Let the madness commence

Christmas is about spending time with the family. But before I get to that bit of things it’s about baking lots and lots of stuff for everyone to eat. Here’s the first in my series of entries about my normal (though this year pared down) Christmas baking routine.

This week has been so long I did start to wonder if it was ever going to finish.

My last week at work for the year was something of a mixed blessing. With the completion of tasks that made sense and the introduction of tasks that made no sense at all. Yesterday afternoon, as an example, I spent time sitting on the floor at work untangling cables! I then sorted out voicemail for a phone line that can’t actually take external phone calls and set up an out of office even though I never get email from anyone outside the organisation (and we’re all going to be out for 11 days after today).

I did start to think that the week was going to last an eternity when I woke up on Tuesday with the unwarranted belief that it was actually Friday. I don’t think that the stinking cold I developed at some point on Sunday helped me one iota.

With any luck, come the new year and a healthier diet, exercise and a better frame of mind, I will find myself less susceptible to colds and other bugs that seem to be really getting me down at the present time.

There is definitely something to be said for a healthy approach, one that will come – with luck – when I start the diet challenge in the new year. Our challenge at the office is growing, what started as a challenge between four has now become a challenge between nine and I am sure that it will grow again when we get back to work and everyone sees how much of an effect Christmas had on the health.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, this weekend I am all about the baking. Today I had a half-day (seriously, the time until 1 pm counted down like I was waiting for a kettle to boil and watching it avidly). So, this afternoon I spent a lot of time putting together ingredients, making things and washing up.

The main project for the day was biscuits (or cookies, depending on where you are from). I used a very basic dough, the ingredients are listed below (I double them):

140g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
225g softened unsalted butter
1tsp vanilla extract (I use the good stuff)
280g plain flour

Once I’d rolled out the dough and cut all the shapes I needed – as you can see, every single one has some sort of Christmas theme – I baked them in a 160C oven for 6 minutes before turning the trays and baking for a further 4 minutes. Any longer and the biscuits start to colour too much. They also become very brittle and break so easily when being decorated.

I ended up making 70 biscuits in total. I let them all cool properly before sticking them in an airtight plastic box ready for decorating on Monday.

At the same time as I was preparing the biscuits, I also made a light fruit cake using a recipe I have adapted from something in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible. I wasn’t keen on the use she made of pineapple in her Victorian Fruit Cake, so I upped the quantities of sultanas and glace cherries, as well as adding a few more chopped nuts (today’s made use of some roasted hazelnuts rather than my usual choice of blanched almonds).

The recipe and process are quite long; two different types of sugar, ground almonds AND self-raising flour, spices, butter, fruit, nuts. Thanks to this combination of ingredients, the cake turns out a little dense, incredibly moist and my mum loves to eat it with a slice of cheese as an afternoon tea.

Did I mention that it takes almost three hours to bake in a 140C oven?

One of these bad-boys lasts around 3 weeks (fruitcake has a long lifespan if kept properly, but the one I make never lasts that long as it’s all eaten pretty quickly). If you and yours aren’t keen on candied peel, raisins and the like, then this recipe could well be perfect for you.

The ingredient quantities are really random and if you’re interested in them, just leave a comment below and I’ll put together a post detailing how I a) came up with them and b) what they are.

It’s another day tomorrow and with it will come the wonder that is a baked sour cream cheesecake, two batches of my double chocolate brownies and the decorating of some of the biscuits I baked this evening. For now, though, I think I’ve done enough.

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