It’s been such a strange year in so many ways. Everything shifting and changing on an almost daily basis, nothing certain, our so-called leaders behaving like children, blatant untruths from those in positions of trust, and so much more. That’s on top of some unravelling in my small sphere with the serious illness of one of my closest friends and a temporary health blip of my own. Is it any wonder that I am clinging to some comforting traditions for Christmas 2021? I thought I would be kind to myself and avoid too much festive stress, but actually, I am really enjoying making things and I genuinely find it therapeutic. As I need to take a high daily dose of steroid medication for a few months, I wake up very early, bouncing around with pumping adrenaline and a crazy kind of manic energy. Steroids have saved my skin on more than one occasion over the last 30 years, I have accepted that I need them from time to time, and I have learnt to channel their odd effects. I just try to go with it, so there’s some dawn making and baking taking place at the moment.
I am very fond of a Christmas cake. There’s nothing like a very long, cold winter walk in that cocoon-like week between Christmas and New Year, with a slice of cake and a flask of coffee packed away in the rucksack. It is even better when accompanied by a slice of crumbly white Wensleydale cheese.
I have tried other Christmas cake recipes. I flirted with Nigel Slater’s version, and toyed with a Good Housekeeping golden fruit cake recipe containing cooking apples, but nothing is quite as reliable and delicious as Delia Smith’s one. The recipe is above. Mine cooks in four hours, but it depends on the oven. I don’t make this cake months ahead, as I don’t really like the taste of very mature fruit cake – and anyway I am never organised enough for that. But of course you could if you wanted to, and Delia encourages it.
If the addition of all the different dried fruits looks and sounds too fiddly, a good cheat is to buy a bag of Lidl’s pre-soaked dried fruit in brandy. It contains all sorts of lush extras, such as dried apricots, cranberries, giant juicy glace cherries and candied peel. No need to pre-prepare this mixture, you can just chuck it all in and go.
Once cooked and cooled, the cake can be wrapped up in greaseproof paper and tucked away in a tin. There is still time to add a few glugs of brandy between now and the big day. About five days before Christmas I will add a top coat of thinly rolled white marzipan, and the following day, my favourite lemon salt icing. This is soft and yielding, a little bit tangy, and just the best. It is a Violet Bakery recipe, as follows:
1 egg white
A pinch of salt
350g golden icing sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Whip up the egg white and salt until frothy. Add the icing sugar gradually. Pour in the lemon juice and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread generously over the top of the cake.
- The stone ware cake slice is from Anthropologie, £10. I have bought gifts mainly from independent shops this year, but could not resist buying a few of these as presents for friends.