Friday, November 9, 2012

Time to Make the Christmas Cake 
Keeping the Tradition

The first week in November is always special - ( along with the Melbourne Cup and Guy Fawkes) - time to bake my Christmas cake. Carrying on the tradition from my Mum , the first week in November was the time to bake the Christmas cake.
This is a very easy and economical recipe (post World War 2) a time  when ingredients were sometimes hard to come by - there is no spice in the original recipe but add some if you like - ground cinnamon, allspice, mixed spice and cloves are all good for a Christmas cake.
This cake isn't iced - but if you like the almond paste and white icing go for it! I just make a decorative pattern with whole blanched almonds.

It can be done in one day or can be done in stages over several days if you are pushed for time.

Note: the cake does take about three hours to cook. My Mum used to prepare the cake one day, leave overnight and bake it early the next morning when she knew she would be home for several hours. We would wake up to the gorgeous smell wafting through the house on Christmas cake baking day.

First prepare your tin:
I use a 20cm - square tin that is 9 cm deep - (8 inches square, 3 1/2 deep) 

Wrap your tin in newspaper - about 5-6 layers - tie with string - if you are not using the tin for anything else it will keep for years. Wrapping your tin ensures even heat distribution and that the outside edges of the cake don't become dried out. Some people say that with thermostatically controlled ovens this step is no longer necessary - but this is a tradition I like to hang on to.

Line the tin with a double layer of thick brown paper - the kind that old fashioned grocery bags are made of - whenever I get one of those bags I keep it "for the Christmas cake tin".

Next line with a double layer of baking paper.

Prepare the fruit:
I use a mixture of dried fruit, black raisins,sultanas, prunes, figs, glace cherries and mixed peel. Any combination of dried fruit will do - you can use already mixed dried fruit too.Chop the large fruit into small pieces and halve the cherries - mix.

Now pour some brandy or rum over the fruit and stir - I use about 1/3 cup. At this stage you could leave the fruit for several hours, days or up to a week (stirring occasionally).

Get your ingredients ready.

 Beat the butter until pale and creamy (New Zealand butter is very yellow!)

Add sugar and beat until pale and creamy too.Add the vanilla.

Add the egg yolks and beat.

 Add the fruit and stir in by hand so it doesn't become squashed - I use my own clean hands for this stage.Add flour and baking soda - stir or mix by hand again.

Lastly beat the egg whites until stiff and mix into the fruit batter - this lightens the mixture.

With a large spoon or spatula carefully put the mixture into the prepared tin.

Smooth the top with a spatula . Make a decorative pattern on the top with whole blanched almonds.
Cover the cake with a clean teatowel and leave to stand for at least 8 hours.
When you're ready to cook the cake pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit or 135 degrees celsius. The cake cooks slowly to retain moisture.If the top is becoming very brown cover with a square of tinfoil for remainder of cooking time.
The original recipe says it takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours to cook but mine only takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Start testing your cake after about the first 1 1/2 hours - rotate the cake in the oven at this time too.Watch the top (see above)
Use a skewer or cake tester to check if the cake is cooked - test in the middle of the cake.

Remove the cake from the oven and wrap the whole tin in a towel to completely cover - this keeps the moisture in the cake. 
When the cake is completely cold ( overnight) remove from the tin and remove the layers of brown paper and leave one layer of white baking paper.

 The next step is the beginning of "feeding " the cake. You will need a pastry brush and about 2 tablespoons of alcohol of your choice.
With a cake tester , thin skewer or hat pin make holes all over the top of the cake.Only go 3/4 way down into the cake so that the alcohol doesn't run through the bottom!

Brush evenly with the alcohol until it is all used.

Place two pieces of tinfoil cross wise and two pieces of baking paper on top in the same way.

Wrap the cake so that it is sealed but so that the top of the foil and paper can be easily opened for "feeding" once a week until Christmas time. Store in a cool dark place - NOT in the refrigerator.

Once a week  feed the cake with 1-2 tablespoons of brandy or rum. If when you unwrap the cake it appears wet STOP ! Leave it for a few days and then see if it has soaked in. Don't make the cake soggy.

Anytime close to Christmas slice and enjoy !Between times keep the cake wrapped and in a large tin or container.


