Sunday, 23 December 2007

There are no Christmas Police

'Tis the season for female journalists to write about the trials of Christmas, and in particular the Christmas Cake, which, they will swear, nobody actually likes. If that's true, then don't do it, nobody's going to come round to check. Similarly mince pies and mulled wine, also frequently cited.

Actually, I like all three, and Chris hates all three. So we rarely have mince pies, and when we do I make him jam tarts (which I also like, so I eat them too, which is fun for me, but a bit unfair, and not terribly good for the waistline). I don't bother mulling wine myself, but take full advantage when it's offered at carol concerts and the like. And some years (but not all, because it is labour-intensive), I make myself a Christmas Cake.

In Britain Christmas Cake means only one thing, but I know I have readers from other countries who might not have the same associations (thank you, Google Analytics). It's a dark, spiced cake with vast quantities of dried fruit, mixed peel, and almonds, held together with a very small amount of batter. It can contain alcohol (my family recipe doesn't) and is made at least a month in advance. When I bother making one, I do it as the weather starts turning cool at the end of September. This year I wasn't going to bother, but changed my mind at the last moment, which meant the end of November. Alcoholic ones are 'fed' with more alcohol while in storage. Apparently this is necessary to keep it from mould; all I can say is that there's no alcohol involved at mine at any stage, and I've never lost one to mould yet. It is first covered with marzipan and then a couple of days later with a very stiff white icing (which is why my hands hurt this afternoon - you really have to fight with it to get it spread). Ideally this gets a couple of days to really dry before the Big Day, but most years I end up doing it on the evening of Christmas Eve. The really accomplished make the icing all smooth and neat. I go for an effect as of wind-sculpted snow, as can be seen above. My mother tends towards a 'hedgehog' style, which is when you give up on smoothness after quarter of an hour's battle, and use the palette knife dipped in hot water to raise peaks all over the surface. Wonky plastic robins are an optional extra.

Interestingly, the traditional British wedding cake is identical, which suggest to me that it is a very old recipe, though none of my recipe books comment on this. My family recipe was clipped out from a magazine in the mid to late 1950s by my grandmother (the back of the page has gossip on Shirley MacLaine, and adverts for circular skirts). I used to have one as my birthday cake when I was a child, made by mum just after Christmas (my birthday is mid-March). Now that I do my own baking I've practically given up on birthday cakes, although this may be going to change since Chris has taken up baking and turned out to be far more enthusiastic and better at than me. (That just might be a hint. I rather liked the Nigella Lawson Triple Chocolate Cake we had a few moths ago, by the way).

I've finished my wrapping, apart from the not-quite finished socks. I'm onto the toe decreases 24 hours early, though, so it looks like I'll be calmly knitting more shawl centre tomorrow evening, instead of sweating and swearing as the clock ticks. It wouldn't have been the first year I've had to wrap socks with the needles still attached. I am developing the usual eccentric Christmas Eve shopping list (so far: Dill, Wrapping Paper). Every single year I vow to buy everything in advance, and not to go near a shop on Christmas Eve, and every single year I forget something that is actually vital. Unless we wrap the remaining presents in newspaper? It's a tempting thought right now.


Helen said...

I'm inclined to blame the Borrowers, rather than the Eater of Socks, especially as I think a mohair snowflake would make a very cosy shawl. And speaking of Google Analytics, they have never, ever, shown me as having a reader anywhere near Norfolk - very strange.

Have a very happy Christmas, and I hope you get the dill.

Marilyn said...

Keep up the good work. Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!