A passing conversation yesterday reminded me that with all the fuss about Hedonism and Ronnie and my biscuits, I had completely forgotten to start on my Christmas cake. I know with all the fuss about whether the shops are advertising their Christmas products too early or not, you’d have thought Christmas would be fairly uppermost in my mind, but somehow I still forgot.
So today, first thing, I dug out the recipe I use. It’s a variant on one from years and years ago in the Good Food magazine, from when I was going through a phase of being about to start cooking lots of fancy meals – well, another phase, because to be honest, I have a phase of that about once every couple of years. Anyway, I had the magazine at the right time, made the cake that year, and everyone who sampled it sang its praises.
You may wonder why I bother to make a cake. Really, it’s because I can’t stand chopped mixed peel. Making an entire cake may seem a somewhat drastic solution; why don’t I just pick out the bits that I don’t like? Because, in my opinion, the taste of chopped mixed peel permeates the entire cake. Besides, it gives me the opportunity to experiment.
I labour under the possible illusion that the weight of the chopped mixed peel needs to be replaced by something of similar weight or the entire edifice will come tumbling down, or at the very least collapse in flames in the oven. Don’t bother to attempt to disillusion me. So I have tried a variety of different methods of avoiding such a seasonal catastrophe. Additional glace cherries (is there anyone who doesn’t like glace cherries?), extra sultanas, dates and even, one year, figs have all fig-ured in my recipe. But the recurring favourite has been mandarin segments. These have two advantages: one, that they are citrus and therefore sort of close to the item they are substituting; and two, they come in a tin so require no preparation once the can-opener has done its bit. Plus I like them. They seem to keep the cake even moister, particularly when I then feed it regularly with mandarin napoleon in addition to the usual brandy.
So, after finding the recipe, I rummaged in the cupboards to find any ingredients that might have been left over from last year, which is usually currants that have passed their best by date, put together a shopping list and then headed off to the supermarket, nice and early, before the dreaded outlet queues started to build up. I then had to loiter in the supermarket because they weren’t prepared to sell me a bottle of mandarin napoleon quite that early, so by the time I left, there was a lengthy wait to get onto the roundabout in the opposite direction. I of course sailed home.
The fruit all has to soak for twenty-four hours, so once I had mixed it all together with the spices, juice and alcohol, all I could do was sit down with a cup of coffee. The OH is quite well-trained now to enjoy the smells and nothing else until Christmas, but I caught Ronnie lifting the lid with a spoon in her hand, about to sample the work in progress.
“I thought you weren’t supposed to have alcohol yet,” I said from the doorway.
She dropped the lid with a guilty clang and tried to hide the spoon behind her back, but she realised from the smile on my face that there was no point.
“It just smells so good!”
“You’ll have to wait,” I told her, putting on my most severe face. Then we both burst out laughing. “I can find some currants though. Eccles cake, anyone?”
I may make a lot of biscuits, but the Christmas cake is the only cake I make. Normally. I may extend that to include Eccles cakes now.