Traditional Christmas Cake

It just wouldn’t be Christmas unless there was a boozy Christmas cake for afters. Although, disappointingly  the tradition of making homemade Christmas cake seems to be going by the wayside with many people preferring to buy store bought ( and why not when Marks and Spencers do such delicious cakes for reasonable prices and no preparation required) or forgoing Christmas cake all together.

I’ve came across many people who dislike fruit cake or dislike eating it after the huge Christmas dinner preferring lighter desserts. Thankfully my hubbie loves fruit cake so he makes sure it doesn’t go to waste, but to be honest fruit cake lasts a long time ( I still have the top tier of my wedding cake in the cupboard awaiting my first child’s christening…. I was married over 5 years ago!) so don’t worry if it doesn’t get eaten all at once, this can be kept and devoured long after Christmas has ended.

There is something quintessentially christmassy about baking a Christmas cake, the waft of brandy coming from the fruit as its soaks overnight, the house filling with the aroma of the wonderful festive spices as the cake bakes, the unwrapping of the cake every week to feed with more brandy ( a bit like a Christmas present) and then wrapping it back up in the brown greaseproof paper. The preparation and steps are like my very own advent countdown to Christmas.

Making a home made Christmas cake does requires forethought, organisation and preparation ( oh and many many mixing bowls) but its actually not that difficult and the results are well worth the effort.

The actual baking should take place in early November although this year I was later making it on the 23rd November!! Gasp….. the horror! However, I did read somewhere that November 20th was the last day to bake your Christmas cake so if this is true then I wasn’t too far off! But really my preference is to bake the cake in the first week in November.

You really need to pinpoint a day you have completely free as the baking time can take between 4 – 4 3/4 hours, with the preparation time on the day taking about 30 minutes. and then of course the cooling period before you can start to soak with brandy.

The fruit itself needs to soak for 12 hours, so it really needs done the night before.

The recipe below is my mother in laws, she is the queen of baking cakes. I’m not sure where the recipe originally came from, it could be from Readers Digest back in the day or the Dairy cookbook or word of mouth or experimenting through the years but wherever it came from it’s really good and I’m chuffed to be carrying on her tradition.

Ingredients

450 grams currants, 175 grams sultanas, 175 grams raisins, 50 grams glace cherries ( rinsed, dried, chopped), 50 grams mixed peel, 3 tablespoons brandy, 225 grams flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice, 225 grams of unsalted softened butter, 225 grams soft brown sugar, 4 large eggs,  50 grams chopped almonds, 1 dessertspoon black treacle, zest of 1 lemon, zest of 1 orange.

The Night before Christmas Cake bake day……..( try saying that three times fast!)

Mix together the currants, sultanas, raisins, cherries and mixed peel in the 3 tablespoons of brandy. ( Bowl one).  Cover the bowl with a tea towel and soak overnight or for 12 hours.

sam_7802

Christmas Cake Bake Day….

Prepare a 8 inch round cake tin, butter and line with greaseproof paper. Also measure out a double layer of greaseproof paper that would fit on the top of the cake, set this aside as this will be used later.

Preheat oven to 140°C.

Sift the flour, salt and spices into a medium bowl. ( bowl two).

In a large ( and I mean large) mixing bowl ( bowl three) whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

In a small bowl ( bowl four) or if you’ve run out of bowls a measuring jug would do, beat the eggs and then add them to the butter/sugar mixture a tablespoon at a time whisking the mixture continuously until the eggs are all combined.  This is to stop the mix from curdling, but in my experience it can still curdle but don’t worry if this happens, the cake will still be delish!

Gently fold the flour/ spice mix to the butter/ sugar/ egg mix. Then fold in the brandy soaked fruit, nuts, treacle and the lemon and orange zest to the mix. I always find this a great workout for my arms! Beats the gym any day.

** To make the treacle more manageable I usually place the tin into a pan or bowl ( if you have any left) of boiling water**

Transfer the lovely mixture into the prepared tin. I tend to do this using a serving spoon and transfer over a spoonful at a time. Make sure to spread the mix out evenly and smooth out the top.

