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.  🙂

The Crown Jewels of the Fruit World – Pomegranates

Pomegranates are funny things.  There is a bit of prep to enjoy but it is worth it.  I don’t know how far south I would have to move in order to grow them but it is certainly too cold up here to have the trees.  We can easily get the juice in stores up here, even the liquor flavoured with pomegranate but the actual fruit is a rare sight indeed.  So it was very exciting to see some in our local co-op and it was organic to boot!  Score!

I brought a couple home with me because once they are prepped they are a great snack.  A few years ago I saw a way on the internet which I’ve used to get the little pearls out.  I can’t for the life of me remember where on the internet though.

I start by cutting the top off and scoring round the skin.

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I tear the fruit into sections.  It is such a pretty fruit.

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Here’s the bit I read about.  Take a large bowl of cold water and gently release the pearls from the pith.  Because it’s hard to get all the pith the water helps with the separation.  The pith will float and the pearls will sink.  You will still need to peel some stragglers from the pearls but it helps to cut down on the removal of the pith.

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Once it is done all that’s left to do is to enjoy the fruit.  It took me about 15 minutes to do two fruit.

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I love the burst of juice when you eat these.  Just wish the seeds tasted a bit better!  Ah well.  🙂

Christmas Cake part 1

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.  😉

Fruit Flies Ugh!

Happens every year.  No matter what you do they come.  The dreaded fruit flies.  What to do?  My husband showed me a great trick a few years ago.  And it works like a charm.

All you have to do is put some apple cider vinegar into a small bowl.  Stretch cling film over it and poke holes in it.  Make sure the holes are just big enough for them to get in.  They are attracted by the smell and then they drown in the cider.  It works quickly.  Just change as needed every couple of days until they are gone.