Christmas reminds me of so much of school, having studied in a Catholic school we looked forward to Christmas more than we waited for Diwali. Months before Christmas we would have a free period every week to do Carol practice in the huge auditorium in school. The fact that we could get away from the stuffy classrooms and go and sing for a whole hour was so exciting.
Some of the better singers in the school would always lead the group, and we would sing everything from “Silent Night” to “Jingle Bells” in unison with everyone trying to modulate their voices to be obviously heard above everyone else. The girl whose voice trembled after a high pitched note would face the glaring disapproval from a very stern “Sister Mercy” (who according to our adolescence standards had not an ounce of mercy in her bones).
Obviously, someone would cough and then the cough would be followed by a bout of insistent giggling which would be met by another disapproving glare and sometimes even a very loud reprimand that would, of course, result in pin drop silence. With guilty faces and suppressed giggles, all of us would keep going till the bell reminded us that it was time to go back to the class.
On Christmas Eve, we would have a half day at school, and we were allowed to dress casually. The school would be lit up with lots of Christmas lights, and there would be a contagiously festive spirit in the air. We would spend the day singing and dancing and in the end, would be rewarded with one slice and I mean only one slice of a very delicious Christmas Cake. For all my years in school, I only ate this cake once a year during Christmas, and that memory has stayed with me forever.
Now that I can bake cakes, I can relive those days of opening the wrapper and finish the lonely slice of the cake in one go. Of course, my version has a generous quantity of booze in it, which I am sure would invite a very well deserved glare from Sister Mercy. Merry Christmas to everyone.
Christmas Cake – Donna Hay Recipe
2 1/2 cups mixed fruits (Raisins, glaced cherries, glaced Ginger, Sultanas)
¾ cup (180ml) brandy or rum
One teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
One teaspoon vanilla extract
300g butter softened and chopped
One ¼ cup (220g) brown sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon
Two ¼ cups (335g) plain (all-purpose) flour
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of (baking) soda
¼ cup blanched almonds
Place the mixed fruits, brandy/rum, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a bowl, mix well, cover and soak for 6–8 hours or overnight. You can soak them upto a week in advance.
Preheat oven to 150ºC (300ºF). Put the butter and sugar in the bowl and using an electric mixer beat for 8–10 minutes or until light and creamy. The consistency looks like a thick cream.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
Sift flour and bicarbonate of soda over the fruit mixture and mix well, ensuring all the fruit is coated in flour.
Add the butter mixture and stir to combine well. Spoon into the prepared 22cm-round cake tin. Bake for 3 hours 10 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer.
Allow to cool in the tin. Serves 8–12.
Recipe courtesy :Donna Hay