To be perfectly honest, I’m not all that sure that I really like Christmas Cake. Being more of a death-by-chocolate chocoholic, I’d much rather some wickedly indulgent, melt-in-your-mouth, oozy rich chocolate cake. Indeed, I have been known to add the boiled up Christmas fruit to a chocolate cake mix, which was a fabulous alternative to tradition. Yet, like the Canadian salmon swimming upstream to their birthplace to reproduce, I keep returning to my mother’s Christmas cake recipe year after year and reproducing that.
To quote the great but “vintage” Professor Sumner Miller: Why is that so?
Well, while the end product might be a bit iffy, the mixture tastes sensational what with all that butter and brown sugar beaten together and that silky smooth divine sweetness when you beat in the eggs. Wow! It’s just the kind of thing that’s going to lure in little fingers, big fingers and if you’re not careful, the dog might even help themselves.
But delving into the deepest recesses of my memory, I’m remembering Christmases past when I also needed to stand up on a chair to reach the kitchen bench. My mother used to grease the empty butter wrappers to line the bottom of what is now a prehistoric cake tin. Of course, this shell of silver, Alzheimer’s-inducing aluminum knew nothing of Teflon surfaces and almost seemed designed to grip hold of your precious cake and rip it to bits. This was also in the days before easy-to-use baking paper when life was “Pure & Simple” or smears of greasy butter.
In the nature of family recipes, Mum’s Christmas cake recipe was originally known as “Deidre’s Christmas Cake”. Mum and Deidre went to Music College together and some 50 years later are still close friends and now grandmothers. Deirdre originally found the recipe in the Sydney Morning Herald. Mum has been baking this recipe most of my life and she’s renowned for her small servings of cake about the size of a matchbox. However, over the last couple of years, making the Christmas cake has become my job and I’ve made it with my kids who, of course, love the mixture, licking the beaters and being rough n’ tumble mini Masterchefs-in-training.
Like all good family recipes, there’s always a story to tell: the good, the bad and the ugly.
My story relates to last Christmas when the kids and I hastily made our Christmas Cake in the 3 days I had before I started chemo. While not one for catastrophising and melodrama, I was concerned that the cure might kill me, instead of the cause. With only 3 very short days to get my affairs in order, I frenetically did what I could and what was considered “essential”. For me, that meant having a proper Christmas and that meant baking the Christmas Cake, writing Christmas cards and writing about what was happening. In what was something of a funny, comic sub-plot, my daughter’s best friend who had been living in Poland for the last five years, suddenly arrived in Sydney on holidays during this waiting game before chemo. So my list of essentials also included play dates and baking the traditional Marble Cake with the girls. Miss was so excited to have her friend back and there was no way I was going to let chemo or my health get in the way of that but it was funny the sort of things you get up to while going through chemo. A time when you strangely expect the world to stand still until you’re ready to return to the real world, which, of course, never happens!!
I will blame the upcoming chemo for the “Great Christmas Cake Mistake” where I accidentally and haphazardly used Self-Raising Flour instead of Plain Flour. I didn’t know what this would mean at the time and didn’t think it would be too much of a problem. However, the end product was quite different to the usual Christmas cake. All the boiled fruit had sunk to the bottom and instead of the usually dense cake, which could well substitute a brick through a window, it was comparatively light with a top layer of cake. Rather than being a mistake, Mum and I both wondered whether it was an improvement.
Another thing I’ve discovered along the Christmas Cake journey, is that Christmas cakes are made to be eaten…especially in a hot Australian summer. After a conservative approach to consuming the cake, the weevils beat me to it and the much prized, home-made Christmas cake became bin fodder. I hate any kind of food waste but it was particularly painful throwing out my Christmas cake!
Of course, we all know that organised someone who bakes their Christmas Cake precisely 3 months before Christmas. The 25th September is circled and reserved in their calendar in bright red pen as: “Christmas Cake Day”. However, following in my mother’s footsteps, our cake was made 11 days before Christmas. Oops. I forgot. That was only the first part. There was a considerable amount of mixture left over which didn’t fit inside the pan and is now “maturing” inside my fridge. Made note to self to deal with that tomorrow. I’m very tempted to split it with Geoff and have it for dessert. We have family who eat pudding mix…aoll of the pudding mix instead of cooking it. Somehow, that seems very naughty and indulgent but I’ve enjoyed joining in and it tastes great!
