Thursday 12 December 2019

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Cork Independent

Bia Sasta

Does anyone like Christmas cake?

Wednesday, 13th November, 2019 4:40pm

After having finished the successful event management for the Irish Cheese Awards last week (see above), I am now free to look towards Christmas and start my annual rituals.

One of them is to bake a Christmas cake (actually I normally bake more than just one as I am always giving one away). I have been baking my Christmas cakes with the same recipe for almost 30 years but Mr T commented this time (after having eaten all the others for the last 10 years) that the texture was too dense for him.

He said it very carefully, not sure how I would react (I think he was slightly scared!). So, this had me thinking on what went wrong with my Christmas cake.

Looking back over the years, taste, likes and dislikes have changed of course – the recipe hasn’t. The texture of the cake is due to the amount of fruit I put into the mix – it is a lot and I use a mix of raisins, sultanas and currants with currants being the main part of the mix.

While looking through my collection of baking books, I noticed that most chefs and bakers use not even half the amount of currents I do but have raisins as the main part of the fruit mix.

And that could be the explanation as to why my cake is dense – raisins and sultanas are moist and add a lot of texture to a cake (as well as natural sweetness) without tightening the cake while currants on the other hand are quite dense to begin with and don’t hold any moisture, hence the cake was strong (as I like to say instead of dense).

So, currently I have a large mix of dried fruit soaking in whiskey with only half the amount of currants I usually use. Watch this space for updates on Mr T’s verdict.

As much as I love baking Christmas cake, I personally don’t like it – never have. I love the idea of it as a Christmas tradition and when I talk to people, most people are with me on this one so that we can assume that most of the world’s population where Christmas cake is a tradition doesn’t like it either.

In Manitou Springs in Colorado in the US, you can join the annual Christmas Cake Toss where unwanted Christmas cakes are catapulted across the field – a pity really after people put in so much work into making them!

Fruitcake seems to be a Christmas tradition in some form or another in many areas like Stollen in Germany or Panforte in Italy. I did a quick research into the history of Christmas cakes and while I found out that a cake with fruit was already eaten in Roman times, the Christmas connection seemed to have started in medieval times when the rich houses of the time in the UK offered cake to their guests as part of a large feast that also contained mince pies filled with meat rather than the mix we are using today.

Building on the meaty tradition of Christmas treats, the wonderful Avril Allshire-Howe of Rosscarbery Black Pudding is making a fruit cake with sausage meat – and before you say ‘yuk’, it is amazingly moist and due to the amount of fruit in it, still sweet.

It doesn’t contain egg or butter as the sausage meat holds it together well. And that reminds me; I have to order my ham and spiced beef from her before her order book gets full!

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