Friday, December 26, 2008

Cake or Death? Death by Cake please...

I thought I'd get right in there with a photo of the finished article, should my writing fail to grab your attention. Is it not divine and beautiful, a magnificent specimen of marvellous cakedom? I defy any reader to deny its inner goodness. And I should think so too - this thing probably cost darn near £30 to make up (yes, I really was geeky enough to tot up the bill) and I would wager that each slice contains every single one of your RDA of vitamins and minerals, not to mention well over twice your daily recommended calorie and alcohol intake. How can you resist?

From start to finish the whole adventure has lasted some two weeks, I'd say. Ten days before Christmas Ma Pea and I waltzed gaily around the aisles of Waitrose, piling the trolley high with all sorts of fruity goodies, as well as nuts, icing sugar, flour, eggs, butter, and all those other requisite ingredients which make up the traditional Christmas cake.

Turns out that making a Christmas cake is not an activity for the faint of heart or, for that matter, faint of muscle. Nor for those short on time. From start to finish the entire exercise took some 6-8 hours, and that's before the marzipan and icing are added on. One of the main reasons I'll warrant which forces most to head for the ready-bought cake.

As I'm writing this on the eve of a rather last minute flying trip to Italy, I'm forced to make the cake-making revelries and descriptions rather shorter than is my usual way. However, suffice to say that the cake wasn't made without a few mini dramas - I learnt that chopping over 1 kilo of various sticky gloopy dried fruits is no mean feat, and is rather like one of those tasks that you'd be given in hell, though eventually I overcame the mountain and reigned victorious. The next hysterical fiasco was my realisation when it came to adding the cake mixture to the tin, that the recipe had called for a 24 inch ROUND cake tin, when I had, in fact, bought a 23 inch SQUARE cake tin. Furiously putting my GCSE maths to test, I figured out (after phoning a friend) that I'd need to increase the mixuture by a third for the mass to be right. Sod that. I loaded the mixture in and prayed as it baked away in the oven for a not paltry three hours.

It emerged a vision of perfection, with wafts of delightful and promising alcoholic fruitness tantalising my nostrils. I breathed a sigh of relief and got drunk on the fumes. But it had by no means reached the pinnacle of its success yet, oh no. There remained another ten days of brandy basting to come as every day I hovered lovingly over my Christmas baby, bathing it in obscene quantities of alcohol, ensuring not a crumb was left unsoaked, not a nut left unturned. Finally, Christmas Eve arrived, and the cake emerged from its brandy bath, sopping wet and spluttering more boozy fumes than a city boy on a Friday night. By now it was completely sozzled, ready and willing to be rolled up and tucked into its marzipan wrapper bed. At this stage my cosseting and fuss-making could be likened to a doting mother tending to her first-born.

At this stage though, my baby was yet half-dressed, as there remained....a cloak of glossy white icing. 2 egg whites whisked, and vast quantities of sugar whipped in, and I'd concocted what seeemed like the perfect consistency icing. I was getting rather precious about CC by this point, and delicately poking at it with a palette knife as I spread the sugar coat thickly across its top and sides. The belle of the ball it would be, with real genuine frothy peaks studding its unblemished complexion.

Then, the vandals set in, as Ma Pea tried to add a naff ballerina decoration to the apple of my eye. Some people just can't stand others' works of art:

I could barely wait for the icing to dry before I wanted to cut the first slice and taste the fruit (cake) of my (culinary) loins.
Course, I wasn't 100% what this thing was going to taste like so, for safety, I tested it out on an unsuspecting guest/guinea pig.

The result: STUPENDOUS!!! Moist, packed with a plethora of tasty dried fruits and generous quantities of hazelnuts, and with tender marzipan and the crunch of icing, this is a Christmas cake to top all Christmas cakes. Though, with the amount I've consumed already, it might well be the Christmas cake that ends me...

...still, I can't think of a better way to go.

Monday, December 15, 2008

We Wish you a Cakey Christmas

Oh the dedication - I write from my deathbed.

