That tree does have a face, doesn’t it? That’s not just me…
It’s been so long since I wrote. Weeks, in fact. I’ve been trying to put into words the reasons why but they all sound rubbish – I came down with a terrible case of the sads, I temporarily forgot how to breathe, I was signed off for a whole month with ‘work-related stress’ – but basically, everything got too much so I went a little bit mad for a little while. But I came back and I’m very, very lucky to still be here and writing this. I’d been pushing myself so hard for so long that it didn’t take a lot to tip me over into a crisis. It’s odd to write about because for a lot of it, “I” wasn’t there, so I just have flashes of memories that I know it’s probably best I try to leave in the past but I do know that several amazing and wonderful people were there for me when I needed them and that’s why I’m here typing this today.
It feels just as odd to be trying to build my life back up, from moment by moment to hour by hour and now I’m back at work, I see stacking one normal day on top of the other as a sort of wall against everything that fell apart. But as everything’s been a bit tricky for a while, for the first time ever, I’ve barely thought about Christmas. I’m usually ready with the festive preparations and excited as soon as the clocks change. This year – I’m writing this on Christmas Eve and it feels as plain and ordinary as any other Tuesday. Some of that might be the shiny new anti-depressants I’m chucking down my throat – some of it might be that after going down so far I need to be numb for a little while.
Eventually, I’m aiming for this level of happy again (August was a lovely month) but I’ll be pleased if I keep hitting ‘ok’ over the next few weeks. Part of that is trying to rediscover things that make me happy and baking and blogging did do that. (Thank you to Sophie for the reminder!) So in this spirit of stacking up the good moments on top of each other, I’d like to share my Christmas cake recipe – it’s a good one this year.
If you’re reading this, be happy and merry and bright. Because I can’t quite, not yet. But I’m working on it. And may 2014 be a hell of a lot better than 2013 was.
Fibre optics *and* colour shifting balls? Why not?!
Whisky Christmas Cake 2013
NB This is based on Delia’s original quantity for an 8″ cake, but for me, this made enough for one 6″ cake + six mini loaf-tin sized cakes as well. We’ve found that a single giant cake can be a bit too much at this time of year! The cake tin was greased and lined, and the loaf-cases I used were these.
The marzipan and icing recipes are something of a tradition for us – they’re the ones that Jef’s grandmother used to use, and years ago they were handed down to me by his Dad, carefully mono-space printed on the old-fashioned computer printout paper with holes on each side. They’re described as the 1991 recipes. I’ve been using them for a decade or so now – I like the idea of carrying on a family tradition, but just to note, the original recipe made enough for a cake the size of a small car! This version has been adjusted for the quantities required for this smaller cake and its mini loaf-shaped friends and the original recipe didn’t use whisky in the marzipan!
For the cakes (based on Delia’s recipe here)
- 3 tablespoons whisky
- 175g mixed dried fruit – I used the super-soft stuff from M&S
- 110 g glacé cherries, rinsed, dried and cut into halves
- 80g ready-made marzipan, diced small
- 80g crystallised ginger, chopped small
- grated rind 1 small orange
- grated rind 1 small lemon
- 150 g butter, at room temperature
- 150 g soft brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 225 g plain flour
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 level teaspoon baking powder
- milk, if necessary
- 2 level tablespoons ground almonds
- Begin the night before by weighing the fruit and peel into a bowl and sprinkling it with the 3 tablespoons of whisky. Mix well, cover and leave overnight.
- Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C). Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy – or use an electric mixer for more speed. Whisk the eggs separately, then, a little at a time, beat them into the creamed butter and sugar. Next, using a large tablespoon, carefully fold in the sifted flour, spices and baking powder. Your mixture needs to be of a soft, dropping consistency so, if it seems too dry, add a dessertspoon of milk.
- Now, carefully fold in the ground almonds and then the currants, sultanas, marzipan, ginger, cherries and orange and lemon zest. Then spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and small loaf moulds, smoothing it out evenly with the back of the spoon. The mini cakes will need around an hour to bake but the large cake will take longer, around 2 hours so make sure you have a timer set for both!
- Let the big cake cool in the tin for 30 minutes before taking them out to finish cooling on a wire rack. (The little ones can stay in their cases, they look quite cute.) Then ‘feed’ them – make small holes in the top and base of the cake with a cocktail stick or small skewer, then spoon over a few teaspoons of malt whisky – wrap it in double silicone paper and store it in foil or an airtight container till needed. If you like you can feed it again before icing or eating.
For the marzipan
Marzipanned large cake, ready to ice – small cakes glazed
- 85g icing sugar
- 85g caster sugar
- 170g ground almonds
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
- 2-3 teaspoons of whisky
- 2 egg yolks
- Apricot jam
- Sift the icing sugar into a 10 inch bowl.
- Add the sugar to the icing sugar, then stir in the ground almonds.
- Stir in the lemon juice, essence and whisky
- Lightly beat the egg yolks and slowly stir into the mix
- Mix and knead to a smooth paste.
- Give the cake a last feeding of whisky.
- Heat the apricot jam – I used the microwave but be careful not to over-zap it or it’ll boil and burn.
- Spread the warm apricot jam onto the top of the cake.
- Divide the paste – ⅓ for the mini cakes, ⅔ for the big cake.
- (For the big cake, split the paste up again with ⅓ for the top and ⅔ for the sides.
- Roll out a disc for the top and place ono the cake.
- Rub the sides with jam. Divide the remaining paste into three or four equal pieces.
- Roll each piece into a strip for the sides, trimming one edge and the ends with a knife
- Apply with the trimmed edge to the bottom, pinching all joints together and filling where necessary with paste.)
- (For the small cakes, split the paste into 6, and roll into rough oblongs. Brush hot jam onto each cake. Press the paste on top of the cakes.)
For the royal icing
- 400g icing sugar (but you may need more!)
- 2 egg whites
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 teaspoon glycerin
- Sift the icing sugar into a 10 inch bowl.
- Put the egg whites into another 10 inch bowl.
- Slowly stir in the icing-sugar.
- Add the lemon juice, then the glycerin.
- Adjust consistency with more sugar or more egg white until fairly stiff.
- When there is little tendency to flow, spread over the cakes.
- Leave the cake somewhere with a decent airflow overnight to set the icing.
Close up of cakes
Cakes with tree