When it comes to food I love to experiment - from putting my spin on cookbook recipes to recreating restaurant dishes or simply making meals from scratch. Although if asked for the recipe, it’s always a challenge to recall exactly what went into the dish. Family and friends are often unsuspecting recipe testers and I love to get their initial feedback and then, when you let them in on the secret, ask for any ideas for improvement.
But when it comes to Christmas cake, I’ve used the same recipe for more than 20 years, with a few minor tweaks every now and again – like this year, substituting cranberries for glace pineapple. I remember proudly baking my first Christmas cake when I went flatting but having to use Mum’s oven as our flat's oven was somewhat unreliable!
I love the whole process – it’s more than baking the cake. It’s writing the shopping list. The conversation I had with an elderly lady in the supermarket checkout queue. When I said to her that every year I think it would be far easier and cheaper to buy one, she responded “My dear, everyone will appreciate all your efforts when they taste it”. Time spent making my own fruitcake mix - with so much chopping that I’m left with a nasty and very tender welt on my index finger for days. The homemade royal icing and staying up late to ice the cakes a few days before Christmas, just so they look perfect on the day. And the bit I love most - delivering the finished cakes.
I’m often asked why I don’t make more cakes and sell them. The simple answer is that I think my love of Christmas cake making would soon disappear. The lucky recipients of the handful of cakes I do make, know how much time and effort goes into baking their cake.
I’ve been working away while the first cake has been in the oven. Taking the cake out and brushing it with a few extra tablespoons of brandy, it has filled the kitchen with a wonderful spicy fruit aroma. And while it smells absolutely divine, family tradition means it won’t be cut until Christmas Day. I can’t wait to taste that first piece.
With only a month to go until Christmas, I’m looking forward to spending time trawling through recipe books and magazines deciding what is on this year’s festive menu. But there is one Christmas tradition our family definitely doesn’t do – there’s no roast turkey in sight!