Christmas Cake Part 2

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As promised here is part 2 of making this years Christmas cake. Many people don’t ice their cake until a few days before Christmas but I did mine a little earlier this year so that I have more time to enjoy the cake (which always lasts until at least January in my house) and so that I could write this post with enough time to inspire others to give it a go!

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The first step is to lightly cover a clean work surface with icing sugar and then roll out a packet of ready to roll marzipan – you could of course make the marzipan yourself, it’s not something I’ve ever tried but I’d like to give it a go. Maybe next year!

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Roll the marzipan out until it is large enough to completely cover your cake, but before you put it on the cake you will need to cover your cake in a thin layer of smooth apricot jam to help it stick. Smooth the marzipan over your cake carefully, any creases will disappear if rubbed lightly. Trim off any excess marzipan from the bottom.

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At this stage it is best to leave your marzipan covered cake overnight or for up to a week. This is to allow the marzipan to dry out and not discolour the icing. Unfortunately due to work commitments I really needed to get my cake finished in one day so I iced my cake about an hour later, time will tell if that was a big mistake or not! It will certainly be interesting to find out if the drying out is as important as some people say.

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To make the icing, gently whisk the whites of three eggs. Then begin to slowly incorporate 600g of icing sugar a bit at a time. Beat until soft peaks form, I switched to an electric hand whisk at this stage to speed things up and give my arms a break! Once soft peaks have formed you can add 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp of liquid glycerine and mix into the icing.

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Now you’re ready to ice your cake! You can do a lovely smooth iced cake or create a texture with a knife or a fork, that’s up to you. I went for a very slight texture – as you can see from my pictures I probably could have done with beating my icing for a little longer as it did begin to slide off my cake!

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The final stage is to decorate. I use these old cake decorations that used to belong to my Grandmother, they are faded, dated and pretty tatty looking now but I love them for sentimental reasons and couldn’t imagine decorating my Christmas cake with anything else!

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So there you have it, this years Christmas cake! Every year I see beautifully iced and decorated cakes with adventurous designs like snowy scenes with trees and polar bears or shiny glittery cakes covered in ribbon and edible glitter. I’d like to try being that adventurous one year but I really don’t think you can beat a simple, traditional Christmas cake with sentimental family heirloom decorations! What do you think?

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Christmas Cake Part 1

It’s less than a month until Christmas already! Where on earth is the time going? I have almost finished my Christmas shopping, how about you? I decided to start early this year and buy presents rather than make them. After last year making almost 100% of the gifts I gave, I thought it would be nice to buy people presents and focus on making Christmas crafts for myself and also my Etsy shop. It’s also really nice to shop for other people every now and then and I have been really enjoying choosing presents for my friends and family without the extra stress of making them too. Of course I will always be a handmade present kind of girl, I love to give and receive handmade gifts but it’s nice to have a year off too!

At the weekend me and my mum started making our Christmas cakes, a November tradition for as long as I can remember. I used to help mum make a big cake for our whole household and now we split the recipe and make two small cakes so I can take one home with me (not that anyone else in my house eats Christmas cake … just me, a whole cake just for me!)

The is part one of the cake making because we bake the cake in November and then decorate it in December just before Christmas, so watch out for the second part of this post later.

Embarrassing admission time: I charged my camera and took it to my mums house especially to photograph the cake making process for this blog post … but I forgot to bring a memory card so had to photograph the whole thing with my phone! That probably shouldn’t happen to someone who has studied photography for 5 years, I should probably have a memory card on me AT ALL TIMES, but I don’t so sorry about the image quality!

This photo shows the recipe we use to make our cakes, it’s a combination of a recipe from a very old cookbook and some handwritten notes outlining the changes we make to the recipe (I think the handrwitten notes were scribbled on by me as a child) I started out writing out this post like a proper recipe but soon realised that although I help make these cakes every year I just don’t remember exact quantities of each ingredient and I can’t make a lot of sense of this photo of the recipe either! So for now I am hoping that a brief overview of the process and the pictures I took will be enough to inspire you to make your own Christmas cake this weekend, because it is so easy and so rewarding!  Maybe you can dig out an old family cookbook or handwritten notes on your family’s Christmas cake recipe too?

