I feel as if the beginning of a new year should start with the thrill and excitement of a new journey, one complete with a new set of expectations and goals to accomplish or sights to see. There should be that fleeting flutter of anxiety before, just so you know that it is completely un-adventured, unfound, before you. What if waking up to the new year was like the first day of school as a five year old, you can't sleep from excitement, try to prepare yourself as much as possible with matching pens, backpack and lunch kit, a new pair of shoes even.
|Decorated to be served at Christmas dinner, the cake is finally ready.|
However it seems to me that we haven't quite filled enough excitement into the previous year and instead must end with a bang, in the sense of spending the last hours of the year with as much laughter and chatter with friends as possible. There is no reason to seclude yourself for the last hours, however I also see little reason to go all out (no regrets as my friends would say) because the entire year should have much more fulfilment than a single night. And instead of beginning the new year with expectations of accomplishing each goal and all those little things you've always wanted to do but never got around to doing, we sit around in a haze trying to recover from the previous night.
I recall the first time I stayed up past midnight on New Years Eve, I thought the creatures of the night would be awake at the same time, those cowboys of ten-to-ten, the grumpy monsters and pumpkins of parents trying to get their kids to sleep.
I was the kid that went to bed only to get back up again in ten minutes for a cheese and cracker platter, which took plenty of time to choose. I sat in front of the open cupboard trying to select the perfect type and amount of crackers to pair with cheese, and then continued to slice the cheese in only a perfectionists manner.
I can only say now that characteristics so particular to me now must have started young.
When I was younger mum and I used to cook together seamlessly, she gave me instructions for which ingredient to gather or how much to add to the bowl of batter, and I was instructed as the apprentice of the kitchen. Upon her request I took ingredients off the shelves and placed them beside the bowl for use, and gathered spoons or measuring cups for her when she needed. If I was lucky, she held out the big wooden spoon we used, and in two little hands I grasped the handle tightly as I began stirring the mixture round and round slowly, using my entire body to move the weighted spoon.
I think back, and remind myself how lucky I am to have this memory of mum and I, the student and a teacher, as we cooked harmoniously in the kitchen. And as the cakes and cookies always tasted delicious even after I scooped the entire bowl for remaining batter, I know with each bite that it was more than the ingredients which make the outcome so tasty. There's something about sharing the moment when the kitchen suddenly fills with the warmth and spices of something from the oven, and you both take that first bite into the delicious treat heating your fingertips.
It was during this time as we made the Christmas cake that I realised what it is about Christmas that I love so much, and what I hope to keep in mind as I begin the new year. With the same wooden spoon that has stayed in the kitchen for years, and been used to make many Christmas cakes before, a constant among the flow of cheap utensils as they are bought and quickly broken, I stirred the mixture with two hands on the handle of the spoon. I had lined the ingredients which mum needed for the cake neatly beside the old scale brought over from England by my parents, which uses black weights with printed measurements such as '4 oz' on top.
The elegance of the fruit and spices, and even an undetected splash of alcohol combines everything together so neatly in this Christmas cake, and reminded me of what we seem to strive for, and in the short window of Christmas holidays when we allow ourselves to relax, can achieve with the familiarity and comfort of having family and friends close. The harmony of all the flavours in each bite made me realise how I've quickly slipped into a habit of trying to control situations which occur. Instead of allowing things to happen, to show their flavour like the nutmeg or molasses in this cake, I've overpowered those spices, an important necessity to achieving the desired taste, and have instead created something undesirable. Without ease of sitting back and enjoying it the moments to come, I have fallen into the pattern of standing up against it.
Harmony between each other can only exist when we can personally remain balanced, and I'll remember this as each section of the Christmas cake is served, topped with a sweet layer of marzipan and icing, and the flavours develop more and more over time, complementing each other better.
I've taken a slice while I finish this post, and remember the harmony that existed in that moment when mum and I stirred the Christmas cake on the kitchen counter, when I was really little, and just a few weeks ago.
Gluten Free Christmas Cake
Print recipe here.
A richly spiced cake which keeps the tradition of cooking over the holidays in today's kitchens. It lasts longer than other cakes because of the alcohol used, and the spices pair perfectly with the flavours, and I was surprised to find that the moistness of this cake keeps it together and prevents any crumbling, unlike many other gluten-free cakes - even without any gums used!
A sweet topping of marzipan and icing complement this rich flavouring of the cake, because a little sugar and spice was never so nice.
175 g raisins
175 g sultanas
400 g currants
50 g chopped prunes
50 g chopped apricots
50 g ground almonds
1 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
6 tbsp brandy or whisky
225 g butter, slightly softened
225 g dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
225 g Bob's Red Mill gluten free flour mix
2 tbsp molasses
approximately 3/4 c marzipan
white icing made from icing sugar and water, the proportions vary due to conditions of your kitchen, but you want the consistency to be thick so that the icing does not run off of the cake.
Place all the measured fruit, ground almonds and spices in a large bowl and mix in alcohol. Stir and leave to soak overnight.
Preheat the oven to 275°F and line an 8" cake tin with parchment paper, a round piece on the bottom and a strip along the sides.
Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until it turn cappuccino coloured. Beat eggs together in a smaller bowl and pour in slowly, mixing thoroughly. Don't worry if the mixture curdles at this point.
Fold in the flour mix into the butter, sugar and egg mixture until completely combined. Then add in the fruit and pour in the molasses.
I recommend using a heated spoon when measuring the molasses, running it under hot water before, which keeps the molasses from sticking to the spoon.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin, and place in the oven. Bake for approximately 3 hours. Test that the cake is done by inserting a clean butter knife into the centre, a clean knife when removed means that it is done cooking.
Allow the cake to completely cool before placing it in an airtight container, and keep it in a cool, dry location for a week or so. This resting process allows all the flavours to develop, and don't worry about it going stale - the alcohol will prevent this!
Remove the marzipan from the fridge an hour or so before you begin icing the cake to allow it to soften, rolling it in your hands will also loosen it and make it easier to work with. With a rolling pin roll out the marzipan into a 0.5 cm thick round. Lift it from the counter and lay over the cake. If it is large enough to cover both the top and the sides then cut the excess from the base of the cake, or you may choose to apply the marzipan in two pieces, cutting a round for the top and a separate piece for the sides.
When this is done, and the icing sugar is made, spread it evenly on top of the marzipan with a spatula or knife. It is alright if some drips off of the cake, but it should be thick enough to stay along the sides. Allow it to harden completely before decorating as we often do, or if you choose, serve.
Labels: almond, baked, cake, Christmas, cooking, dates, dense, gluten free, harmony, icing sugar, marzipan, moist, molasses, raisins, rich, spice, sultanas