When it came to making this year’s Christmas cake, time was running out and we had a lot on.So that meant baking the cake last Saturday while Miss was at dance rehearsals and having a mother & son experience with Mister. He’s now becoming quite adept in the kitchen after all our efforts throughout the year.
This went very well and Mister had great fun turning the slab of butter into “slices of bread” and well as sampling the mixture to ensure it hadn’t been poisoned.
There is something truly fabulous about baking with the kids and sharing that bond together…especially now that they’re not just doing their own thing and throwing ingredients into the mix master willy nilly. Stuffing up the recipe like this used to drive me absolutely wild…such waste! We’ve had a few accidents over the years not to mention experiments and “mixtures” appearing while I’ve been otherwise engaged. The worst took place just before Christmas in 2010 (aged 6 and 4) when the kids created Food-Colouring Soup in several, lurid rainbow colours. As you can see, this was splashed around the kitchen floor like a Rorshauge painting or the proverbial bomb going off.
You can just imagine my response. I rang Santa directly and told him not to come!!
I was also thankful that I hadn’t renovated the house at the time. The mess was heartbreakingly bad…widespread destruction!
However, as much as the mess, the accidents and deaf ears can drive me over the edge, cooking is certainly bonding our family together and makes excellent glue. We are now having quite a lot of fun together and the kids are learning very valuable and practical life skills and becoming independent.
So here it is:
Mum’s Christmas Cake
The cake is made in two stages. In stage one, the dried fruit is boiled in a saucepan and left to “mature” overnight. Stage 2, is the cake mix.
Boiling the Fruit: Ingredients
2 packed cups Sultanas
1 packed cup Raisins
1.5 cups Currants
1/2 packed cup Prunes – very finely chopped
1/4 cup Mixed Peel (I leave this out)
Finely grated rind 1 lemon & 1 orange
1/4 cup of each of orange & lemon juice
1/4 cup Sherry
1/4 cup Marsala
Place the above ingredients in a large saucepan. Cover and cook on low heat stirring occasionally until the fruit is soft. Watch closely as the fruit mix can easily burn. Leave overnight.
210 grams of butter
1.5 cups packed brown sugar
1 lvl tablespoon Plum Jam
10 oz Plain Flour (1 cup + 2 tablespoons)
1/2 Teas Baking Powder
100g Glace Cherries halved
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Blanched Almonds or macadamia nuts
- Preheat the oven on to 150˚C .
- Using your mix master, cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
- Add eggs one at a time and then add jam.
- Sift dry ingredients and add to mix.
- Fold through fruit mix and add chopped glace cherries and blanched almonds or macadamia nuts.
- Grease tin and line with baking paper to prevent bottom from burning.
- Top cake with blanched almonds or macadamia nuts unless you intend to ice the cake.
- Cover cake with foil and check during cooking to prevent the top of cake from burning. Remove during cooking time.
- Bake in a slow oven at 150˚C for 3 hours.
- Splash a bit of sherry over the top of the hot cake.
- Cool in the tin.
- Nigella Lawson recommends: when the cake has cooled, wrap it tightly in a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment (parchment paper) followed by a double layer of foil and then store it in an airtight container or tin in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Do not wrap the cake directly in foil as the fruit in the cake can react with the foil. If you are making the cake more than 3 months in advance then you will need to “feed” it occasionally to help it to stay moist. Feeding involves brushing the surface of the cake with a couple of tablespoons of alcohol (brandy, whisky or bourbon are the most popular choices). This is usually done after the cake has been baked, but if storing for a long period we would suggest unwrapping the cake and feeding it every 4 to 6 weeks then re-wrapping it after feeding. http://www.nigella.com/kitchen-queries/view/When-to-Make-Christmas-Cakes/270
- Store the Christmas cake in a cake tin, NOT a plastic container as it can go moldy.
Wishing you and yours a very Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!!
Love Rowena, Geoff, Mister, Miss, Bilbo & Lady.