Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas Baking in West Waterford, Ireland

Every family has their own Christmas baking traditions.  Some people get it all done before Halloween, others bake for the entire neighbourhood, some are lucky enough to be the recipients of home baked cakes.

Our family tradition is to fill the oven when the day comes to bake the Christmas cake.  The oven is on for what seems like the entire day to bake such a mammoth dessert and my Mum has always made sure to bake at least one other cake, sure you couldn't be wasting all that spare heat!  Every year she makes a Dundee cake which is basically a smaller, slightly drier fruit cake with whole almonds on top. Last year I missed the Christmas baking and I got a big slice of Dundee cake in the post.  Oh joy...

2 weeks ago, my gorgeous Mum fell and managed to dislocate her shoulder, so stirring massive bowls of cake mix was out of the question.  I decided to head home for a week to help with cooking and dog walking duties and it seemed the perfect opportunity for the McKenna girls to get together to do some Christmas baking.

To bake McKenna style, there are a few essentials - lots and lots of dried fruit, an old copy of the Irish times to line the baking tins, a bottle of brandy for generous fruit soaking, my ancient copy of the 'Hamlyn New All Colour Cookbook' for the Dundee cake recipe and a 'Stork Christmas Baking' leaflet saved from 1976 for the Christmas cake.  Finally, there must be absolutely no peel!  The only way to avoid peel at Christmas time it seems, is to do your own baking.

The night before the big bake, Mum and I sorted through all of the fruit, looking for and removing any stems still attached to raisins and sultanas.  I think we counted about 20 little stems in 2kg of fruit.  When Mum was a girl, there were so many stems it could take hours to do the same job and all the fruit would stick together, so a final dusting with flour was essential to make sure the mixing job was easier.  These days, fruit is coated in vegetable oil, which stops things sticking together, but I wonder what the quality of the veg oil is?  Not worth thinking about too much I reckon.  Once that job was done, we soaked the fruit in plenty of brandy, covered the bowl with a tea towel and left it overnight.

My job the next day was to line all the tins.  Mum has a foolproof method for this.  Line the base and sides with two layers of newspaper (preferably the Irish Times for interesting reading) then a layer of parchment paper.  The sides are cut extra wide, to allow for an overlap at the bottom and an extra bit of height at the top, as the cake will rise and no matter how well you plan, it's sure to spill over!

My sister and I did all the beating and folding, stirring and measuring, while Mum and Tilda supervised.  Mum had a small jar of walnuts that she figured really should be used up too, so we made a Date & Walnut Loaf to fill the last space on the oven shelves.  Suffice to say, if the recipe tells you to bake something for 30 mins at 180C, baking for an hour at 140C won't really cut it.  As Mum reluctantly admitted, 'I suppose baking is a science after all!'

Several hours later, 3 cakes were out of the oven and we breathed a sigh of relief.  All done until next year!