Christmas Traditions As The Kids Grow

It’s official, our kids have aged out of believing in Santa.  I have mixed feelings about that.  On the one hand I’ll miss them wanting to put out carrots for the reindeer, cookies and milk for Santa, and glitter to guide in the reindeer.  But then again we have a closet full of secret Santa paper that we’ve kept hidden.  We would wrap our son’s gifts in different paper from our daughter’s so no handwriting would be on the gifts to give away the magic.  That’s how I figured it out when I was a kid!

Because my husband had to travel half this month we got our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving which is really early for us but we lucked out with amazing weather.  We go to a local farm where they have horse drawn carriages and pick out a tree.  Afterwards we have free homemade donuts and hot chocolate.

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I had a Griswold moment as we were picking out a tree.  As we found one I saw across the way The Tree.  I told the family to stay put, to hedge our bets, and took off running.  Now I don’t run.  There was a foot of snow and I’m in my winter boots huffing and puffing going as fast as I could.  Which isn’t very fast.  I got passed by the guy with a saw and a dolled up woman who laid claim to the tree.  I did a “Noooo!” and fell to my knees gasping.  The nice man said to me but there is another one right over there.  Before I could raise my hand and say “Yes!” the woman whipped round and claimed that one too.  I nearly did a faceplant in the snow.  So I trudged back to the family and claimed the one we hedged our bets with.  Actually it’s a gorgeous tree, just a bare spot in the back but we put that against the wall.  🙂

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We do have fun decorating the tree with our favourite ornaments and Christmas music is put on.  Guinness could care less but Murphy is always willing to be in the way.  He generally curls up right at the tree looking up to see what we are doing.

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I was way behind with things this month.  I only made the Christmas cake two Sundays ago!  The recipe is here part 1 and part 2.  I thought, because we are obviously not having a white Christmas, it would be fun to decorate the cake with the three stages of the snowman.  I had in my head how I wanted to do the snowman and knew I had to head to the local candy shop.  And right there were snowman done out of marshmallow!  Perfect so I was able to recreate using what they did.

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Today we’ll be playing games and watching Christmas movies in our PJs.  After we bake mince meat pies and sticky buns for tomorrow’s breakfast.  And it’s tradition to order Chinese food for dinner tonight.  We eat it next to the tree with the fire going.  And can’t forget the Christmas crackers!

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Guinness and Murphy are taken care of with big bones for them to entertain themselves with.  🙂

For those that celebrate Christmas, have a very Happy Christmas.  May it be safe and fun.  🙂

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Bringing the Fruit Cake to a Winter Wonderland

Hard to believe Christmas has come and gone.  So much preparation that goes on then you blink and it’s gone.  It was an absolute whirlwind.  This year it was our turn to have the kids for the day rather than Christmas Eve and morning.   Once they had done the presents at their mother’s they arrived to our round of presents and sticky buns.  Then a dash to my parents where the whole family gets together.  In the years past we usually pass a present out to everyone then we all open and see what each other gets, say thank you , that sort of thing.  I have no idea what happened this year.  It was chaos.  Paper flying, screams, excitement, confusion.  When it was done the adults just sat back and wondered what just happened.  Fortunately it quieted down and all the kids went off to play with their new toys, the adults fortified themselves with wine and beer and we had a breather.   My mum cooked the Christmas dinner and it was a lovely turkey with the sides.  It’s a lot of work but she pulled it off beautifully.  We both made Christmas cakes and she made a trifle.  That was delicious.

I offered to make the cake and mum said that we should each make one as we seem to be the only family stateside that never has enough fruit cake!  Our husbands would be happy to each have one.  🙂  This year I wanted to create a winter wonderland for the kids.  I bought way too much candy for this cake so we have a large bag left over.  What was in my head was much bigger than the cake!  I had to downsize a bit.  Ah well.

The recipe I used was our family’s recipe for the Christmas Cake.

I had seen on pinterest a few times people using sugar cones to make trees so I thought I would give that a try.  To cut down to size just use a bread knife.  Very easy.

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I set this aside and work on the other elements.  Once I start using the Royal Icing I have to work quickly.  I wanted to do a snowman so I used marzipan as the base and stacked them with two toothpicks.

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I then iced the cake and placed the candy where I wanted it.  I used sugar plums as little ponds. Had some gummy bears frolicking in the “snow”.   I iced the snowman.  At first I was obsessed on getting it all smooth but then I realised that real snowmans aren’t always smooth either.  Once I was done with the white I added the green and iced the sugar cone to make a tree and added some sugar pearls to dress it up a bit.

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To paint the snowman I used food colouring gel to draw the face and buttons.  To finish the cake I dusted it with white glitter dust to add a bit of sparkle.

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I was pleased with it and I couldn’t wait to bring it. When we were waiting for the kids to show I made the mistake of putting the dome over it and left it in the sun.  When I got in the car I noticed red puddles on top of the cake.  The peppermint candy canes had melted the red off!  It was a massacre.  Good thing I had taken the photos!  We had a good laugh about it and it didn’t change the flavour of the cake.  🙂

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Brrr.  This morning was 7 degrees F (-14 C).  Had to drag out the snow pants to walk the dogs.  Winter is definitely upon us as we’ve had 2 snow storms since Christmas.  We were spoiled last winter with little snow and reasonable temps.  I think we would be pushing our luck to get that again this year!

