Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Christmas Cake ... Make It Early!

Christmas cake .. loved or reviled, embraced as the classic it is or seen as a ghastly leftover from a distant relative's attic ... there is nothing like Christmas Cake.

Chef and his students make really good Christmas Cake. Yes, Virginia, there IS such a thing as 'good' Christmas Cake. :) So there!

We use a family recipe finally shared in detail with Chef by his wonderful mother-in-law, Chef Aller of Ottawa. It is ridiculously fruity, full of nuts, a bit of brandy and enough sugar to cause an entire small town to go into diabetic shock if anyone eats too much at one sitting. If any reader wants the recipe, just ask in the comments and I will be happy to share.

START by going out and spending well over $350 on ingredients!! (Remember, we're baking for many here ... not just the family table.)

Carefully set out the ingredients in bowls and on the frig. We took the recipe and multiplied by 6 to make the cakes this year ... it was arms into the mixture all the way! This makes about 60 pounds (over 25 kilos) of fruitcake. Oy Vey!

Start by mixing the dry fruits first (the raisins and nuts) and be sure to de-clump them (using a little flour and bare hands ... never a metal spoon!), and add the rest of the savoury ingredients going
from slightly wet and gooey to the cherries last, which make QUITE a mess. We mixed all this by hand in deep hotel pans, and added pineapple juice and brandy to let the fruit rest and soak overnight. (This step can actually be done a few days before baking ... it is up to you.)

On baking day, pre-heat the ovens and add lots of steam. If you don't have access to steam ovens, just put a glass or metal lasagne pan in the bottom of your oven and fill it up with hot water. Let it just sit there as the oven heats up AND while the baking is under way ... it will add lots of wonderful moisture!

We almost always work in teams.
Here is my wonderful assistant, Chef Tamara, leading one team in their tailgate meeting before launching into production.

Line the spring-form pans or loaf pans with double layers of buttered parchment paper. (Note to students reading this ... remember that waxed paper is not a substitute for parchment!
Who wants to eat a candle?)

Make the dough, starting off by mixing all your dry ingredients BUT remember that sugars don't count as 'dry'; they remain separate so they can be creamed with the butter.

Using your paddle in the stand mixer, whip the butter up well and add in the sugar a bit at a time to make a lovely smooth fluffed base to work with. Add the dry ingredients after the eggs and
almond flavouring have gone in a bit at a time. Then ... take the batter from out of the bowl and fold it into the fruit, using only a good rubber spatula and your hands.

Put the prepared batter into the spring-forms, taking care to knock the pans against the counters to ensure complete filling (because this dough is so thick and sticky it is easy to wind up with air pockets). Then ... using prepared cherries or nuts, carefully decorate the tops for formal presentation. Here is Chef Mystee doing a lovely job,
using small tweezers to position things. When the ovens have settled and are steamy,
get the cakes into them for a nice, long, restful bake.

When this is done the next order is simple ... clean the kitchen!

When done, remove from oven and let sit on a counter, covered and removed from pan, overnight. We just cover them with good tea towels.
Tomorrow the cakes will be given their wrapping (in waxed paper and tin foil) and will be gently 'dosed'. All the cakes will be individually dosed 3 times in total before delivery to our customers in the last week before the Christmas holidays.

Friends, students, parents, readers, you too can do this! Do it soon, do it every year, and make it into a family day in the kitchen.

Get ready for a merry, merry Christmas.

And for tomorrow, remember to celebrate Diwali with little candles and sweets shared with family and friends. In multi-cultural Canada what better way, after a solemn ceremony and true thanks-giving to our Veterans at Remembrance Day services, to celebrate just being here together?