Although I am loathe to even mention the word before December, Christmas is once again looming on the very near horizon. Ads for Christmas music CDs will soon reach fever pitch, normally tolerable colleagues will turn up at work wearing stupid Santa hats, and Auckland’s already clogged arterial routes will suffer a full coronary arrest. Do yourself a favour and stay in the kitchen.
Now, not that I wish to cause you any undue stress, but if you fancy a bit seasonal baking of the fruity, English kind you’re almost out of time. In fact, by my globulous Grandmother’s reckoning, you’d’ be about six months late. I have come to realise though, that many of my grandmother’s kitchen commandments were based more on a fondness and talent for bossing people around, than on actual science. The only real advantage to baking your Christmas cakes in June is that you don’t have to bake them in December. There is that whole business of ‘feeding the cake’ with Brandy, resulting in an explosively alcoholic conclusion on Christmas day, but I’ve found you can do this quite adequately over a few weeks rather than months. Besides, there are enough explosive alcohols present at the average family Christmas without further input from the cake.
But even if you prefer your cake clean sober, getting it baked should definitely be at the top of your to do list right now. Dense fruit cakes are a little like cheese, in that they need some time to ripen. It takes at least a few weeks for the flavours to mingle and meld, and for fruit to soften and mellow.
Although I have assembled here what are, to my mind, the best of the Foodlovers Christmas cake recipes, they probably won’t compare to your family’s proudly guarded heirloom. It’s my belief that Christmas cake is flavoured mostly by nostalgia and fondly held tradition. When viewed and consumed out of context even the best Christmas cake is just a big sticky lump of dried fruit and fat. No offence.
Speaking of sticky lumps of fat, I adore Christmas pudding, just not at Christmas time. Although I can handle cake, mince pies, turkey and ham in the oppressive heat of the Kiwi Christmas, pudding is just a lump of stodge to far. Well that’s what I tell myself, but inevitably I weaken.
Irrespective of what recipe you favour, at the table Christmas (A.K.A plum) pudding demands the company of great dollops of brandy butter. This can also be made now, as it just seems to get better with age. Even if you don’t go the whole nine yards of pudding-dom it’s very good spread on toasted panetonne too.
80g icing sugar
3 tbsp brandy
Cream or beat together until light and fluffy. Store covered in the fridge.
Of all the classic Christmas accoutrements, mince pies are by far my favourite. I can eat quite obscene numbers of these, and do so shamelessly every year. While it’s possible to purchase a passable Christmas cake or pudding, there is no substitute for home-made mince pies. Well almost. Last year, due to poor planning, I was forced to cut a few corners. I made several batches of very decent mince pies using shop-bought fruit mince (revitalised with grated apple, suet and a great slosh of brandy), and frozen all-butter pastry sheets. Go ahead and disapprove if you must, but I didn’t get any complaints. Certainly not from me.
I’ve written about Panettone on numerous occasions at Foodlovers, so I’ll spare you too much in the way of repetition. The great advantage of this much-lauded Italian Christmas bread is that it can be made right up until Christmas day. Being a bread rather than a cake it most certainly does not improve with age, and is a good option if you don’t get your baking act together in time for any of the above. Click here for recipe.
Fundamental to just about any Christmas baking is glacé peel. While you can certainly get by with off-the-shelf product, not hing compares to succulent, flavoursome homemade glacé orange or lemon peel. This recipe takes a little time and patience, but is well worth the effort.
One of the best reasons to start your Christmas baking now is that it will still be a pleasurable process. For most of us, Seasonal Panic Syndrome, which turns any sort baking into a sweaty nightmare, is still weeks away. So choose a quiet afternoon, sequester yourself away in the kitchen, and enjoy the quiet ritual the big day build up. Christmas is a day best enjoyed in advance.