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The first stage is to soak the fruit (sultanas, raisins, candied peel, glace cherries, lemon zest, chopped almonds)  in some brandy or sherry overnight, we do this rather than feeding the cake with alcohol for the weeks leading up to Christmas as we prefer our cakes to be less boozey, but it’s definitely personal preference and adding booze for the next couple of weeks also helps to keep the cake moist!

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Next weigh out the dry ingredients (plain and self raising flour, cinnamon, salt, mixed spice) in one bowl. And weigh out the wet ingredients in another bowl (soft brown or demerara sugar, butter, black treacle) cream the sugar, butter and treacle together until soft.

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Beat the eggs for a while and then add them alternately with the flour and spices to the sugar and butter mixture. This bit is a real work out for your arms after a while! It’s important to add each part slowly and not over beat the misture.

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Next is adding the fruit to the mix, the cake mixture is almost done!

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Once the cake mix is all nicely combined it is time for the boring fiddly part, lining the cake tins. We line both cake tine with two layers of brown paper and one greased layer of baking paper on the bottom and sides before splitting the cake mix evenly bewteen the two tins.

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It is then important to cover the tops of the cakes loosely with two layers of brown paper, we add paper to the sides and then one large piece going all the way over the top to completely cover the cake but still leave space above the cake mix. This does not need to be airtight it just needs to protect the surfaces of the cake from burning as it stays in the oven for a long time.

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The cake needs to be in the oven for about 3.5 hours, at 180c for the first hour and a half and then with the oven turned down to 150c for the remaining time. The spices will make your house smell beautifully Christmassy whilst the cake cooks! When they come out of the oven they will look like the photo below – except hopefully not quite as burnt, not sure how that happened! I think it is only the very edges of the cakes that are burnt so I plan to scrape those bits off before icing in a few weeks time, fingers crossed it tastes ok!

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We keep our cakes in airtight containers until about a week before Christmas when we marzipan, ice and decorate them. I will post about that nearer the time.

I’m sorry this was not really a proper recipe post with quantites etc. But I really hope it has inspired at least one person to make a Christmas cake rather than buy one this year. It’s such a great tradition, especially if you do it with your family or friends!

Do you have any family traditions in the lead up to Christmas? Are you making your Christmas cake soon? I’d love to know!

White Chocolate and Raspberry Cake

P1240524This weekend we celebrated my boyfriend Nathan’s birthday and as no celebration is complete without cake I ended upmaking him a white chocolate and raspberry cake, not quite as exciting as last years giant french fancy cake but still pretty yummy! Here’s how I did it:

For the basic sponge cake:

3 eggs

225g self raising flour

225g caster sugar

225g butter

vanilla essence

For the white chocolate buttercream:

1 bar of white chocolate

butter

Icing sugar

Freeze dried raspberrys to decorate

raspberry jam

P1240516Rather than make it too fancy – and therefore difficult for myself I made a simple sponge for this cake and then put most of the flavour into the icing and decoration. I’m sure you know how to make a simple sponge but just in case – combine butter and sugar until soft, add eggs and combine. Sieve the flour into the mix slowly, folding in to keep the air in the mix, at this point I also added some vanilla essence and some of the freeze dried raspberry pieces.

P1240517P1240518P1240519Pop the mix into two round cake tins and bake at roughly 180 degrees, I think my cake was in the oven for roughly 20 minutes but I usually just keep checking it rather than having a specific baking time. P1240520

P1240521When the cake is cool spread raspberry jam onto one of the sponges and then make the buttercream. I used this recipe  http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/16140/white-chocolate-buttercream-icing.aspx which turned out quite nicely but combining that much butter and icing sugar without any added moisture was definitely tough! when the butter and sugar are combined you just add the melted white chocolate and you are ready to ice your cake, I found it best to work quickly at this stage as the chocolate hardens as it cools. P1240522

Spread some of the buttercream on one of your cooled sponges and on the other sponge spread some raspberry jam, this will make the filling of the cake. Once you have put your two sponges together so that the jam and the buttercream are touching you can cover the rest of the cake with the remaining buttercream and then decorate with freeze dried raspberrys and you are done! P1240523

This cake ended up looking pretty feminine for a guys birthday cake but Nathan loves white chocolate so that is all that matters!

