Sunday November 23rd 2008, 9:36 pm

Baking the Christmas cake, November 2008

I had a boyfriend once whose sister made him a Christmas cake every year. When it came time to eat the thing, instead of cutting it with a knife into neat pieces or treating it with any kind of ceremony or respect, he used to pick at the cake with his hands, tearing off big untidy lumps. Any remaining cake would sit there for weeks afterwards, all hacked at, looking like a replica of the north face of the Eiger. He quite obviously had never made a Christmas cake himself.
It always surprises me that noone ever mentions just what hard physical work it is making this classic rich fruit cake. The idea that all the tools you need are a wooden spoon and a bowl is true of course but doesn’t take into account the quantity of elbow grease required. Today I made my Christmas cake, thankfully, with the help of my trusty vintage Kenwood Chef but I have in years gone by done the creaming of the butter and sugar, the beating of the eggs and the stirring in of the inordinate amount of dried fruit, all by hand and have been completely knackered by the end of it. As a consequence, seeing anyone eating this traditional cake without due care and attention is in my eyes unacceptable. (However, I don’t want you thinking that was the only reason my relationship with the boyfriend didn’t work out!)
As mentioned in my last post, I’ve decided this year to follow a handwritten recipe found in an old cookery book, with of course, a bit of tweaking. Everyone you ever speak too about Christmas cake has something to say about one ingredient or another that they can’t stand; be it the marzipan, the icing, the dried fruit, etc, etc. I decided that my cake should include everything but the kitchen sink and treacle. Along with the usual currants, sultanas, raisins, chopped candied peel and glace cherries, I added roughly chopped stem ginger pieces and a couple of spoonfuls of the syrup from the ginger jar (because it is fab with just about everything). I didn’t have any ground almonds so I chopped up some marzipan and creamed it in along with the butter and sugar as well. I will publish the recipe here in the next day or so.
As the cake baked for 3 or 4 hours, the house became filled with this amazing smell. A Christmas cake baking is not like anything else and then I realised it was the smell of Christmas as a child. My baking project then became something much more important than simply ‘making a cake’. I’m not really a great traditionalist, always preferring to do things that are new and different, but this made me realise why we bother year after year to do these things. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help remembering the totally over-the-top childish excitement and fervour that Christmas once created and loved ones, no longer here, who cared enough to make it so.

Monday December 10th 2007, 1:03 pm

Vintage Kenwood Christmas

When it comes to food mixers there seem to be two main camps; do you choose Kenwood or Kitchenaid? The other day I realised that I was longing for a new Kitchenaid Artisan mixer (perhaps in tangerine) but my reasons were based on having seen them used on TV food programmes (always in red). As I consider myself intelligent enough to see through this blatant product placement I decided to question my desires. Both makes have been around for a very long time, Kenwood since the 50’s and Kitchenaid since before that and it seems that both have built up strong brand loyalty. I haven’t inherited a preference myself, growing up it was only the ‘Blackpool landlady’ faction of my family who aspired to the Kenwood Chef with all the attachments.
After some research I am drawn more towards Kenwood, originally and for most of its existence a British company. The design of the Chef stayed relatively unchanged from the early 60’s and has a great retro look, a bit more edgey than the US 50’s-diner style Kitchenaid. The fact that the Chef was considered to be ‘over engineered’ contributed to its robust and reliable reputation. So instead of rushing off to John Lewis to buy new I have saved a deserving vintage Chef from landfill. Christmas has come early at The Laundry and my life has just taken a turn for the better.
And not only that ….. it is TANGERINE.

Vintage Kenwood in tangerine