Christmas baking conjures up memories of sitting at the kitchen table with my Mum and Grandma making dozens and dozens of mince pies. From as far back as I can remember this ritual took place as soon as Grandma arrived for the holidays. Pastry making for the mince pies would be done in the morning. I was taught from a young age to try and do it the old fashioned way, the way Great Grandma did it, no mixers just a lot of arm power. Rubbing the butter in to the flour by hand was a laborious task to get it to fine crumbles before adding the remaining ingredients to create the dough. After a couple of hours setting in the fridge, I was ready with my pastry cutter to start the mince pie marathon. Much of the mince pie loading involved a spoon of mincemeat in the pastry case and a spoonful of mincemeat for me! Once a try of 12 had been finished they were baked until golden brown and dusted with icing sugar ready to eat.
Christmas cakes on the other hand started much earlier in the year. The Christmas spices and brown sugar aroma filled the kitchen mid-September. You may wonder why the cake baking started so early, it’s the storage and preservation of the cakes that is critical. Several times before Christmas you can 'feed' your cake; make small holes in the top and base of the cake with a cocktail stick or small skewer, then spoon over a few teaspoons of brandy. If you prefer not to use alcohol, good quality orange juice will work just as well. I like to wrap the cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper, before storing it in an airtight container.
In the north of England where I originate from, Christmas cake is often served with a piece of cheese such as cheddar or Wensleydale.
Having spent the past four years living in the US I’ve adopted some local traditions. Christmas day now involves egg nog and my baking repertoire has been extended to include gingerbread cookies, delicious!
I hope the recipes for a traditional plum cake and mince pies fill you with Christmas cheer, and the happy childhood memories of baking come flooding back!
Cold Storage kindly provided me with the ingredients to recapture those fond memories. Here are my Christmas recipes.
Traditional Plum Cake
12 oz. / (350g) Sultanas
12 oz. / 350g) Currants
8 oz. / (225g) Stoned raisins
6 oz. / (175g) Glace cherries
4 oz. / (125g) Candied peel
12 oz. / (350g) Unsalted butter
12 oz. / (350g) Soft brown sugar
12 oz. / (350g) Plain flour
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Mixed Spice
1 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp. Blanched almonds
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
12 FL oz. Brandy
1 tsp. Vanilla essence
2 Packets marzipan
1 Packet royal icing or make soft icing using 1lb of icing sugar and 1 egg white (create snow peaks on the cake)
Pre-heat the oven to 325°F (170°C) Gas Mark 3 Grease a 10” round cake tine or 9” square cake tin with melted butter and line with a double thickness of greaseproof paper. Brush this paper with melted butter also. Tie a double band of thick brown paper around the outside of the tin to protect the sides of the cake during baking. Beat the butter until soft, add the sugar and cream together slowly add the beaten eggs, beating well. If the mixture looks like it’s curdling add a little of the flour. Sieve the flour, salt, baking powder and spices. Lightly fold into the mixture adding them slowly. Stir in the fruit, almonds, lemon rind, juice and a few drops of the essence. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and gently bang the tin on the workshop to get rid of air bubbles. Smooth the top making a very slight depression in the center. Dip your fingers into warm water and moisten the surface very slightly-just a film of water on the mixture. This helps prevent a hard crust forming on the top of the cake. Put the cake in the middle off the oven and bake for 3.5 hours or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Check the cake after an hour and cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper or foil to prevent the top from coming too brown. When cooked remove from oven and leave in the tin for at least 15 minutes to prevent cracking. Prick a few holes in the cake and spoon over a few tablespoons of your favorite spirit or orange juice. Allow to cool completely and turn out the cake tin, removing the greaseproof paper. Wrap the cake in a large piece of double thickness greaseproof paper secured with a rubber band. Store in an airtight container and every week smack small holes with a skewer in the top and base and pour in teaspoons of the chosen spirit. Store at least for one month. Marzipan – follow the instructions on the packet. Icing – Royal Icing: follow the instructions on the packet Soft Icing: mix together the icing sugar and the egg white, carefully spread across the cake to form snow peaks.
8 oz. / (225g) Plain flour
4 oz. / (125g) Unsalted butter
1 dessertspoon icing sugar
2 large jars mincemeat or 3 small jars
Lightly butter a 12-hole pie or patty tin. Tip the mincemeat into a bowl and stir so that the liquid is evenly distributed. Place the flour, icing sugar and butter in a food processor and process briefly until resembling breadcrumbs, then slowly add the egg yolk and water. Bring the mixture together with your hands, wrap in cling film and chill for an hour or so. Thinly roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Cut out 12 circles with a fluted pastry cutter, large enough to fill the base of the prepared tin. Press gently into each hole, then fill with the mincemeat. Cut out another 12 slightly smaller discs and use to cover the mincemeat. Press the edges together to seal. Make a small slit in the top of each, then brush lightly with milk. Chill for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Bake the pies for 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and serve warm with lashings of brandy butter.
The Perfect Mulled Wine
1 bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 glass Port, Brandy, or an orange liqueur such as Cointreau
Brown sugar to taste
6 Slices of orange
1 Cinnamon stick
Pinch of mixed spice
Twist of lemon peel to serve
Spike orange slices with the cloves, pushing them through the peel into the flesh. In a large saucepan, gently heat all the alcohol. Add the orange slices, cinnamon sticks and mixed spice. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, being careful not to let the mixture boil. Add sugar to taste and stir well. Ladle into glasses adding a spiral of lemon zest to each one.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Sanding sugar and miniature candies, for decorating
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg; mix well. Beat in molasses, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add flour a cup at a time, mixing until incorporated. Divide dough into quarters; shape into disks, and wrap into plastic. Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours. Preheat oven to 375°F with racks in top and bottom third. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out a dough disk to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies, rolling out any scraps and additional disks as needed until you have about 20 kids. Transfer to parchment-paper-lined baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies. With remaining dough, cut out additional kids to make clothes, jewelry, and hair as desired. Dress cookies, and refrigerate 20 minutes. Bake cookies, two sheets at a time, 7 minutes; rotate pans top to bottom and front to back, and continue baking until cookies are firm when touched, about 6 to 8 minutes more. Let cool on baking sheets 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool completely. Decorate cookies as desired.
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup superfine sugar
2 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup bourbon, preferably Maker's Mark
1/4 cup dark rum, preferably Mount Gay
1/4 cup Cognac, preferably Remy Martin Grand Cru
Freshly grated nutmeg, for sprinkling
Beat yolks in a very large bowl until thick and pale. Slowly beat in sugar. Whisk in milk and 2 cups cream. Mix in bourbon, rum, and Cognac. Cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, beat whites until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into eggnog. Whisk remaining 1 cup cream until stiff peaks form, and fold into eggnog. (Alternatively, you can fold half the whipped cream into eggnog, and top with remaining half.) Sprinkle with nutmeg.