Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas is coming

That's right: four weeks from today, we're all going to be sitting around, holding our stomachs and groaning. Of course, certain aspects of the Christmas Day repast have to be prepared well in advance - like Christmas cake (p58)!

Over the past few months I've been trying to locate a 23cm square cake tin. There are several recipes that specify this size tin, but as one of them was Christmas cake, I had a fairly definite deadline for finding one. I'd almost given up and decided to use a slightly larger tin I had, when I finally found a 23cm at Riccarton Markets last weekend. Hooray!

During the week, I collected up the ingredients I'd need for the cake: mostly the 2kg of dried fruit (a mixture of currants, raisins, sultanas, dates, crystallised ginger, mixed peel and glace cherries) but also rum, almonds, orange juice and treacle (this last borrowed from Mum as I didn't deem it worthwhile to buy a whole tin for the use of two tablespoons). The cake was starting to get a bit expensive - $25 for the fruit alone - by the time I had everything!

Last night I put the rum, orange juice and some orange zest in my largest saucepan, and, after bringing this mixture to the boil, I took it off the heat and added the huge bowl of dried fruit I had ready. The idea is to let the fruit soak overnight, but the liquid didn't even come halfway up the pot, while the fruit came right to the top. I was worried that only the fruit at the bottom would soak adequately, so I stirred the mixture several times during the evening (and once when I got up to go to the loo in the night).

This morning I prepared to make the cake. Determined to make a good job of it, I read the recipe uncharacteristically carefully. The first thing to do was add the almonds, essences and some lemon zest to my fruit mixture. This sounds quite easy, but it was tricky to mix the added ingredients into the already over-full saucepan.

Next, I creamed some butter with brown sugar and the treacle. When it was looking nicely creamy, I began adding the five eggs one by one. While the mixer was going, I was also sifting flour, baking soda and spices into another bowl. So at the end of this process, I had a big mixer bowl with the creamed mixture, an almost overflowing saucepan full of fruit, and a bowl of dry ingredients. All of these had to be folded together.

The recipe says to "fold in sifted ingredients alternately with fruit mixture" This I did, scooping out portions of fruit with a ladle and folding it in, before adding some of the flour mixture, and so on. It was quite easy to begin with, but as the bowl got fuller and the mixture stiffer, it got harder and harder to fold the ingredients through. After adding the final ingredients I actually got my hands in to make sure it was all mixed through.

I'd carefully lined my tin with 2 layers of brown paper and one of baking paper before starting on the cake. Into this I now spooned the weighty contents of my mixer bowl. It filled the tin almost to the top, but since I didn't expect the cake to rise much, that didn't really matter.

I put the cake in at 150 degrees for 4 hours. That is, my oven timer only goes for one hour, but I set it at that and checked it on the hour for three hours. At the two-hour mark I placed a piece of baking paper over the tin to stop the surface of the cake overcooking; at the three-hour mark I decided the cake was nearly cooked and would dry out if I put it in for the full four hours.

So it was after 3 1/2 hours that I actually took the cake out of the oven. It remains to be seen whether this was the correct choice, but I'd rather have my cake a bit undercooked and dense than overcooked and dry. The cake has to cool in the tin (it's still quite warm, even after 2 hours), then I'll wrap it up and leave it in a cool place until Christmastime. Until then, I've got no idea whether it's come out any good or not - but I have every reason to be optimistic.

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