I have been chatting with Elaine, Sheila and Val about Christmas cakes. I have three things I make, or at least have made if no longer bothering with the first. The 'challenge' here is to see how many different recipes we can get up.
So my three.
First one. When my mother died I helped myself to a family cookbook. It is handwritten and handed down generation to generation since the opening shot of a lamb stew with dumplings in 1862. The Christmas cake appears a few pages later in beautiful handwriting. In the book it is in ounces, spoonfuls, so I simply converted everything into the nearest metric measurements over 20 years ago and have absolutely no problems with this version.
200 gr butter
500gr muscavados sugar
1500gr mixture currants, sultanas, raisins, candied peel
250 gr mixed nuts
100 gr glace cherries
1 handful of flour
Generous measures of: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, all spice and cloves all powder form and ½ teaspoon minimum each (I do 1 cinnamon, slightly less ginger, ½ nutmeg, allspice and cloves.
Mix dry fruit and glacé cherries into a large bowl, add the handful of flour and stir until none of the fruit sticks together, add spices and mix again. Then add nuts.
Soften but do not melt the butter. Make a well in the mix in the bowl and put the butter in the bottom, crumble and separate the sugar into the butter and mix them together. Add all six eggs then begin to work the entire mixture together until it is an even buttery texture around the fruit. This makes very heavy and dark cake, so bake it long and slow at about 230°. If you want it to rise a bit add some bicarbonate of soda or baking powder (two tablespoons) when the dry mix is made.
Some people thing the mixture is not liquid enough and some have made something that crumbles as soon as they take it out of the tin, other try adding milk and find that what they get is then doughy and uncooked in the centre. I watched my mother make this and do as she does and it works if the mixture is patiently worked in an even texture.
My family's real favourite is Weihnachtstolle. Some of you may know it cooked in a ring form as Kugelhupf or simply Stollen. It is popular throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland and is becoming increasingly available in supermarkets in other countries, Aldi and Lidl especially. A home made one beats any bought one.
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons dried fruit (currants or raisins)
1½ tablespoons candied peel
pinch of each nutmeg and cinnamon
Sieve salt and flour into a bowl, make a well in the mix and add yeast mix (50ml of the milk, warm to dissolve yeast in), flick some of the flour over and then cover and set aside in a warm, draft free place covered with a cloth. When it has a bit of bubble in it, add the butter, eggs and sugar then the remainder of the milk (touch warm) and mix into smooth, elastic dough. Knead to stretch gluten, if it is too wet add a little flour until it does not stick to fingers. Cover with a clean cloth and leave in a warm place to rise for half an hour or so until it is doubled in size. Then knead and sprinkle with flour. Work it flat into an oval shape then roll marzipan into a sausage the width of the widest part of the oval. Put the marzipan on to the thin end of the oval then roll together to make a kind of loaf.
Leave it to proof again under a cloth until roughly twice its size, brush melted butter over the top and sides then bake at 200° for about 40 minutes. Once it has cooled down dust it generously with powdered or icing sugar.
I shall make mine during the second week of December. Being a bread it has a limited storage life but two weeks is good.
Then we have a touch of hedonism. My wife and I indulge ourselves of Panforte di Siena. Our children are not (yet) keen, so this is one for the evening when they have gone to bed with a good heavy Italian liqueur.
225g blanched almonds with skins on
100g candied orange and lemon peel, chopped small
1 teaspoon cinnamon
generous pinch of each ground coriander, white pepper and mace
100g flour (Italian 00 if you can find it)
75g granulated sugar
Chop the nuts but do not reduce them to a paste, irregular small chunks are best, put into large mixing bowl. Add peel, half of the cinnamon plus the other spices. Mix until well blended, then add 75g flour.
Honey should be heated until it is more liquid then the sugar added to melt into it, do not allow to boil. Make a well in the mixture then pour the honey-sugar syrup in. Mix gently until entirely blended.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°. Line a shallow cake tin or quiche form (preferably the removable base type) with the rice paper then add the cake mix, smoothing it out level. Sift the remaining flour and cinnamon over it. Bake for about 35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes then remove from tin. Leave to cool and rest for around eight hours. Wrap in foil to keep. It will last easily three months. Always leave it to rest for a day before eating anyway. Before serving, mix two tablespoons of icing sugar with one teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle over cake.
Recently people have begun to add chocolate. That makes it incredibly rich. If you want to try that then find the really dark, raw chocolate for cooking that does not melt too easily, grind it down to chips of similar size to the nuts, dust it with cocoa powder and add to the mix with the nuts and dried fruit, reduce the honey and sugar mix a little, but I'll leave that to you.
So, what has anybody else got on offer?