Those of you who follow the MOO Blog will remember reading about the MOO Lunch Club, where a few of us take a weekly opportunity to cook for each other. Well, it seems news of this culinary collective escaped from the blog, and down to the sleepy hollows of southern Hampshire – to my mother.
Consequently, I was officially tasked with making the 2011 family Christmas Cake. So, prepare for a tale of baking trial, tribulation, heartbreak and eventual glorious victory that’d make Peter Jackson envious.
Job 1: Find a recipe.
The internet is the friend I turn to in times of need, and its faithful answer was Delia Smith (think of her as the UK Martha Stewart). Oh, the soothing sound of her name as it rolls off the tongue just evokes the smell of home baking, like a sweet childhood memory. And the fact that the recipe was from 1978 (the very year of my birth!) meant it felt like fate that this cake was destined to delight my family in 2011.
Job 2: I do not possess the right equipment.
Which of course means, I don’t own a suitable cake tin, any kind of mixing equipment, or a cooling rack. This is going to be costly (£40 / $65 to be exact.) Oh well, at least I can swig some of the brandy while it cooks.
Job 3: Bake! (Attempt 1)
Wow, this cake-making lark is a doddle. Soak the fruit overnight in brandy. Make the batter, mix it all together, grease the tin, pre-heat the oven. Wow, I’m a WHIZZ! Now, Delia promises me that it’ll take at least 4.5 hours to cook at 180 degrees C (360 degrees F) – and who am I to argue? And I’m not to look at it for at LEAST 4 hours, as it’ll ruin. Ok, done. And relax
2 hours in. God, this smells brilliant. This is literally going to be the best Christmas Cake that anybody has ever eaten. Bells will be rung in its honour. The neighbours will demand to know what that heavenly smell is. Victory WILL BE MINE.
3 Hours in. I think I’m in heaven. If heaven is the warm middle of a fruitcake.
3.5 Hours. Not smelling so good now. I really want to check it, but Delia said not to. I trust Delia. Look how friendly she looks.
4 Hours. Bleep bleep bleep! I can finally check the CAKE OF GLORY.
4 hours and 1 minute. WTH is THAT?
4 hours and 2 minutes. I clear the acrid smoke away to reveal a large chunk of slightly spiced, flavoured charcoal. This isn’t right. Instead of a tasty cake of godlike epicocity, I have this THING. Delia, what have you done to me?
Job 4: The inquest.
I head straight to Facebook. When news filters in of this treachery within the baking community, there are plenty of offers of sympathy, tea, and advice on what could have happened. (There may have been one or two suggestions to go and hunt the recipe writer down too.)
Job 5: Baking (attempt 2)
This time, I lower the oven temperature, cover the top with foil to keep it from burning and CHECK THE CAKE after 2 hours and every 30 mins thereafter. Once again, my flat is filled with the smells of a glorious 1978 Christmas. And eventually, after many careful and slightly fearful checks of the oven, the cake is done! No chargrill, no smoke. Success!
Job 6: Feed the cake
For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeding the cake with brandy on a weekly basis. The cake has been living under the bed in my spare room in an airtight box. Every so often I hear it calling for me, with the solitary, haunting cry of “braaaaandy”.
Job 7: Let the cake free.
The cake moved out this weekend, to its new Hampshire home, where it shall be iced, and then eaten at Christmas. Word has spread of the epic journey that was undertaken to create it, and now my whole family are actually reserving slices.
If you’d like to go to battle with The Nation’s Housewife, here is the recipe that I used. Let us know if you have more luck…
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all that.
Product Manager, and spinner of preposterous yarns…