I absolutely love Christmas, and all the preparation involved. Since my children were tiny I have always baked a Christmas cake, made my own Mincemeat, and usually a Christmas pudding. The secret is to pace the preparation. A fruit cake can be baked a month or two before it’s needed, and whilst it waits for the big day, it can be topped up (on a regular basis) with a tot of Brandy or Whiskey.
Simply prick the base of the cake, (and the top if you wish) with a darning needle or cocktail stick, and pour the spirit gently over the cake, it will seep slowly into the dense cake and add a delicious layer of flavour.
When my sons were in the Infants, they had a wonderful team of Year 2 teachers, who encouraged baking and creative work. One of the class projects was for each child to bake a mini Christmas cake.
The request went out for them each to bring in a small sized (empty, washed) baked bean tin, which became their cake tin. The children then mixed their ingredients and baked their cakes. A few days later they decorated them with marzipan and royal icing, adding some holly leaves or stars. These cakes took pride of place on the Christmas Lunch table and we all enjoyed a tiny taste with our Stilton and Port.
I thought the idea was superb, and copied it. Now every year, as well as baking one or two large cakes, I make a batch of mini ones. I feed them over a few weeks and then decorate them, before wrapping them in cellophane and tying them up with festive ribbon. They make super gifts for my daughter’s teachers, and I keep some by the front door, so I can give them to unexpected visitors or grab a couple for friends that I am meeting for coffee.
I usually make mincemeat in November too, I prefer to make small batches and add interesting ingredients to a basic recipe. Maybe I’ll put some dried cranberries in, or alongside the essential Bramley apples I’ll finely slice a quince, I may swap almonds for another nut, such as hazelnut or pecan.
This year I’m reducing the sugar content, which means that the mincemeat will have to be eaten within a few months, rather than being left to next year. If I’m making a large batch of mincepies (perhaps for a Church function or School Fair) I have been known to use pre-prepared pastry, but for gifts to friends and neighbours and for family I always make a simple shortcrust pastry, which makes a completely delicious mince pie.
For both Christmas pudding and mincemeat I use vegetarian suet, this ensures that everyone I give a jar of mincemeat to, or for whom I bake mince pies, can enjoy them.
I hope you have a chance to make some Christmas goodies this year, you can find plenty of recipes online, and of course there are many superb Christmas books around, including one of my favourites, Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas, a gorgeous silver book, bursting with recipes and more.
Do let us know what you decide to make, especially if it is one of Sarah’s super recipes.
Thanks for reading!