Annabel Langbein: Let them eat cake (+ recipes)
Have you baked your Christmas cake yet?
As the world whizzes by, there's something very reassuring about traditions. Feeling part of the continuum anchors our collective experience and gives us a cheering sense of place and belonging.
Among the many rituals of Christmas, the making of a special fruit cake is very much at the forefront. What started out in the 1500s as a fruit-laden porridge consumed on Christmas Eve, gradually morphed into a Christmas pudding and, in the mid 19th century, to the cake we know today.
Unfortunately, Christmas cake is not always such a winner in the popularity stakes these days. Apart from me, no one in my family likes it.
For me, however, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without Christmas cake. Just making this traditional cake is the trigger that gets me into the Christmas spirit, and I love the dense, rich fruitiness, that age-old blend of spices, and sometimes even a fat double layer of icing, almond and royal.
As soon as I start mixing great mountains of dried fruits, taking in the whiff of brandy and spice and then the sweet fragrant aromas that are produced as the cake cooks, it puts me in the Christmas zone.
It's best to make rich fruit cakes well ahead of the big day so they have time to mature. Mid-November is a good time. Wrap tightly in baking paper and then tinfoil, and every three or four weeks brush the top with a little brandy, whisky or sherry to keep it moist.
My grandmother always put wrapped-up sixpences in her Christmas cake, which was the only reason any of us kids ate it when we were growing up. Eventually we came to associate the cake with Christmas and then we had to have it - not for the sixpences but because the fact it was there gave us a sense of comfort. Some things never change.
That's how traditions work - through fair or foul we embed an idea and make it part of our shared histories, ready for the next generation to take forward.
So here's to a revival of the much-maligned Christmas cake. And, in an effort to spark that revival, here are three totally different Christmas cake recipes, each with their own particular virtues.
Christmas cakes celebrate the power of tradition - every family has its own version or variation, which travels from friend to friend and generation to generation. This cake makes a wonderful Christmas gift, and can be cooked as one huge cake, or baked in two smaller tins (reduce the cooking time accordingly - check after 8 hours). Get the recipe
This cake is unbelievable - just three ingredients and you get a fruity, moist cake. It's not a connoisseur's cake but it more than does the job for almost zero effort and minimal expense, so it's perfect if you're away at the bach or on a shoestring budget. Of course you can add spices to vamp it up. Get the recipe
This is my go-to Christmas cake recipe. The prunes deliver a wonderful, moist texture without overpowering the taste. You can vary the fruit and nuts you use - just make sure you use the same total volume. Get the recipe
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com.