A good month ago I made my Christmas cake, here in the UK a rich fruit cake is traditionally used for celebrations, be it weddings, Christenings or Christmas. I usually make an 8″ one which takes about four hours to bake. It’s dark from using soft brown sugar and dark treacle and is full of dried fruit, mine has about 2lb of raisins, currants and sultanas, soaked for at least a day before in sherry! Once made they are wrapped in tinfoil, popped in a tin and left to mature. My sister feeds hers with brandy during this time too, so you can’t eat her cake and drive!!
The traditional day for making the Christmas cake and puddings is Stir-up Sunday, this is the last Sunday before Advent begins so it’s just nicely a month before Christmas. It’s called Stir-up Sunday because in the Book of Common Prayer the opening collect for the day is “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” I seem to remember my mum making her cake on Stir up Sunday, we all had to go in the kitchen to stir the mixture and make a wish!
James, my son, asked me to make him a cake about two weeks ago, a bit late but it should still taste OK. I finally got round to decorating them this weekend, I had a good session on Sunday decorating two gingerbread houses and two Christmas cakes!
Rich fruit cakes have to be covered with marzipan first, it’s meant to be stuck on with apricot jam, I forgot to get some so I used marmalade instead – no one will notice! Once the marzipan is smoothly covering the cake then it can be covered with icing. I usually use fondant, it doesn’t taste as nice but it’s a ten minute job instead of several hours to coat smoothly with royal icing. Then it just needs decorating…
I needed something fairly simple as time was of the essence, I decided to use a stencil I bought a few years ago. It has like a filigree pattern on it, you just lay it on, go over it with a rolling pin and then without moving it dust the cake with a metallic dusting powder. I used a fine brush to start with as it was handy but the brush kept slipping under the stencil, so I changed to just wrapping some kitchen roll around my finger and dabbing the powder on. I did James’s in silver and mine in an antique gold. I did have to laugh as my OH thought I was being really clever painting the design on…until he saw the stencil in the washing up bowl!
I knew I had some candles left from Helen’s birthday cake so I made a gentle circular imprint and arranged the candles around the circle. I completed James’s circle with some large silver draghees. Having broken a tooth on a biscuit just two days before I decided to pipe a circle on our cake, I didn’t fancy my chances with the silver balls!! Somehow the filigree on James’s worked out better, maybe I just prefer the colour, anyway I decided the gold one needed edging with a line of piping. The ribbon round the sides just finishes them off nicely.
It was only when I tried to find a gold ribbon in my stash that I realised my cake was more of a rose gold. The usual gold ribbon just looked tacky! I did a quick visit down tot the cake decorating shop and they had just the right colour…
I’ve been decorating gingerbread houses for years, I used to do about 15 to order, it helped pay for Christmas! I used to get the gingerbread houses flat-packed from Ikea but a few years ago I discovered the local supermarket sold them, not only were they cheaper, they tasted much nicer too.
I always decorate them flat and then put them together. James wanted sweets on his, so I used the sweets that came with the houses. The decoration of these houses changes each year, a new feature this year was icing their initials above the door which I think looks rather cute.
I like our house just decorated with white icing and the occasional silver draghee. I think they look beautiful and delicate. The design is made up as I go along, even if I’m not sure about one bit I have to keep going to make it match, then maybe add something else to make it work. My favourite bit this year is the roof, I love the way the tiles have worked out. The hanging loops are actually a lot easier than they look, the knack is to have the royal icing the right consistency.
We have a rule in our house that the gingerbread house can’t be started until Christmas Day evening! When I used to use the Ikea gingerbread houses I made lattice windows in icing, so the first things they always did was to put their fingers through the windows!
I think I’m just about ready for Christmas, cards are written and posted, presents wrapped. I would just like to make some mince pies this weekend. I’ve got a truckle of Wensleydale cheese ready in the fridge too to eat with our Christmas cake, cheese and Christmas cake is just the best!!