Tag Archives: Christmas Cake

Some Last Minute Christmas Tips & Ideas

Balls

If, like me, you’ve left everything to the last minute, here are a few Christmas tips and ideas for food, cards, presents and activities.

If you’ve only just made your Christmas Cake, feed it with a teaspoon of brandy three times a day for the next week, then apply the marzipan.  Leave it overnight to dry.  Buy a ready mix packet of Royal Icing Mix and spike it all over.  Supermarkets now have some super and classy-looking ready-made decorations, so pop one of those on the top.

If you’ve left it too late to post your Christmas cards abroad, go out with your camera and take a photograph of something Christmassy.  E-mail this with a short note, and a grovelling apology for your wretchedness, to all your foreign or ex-patriot friends and family.  This could also work with other friends if you’ve really messed it up.

If you’re really stuck for a present for someone, most supermarkets now have a fantastic range of gift cards for both local and larger High Street shops.  I think vouchers are a great gift, especially for difficult teenagers for whom there is absolutely no chance of getting it right unless they’ve given you a list.  Monsoon, HMV, iTunes, book shops, cinemas, restaurants etc – you can’t go wrong.  Click on these links to High Street Vouchers and  The Gift Card Centre and see what’s out there. Fed up with buying expensive wrapping paper that just gets ripped off and thrown away?  Wrap your gifts very neatly with newspaper and tie up the parcels with thick brightly coloured ribbon.  The ribbon can be rolled up and used again and so can the paper.

Can’t think of a gift for an older female friend or relative?  In this cold weather, skin really suffers.  Some really nice hand cream, eg. Crabtree & Evelyn, Molton Brown, Aveda, Floris, and The National Trust does a lovely range of flower scented hand creams and co-ordinating products.  It will be well received, I can assure you.

Men can be terribly difficult to buy for, particularly if the chaps in your life don’t have any discernable hobbies or interests.  Again, vouchers for HMV or a favourite clothes shop will never go to waste, but the following sites have some good ideas.  Presents for Men or Find Me a Gift could give you some clues or what about buying them an activity gift to get them interested in something?  Also a decanter and a bottle of something nice to put in it would surely bring a smile to any bod’s face.  A local antique market would be a great an inexpensive place to start or many high street jewellers sell them now.

Don’t be afraid to ask people what they want.  My family doesn’t see enough of each other to know what we have in our houses and we want to spend our money carefully on something the person really needs or would like as a treat.  Get everyone to make a list and then you know you’ll get it right.  This isn’t cynical and horrid, it’s practical and sensible at a time when people want to spend their money wisely.

CHRISTMAS FOOD

Don’t tear your hair out worrying about making Christmas Lunch for the family.  Think of it as Sunday Lunch XL!  It doesn’t have to be a great extravaganza; after all the point of having people over is to share Christmas with them, not to show off how clever you are in the kitchen.  Planning is the key and prepare as much as you can in advance. 

Starters – an unusual soup can be prepared the day before and reheated. Smoked Salmon with some coloured salad leaves and a twist of lemon will never be sneered at or failing that, buy some pre-prepared salmon mousses wrapped in smoked salmon and pop them on a bed or rocket.  Lovely. 

Pudding – Christmas Pud can be reheated in the microwave then served with fresh cream or brandy butter.  If some people don’t like Christmas Pud, make a trifle or make/buy a special ice-cream dessert.  A good cheese board with nice savoury biscuits and fruit takes no effort and can be brought to room temperature while the dinner is cooking.  More importantly, allow people to help you.  There are no prizes for being knackered and grumpy because you feel pressured and put-upon.

Christmas Tea – most people will still be stuffed from lunch so don’t go overboard.  Have a cold collation prepared: cold turkey, nice ham, a bowl of salad and a choice of dressings, some good bread, crisps, Christmas Cake, Mince Pies.  Alternatively buy a selection of party nibbles from a shop and dig in.  Again, get people to muck in and help.

If you’re going to be flying around in the style of a fly with a blue bottom, the trick is to think ahead.  Make (and freeze) or buy a curry sauce and make sure you have some rice in, then on Boxing Day or the day after, if you can’t face any more cooking, a turkey curry can be knocked up in 20 minutes.

ACTIVITIES

Christmas can be a time when people can get grumpy and dyspeptic if not carefully managed.  Think about having a walk before it gets dark to allow the grown ups to walk off their lunch and to let the children run off a bit of steam.  Everyone will feel better for it and it breaks up the day.