Once you’ve baked the Christmas cake it is time to prepare it for decoration.  For the next few weeks the cake has to be “soaked” prior to decoration.  To start cut slits in the top of the cake.

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What I did was alternate between orange juice and spiced rum.  I did make a rookie mistake in how I did the slit and ended up doing this.

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So I learned to take a dinner knife, insert it, and hold it open a bit to pour the liquid down the slits.  Just a bit at a time.  I did it every few days for 3 weeks.  One day with juice then the next time with rum.

A couple of days prior to eating I start the decoration.  I do the marzipan holly leaves and berries the day before.  I cut out the shapes and form them and put them on forms or a cookie sheet. For the berries I just round into balls.  Then I dusted the pieces with pearl dust.

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The next day (and last!) I start putting it all together.  I spread apricot preserves on the top and sides of the cake.

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Then I roll out marzipan to cover the cake.  I made the mistake of using a less expensive marzipan to roll out vs what I used for decoration.  Next time I’ll get the good stuff as the cheaper stuff didn’t roll out very well so it looks like a patchwork quilt.

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Now is the time for the Royal frosting.  Take 3 egg whites and a tablespoon of lemon juice, blend together in the mixing bowl.  Gradually add 1lb 4oz of icing sugar.

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Blend until smooth.  It needs to be spreadable.  It does call for a bit of glycerine but for the life of me I couldn’t find any.  It came out ok though so I didn’t have any issues.  Pour onto cake.  It won’t pour quickly as it is thick.  A trick my mum taught me is to dip your knife into hot water as you go to help smooth the icing.

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Place the holly leaves and berries as you wish around the cake.  I spread a bit of icing on the back to act as a bit of glue.

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I then had to hold the cake in for a 2 1/2 hour drive over mountains and windy roads.  We got to my sister’s in one piece!

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I think the trickiest bit is not knowing how moist you are making the cake.  I think that will take practice.  My family enjoyed it though I may have made it too moist.  Just a smidge over the line.  🙂  But I will definitely make this again.

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To be honest I dislike most Christmas cakes because the peel is so bitter.  I always felt bad growing up as my mum would make this beautifully decorated cake and all I liked was the royal icing and the almond.  That was pretty good actually.  But mum’s tinkering with the recipe saved the day and a few years ago the result was a cake I enjoyed but it was still the fruit cake.  I thought it was genius.  So I asked her if she minded if I gave it a go this year.  She was quick to give her ok.  I realised why when I was finishing it.  There are a lot of steps and this is not for the faint of heart!  But it is worth it in the end.

The recipe we have is older than I am, going back more than 40 years.  We don’t even know what the magazine it came from is called anymore.  Lost to the mists of time.

The peel and fruit need to be prepped first (this is mum’s tinkering. 🙂 ) and it takes about an hour to an hour and a half.  I am going to list the fruit and the total ounces you need for the fruit.  Reason being everyone likes something different.  My husband loves the peel so I put a lot in.  If you come up with 36 oz of fruit then you are in good shape.  If you go over a bit that is ok too.  The fruit needed is mixed peel, currants, sultanas, raisins, glace cherries.  Put this in a large bowl.

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Fill the bowl with boiling water.  Let soak until the fruit is reconstituted.  The trick to a really good fruit cake is a moist one.  If you use dried fruit it will suck the moisture out of the small amount of batter.  Christmas cake 3 2012

Drain the water then soak the fruit in apricot brandy.  This lowers the bitterness of the peel.  Set this aside.  Chop about 4 oz of almonds.  Coarsely to fine.

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Once the fruit as absorbed enough brandy then drain and add the almonds.  Grate the rind of one lemon and squeeze the juice.  This particular lemon was amazingly lemony.  Worked really well.

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Set aside the juice and mix the rest well.  In a separate mixing bowl beat 8 oz of butter with 8 oz of brown sugar, once creamed together add 3 large eggs.  Once this is well mixed add 1 1/2 tablespoons of black treacle or molasses depending on what is available. Add in the lemon juice.

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In a small bowl add 9 oz of flour, pinch of salt, 1 tsp of mixed spice (which I didn’t have), 1 tsp of ground nutmeg, and 1 tsp of ground cinnamon.  Slowly mix into the batter then add 2 tablespoons of milk and 2 tablespoons of rum.  I used spiced rum.  Mix well.

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Add in the fruit.  The batter will be very stiff at this point.

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The oven needs to be heated to 325 F/160 C/gas mark 3.  Prep a 9 inch round cake pan by greasing it.  Then take parchment paper or wax paper to line it.  First line the sides having part of the paper reaching to the bottom of the pan.

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Cut a round piece of paper to line the bottom on top of the tabs.

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Scoop the batter into the pan.  To bake evenly have the sides a bit higher than the center.

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Bake for 30 minutes then reduce the temp to 300F/150 C/gas mark 2 and bake for 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours.  Until the toothpick comes out clean.  Leave in the tin to cool for an hour then turn out on a cooling rack.

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Once it is cooled I wrap in fresh paper and store in an airtight container.  It is now ready for the soaking and the decoration part.  Stay tuned.  😉