Getting the Christmas cakes into the oven is my signal to myself that Christmas is coming. It’s no small feat for me because I have to make the cakes over a weekend – 24 hours for macerating the fruit, and then several hours for putting it all together and baking. As soon as all the fruits are in the bowl with the requisite alcohol, I’m on the way. And that smell – even when the fruits are soaking – it permeates the kitchen, and eventually the house. There’s nothing quite like it, except maybe hot cross buns!
I got to pondering this morning, while striding out of course, about just when the Christmas baking became such a ritual in our household. After all, I wasn’t raised in a conventional anglican/catholic/presbyterian etc home. I was raised in a liberal jewish one and we celebrated Chanukkah, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. At Christmas time, when all other families were getting together, going to midnight mass and exchanging gifts, we were down in the Keneperu Sounds enjoying the food and festivity around Christmas, but not really being part of the action.
And yet, my mum made a Christmas cake every year we had a Christmas tree. And yes, we did get presents. Go figure!!! We had the best of both worlds.In her later years she took to making the most exquisite decorations for the tree…maybe she was building for future celebrations with grandchildren. Maybe there were traditions from her own upbringing she was missing. I’ll never know because I didn’t ask the question – I just accepted it, as did my father.
I married into a catholic family and then started my journey with the Easter and Christmas traditions. Luckily, I love baking and eating, I love the smells of Easter and Christmas, and I love rituals. And in the early days, there was a lot of companionship surrounding Christmas baking – particularly Christmas mince pies. The females of the family would gather with all ingredients in hand (lunch goodies as well) and we’d bake copious amounts of the pies using a special family recipe that’s hard to beat. Dozens and dozens of pies. I still make them – they’re the best especially when heated and served with a dollop of ice-cream.
So when did I start making the Christmas cake that I make very year? I think the first time I used this particular recipe had to have been at least 23 years ago. I clipped it out of the Evening Post just prior to Christmas – and it’s been my favourite year after year. So much so, that I’ve never even attempted another recipe. I’m too afraid of being disappointed.
I told my boys, when we were discussing plans for the big day, that there’s a bit of their grandad in the cake. The fruit is soaked in brandy and kirsch. Kirsch is not always the easiest liqueur to find in bottle store…when I was hunting around for some several years ago, I found a bottle leftover from Dad’s cache of booze that I inherited when he died 28 years ago. The text on the bottle is in Polish and although it doesn’t say kirsch, it does have the word Maraschino on it. So I reckon it must be kirsch. If not, it’s a damn good substitute anyway.
Now the cakes are made, they’re sitting on the bench with their newspaper wrapping around the tins and covered with a tea towel. They’ll stay that way until they’re completely cool. The smell is divine. I keep on having to sneak into the kitchen to lift the tea towel and inhale deeply. What a great time of year!