Traditionally, the Christmas cake should be made in October so that it has plenty of time to mature – or to give you time to soak more alcohol into the cake before Christmas day! Few of us, I think, are that organised though.
Christmas cakes are, for many of us, a thing of nostalgia, a tradition that brings back rose-tinted memories of our childhood. Few people make their own Christmas pudding, but at Christmas even the least enthusiastic baker may get the urge to make a cake.
My Grandmother’s Christmas cake was identical every year. The same snowman and ‘Merry Christmas’ road sign appeared every year without fail, the same frilly border pinned around the outside. My mother’s cake was equally unchanging, the same border, this time a multi purpose party one that was also used for birthdays, and no decorations.
When I finally made my own Christmas cake I used my mother’s recipe, but realised eventually that it was a lot of faff, soaking the fruit, and then having to dry it off in the oven before use. So I now use the recipe in Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, which I can heartily recommend, and so do the rest of my family. Mum was a bit disappointed that I don’t use her recipe any more. Still ate it though.
Nigella refers to the rather ‘Blue Peter’ aspect of Christmas cake making, adding the wrap of brown paper around the cake to avoid it being scorched. Do not, as I once tried, to save money by using an old cereal packet. After about 15 minutes the shiny plastic coating on the outside began to smoke and fill the kitchen with a horrible chemical burning smell.
If you are not so keen on fruitcakes you can of course adopt the traditional cake of another country. In France the Yule Log is the traditional fare, whereas in Italy they eat a Panettone, traditionally made from partially cooked pasta and dry grapes.
Christmas is a time for traditions, but each family should have their own special rituals, unique to that family. If you all love chocolate cake, make your tradition to have a Yule Log. Creating your own traditions rather than simply carrying on those of your own parents are what make Christmas special for your family. Who says that you can’t have a footballer on your Christmas cake if your family are football crazy? If tigers are your thing, why not add a toy tiger! Make Christmas your own and give your children something unique to get misty-eyed over with their children.
About the Author: Jacqui O'Brien is the Editor of eParenting.