Have some games planned that everyone can join in with and have a laugh.  Charades or Give Us a Clue can involve the whole family as can Trivial Pursuit.  Heads, Bodies and Legs is easy for little ones and more fun than you’d think, likewise Consequences, where everyone writes a line of an agreed story and then passes the paper round and everyone writes the next line etc.  Kerplunk had us all in  stitches last year as did the game where someone sticks the name of a person on your forehead and you have to ask questions until you guess who it is.

I would also suggest that you discourage the children from sitting in front of their new computer games all day.  It’s rather bad manners to ignore everyone else like that, the game isn’t going to go away.  Take the opportunity to make the day something out of the ordinary and have a bit of fun!

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…and now for the Icing on the Fruit Cake

Good enough to eat

This simple Poinsettia design looks lovely and is not difficult.  You will need some holly cutters which should be easily available from any decent cook shop.  The one’s I used had a veining stamp which makes the leaves look a bit more realistic.  Getting royal icing absolutely flat is a skill which has to be learned like any other, and for this cake isn’t necessary.  A few swift strokes with a wet palette knife are quite sufficient as long as you can get it to follow the line of the cake, as the top will be covered with leaves and the sides with a ribbon. 

You need to leave the royal icing to dry on your cake at least over night, so put the icing on, then make the leaves, then leave the both to dry.  The leaves can then be applied the following day.

Utensils:
1 x large mixing bowl
1 x electric hand mixer
1 palette knife
1 x jug of warm water
2 x holly cutters – 1″ & 1 ½”, ideally with a veining stamp
1 x rolling pin
paint brushes
greaseproof paper

Ingredients:
1 x marzipanned cake
1 x pack royal icing mix
Icing sugar for dusting
1 x pack of ready made red fondant icing
1 x pack of ready made green fondant icing
a tiny bit of cream or white fondant or some mimosa balls for stamens
1 x pot edible glue
1 x pot edible glitter – disco neon electric lime (or similar)
1 x pot edible glitter – disco red
1 length of ribbon

Method:
Make up the royal icing as per the instructions on the pack.  It is important to beat the icing for the prescribed length of time; use an electric mixer or your arm will drop off if you attempt to do it by hand.  And we wouldn’t want that would we?

Using a palette knife, apply the icing to the cake in confident strokes.  Dip the knife into a jug of warm water and it will spread much more evenly.  Make sure that every bit of marzipan is covered and I would recommend a thickness of about 1cm of icing.
Wipe any splodges of icing off the cake board with a damp cloth
Lightly cover your work surface with icing sugar
Roll out about 1/3 of the green icing to a thickness of about 1/8″ / 2mm
Dip the cutter lightly in some icing sugar and proceed to cut out about 20 large leaves and 6 small leaves of each colour
Lay them out on the greaseproof paper
Working on 3-4 at a time, paint each leaf with sugar glue
Using a separate brush, immediately dust each painted leaf with glitter of the same colour
Leave to dry overnight.  Remember to rinse out your brushes.

Paint some sugar glue onto the back of a green leaf and place on the outside edge of the cake, pressing gently into place, then work your way round the edge, placing them at slightly different angles

Apply another layer, slightly further in and overlapping a bit (see photo)
Then do the same with the red leaves, finishing with a few little ones in the middle
Put a few tiny balls of white/cream fondant in the middle to look like stamens
Leave to dry

Finish off the cake with a nice, broad ribbon and glue it in place at the back.  I have just used plain ribbon but you could add a jolly bow.
Place in an obvious place so that everyone who comes to your house can completely unexpectedly admire it

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How to apply Marzipan to your Christmas Cake

Marzipan is applied to a fruit cake to act as a protective seal and a flat surface between a dark, sticky, potentially leaky cake and a crisp, white icing.  If you really don’t like marzipan, it is possible to apply fondant icing directly to the cake, but you must make it very thick or the cake may start to show through and it will be much harder to get the surface flat.

Like anything else, getting marzipan flat and even is a skill, but if you are just starting out, you can easily disguise any small bumps with icing.  The design I’m going to demonstrate does not necessitate perfect flat icing and is therefore ideal for a beginner or someone who simply doesn’t have time to do something more complicated.

One day, I’ll tell you how to make your own marzipan, but not now.  Life’s too short.

