Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Very Begrudging Christmas

Merry Christmas bakelings!

I love Christmas. Always have. Sure, there may have been a time in my teenage years when I pretended like I didn't. What you have to remember is that Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time, whereas teenagers are full of angst, so the two don't always mix. But inside I was still loving it.

The one thing about Christmas I'm not wild about is the desserts. To my mind, a really decadent pudding should be sinfully chocolately and dangerously alcoholic, not a kind of bowling ball made of dried fruit. In my house, we tend to set fire to the Christmas pudding, applaud dutifully, and then chuck it in the bin.

After all, isn't beating out the flames from an overly hastily discarded Christmas pudding all part of the fun?

I'm joking of course. We wait for it to go out first. But given my feelings about Christmas pudding, you can probably guess my reaction when my parents asked me to make a Dundee cake. After all, like a Christmas cake, the Dundee cake is heavy on what I dislike about a Christmas pudding - full of dried fruit, heavy, dense and heavily spiced.

This was, then, a bake I rather begrudged. So I sought out a recipe that claims to be lighter than a usual Dundee cake. And I also attempted to compensate for the dried fruit with a great deal of whisky. So much whisky in fact, that you can smell it without even getting close to the cake. That's the only kinda Dundee cake I'm going to contemplate eating.

You can bake this cake much later than a classic Christmas cake, but I would do it at least a week in advance so you can fit in a couple of feeds. Here is my finished cake:

And without further ado, here is Delia Smith's recipe for Dundee cake, plus the glaze I used:

You will need:

For the cake:
175g currants
175g sultanas
110g glacé cherries, well rinsed, patted dry and halved
75g mixed candied peel
a generous 3 tbsp scotch whisky, plus extra to feed
150g butter
150g soft brown sugar
3 medium eggs
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
a little milk (only if necessary)
2 tbsp ground almonds
grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon
110g whole blanched almonds
an 8 inch cake tin, greased and lined

To glaze:
1 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp whisky

1. Soak the currants, sultanas, glacé cherries and peel in the 3 tbsp whisky overnight.

2. When you are ready to bake the cake, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3/170C and cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl.

3. Beat the eggs in one at a time and then sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and fold in gently. The mixture should be soft and drop from the spoon - if it seems stiff add a little milk.

4. Carefully fold in the ground almonds, rind and whisky-soaked fruit, then spoon gently into the tin and level with the back of a spoon.
5. Arrange the almonds in concentric circles, placing them gently on the cake rather than pressing them in.

6. Bake for 2-2 and a half hours until firm and springy to the touch. Let the cake cool in the tin for 30 minutes before cooling it on a wire rack.
7. When it is completely cool, wrap the cake twice in greaseproof paper and put back in the tin, then feed by piercing small holes in the cake with a cocktail stick and sprinkling it with whisky.

8. Leave the cake in an airtight tin until the night before needed, when you should feed it again.
9. Glaze the cake by straining the apricot jam through a sieve and then warming gently in a pan with the whisky over a low heat until melted. Then set aside til cool. When cooled, brush the whole cake with the glaze and if desired, wrap a ribbon around the cake.

This second recipe has more of my own input. I've made a cranberry streussel cake for the last few years, but this year I had a lot of mincemeat left over from my filo mince pies (that's a bake for another day, kids), so I thought 'Why not a mincemeat streussel?'

Why not indeed. You can buy mincemeat to make this, or make your own. I am afraid I am pretty slapdash with my mincemeat. I tend to fling in any ingredients I can find, with the only essentials being raisins or sultanas, booze and vegetable suet (I'm a veggie).

You will need:

For the mincemeat:
450g dried mixed fruit (raisins, sultanas etc)
a tart, firm cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
50g flaked or finely chopped blanched almonds
110g dark muscovado sugar
50g shredded vegetable suet
1 tsp each of freshly grated nutmeg and ground cinnamon
grated rind of 1 orange or lemon
100ml liqueur of some kind - I used whisky but brandy or sherry is more traditional

For the pastry:
350g butter
75g caster sugar
45ml olive oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 medium egg
500g plain flour
1 and a half tsp
pinch of salt
an 8 inch spring-form tin, greased and floured

1.  To make the mincemeat, stir all the ingredients together in a large bowl and leave, covered, for two days. If you are not going to use it immediately, store in clean (preferably sterilised) jars.
2. To make the dough, cream together the butter and sugar.

3. Beat in the olive oil, egg and vanilla.

4. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix together until the mixture forms a rough dough. Knead into a ball and wrap tightly in clingfilm, then put in the freezer for 2 hours.

5. Cut the ball in half (using a knife dipped in boiling water if it is very hard) and then grate one half into the tin and use fingers to distribute in an even layer.
6. Spoon the mincemeat into the tin (you may not have to use all of it) and spread into an even layer that does not quite touch the sides of the tin - it will ooze out if you spread it to the very edges.

7. Grate the rest of the dough on top evenly and press down very gently. Bake for about 1-1 and a half hours until firm but still quite pale.
8. Serve cut into wedges and with creme fraiche or cream to cut through the richness of the streussel.

I haven't tried the Dundee cake yet, but as it reeks of whisky, I'll give it a whirl. Surely nothing so booze-soaked can be bad, right?

Anyway, the streussel is good and a great alternative to making individual mince pies. You could also make it in a rectangular baking tin and make it as a traybake.

All that remains is for me to wish you a very Merry Christmas. Eat, drink and be merry, but it might be best to stop when it hurts. At least for ten minutes or so.

The Begrudging Baker

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