Take the double layer of greaseproof paper and cut a hole in the middle, about the size of a 50 pence piece, then place on top of the cake mix. This will help to protect the cake during its long baking time in the oven.

sam_7804sam_7805

 

 

 

 

 

 

Place the cake on the lowest shelf in your oven. My cake was very very ready after 4 hours ( as you can see from my photos), but my oven is very wonky. The cake can take anything between 4 hours and 4 3/4 hours, but definitely check about the 4 hour mark.

 

Take the cake out the oven, leave in the tin for about 30 mins then remove completely and place on a cooling rack. Once the Christmas cake completely cools, use a skewer to make holes in the top and bottom of the cake, then pour 6- 8 teaspoons of brandy over the cake. Then wrap the cake in greaseproof paper and tinfoil and place in a box or tin.

Remove the cake every week and pour another 6-8 teaspoons of brandy over the cake, then re-wrap. Do this until you are ready to cover with marzipan and icing.

Once I have done the icing stage I will post pictures of the finished and decorated cake.

 

Let them eat cake and biscuits!

So this was a busy week for baking. After the Halloween cake, next up was hubbies birthday cake. As his request I made Guinness cake but minus 33 candles as that would be a fire hazard.

sam_7772

Following this Carrot cake and Empire biscuits were made for a 30th Birthday party we were going to. I had to skip the Brownies as I just didn’t have enough time. These were both part of the dessert table. Much needed after a few Ceilidh dances and adult musical chairs!

sam_7789

Empire Biscuits ( formerly known as German biscuits apparently renamed during World War 1) or in my house known as Vampire biscuits  ( hubbies childhood name for them!) are something I’ve only made once before, not too sure why as they are actually really simple. They are a really popular Scottish sweet biscuit.

I use a recipe that I’m not sure where it came from but it appeared in my recipe drawer written on a old scrap piece of paper. I presumably was given or wrote the recipe down and filed it away. Its a good and easy recipe to follow with few ingredients most of which are store cupboard staples and the recipe can be easily doubled or tripled.

One of my friends loves Empire biscuits, he is somewhat of an Empire biscuit connoisseur, it was his wife’s party we were attending and I couldn’t not make these. He also requested them when I asked what I could bring! He considers them an appropriate breakfast item too and I won’t say that he is wrong.

sam_7782

Ingredients

250g of softened butter, 100g of caster sugar, 250g of sifted plain flour, glace cherries, raspberry jam and icing sugar.

Method

Pre-heat oven to 180° C and line baking trays with greaseproof/baking paper.

Cream the softened butter and sugar together. Add the sifted flour slowly until well blended.

Roll the dough onto a floured surface, roll out to about 4-5mm thickness or thereabouts. Using a 7cm diameter round fluted cutter ( or whatever size you want really but this will obviously effect how many biscuits you get out of the dough) to cut biscuit out of the dough. (No photos of this as my hands and me were covered in flour. I don’t do clean baking!!)

Then place them onto the lined baking trays evenly spaced apart. Pop in the oven for about 10 minutes. Some of them, the trays on the bottom of the shelf needed to go in for an extra couple of minutes. Keep an eye on them as they should only be very lightly coloured.( see photo below)

Remove from oven and leave in trays for 5 mins, then remove to a cooling rack.sam_7780

You want them completely cool before you start assembling them together.

Take one biscuit, place about a teaspoon of Raspberry Jam in the middle, take another biscuit and place on top ( I usually place the flatter of the sides facing upwards).

Make up your icing as per packet instructions and so the icing is not runny but can be spread easily.

Spread some icing on top of the biscuit sandwich and whilst still wet add half a glace cherry on top.  Repeat with remaining biscuits then leave them until icing has set.

Results of cake week……….

