Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Winter is a-coming


Hello ladies and gents of Blogland. How goes it for you today? The weather has been odd here - darkness almost like night and heavy rain, then bright sunshine. And it's cold. Are you feeling the cold too?

To be honest, I had forgotton that I actually quite like this time of year. I always think of winter with dread. A couple of years ago I convinced myself that I had Seasonal Affective Disorder, but that was before I was prepared to acknowledge that it was common-and-garden depression. A lot of the blogs I read are mourning the loss of summer light and colour - I love that too, but I also like these dark days more than I remember I do.

This evening it's dark and cold outside. Charlie is tucked up all snug in bed. Dom is working in the kitchen. Jonny is watching a film, and I am on here talking to you. The house smells of a winter fragraced candle and the lights are dimmed. We are eating pumpkin soup and freshly made bread. The whole place looks and feels cosy. I am happy to wear socks, drink hot drinks, wrap up in blankets and light the fire. My only sadness is that we can't have a real fire in our sitting room as we have no chimney. There is one in the playroom, but that's not as comfortable and cosy.

I've got  a stinking cold though - how are you getting on with the winter germs? My tonsil is still swollen - it's been 3 weeks now - so I made an appointment with the doctor for next week. That's right - I used the phone today, TWICE! I am very proud of myself, even if I did cringe and hide when someone knocked on the door. Baby steps count. I am happy to chalk up the progress and ignore the weak spots.

Also, I want to show off my Christmas cake that I made yesterday, infusing the house with a warm, fruity, spicey aroma. Hmmmmm.


My main priority was to make something that cost as little as possible - and I am really chuffed with this one - it was free! Technically that's not really true, as I had to buy the ingredients in my cupboards in the first place, but it was adapted to include only things I already had in stock. I even managed to get the ready made icing from our local Co-Op for 29p!

It is loosely based on Mary Berry's classic Christmas cake.

  • 625g sultanas
  • half a jar of cocktail cherries, chopped, plus the liquor
  • 200g dried apricots, snipped into pieces
  • 50g (2oz) mixed candied peel, finely chopped
  • about 10 dried prunes, chopped
  • 150ml (¼ pint) Stones Ginger wine, plus extra for feeding
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 250g (9oz) soft margarine
  • 250g (9oz) dark muscovado sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 75g (3oz) blanched almonds, chopped
  • 50g walnuts, chopped
  • 225g (8oz) plain flour
  • 1½ tsp mixed spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

    You need to begin this cake the night before you want to bake it.


    1) Measure the dried fruits into a large bowl. Mix in the ginger wine, the orange juice and the cherry liquor and leave overnight.

    2) Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees centigrade, 275 F or gas mark 1. Grease and line a 20cm deep round cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper. I also greased a couple of muffin tin holes so I could make a couple of mini Christmas cakes, for testing (obviously very important!)


    3) Measure the flour, spices, margarine, sugar, eggs, almonds and walnuts into a large bowl. Beat well with an electric whisk for 2 mins until the cake mixture is a light coffee brown colour.


    4) Add the soaked fruit and fold in well until properly combined


    5) Pour into baking tins. Last year I used muffin tins for mini Christmas cakes, and these worked brilliantly (although icing 12 individual cakes was a bit labourious.) Cleaned, empty baked bean tins would also work well. If you're cooking one large cake, double layer the top with greasproof paper. This isn't necessary with smaller cakes.


    6) Bake in centre of preheated oven for 4 - 4.5 hours. For individual cakes start to check after approximately 90 minutes. It will feel firm to the touch when cooked, and a skewer will come out clean.

    Allow to cool in the tin, then put into a cake tin. Pierce with a fine skewer and slosh on a couple of tablespoons of booze of choice weekly until Christmas.

    The final result was a tangy, apricotty, nutty cake. It hasn't matured in flavour yet, so it'll be interesting to see if the spices become more developed. It isn't as dark and treacle-y as some Christmas cakes I have made, but personally, I prefer it this way.

    Keep me posted on any changes you make if you attempt your own store cupboard Christmas cake. I love to hear how you're keeping the Christmas costs down.

    Time for me to go now, and spend a happy half hour browsing my favourite blogs - you can see them by clicking the list in the left hand bar.

    Take care of yourselves, and see you tomorrow.

    Claire xx

  • PS Cadbury's Caramel Bites. To die for. Just try them.

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