I hadn’t worked towards this particular day to make my Christmas cakes but having put the fruit to soak in a good sized splosh of rum (or two) a couple of days ago, it was time to get on with it, for sure. Whenever I bake my cakes, I think of my Nan, who made them for all the family and for whom it was a major operation.
She sensibly prepared everything over a few days, gathering the ingredients over some weeks before, stretching her housekeeping money to cover what were expensive ingredients. She’d have to wash and pick over her dried fruits, taking out stones and stems; an extra step in the already lengthy process.
In particular, she’d take trouble to line her baking tins well. No such thing as baking parchment, she’d cut greaseproof paper and use the wrappers from the butter pats to grease the tins well. I simply grabbed a bit of kitchen roll and gave them a quick once over with a bit of butter before getting out the non stick paper and trimming it to fit. But always, at this point, I wish that I’d done this yesterday, or even last evening, because it’s a niggly little job and has to be done properly.
At least it gave me time to get the butter warmed up and softened, ready to cream. My Nan wouldn’t have stored her butter in a fridge, so it might not have been such a preoccupation for her – except that her small kitchen often felt like a fridge in cold weather!
The lovely aroma of demerara sugar is the prompt for the first of my small anxieties. It’s one time when I’m envious of Karin’s new Kitchen Aid and when I wonder if I really ought to have kept Mummy’s Kenwood Chef, because all of that sugar needs to be creamed into the butter.
It’s hard work, even with a powerful hand mixer, and this is the part when I consider the serious work my Nan put into those cakes, doing it all by hand. But it needs to be done and as I work, I keep an eye out for the hard little lumps of sugar and crush them in between my thumb and forefinger as I go. (It’s a good excuse to take a little break, and rest my arm!) The beaten eggs go in next and I’m relieved that my mixer is still going – if feeling a little hot!
I sift the flour and spices into the mixture and decide that not only is it time to go back to Nan’s way of working and put the mixer aside, but it’s also time to dispense with the rubber spatula and get out the good, strong, reliable wooden spoon to fold in that flour. The mixture is pretty stiff and there’s a lot of flour to work in.
At last, it’s time to get out the little red, gold and black tin – the only time of the year it comes out, it seems. Someone, somewhere had a disaster with black treacle, so now it comes with a stern message about using before the expiry date which makes me cautious about keeping it too long. There’s the other inevitable consequence of Christmas baking too – a handful of bald citrus fruits!
Having added all the ingredients now, it’s time to give the whole thing a good mix and give my Hero a call – yes, my arm is getting tired, but it’s also time to stir and wish.
I read the traditions of Stir up Sunday this morning and learned for the first time that it’s supposed to be stirred from the East to the West. Hmmm. Since we stir in a circle, I guess that’s covered already, isn’t it? Anyway, we each had a stir, we each made a wish and that was that.
All that remained was to divide the mixture between the two tins, to wrap the baking tins in newspaper to prevent the sides from scorching
and to give each a little greaseproof paper hat to protect the top from a similar fate. The oven as been on all morning and remarkably, I’ve remembered to arrange the shelves so both cakes will fit in!
All that’s left is the washing up. Not the great big, heavy stoneware bowls my Nan would have used, and thankfully, with plenty of hot water and modern detergent to wash up in, it’s quickly done.
But as I turn around, I spot something.
Guess who forgot to put in the chopped almonds?
Will anyone notice? Probably not – unless you tell them!