It's not every year we make a Christmas cake, but they are eminently bankable: I have been known to eat last year's cake which had been quietly fermenting at room temperature for 15 months. In 2018, I needed Cookie Dau.II as a catalyst to overcome the inertia. This year I set to the task commendably early, and on my own, but proved that I really shouldn't be let out in a kitchen or a science lab on my own. At the beginning of The Blob, I wrote about my surprise when I failed to use PPE in the lab and consequently landed a drop of radioactive phosphorous in the corner of my eye. I'm the kind of bloke who will take apart a piece of simple equipment - like a bicycle or a chain-saw - to 'fix' it and still have a couple of nuts on the floor when I reassemble it.
When the girls were small and learning the kitchen trade, I stuck a banner on the wall above the stove asking
"Are we going to measure or are we going to cook?"That was by way of encouraging experimentation, being flexible and adaptable and discovering a) allowable variation and b) reasonable substitutes. Lard will successfully replace butter; lemon juice for vinegar; golden syrup is really an industrial mechanical honey; gram flour for pancakes; and poitín <hic!> will serve the cook whenever a key ingredient is missing from a well started recipe. But there are limits! as wonderfully expressed in Dilbert's Cooking with Engineers cartoon: "I think marjoram is the french for butter"
The October 2019 cake more or less followed the family recipe from the 1980s. But I didn't have any ground almonds, let alone 80g of them, so I added more flaked almonds to make up the deficit. Fail! That almond powder must have considerable soakage, because there was a puddle of molten butter on the floor of the oven when the cake was done.What a waste. Learning from this, I did a few extra things for November's cake. [I can't be bothered with ground almonds which, despite being packed in inert nitrogen, rapidly lose the last whiff of almondity and become so much expensive sawdust. My pal Ysabel, from Madrid, stoutly maintains that you should only use almonds which you have ground yourself that day]. a) added a couple of extra spoons of flour to compensate for the absent absorbent. b) made a flour and water paste to seal the removable base of my 20cm cake-tin. c) put the cake-tin on a pizza tray to catch the drips if any. That was altogether more successful.
Because good things always come in threes, I was up at 0600hrs to make December's Christmas cake - yes, we are expecting a crowd for Chrimbo. I was partly seduced to going again because I'd seen and purchased a packet of dried cranberries on Aldi's bake shelves: they are like a smaller, tarter, glacé cherry. Halving the cherries is a major, sticky, chore in the list of Things To Do for Xmas cake. I had soaked 500g of sultanas overnight in a mix of poitín and lemon juice and they had plumped up nicely. I'd also found a packet of marzipan that was only 2 months beyond its best-before. I chopped the slab into sultana-sized chunks and threw them into the flour bowl. I was in the zone and motoring through the task when I realised that I was going to be including the last five eggs and the last half-pound of butter in the house. I paused . . . briefly . . . and then ploughed on. By the time The Beloved woke up, the shops would be open and I could replace the eggs and butter it they were indeed ear-marked for something else. Chop chop weigh weigh stir stir whisk whisk . . . and I smoothed out the dent (for raising) in the top of the cake and popped it in the oven. It was more or less an hour, including two cups of tea, from the start of the process. As I sat down I noticed a pack and half of flaked almonds sitting on the table looking at me all miffed - I thought we were invited to the hot cake party they seemed to say. That was indeed the intention was all I could reply. More nuts left on the workshop floor after Bob the Blunder has been in charge!
And this cake like the first of the season, perhaps because of short measure on the almond front, also lost a lot of butter. But this time, I caught it and recycled it onto my breakfast toast, it was discoloured and sort of sweet but way better than chewing on dry toast.