 

Halloween cake

This is gonna be a busy week for cakes, starting with this Halloween cake then hubbies birthday cake, then a carrot cake, brownies and empire biscuits for a 30th birthday we are going to on Saturday. Phew, I could be all caked out by the end of this week. However next week I’ll need to get started on making my Christmas cake! It requires to be fed a lot in the run up to Christmas hence getting started early!

sam_7762
Slightly scarily messy cake… but hey its Halloween!

For the Halloween cake I used Nigella Lawson’s Ghoul Graveyard cake recipe, a suitably scary name! This recipe gives a lovely moist chocolate cake. This was the only nod to Halloween this year and due to living in the country we were not expecting any guisers (otherwise known as Trick or Treaters!)

Some interesting or not so interesting facts about Halloween……..Guising is what the Scottish call Trick or Treating. Traditionally a Turnip ( or neep) was carved and inside scooped out with a candle placed inside. These days though pumpkins seem to be more popular, could be because they are way easier to carve than Turnips!

Ingredients for the cake

250mls Milk, 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar, 225 grams plain flour, 50 grams Cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate soda, 200 grams caster sugar, 110 grams softened butter, 2 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Ingredients for icing

300 grams of sifted icing sugar, 60 grams of butter, 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons of golden syrup, 60mls milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract,1 teaspoon of black food colouring gel, sugar sprinkles, Halloween sweets or any decoration you feel.

Cake Method

Preheat Oven to 170° C and prepare a springform tin ( 23cm).

Whisk the milk and white wine vinegar together and leave to one side.

Then add all the remaining ingredients for the cake into a mixer. It will come together like a dough, then add the milk/ vinegar mix and it will combine to form a batter. It was slightly lumpy so I placed the  mixer in high and gave the mix a blast which seemed to sort out the lumps. Place into the prepared tin and placed in oven. Recipe stated for 40 mins, however my cake took near on 55 mins. I used a skewer to test and when it came away clean it was ready. Leave to cool, then remove from cake tin.

sam_7753

Icing Method

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then when starts to bubble add the cocoa powder and whisk. Add syrup, milk, vanilla extract and black food colouring gel and whisk together. Let it bubble for a few mins then take off heat and add the icing sugar. Then put back on the heat and whisk to help dissolve sugar the take back of the heat. Leave to thicken for a bit, but not too long as you want it to be able to pour it over the cake and for it to run over the sides.  Once you’ve done this, add whatever decorations you want. I used Halloween Haribo ,as I struggled to get suitable scary sweets, and I also used sugar sprinkles. Although my icing was not as black as what the recipe suggested it should be!

sam_7764

 

 

I’m back!!!

I have managed to entangle myself from the copious books, journals, interview notes and drafts at last. Masters ….. done!

Below is my study where I have been hibernating for the last few months…… sorry for the mess. I feel its a bit like those crime scene photo games where you have to look for clues.

The eagle eyed among you might find a few clues as to what has been fuelling my studying………….

sam_7674

Looking forward to catching up with everyone, it may take a while. Feel free to leave me a comment about what you’ve been up to and what’s new with you all.

Sorry….

Sorry guys, its been so long since I last blogged, in fact its been so long since I did any baking worth posting about. Since returning from my holidays I have been buried under the research for my dissertation and I recently started a new job, so as you can imagine I’m slightly ( read very) stressed. Just thought i’d let you know that I was here, but not really here. The temptation is to get immersed in my blog and other blogs when I have a difficulty with my dissertation rather than persevering but this is false logic as I fall further behind my timetable, with time running out fast. I hope you all understand and can forgive my absence for a wee while I be very selfish,lock myself in my study and drink copious amount of coffee!

In the meantime here’s some of my holiday pictures…..

SAM_7334Guess where this is??

 

Fancy a bath anyone?

 

Lovely weather! We also copied the sheep and sheltered behind the standing stones!

 

Lots of programmes and films filmed here including Harry Potter!

SAM_7441

 

Of course, we had to take a walk over fields to see the cows,the quality of land and crops growing nearby… oh and a nosy to see what other farmers are doing!