It's my own fault really, I tempted fate. I had the audacity (read: stupidity) to say, rather smugly, last Thursday, whilst standing in the presence of someone hacking and spluttering and fully lurgied up, that I'd 'not been ill this year'. I was commenting more out of surprise really as, when normally one is esconced deep within germ-ridden team in the corporate world, it's not a case of are you going to get ill but when you're going to get ill. And so I was rather revelling in the unexpected bonus that 'working from home' brings - Winter '08 is the winter of no bugs! But someone up above obviously saw my innocent conversation as tempting fate, and lo and behold, less than 24 hours later I started to feel...rather bleh.

I battled it for two solid days as I was deep in the West Sussex countryside studying cartoon and caricature for the weekend at West Dean College, an incredible mansion which belonged to a rich, old, eccentric called Edward James, who I'd ironically heard about first when on my travels in Mexico. His estate, however, is now dedicated to short and long courses teaching the arts. The weekend was astoundingly good, with rigorous hours of teaching and penflexing broken only by gorgeous, plentiful and timely meals. When I wasn't drawing, eating, or talking with the rest of my classmates, I was curled up by one of the many fires, catchingup on my reading. But the sniffles were a-lurkin'.

Finally, come end of course, I succumbed and have since gone completely under. Two days later, and on Christmas Eve no less, I'm bedbound and feeling very sorry for myself. Like, I suppose 75% of the rest of England. Cor blimey but we've got it good this year ent we?!!

So, I've been cheering myself up with thoughts of impending Christmas feast, but most importantly, and a now quite longstanding labour of love, the inaugural tasting of my homemade and obscenely alcoholic Christmas cake.

I thought I'd break from tradition, and instead make no apologies for the fact that it's been nigh on a month since I last wrote. After all, I can't afford to feel guilty, I need to save all the guilt for the monstruous amounts of Christmas calories we'll no doubt consume over the next few days...and then I'll start getting all dedicated and virtuous come 09. Honest.

These past few weeks I've been slowly but surely overcome with childlike Christmas glee: getting all excited about crackling log fires, steaming hot chocolate, decorating our hand-sawn Christmas tree with beautiful and sparkling decorations and putting my inner gift fairy to good use when advising friends on gift purchases for their adored ones...

Kitchen wise, I've recently been working my way through my adored and favouritest food writer ever (and many others' too no doubt) Nigel Slater's book on food and the love of everything about it, 'Appetite'. His very promising looking 'exceedingly boozy Christmas cake' recipe caught my eye, and the decision was made.

Thus I commence my cakey adventures. Oh come all ye faithful blog readers (minimal numbers at present due to very little action on my part to obtain an audience...), and join me over these next few entries in this shameless cakefest.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Birthday rhyme to an old friend

The day dawned early and bright, December third,
this year's passed so quickly it seems quite absurd,
But beautiful winter sunshine through my window streamed bright,
so I threw open the curtains and saw with delight,
that the entire garden was completely embossed,
with a delicious icy coating of frost.
Bundling up, warm clothes v. biting cold,
I grabbed a camera in the hopes of photo gold.
I wanted to capture this magical, glittering morning.
but my photography should come with a small prewarning...
as, whilst my dear birthday friend has many a skill,
at capturing those photolicious moments that thrill,
my ability to close the shutter on the perfect shot,
is, I won't lie to you, not quite as hot.
Nevertheless, without further ado, and in my own little way,
I'll show you the magic moments of this beautiful day.

The icy sheen of directions. Beautiful markings to inspire me on my mini mission.

Frosted Treetrunks

The trees scraped their shadowy fingers across the fields, as I crossed a bridge into the magical forest.

This picture, and this place, causes me to take a nosedive straight back to my childhood in the states, and reading the terribly sad story Bridge to Terabithia. I got slightly lost in my imagination and had to pinch myself to resurface.

Marvellous mossy mystery.

Nature fallen.

Nature, dangling.

Wellie shot - just discovering my camera.

Pathway reminding me of Peter Rabbit - acrid smell of creosote from nearby garden allotments mixed with tinny waft of fir trees.

A virtual present - a cup of tea and some homemade cookies - chunky choc chip cookies, with their unseemly generous chunks of half melted chocolate. All that is missing is my birthday friend giggling with me as we lick the melted chocolate and buttery crumbs off our fingers, before reaching for another refill of tea and settling in for a good long girly chat.

Happy Birthday! xxx