Last night, I was making my Christmas Cake.
In case you’re not familiar with what we Australians know as “Christmas Cake”, it’s a boiled fruit cake crammed with sultanas, currants, raisins and prunes soaked and boiled in sherry. The next day, glace cherries and almonds are added to the mix, along with the usual cakey ingredients. It’s very much a British tradition, which has immigrated along with the settlers to the Antipodes.
There are so many steps to making a Christmas cake, each almost being an essential pre-Christmas ritual. So, let’s get started.
The first step is to boil up the dried fruit with the sherry, lemon and orange juice on the stove. If you have never experienced this smell, you are really missing out. As I hunch over the hot stove stirring the fruits with my wooden spoon, all those smells tantalize my senses, heralding Christmas. Indeed, I’d swear my nose was even twitching. Wow! It smells amazingly good!
Then, you leave those fruits in the fridge overnight to stew.
In this era of instant everything, it almost feels unnatural to wait for anything. Yet, this waiting process seems quite appropriate for a Christmas cake. After all, so much about Christmas involves waiting…How many sleeps? Where’s Santa? What am I getting for Christmas?
So, the Christmas Cake is simply being in synch with the rest of Christmas with all its waiting and delays.
The next day, we move onto the baking phase.
This starts out with the ceremonial beating of the butter and brown sugar, watching them spin round and round in my Sunbeam mix master. They’re like two people falling in love and becoming one flesh, as they dance round and round the beaters creaming together. That’s when fingers and spoons invade the bowl for mandatory testing. You’d be surprised how things can go wrong in the beating process, and how multiple tastings are required… just to be sure!
Then, you add the eggs. Even if you deplore Christmas Cake, I guarantee you’ll be licking the spoon once you taste brown sugar, butter and eggs creamed together. Not only do they taste delicious, but they have such a smooth, creamy texture which truly dazzles your taste buds. Yum!
More mixture disappears.
And a bit more!
There’s still plenty left.
Then, even a bit more mixture disappears onto a passing spoon.
Time to add the flour and spices before there’s no mixture left!
Next, I throw in the halved glace cherries and slivered almonds and it’s into the tin. More slivered almonds are sprinkled on top, and the Christmas Cake has finally made it into the oven.
Strange how there’s still so much mixture left behind!
Of course, some of that has been put aside for the mini Christmas cakes I make for my Dad. Dad has a pathological aversion to cinnamon so I always make him his own. My Dad looks very much like John Cleese playing Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. So, it’s a wise move to keep him happy, as we don’t have Manuel on hand to keep him in check.
However, it also seems like such a waste to cook all of that scrummy mixture, especially when it’s only going to become Christmas Cake.
Funny that I could ever deride the sacred Christmas Cake!
How soon I forget! Three years ago, I had a round of chemo to treat my auto-immune disease starting the week before Christmas. Indeed, I literally was singing: “all I wanted for Christmas is chemo” in my head that year. After all, without the chemo, I wouldn’t be here now. So, despite its hardships, it was more of a celebration than an ordeal.
This is where the Christmas Cake enters the story. I had three days’ notice before chemo began and do you know what I did in that time? I made my Christmas Cake and I posted my Christmas cards. That’s what was important…along with my family.
I had to remind myself of that this year. Now that the pressure’s off and my health has vastly improved, making the Christmas Cake wasn’t quite happening. Indeed, I only made it last night with 6 sleeps to go. I was really struggling to get myself moving!
That’s also because I’m not a huge lover of fruit cake. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Christmas, I’d never make any kind of fruit cake. I much prefer chocolate cake and have been known to mix the boiled fruits in with a chocolate cake mix before. That was yum! The boiled fruits also mix in well with ice cream. Indeed, the boiled fruits can be very versatile, if you’re willing to let go of tradition heading into the great unknown.
I’m not quite there yet. I still need a slice of Christmas Cake with my cup of tea and my parents particularly love this Christmas Cake. After all, I make my mother’s recipe, which she adopted from her university friend Deirdre. They go back a long way and so does this Christmas Cake. I’ve been eating it for something like 47 years now. It’s a keeper and I hope my kids continue to make it wherever they are and whatever their world is like when they grow up. Who knows where they’ll be in 47 years? Yet, like any parent, I just want them to be happy (which is often the most elusive “achievement” of all!)
You can find the recipe and a previous post about the Christmas Cake here.
You might also enjoy reading about Christmas Cakes: here. I found it a very interesting read.
Do you have any Christmas baking traditions? If so, I’d love to hear all about them and feel free to share your recipes.
Love & Christmas Blessings,