Gentlemen, start your ovens!

Christmas Preparations – episode 6 of your festive boxed set. #HoHoHo

If you’re wanting to make your Christmas cake, now is the time to do it. As you’ll need to feed the cake every week with brandy; by the time you decorate it, the flavour will be rich, moist and so very much better than anything shop brought. In our house growing up, it was very much a family affair. We all had to stir it to make a wish, and it really signalled the start of preparations ‘proper’.

Our family favourite recipe, is one that my grandmother used. It has never failed us, across different ovens, kitchens and now time zones. The recipe is hand-written, covered in cake mix splotches and when I photographed it, was illegible. Therefore, I’m directing you to Delia Smith’s traditional recipe, which she also says was handed down by her grandmother and mother. She says she’s ‘tweaked’ it, but I can’t see where as it’s word-for-word my Granny’s recipe too.  I think it’s the decorative almonds on the top, which seems to be a ‘thing’;, as this gluten free recipe does it too.  If you’re not wanting to make such a large cake, this page on Delia’s website advises on scaling up/down the quantities. One thing I would say you do not miss because you think you’ll be fine is the brown paper round the tin; otherwise you may will end up with a scorched cake. However if you’re hosting Christmas, having a home made cake to bring out, is lovely, particularly if the children help decorate it. As an aside, I used the same recipe to make the wedding cake for my cousin!

Christmas puddings are trickier to make, as you will need a day to prepare and mix the pudding, then a day at home as it bubbles away on the stove. No bones about it, this is a weekend’s project for any of y’all working people, but it does give you a chance to get a run at your big clean on the same day.

My Granny’s puddings were legendary, she’d make three or four each year, to cycle through the puddings made the year before. The best pudding we had by far was when we found lose one she’d given to us under Mum and Dad’s bed, so it was at least three years old. Yum. Now, again for this I’m referring you to Delia Smith. I’ve been looking at recipes online for a couple of weeks and this is by far the most traditional, in terms of ingredients and also the most straightforward, in terms of instructions. Bear in mind for you vegetarians; it’s traditional, so chock full of suet. although there are lots of fantastic alternatives now to get the fat running through the pudding.

Mince pies, to make or not to make? There’s a question for you. I still make mine. I can’t not, however I’m yet to make a successful batch of gluten free pastry, watch this space, as I’ll keep trying, although frozen sheets might be the winner this year. Mince pies ought to be done in the week leading up to the big day, as they only keep for 7-10 days in an airtight container. However, they do freeze well, and if you pop them in the oven to refresh them, no-one will be able to tell the difference.

cookies and piesI continue to make them partly because it was a firm tradition in my family growing up and I want our son to feel that too, but also because popping a couple on desks at work is an easy way to spread the cheer and love of the season. Even if my season is ar$e-about-face now I’m in the Southern Hemisphere! Again, it is what you make of it, not what stores tell you it needs to be.

Store-bought mince meat, (again with suet), is far easier to use if you’re only making a batch or two of pies. If you’re planning on making huge amount, you could make your own mince meat, although I’ve never tried to. I  grew up using Robertson’s Mincemeat, which when I’m feeling frazzled I have been known to eat out the jar with a spoon. Here’s my shortcrust pastry recipe (in ounces as that’s how I learnt it, again from Granny Smith):

  • 8oz plain flour, plus more for rolling
  • pinch of salt
  • 2oz butter
  • 2oz vegetable shortening (or lard)
  • cold water

Rub the fat into the salted flour, every so often shake the bowl to bring the larger lumps to the top and keep rubbing the flour together until it resembles breadcrumbs. Using a knife to stir through the mixture (almost like slicing it), dribble cold water in, the pastry will slowly come together leaving the sides of the bowl clean. Do not add too much water, as it’ll be too sticky, hence the dribble at a time. Don’t over work the pastry either, when the bowl is clean, knead the final ball of pastry gently and leave it in the bowl to rest in the fridge for 2o minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180c.

Roll out, cut out shapes, put them into your tart pan (greased and floured), add a teaspoon of mince meat to your pie, decorate the top with pastry stars. They’ll only take 10-12 minutes to cook, cool and dust with icing sugar.

This basic recipe can easily be doubled, and as with pastry it can used for normal meat pies, quiche bases, apple tarts (will need to be blind baked first) jam tarts etc. but here’s a secret for your mince pies, add a pinch of all spice or cinnamon to the flour. Yum. I made these for the first company I worked for here in Australia and received a marriage proposal, true story.

Next week we’re going to revise our diaries and look at some crafts for the children in the house to help with. Any suggestions, I’m thinking biscuits, tree decorations and so on. Have a good week!