Making the Christmas cake

Apparently we’re a week late on this lovely kitchen task; you’re supposed to make your family’s Christmas cake some six weeks ahead of the day itself, to give it time to mature, and also, of course, to soak up even more ladles full of rich brandy. If you’ve no brandy to hand, rum will do just as well. But five weeks should be sufficient time, in our warm kitchen, to become soft and unctuous. It’ll have to be.

This week Carrie has prepared a special small cake as well for the grandsons, by request. No spirit goes into that one, but I bet they’ll be clamouring for lashings of double cream, or some vanilla ice cream.

I’ve never been fond of the candied peel that goes into the traditional Christmas cake, but following the current recipe Carrie has avoided those items, putting in apricots, prunes, raisins, currants, sultanas and cranberries — more than enough fruit to be getting on with! Some recipes call for nuts, some for dates . . . there’s all sorts of different combinations.

But sadly, the traditional Christmas cake has fallen on hard times. Folks don’t seem to enjoy it as much as they used to. Perhaps our collective sweet tooth has been corrupted by soft sponge, or our savoury bent canted more to cinnamon treats. With some disdain, Carrie is insisting that she’ll make me a classic sweet pumpkin pie (400 calories to the slice), to indulge in during the run-up to Christmas. Pumpkin pie is traditional Thanksgiving fare in North America. Even though Canadian Thanksgiving is long gone (it comes earlier there because the winter does too — my brother in northern Ontario has been shovelling snow off the path for a couple of weeks now), American Thanksgiving occurs on the fourth Thursday of November, and is a perfect excuse to use up those jack o’lanterns. Ours was peeled, sliced, diced and frozen in preparation. But back to the Christmas cake.

Different sorts of icings appeal to different folks too. But there’s always a marzipan layer, before the icing is applied. Either royal or fondant icings are expected, and before they solidify, little figurines might be placed on top. In our household, it’s often a Christmas sleigh, a carefully positioned bell or two, some sprigs of green holly (usually fashioned out of icing, not the real kind), a cheeky robin. Circled with a red ribbon at the base, the cake is covered up to await the day, though it’s often pre-revealed in all its glory to build up the expectation.

Actually, I think this year’s family Christmas cake will be limited to the one made for the grandsons, as the big one goes off to the successful bidder at the Lions’ Charity Auction. But it’ll be better to demolish the little one, together, than to have to throw out the remains to the ravenous ducks, who loudly insist on their right to be be indulged in the festive season.

Let them eat bread! Errr, the real, wholesome kind, not the supermarket pap, of course.

1 Comment

  1. Christmas cake is a special treat for us – Jos makes it early December, too late according to your details but wait… our family doesn’t actually eat much of it at Christmas – too many other things to feast on! Rather, slices of the cake are taken on winter outings – walks locally, in the Lakes & Scotland where it gives a massive boost to depleted energy stores when the temperature is near or below freezing and a walk is only half completed. No spirits added however otherwise we would have difficulty completing the days outing!

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