It is time to think about baking the Christmas cake. I’d like to say that I have an old family recipe passed down through the generations, but I haven’t and as I don’t bake a cake every year either, I have generally forgotten which recipe I followed the previous time. Delia is always reliable, I’m sure I’ve made hers on several occasions.
Last year my neighbour, John, decided he’d make a cake for each of his two daughters and was given several recipes by various people. He ended up making three cakes following three different recipes, not knowing which recipe would be the best. We discovered that if you bake your cake in a square or rectangular tin, as opposed to a round tin, you can then sample the cakes by slicing off one of the sides, which would eventually be covered in almond paste and icing anyway. For several weeks we had cake tastings in the afternoon, comparing the different cakes, deciding whether we preferred a recipe which had treacle in it or another one that included cocoa. Of course the more tastings we had, the smaller the cakes became. ‘Shall I just cut another slice off the other side?’, he’d say, ‘ yes why not’, I’d reply.
What was so great about these cake tastings was that it became much easier to recognise what an ideal Christmas cake should contain when there were others to compare against. This isn’t something we often get the opportunity to do, unless we work in the Good Housekeeping Institute. I realised that I’m not so keen on treacle in the mix as I think it gives a bitter taste.
Now the time has come round again to think about baking this traditional cake, I’m faced with the usual question of what recipe to follow. Every week at least one new cookery book enters this house and I love it when a vintage find has handwritten recipes sandwiched between the pages. I’ve found a recipe for Christmas cake in one of my old books, handwritten in fountain pen on an old postcard along with a second card explaining how to make marzipan and royal icing, so I shall take pot luck and make that one. Perhaps it will be someone else’s special hand-me-down family recipe. I forgot to mention the downside of cake sampling, which is that by the time Christmas comes you’ve had quite enough cake to last you for at least another eleven months.
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