The Christmas season is looming, and whilst I haven't quite got to the windows the deli is definitely beginning to bulge with goodies for stockings and tables. For many, the culinary aspect of Christmas can be both exciting and overwhelming. There's a plethora of festive dishes to prepare, from succulent roasts to mouth watering desserts. All of you that know me well will know how much I like a good list, I even get as far as an Excel spread sheet for canapes on Christmas week!
In this blog, we will focus on one of the most cherished traditions: making a Christmas cake. We'll explore the origins of Stir Up Sunday, discuss the importance of keeping things simple, and provide you with a step-by-step guide on when and how to make your Christmas cake.
The Origins of Stir Up Sunday
Stir Up Sunday is a beloved tradition in many English-speaking countries. This custom dates back to the Victorian era when families gathered on the last Sunday before Advent to prepare their Christmas puddings and cakes. The name "Stir Up" comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord." This day served as a reminder to start mixing and steaming the ingredients for the Christmas pudding, as the longer it aged, the better it tasted.
The Importance of Simplicity
While the idea of a big, elaborate Christmas feast can be enticing, simplicity can be the key to a stress-free Christmas week. A common pitfall is trying to create a culinary masterpiece with a multitude of dishes that require meticulous attention. Instead, consider focusing on a few meaningful and manageable recipes that you and your family truly enjoy. This approach not only reduces stress but also allows you to savour the experience rather than feeling overwhelmed. After all your guests have come to see you not critic your food. Remember - Those that matter don't mind and those that mind don't matter!
Making Your Christmas Cake
When to Start
To create a delicious Christmas cake, it's important to plan ahead. Ideally, you should start preparing your cake about now but traditionally we should wait until Stir up Sunday which falls on the last Sunday in November. A minimum of two weeks is recommended for the cake to mature, but many opt for several months to enhance the flavour further.
Ingredients You'll Need
Here are the key ingredients for a classic Christmas cake:
Dried fruits (raisins, currants, sultanas, and candied peel)
Brandy (for soaking the fruits)
Self raising flour
Nuts (e.g., almonds or walnuts)
Begin by soaking the dried fruits in brandy (or apple juice) for at least 24 hours. This helps plump up the fruits and infuse them with flavour. Don't panic if they soak for longer, if chaos comes calling they will happily sit there for a week!
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour with each egg to prevent curdling.
Sift the flour and mixed spice into the mixture and fold it in gently.
Stir in the soaked fruits, glacé cherries, and chopped nuts.
Preheat your oven to about 120* and prepare a deep, round cake tin by lining it with parchment paper. My golden rule here is grease, line and grease again.
Transfer the cake mixture into the tin and smooth the top.
Bake in the preheated oven at a low temperature for several hours (about 4 usually) until the cake is golden and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre.
Once your cake is baked, let it cool in the tin before removing and wrapping it in parchment paper and foil.
Store your Christmas cake in a cool, dark place, occasionally "feeding" it with more brandy to enhance the flavour.
Christmas is a time for joy and togetherness, and your culinary creations should be a source of delight, not stress. By understanding the origins of Stir Up Sunday, emphasizing simplicity, and following a well-planned timeline, you can enjoy making your Christmas cake and other holiday dishes without feeling overwhelmed. So, take a deep breath, gather your loved ones, and savour the process of creating memorable culinary delights for this festive season.