make the cut for this, but accord to this article, robins are the wrong bird to embody the festive spirit, unless to you Christmas involves murderous scenes more in keeping with Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus than Once in Royal David’s City.
On the weekend, I had the absurd idea of making not just one traditional Christmas cake, but two, which amounts to a sum total of 5 kg of finished cake. For those of you not familiar with traditional English Christmas cake, dense is the key word you should have in mind. It’s a moist compression of as much dried fruit you can cement together with ground almonds, flour and butter, drowning in your alcoholic spirit of choice. Perhaps more absurdly, it also tastes divine with a very strong cheddar cheese.
You’re supposed to start the cake two months before you want to eat it so you can feed it more alcohol at regular intervals but I find if you don’t cook it too dry then it stays happily moist without drowning it in additional amounts of brandy or madeira.
Queen of all things culinary Delia Smith has a nice recipe and the one I use, courtesy of my wonderful grandmother, is similar but with the inclusion of bitter marmalade, glacé ginger and black treacle with muscovado sugar. I also use madeira rather than brandy and port for a slightly different flavour. The key to all things Christmas though is really good quality dried fruit, the fatter and plumper the better (even though you soak it before starting the cake) and if you’re in the UK, I’ve not found anything to rival Whitworths.
Apparently when Oliver Cromwell decided to ban all things Christmas was when the fruitcake traditionally made on the Twelfth Night (5th January) became the marzipan or royal icing-covered Christmas cake we have today. I tend not to bother with either because hauling around all the ingredients and mixing this cake is enough effort anyway but it’s very useful if you manage to set the cake on fire and need to hide the evidence… I managed to do this last year as I cook the cake wrapped in parchment and I was a little careless about securing it. Cue parchment catching fire in an electric oven and a resulting mess. What made the situation even worse was when I had extinguished the fire, rewrapped the cake and put it back in, I somehow managed to catch the parchment alight again and had to repeat the whole process…
This year was a little less drama-filled though I thoroughly regret not making a taster cake so I had a small cake to try! I hope though, whatever Christmas is to you, you have a wonderful day and maybe just enough peace and quiet to get on with knitting some socks.