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Present Idea: Gingerbread Coffee Syrup

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One of my favourite things at Christmas time is to meet a friend for a catch up and a gingerbread latte, last year I bought my own gingerbread syrup and put it in every hot drink for the whole of December. Whilst browsing Pinterest for handmade gift ideas this year I came across a recipe for home made gingerbread syrup. Not only is this a great gift idea but also now I know how to make my own and can put it in as many hot drinks as I like!

This lovely blog has a brilliant recipe which turned out really great http://theanamumdiary.co.uk/2012/11/23/gingerbread-syrup-for-coffee-homemade-christmas-gifts/ so I thought I’d share with you how it went.

The recipe is pretty simple just find some small glass bottles to store the syrup in – I got mine from Wilkinsons, put all the ingredients in a pan and simmer.

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Simmering the mixture will make your house smell amazing! And the whole process only takes about 20 minutes, you then leave it to cool before popping in your bottles and thats it!

The only way I deviated from the recipe this time is to add some vanilla essence as well as the vanilla pod. Although the finished syrup tastes brilliant it ended up quite watery in consistency, the next batch I make I might try adding a little more molasses sugar and simmering for a bit longer, hopefully that will give it a more syrupy consistency.

This recipe makes roughly 3 small bottles of syrup – one for me, two for gifts! I added labels to my bottles explaining whats inside and used coloured paper and stamps to decorate the labels. I think they look quite good, although I love the way the labels are decorated in the pictures on the Ana Mum Diary, the little gingerbread man buttons are so cute.

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I plan to do a couple more batches of this syrup, I think it will make a brilliant gift alongside the decorated mugs I have made. It’s so quick and easy and delicious, give it a go!

Present Idea: Homemade Limoncello + Other Infused Booze

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Another homemade gift I will be giving this Christmas is Limoncello. Flavouring or infusing booze is not something I have ever done before so I was very excited to try it out and giving it as gifts is the perfect excuse to give it a go! I decided to try making limoncello after some research on Pinterest and other sites as it seemed pretty easy, makes a lovely bright yellow coloured drink which will look pretty in small glass bottles and also, who doesn’t like lemons?

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To make roughly 1 litre of limoncello you will need:

75cl bottle of vodka (the better quality vodka the better your drink will taste, I picked a mid range vodka that was on sale in the supermarket to make sure this was still a cost effective gift)

10 unwaxed lemons

Sugar

One large jar to infuse the vodka in and bottles to put the limoncello in when its done

The first step is to zest all those lemons, you want to try and get as much of the zest and as little of the pith aspossible. I used a vegetable peeler for this and it worked quite well. With the rest of the lemons I made lemonade and it was delicious!

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Pop the lemon zest in your large jar and add all the vodka. Believe it or not you are now almost done! The lemons need at least three days to infuse their flavour into the vodka. Leave your jar in a cool dark place, the longer you leave it the more flavoursome it will be. I left mine for 10 days.

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Once you have left your vodka for between 3 days and a month it is time to add sugar syrup. The vodka will have gone a lovely yellow colour.

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The next step is to strain your vodka, place a coffee filter in a sieve and slowly in your vodka. I found the coffee filter got blocked with tiny bits of lemon after a while so this process took a while, I also ended up changing the filter a few times.

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To make a sugar syrup bring water to a simmer and add sugar, stirring until it is dissolved and then leave to cool. The amount of sugar and water you use is up to you but you will want to keep the ratio of sugar to water the same. For instance, I used two cups of water and two cups of sugar but you could use less or more depending on how strong and sweet you want your limoncello. Try one cup water and one cup sugar first and then add more if you would like it sweeter or more watered down. When the sugar syrup has cooled add it to the vodka and put it in bottles. I filled 4 and a half small glass bottles with mine but you could put it all in one large bottle or two medium sized bottles, it is up to you!