Utensils:
1 x rolling pin
1 x flour shaker loaded with icing sugar
1 sharp knife
1 x ordinary knife
1 x cake board – about an inch wider than the cake all round

Ingredients:
2 packets of Marzipan (you may only need one, but better safe than sorry)
Apricot jam (not with chunks of fruit in)
Icing sugar for dusting surfaces
1 rich fruit cake

Method:
Spread some jam quite thickly in the middle of the board
Place the cake centrally on top of it

Cover the cake with jam

Cover the cake in a thin layer of apricot jam

Light dust the worktop with icing sugar
Roll out the marzipan to between ½ and 1cm thick – depending on how much you like marzipan

Using the cake tin in which you baked the cake as a template, cut out a circle in the marzipan

Place marzipan neatly on the top

Place it neatly on top of the cake
Use scraps to fill in any gaps between the bottom of the cake and the board

Use marzipan to fill gaps

Knead the marzipan into a ball

Dust the surface with icing sugar again and roll the marzipan into a long strip, approximately the circumference and height of the cake
Trim the bottom edge straight with the sharp knife

Wrap marzipan carefully round the sides

Wrap the marzipan carefully around the cake, making sure it sticks to the jam

Trim with a sharp knife

Using a sharp knife, dipped in water, trim the marzipan so that it forms a neat edge in line with the top

Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe any scuffs off the top and any stickiness off the cake board

Roll the rolling pin gently over the top to make sure it is nice and flat

Marzipanned!

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Being Awfully Busy

I’ve kept meaning to put another post on this week, but somehow it just hasn’t happened.  I have two children at different schools and every day there seems to be something else that I either have to do, attend, contribute or pay for; Class Hamper, Secret Santa, Christingle, Carol Service, Own Clothes Day, Decorations Day, Nativity Play, Create A New Organised Religion Day (Key Stage 1), Release a Turkey into The Wild Morning and my personal favourite, Camel Care for the Under Fives.   I also now have choir practices and carol services to go to and I have to make the house habitable in order to be hospitable over the Christmas Season.  Can’t wait for the end of term!

This weekend, I am going to marzipan my Christmas Cakes, so look out for a piece on that, which will be closely followed by instruction on how to do a simple but effective Poinsettia design for the icing.

Tonight, it is Alice’s daughter’s birthday and we are all going to see ‘Nativity’ at the pictures.  Alice and I usually go to the pub while the children are watching some hideous, badly executed, poorly plotted cartoon, and we had found that cinema attendance had become a very expensive sleep – Alice actually snored during ‘Monsters v. Aliens’.  But tonight we are going to ‘sit in’.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tomorrow, having been lent a set of brushes, I am going to clean my chimney.  I’ve been awfully good this year…

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A marvellous Christmas Cake Recipe

Ideally, one should have baked a Christmas Cake a week ago, but there is still plenty of time if you feed it with brandy twice a day instead of once.  I will do two more posts on how to marzipan the cake and a simple decorative icing.  Also do remember that Christmas Cake is full of fruit and is therefore health food.

Also remember that a small Christmas Cake makes a lovely and welcome gift, particularly for someone who doesn’t have the time to bake, or is perhaps on their own and can’t manage a bigger one.  Adjust the quantities accordingly. 

Lining a cake tin:   When baking a heavy fruit cake, you need to line the tin properly with greaseproof paper. 
Lay out your greaseproof paper on a flat surface and trace round the bottom of the tin twice
Cut out the two circles and set aside
Cut a long strip, the circumference of the tin and about 1″ (2.5cm) deeper than the tin.  Make small cuts at regular intervals all along one long edge.
Grease the tin then place one circle of greaseproof in the bottom
Grease this circle of paper lightly then put the long length of paper around the inside of the tin, snipped side at the bottom so that is overlaps the ready greased circle.
Then place the second circle of greaseproof paper on top of that. 

CHRISTMAS CAKE

Utensils:
1 large mixing bowl
1 x food mixer
Greaseproof paper
Newspaper
String

Ingredients:
8oz soft brown sugar
8oz butter
4 eggs – beaten
1½ tablespoons black treacle
9oz wholemeal self-raising flour
1½ teaspoons mixed spice
14oz raisins
14oz sultanas
12oz currants
6oz glacé cherries – halved
2oz chopped almonds

Method:
Cream the butter and sugar until very pale 
Beat in the eggs, then mix in the treacle
Gradually fold the flour into the mixture 
Once it is all combined, add all the other ingredients.

Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared tin, leaving a deep indentation in the middle so that it rises flat
Wrap newspaper around the outside of the tin, leaving a good 2” of paper above the top of the tin 
Secure with the paper with string (do not use plastic string as this will melt).
Bake at 150ºC for 2 hours, then at 140ºC for 1 hour
Remove the newspaper, then leave to cool in the tin 
Each day, drizzle half a capful of brandy or rum over the cake until you are ready to marzipan and ice it

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