SAM_7415

We also walked up hills to see the White horses ( and to have a look at the what the farmers were doing in the field below!)

SAM_7518

 

 

 

 

Yummy Birthday Cake

I had been asked by a good friend to make a birthday cake for her hubbies 40th Birthday. I had never made a proper birthday cake before, you know a sponge with buttercream and jam in the middle, buttercream around the sides and top, then fondant icing on top with fondant icing decorations. The nearest birthday cakey type item I made was a Christmas Fruit cake, which had marzipan then fondant icing on top but the decoration consisted of fondant stars made by using stampers!! No difficult decoration techniques there.

My mother in law makes Wedding and Birthday cakes and she is really good at it, so I asked for her sponge and buttercream recipes. Part of me thought I could make the cake then run over to my MOL’s and get help with the decoration as she has all the proper tools and experience. However, I was running short on time to do this, so I had to forge ahead using my limited cake decorating skills, hubbies artistic input and google!

Sponge recipe

Ingredients for a 9 inch cake– 350 grams of softened organic Scottish butter, 350g grams of caster sugar, 350 grams of self raising flour, sifted and 7 eggs ( which should weigh 350 grams when out of their shells) and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Preheat the oven to 160 °C. Grease and line a 9inch cake tin. You can use a smaller tin, just reduce the quantities but make sure that you use the same  weight of butter, caster sugar, flour and eggs e.g for a 8 inch cake reduce all to 250 grams.

Place the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and mix until light and fluffy.

SAM_7213

Add the eggs one at a time along with a tablespoonful of flour. Make sure it is beaten and mixed well. Add the vanilla essence and the remaining flour.

Pour the mix into the prepared tin, smooth the top and place in the oven for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until golden brown on top and a knife comes out clean.

Then leave to cool in the tins, for about 15 minutes, then remove from tins and remove the greaseproof paper. Once completely cooled cut the cake in half to make two layers.


Buttercream

Ingredients– 255 grams of Scottish Organic butter, softened, 680 grams of icing sugar, 3 tablespoons of milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Add butter to your mixer and whip until light and creamy, then add the icing sugar, milk and vanilla and whip until combined.


Sugar Syrup

Ingredients– About 100ml Water and  100 grams Sugar. Optional add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla or any other flavouring that compliments the flavour of your cake.

In a pan add some sugar and water and place on low heat until sugar dissolved. Then take off heat and add the vanilla or other flavouring

Brush the layers of the cake with the sugar syrup to keep the sponge moist then leave to dry. Don’t put too much on as you don’t want it to be soggy.

Then place one layer of the cake on a plate or board and add a layer of jam, then add buttercream on top of the jam to create the filling. Add the next cake layer and cover the top and the sides with a thin layer of buttercream to create a Crumb Coating. As you can see my layer was a bit too thick! Then place in fridge to chill until set.

SAM_7225

I then gave the cake another light coating of the syrup sugar after I took it out the fridge and before I covered with fondant icing.


Decoration

I can not take credit for the design as to get inspiration and ideas for how to decorate the cake I went to google and Pinterest, of course. There were lots and lots and lots of images of cakes made for doctors, most of which seemed to have the cake as the doctors coat and then scattered on the top over the coat, the instruments doctors use.  “The Doctors Coat” cake by My Sugar Creations was a particular inspiration and design that I utilised elements from.

This was the first time I had decorated a cake so was a bit rough looking! I also was limited by the colour of fondant icing that was available in my local shop, hence the white, red and black theme.  Mistakes on the side of the cake where covered up by using an icing pen to ice surgical stitches, although I forgot to take a piccie to show you.

Can you guess what all the instruments are supposed to be??

SAM_7226

 

Nanaimo Bars

Trying to show the layers, hence the two photos in different lights and both still pretty crappy pics!

Nanaimo bars ( which I always end up spelling slightly differently every time I write it !) were my choice of recipe for the No bake tray bake class at my local show.  I wanted a recipe that was a bit different. The usual recipes people tend to go for is the classic rocky road, but I wanted a recipe that no-one else would have made and also a recipe that I hadn’t yet made myself. I like to try new things.