Butter 10 ounces - 275 grams - at room temperature
Sugar  10 ounces - 275 grams
Eggs   6 - separated
Dried fruit 3 1/2 pounds - 1.6 kg
Flour - plain all purpose - 12 ounces - 350 grams
Baking soda - 1/2 teaspoon
Vanilla Essence pure - 1 teaspoon
Brandy or Rum - for soaking and feeding
Spices - optional - powdered - 2-3 teaspoons

The cake cut 7 weeks later on Christmas Day
Enjoy !

Friday, October 26, 2012


Layering Up: Mille-feuille/Napoleon

Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only to tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!

This is just the reason I joined the Daring Bakers, to make this kind of thing, the things I've looked at (and eaten) and always fancied making but thought they were really complicated.
These delicious slices are also known as Napoleons, and in New Zealand and Australia as custard squares, vanilla slices or pastry cream slices.
Here was my chance to make Mille-feuille ( say Meel Foy), starting off with making the puff pastry. Mille-feuille means a thousand leaves - all the layers of the pastry. Quite confusing really and nobody had the answer - because in Mille-feuille the pastry is compressed during cooking to prevent the layers from puffing up too much - so you don't see the layers ???
Making the pastry was time consuming  but not difficult and it had a 
wonderfully smooth texture - I'm going to make it again and use in a recipe where it puffs up, I'm expecting a good result.

Creme patisserie is spread between the pastry layers and topped with icing.

Melted chocolate is next and piped in lines along the top - this didn't have to be too precise, which suited me just fine.

The next part was just magic - I'd never researched making Mille - Feuille so always thought those swirly  arrows were amazingly intricate piping work - but all was to be revealed!

By simply lightly drawing a knife up and down alternately through the lines of chocolate those swirly arrows appear - this was my best part :) I never knew.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable challenge for me - Suz was a great host giving feedback to every one who shared their results during the month - thanks Suz for a great challenge.

Recipe and step by step instructions can be found here .

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Daring Bakers

August 2012 Challenge: 


Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild! 
Recipe here

Since I was about 10 years old I've always wanted to make choux swans. I 
first saw them in a recipe book that belonged to my older sister. They looked so special, I hardly believed it was possible to make them at home. the recipe book was called Cooking Better all the Time - Katie Stewart 1966 London - I used to love looking through the pages - although the food styling and photos are now 46 years old - the pictures were very enticing.

So I was delighted when I saw this month's challenge for the Daring Bakers. I hadn't made  choux pastry for years but remembered from years ago when I made a lot of it - that you kind of get a feel for it and know the correct texture and consistency of the mixture.
This mixture was quite thin - it probably didn't need so much egg. I read in another recipe book to add the eggs 1 at a time when making choux, look at the mixture after each addition - sometimes it doesn't take all the eggs. Alternatively  if the mixture is too thick it can be thinned with an egg white or two - added one at a time.

I filled my swans with the Vanilla Creme Patissiere (in the recipes given) and Chantilly Cream.

This was a fun challenge ! I must make choux pastry more often :) 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Going Batty for the Jubilee

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

I had always looked at these cakes and thought "intricate" - "too hard" - "professional baker" ! So when Mandy challenged us with Battenberg Cake to coincide with The Queen's 60th Jubilee and highlighted Mary Berry's techniques I had to give it a go.

Recipe is here

There were a few hiccups and I ended up calling my posting on the site

Honey I Shrunk The Battenburg !

I used this tin that I have had for about thirty years and had never before used the divider - perfect I thought but didn't double my batter - hence the very shallow sponges. The tin was about 8 1/2 inches square.

I didn't use ground almonds (allergy) , so made the sponges plain - one vanilla, one coffee. Although small they were nice sponges. Had decided to make the white chocolate plastique and did - but it did not turn out well!
No amount of kneading was going to make this sorry mess pliable. In true British Commonwealth spirit I Kept Calm and Carried On! I decided to cover my miniature Battenburg in the Coffee Butter Cream ( as I don't like Marzipan and it contains almond)
Despite its size - almost Petit Four - the taste was excellent Smile

Check out the site until about July 15 to see some of the wonderful examples of Battenburg