So we get four calling birds. I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas. We’re still in the thick of it, with lots of people staying, leaving and arriving.
My wreath is starting to look a bit tired now but it looked terrific when I first made it. I originally consulted Celebrate but Pippa Middleton more or less told me what I already knew – except she recommended that I add roses to it, which I didn’t have and even if I had, I probably wouldn’t waste roses on a Christmas wreath. In the end, I used holly, teucrium, Californian lilac and rosemary.
I made the Christmas cake at the start of December and my husband has been in charge of feeding it with cherry brandy. I ended up using ready rolled marzipan and royal icing – they are only sold for round cakes but were JUST big enough to cover my (slightly larger) square cake.
It’s funny but Christmas is starting to feel more like a destination than a time of year. We’ve done all our shopping (I think), the marzipan is on the Christmas cake and my son had his last day at school yesterday.
My husband and son are going to see Star Wars this morning – I was meant to go too but my daughter is a bit poorly so isn’t going to preschool for her last day. Perhaps we’ll put Harry Potter on the telly.
I made a Christmas cake yesterday and it hasn’t turned out very well so I’m making another one.
Last year I put it in the roasting oven for 20 minutes and then in the simmering oven for five hours. This year I followed the book’s advice for people with a four oven AGA, which was to put it in the baking oven for about an hour and then put it in the simmering oven. I kept pulling it out but my skewer wasn’t coming out clean so I left it in the simmering oven for my longer this time – about nine hours in total (although to be fair, the book says that a cake can take between five and ten hours). The top is a bit too hard – my husband wondered if this was because he was cooking a casserole in there at the same time.
The batter itself was much darker this time because I used the really dark sugar.
So yesterday afternoon, I FINALLY got around to icing the Christmas cake. In the end it was a bit of a faff but not as bad as I’d expected. To get the icing to stay on, you need to brush the marzipan with cooled boiled water.
Basically, it’s the same as putting on marzipan – roll it out (this time I used greaseproof paper), get it to broadly the right size for the cake and bung it on, smoothing any cracks.
I used the bottom of my cake tin to estimate the size – unfortunately, this left an enormous “Analon” logo right in the middle of the iced cake. So, as I had some left over icing, I cut out a bunch of stars and circles and decorated the cake with them (plus some silver balls I had) – this actually seems to have disguised all the fuck ups quite well.
Now, my children are also going to put on the decorations we bought the other day. However, as these are horrid, tasteless, plastic things I’m not going to put a picture of it with the decorations on. Just imagine that it is going to stay beautiful and tasteful forever. Until we eat it.
I don’t like marzipan but I understand it’s a necessary thing to let you ice Christmas cakes. As my cake is square, I bought blocks of it rather than prerolled stuff (as that is all circular).
Now, the instructions said that I just needed to put icing sugar on the surface on which I’m rolling it out and on the rolling pin. However, my husband rather scoffed and said I really needed to use grease proof paper – and to be honest, he was right. In the end, we got the marzipan on the cake.
First, I put warmed apricot jam on the cake then we put the marzipan on top.
i have to leave it for at least 24 hours before I can ice it.
We had some marzipan left over so we made marzipan stars using my star cutter.
On Saturday I had a go at making a Christmas cake, using a recipe out of The AGA Bible, which was written by Amy Willcock (who used to live round here but now lives on the mainland, I think). Taxi drivers gossip about her – a few years ago she was in a documentary called The Hissing of Summer Lawns and was about her attempt to modernise the WI in Yarmouth. I only met her once, at the yacht club, but the show was amusing enough if you find time to watch it.
Anyway, the AGA Bible is a good book – one of the things about having an AGA (if you didn’t grow up with one) is that you really need a guide to using it or you risk being rather frightened of it.
One of the helpful things about this book is that it includes different recipes for the celebration fruitcake (which I think means Christmas cake) for different sized cake tins (round and square). One problem I had was that, although I have cake tins, the manufacturers don’t put the sizes on them – we ended up measuring my square tin and decided that it was 20 cm across.
The day before you make the cake, you need to put all the fruit, candied peel and orange / lemon zest in a bowl with the treacle and brandy to marinate. I have no idea whether I chopped the glace cherries small enough and I didn’t have a zester – I used a microplane to do that job.
Then you cover the bowl with some clingfilm.
When it came to actually making the cake batter, I made a couple of changes. I didn’t have any rice flour and the nice ladies at the Co-op looked a bit baffled when I asked if they sold it. However, my Mum said that cornflour would do the same job so I used that instead.
I also didn’t put any chopped almonds in, partly because quite a few people I know don’t like cakes with nuts in and partly because our nephew is allergic to pretty much all nuts. Realistically, there is no change whatsoever that he will want to eat this cake but it does seem rather inhospitable to make something that he can’t safely eat. However, I’ve now realised that if I want to ice it, I’ll need to cover it with marzipan (which I hate but my husband loves) so that point doesn’t really stand.
Originally, when I creamed the sugar and butter, I hadn’t waited for the butter to reach room temperature so it was a bit of a claggy mess. I bunged the bowl on top of the AGA for twenty minutes and it softened up a bit.
Once I’d added all the fruit, the cake mix was actually enormous – came right to the top of my Kitchenaid bowl. I greased the square tin and put greaseproof paper on the bottom (but not on the sides – I figured that, as my tin had a moveable base, this wouldn’t be needed).
I put it in the roasting oven for twenty minutes (as that’s what the recipe said) and then into the simmering oven. The recipe said this could take between five and ten hours, depending on the AGA. In fact, mine was in the simmering oven (at the top) for five hours – my AGA is new so is probably a bit warmer than the old coke-fired ones.
I’ve been told that I need to feed the cake with brandy or sherry. By this, I prick it with a skewer and then drip a teaspoon of liquor into it, about once a week. Sounds an awful faff, I may not bother.