Christmas is my favourite time of the year… I love the build-up to the big event, even if every year it seem to start that little bit earlier! There are so many parties to attend, so much food to be eaten or cooked and of course it’s the busiest time of the year for baking.
Even as a French man I adore a good Christmas cake. Each year we bake more and more Christmas cakes at Cake Boy, our boutique in London, and each year as soon as we start to bake our rich fruit cakes the customers rush in saying they can smell the baking from across the river. There really is nothing like the smell of a Christmas cake baking, it’s so festive!
My tips for a great Christmas and a great Christmas cake are:
1. Don’t do too much in advance … the best time to start your Christmas cake is mid-November as if you start to early the nuts in the cake will spoil.
2. Always use unrefined sugar in your Christmas cake, the best and my favourite is Billington’s. Billington’s Dark Muscovado and Molasses give rich dark flavours and colour to your cake.
3. Roast your nuts before adding to your cake mixture for extra flavour and crunch.
4. Use good quality dry fruits; they should be plump and seedless. Make sure you use natural glace cherries.
5. Use good quality cognac in your Christmas cake or if you fancy experimenting try an orange liquor or rum. Feed your cake an extra tablespoon of alcohol roughly every two weeks before baking but don’t over-do it as it will become soggy.
6. If you are going to ice your cake do it the week of Christmas so your icing doesn’t dry or lose its colour.
7. I always make my Christmas cake very flamboyant and use it as a centre piece on the table instead of flowers.
8. Serve your cake with a cheese platter in the evening, accompanied by port or champagne … a perfect combination.
9. For Boxing day I make a quick dessert by crumbling left-over Christmas cake over good quality vanilla ice cream.
10. In mid-November I bake a batch or two of mini mince pies and pop them into little gift boxes as a gift for people who visit my house over the festive season. Or you can gift them when visiting someone else’s house … they are cute and delicious hot and because they are small you don’t feel too guilty eating them.
11. To keep the children entertained over Christmas I’ve for the last few years set up a cupcake decorating station for them in the kitchen. I give them a selection of baked cupcakes, bowls of multi-coloured icing and plenty of decorations. The children love it and the adults get a bit of time to be together.
12. Last year for pre-Christmas dinner party I baked Christmas ginger biscuits and used them as name place tags. You can pipe everyone’s name onto the biscuit with festive coloured icing. Just make a little hole in the biscuit before it goes to the oven and use it to tie it up to the napkins with a festive ribbon.
13. Another great Christmas pudding is Christmas Panettone Pudding. It’s basically a bread and butter pudding using the light Italian cake, Panettone instead of bread. Make it with lots of fruits, soak overnight in Amaretto and serve piping hot from the oven with vanilla custard. It’s heaven on a cold winter’s day.
The main things to remember over Christmas is to be organised, only use the best ingredients, don’t be too ambitious and mostly enjoy the season as it will go as fast as it came!