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Don’t forget to keep your gifts in the fridge or freezer until you want to give them away. If you are making this just for you then I’d suggest storing it in the freezer as it tastes brilliant really cold!

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I love how simple it is to put your own twist on a booze gift, and as you only need to leave your vodka to infuse for a minimum of 3 days there is still plenty of time to try this before Christmas!
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It seems we have the infused booze bug in our house as Nathan decided to try some of his own too, I won’t go into loads of detail as the general process is the same but here are the ones he tried, maybe these will inspire you too?

Home made Kahlua:

Vodka, very strong freshly brewed coffee, lots of sugar and a vanilla pod left for roughly 10 days.

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Christmas flavoured whiskey:

Bourbon, the peel of three oranges, one vanilla pod and two tablespoons of honey left for roughly 10 days.

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Both of these concoctions turned out great too, it seems as though you can add almost any flavours to your favourite spirits, just play around with ratios until you get a flavour that suits you. The only difference with these was that they were left with all the ingredients and then sieved rather than adding sugar syrup at the end.
I think this makes great gifts but would also be great for a special occasion, cocktail party or even just an interesting drink to keep at home as a treat!

Chocolate Orange Cake

P1240073Before I start this post I would just like to say that I am in no way an experienced baker. It is something I have always enjoyed but my cakes and biscuits very rarely go to plan. Despite this I thought it might be fun to share how I make one of my favourite cakes. As you can see from the pictures below I made two cakes at once on this occasion as one was for a friends birthday and one was for me and my housemates!

To make my version of a chocolate orange cake you will need:

1 large orange

2 eggs

160 grams of self raising flour

160 grams of caster sugar

160 grams of butter

Orange marmalade

Cocoa powder

Baking powder

Icing sugar

Decorations for the top

Please bear in mind that those measurements are only a guide, as long as the ratio of eggs, butter, flour and sugar is roughly the same I have found that the cake is usually a success – I’m sure more experienced bakers may not agree with my haphazard method though!

P1240031P1240032I started by weighing the sugar and butter and creaming it together, starting with a wooden spoon and finishing off with an electric whisk to make sure it was light and creamy.

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Next I took the zest of my orange and added that and then the eggs bit by bit.   P1240036 P1240037P1240038

I then weighed out the flour and added some cocoa powder and a teaspoon of baking powder – I do this just incase the self raising flour decides not to raise … again its probably not technically correct. After incorporating the dry ingredients slowly I added a splash of buttermilk to make the cake extra moist – this is not something I always do, I just happened to have some in the fridge! I also added a little juice from the orange to make sure the flavour really came through.P1240039 P1240040The next step is to butter and line some cake tins, I went for one deeper tin and two shallower sandwich tins to see whether baking the two halves of the cake separately or in one tin and then cutting it in half was more successful. I bet you’re dying to find out the answer!

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I filled the tins and then I popped the cakes in the oven for roughly 35 minutes, the deeper tin need longer than the two  shallow tins meaning it went a darker brown colour on top. P1240050I then left the cakes to cool before slicing the deeper cake in half and beginning the icing.  P1240052

For the icing I took more orange zest and added it to some butter, icing sugar, cocoa powder and fresh orange juice. I do not follow recipes when I make butter icing I just keep combining the ingredients until it looks right. Once they were combined I used my electric whisk and added some buttermilk. The longer you whisk this mixture the fluffier the icing/frosting will go.

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Next I spread orange marmalade on one half of the cake and butter icing on the other, I then flipped the iced half over so that the cake had both marmalade and icing in the middle. The last step is to ice the top of the cake too and then decorate in whatever way you fancy! I used assorted chocolate cake decorations but I think those little candied orange slices would look cute too.

P1240055 P1240057 P1240059 This cake might not be the prettiest or the most sophisticated but it is certainly tasty, give it a go!P1240060