My hubbie has often spoke about his grans baking when he was younger. She still bakes today, but not to the same scale and I’m led to believe that she would bake so much she would forget what she had made and tins of baked goodies would be found in the cupboards weeks after being made. Hubby had often mentioned Nanaimo bars with great fondness. His gran however does not keep recipes, or rather the recipes are all in her head and not written down and they often start with, ” oh I just put a handful of this and a wee handful of that…..” so I had to search online to get a recipe.

It was during this search that I noted that these seemed to be really popular in Canada, but not so much here. In fact not many people had heard of them so not sure how they managed to find there way to a Scottish farmhouse of my hubbie’s youth in the 80’s!

They are a very sweet, chocolate and custard bar and they reminded me of a bar that my hubbies Uni flatmate used to make for going rock climbing. Full of sugar, fat and energy! Maybe not the best advertisement and I’m not sure I would allow children to have these too often.

I got this recipe from the GoodtoKnow website and it was the first and only recipe for Nanaimo bars that I tried. My practice went really well, much better than when I actually made them for the show.

Ingredients

SAM_6988

Bottom layer- 125 grams of Scottish organic butter, 2 level tablespoons of golden caster sugar, 2 level tablespoons of cocoa, 1 medium egg, beaten, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 300 grams of digestive biscuits and 60 grams of desiccated coconut.

Middle Custard Filling Layer-60 grams of Scottish Organic butter, 2 tablespoons of custard powder, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 250 grams of icing sugar, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Topping- 150 grams of Organic dark chocolate, 30 grams of Scottish Organic butter, 4 tablespoons of strong black coffee.

First of all line your baking tray with greaseproof paper. My baking tray was a 9 inch x 7 inch.

For the bottom layer, in a pan over a low heat add the butter, sugar, cocoa and stir continuously until the sugar dissolves. Now in my pracgice go this step went fine. Nice and simple you would think, however the second time I made it, the butter itself seemed to separate into two distinct liquids,the mixture looked awful and was really runny. I binned that and started again. This time around, it worked fine and came together and melted perfectly. My thought was perhaps the butter had been left out too long, so when it melted the grease separated??? Not sure if this is the case however I think the key is also to keep the mix on a low heat and stir continuously. Once melted take off the heat.

Place the digestives in food bag and use a rolling pin to mash into crumbs.

Add the egg, vanilla,  digestive crumbs and coconut into the mix. To stop the egg curdling I add a bit of the mix into the egg and mixed then add the egg/ choc mix into the pan. Mix together well then add to your lined baking tray. Press the mix into the tray, making sure it is even and then leave in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Middle custard filling layer-  In a stand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add in the custard powder, vanilla and then the icing sugar and lemon juice and mix until all combined and until it has a spreadable consistency.  Then evenly spread this lovely mix over the top of the biscuit layer and pop back in the fridge for 2 hours.

Topping- Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water in a pan. Once melted, whisk in the coffee and then spread the chocolate/coffee mix evenly over the top of the custard layer. Leave outside the fridge until set. Now the first time I made this, the chocolate layer set beautifully however, this time when I checked to see whether the layer had set, there were butter/ grease streaks on the chocolate. Now I think this was due to having the butter out on the counter getting soft and sweaty for longer than I should have. However, as I had no time to start again, I melted another 15o grams of chccolate, leaving out the butter and coffee this time, then spread this over the top of the choc/coffee layer. This was the reason I did not have enough chocolate for my intended brownie recipe!

The coffee/ choc layer doesn’t really harden all that much in comparison with a layer that is just chocolate, so it actually worked out well that I had the biscuit/ coconut base, custard layer, choc/coffee layer then a chocolate covering.

Cut into small bars, a little of this goes a long way!

Sorry, there are no pics of the actual cut pieces, turns out baking for competition and remembering to take photos ( and good photos at that) do not go hand in hand for me.  I’m working on it though.