The nostalgia of Christmas Baking

I was recently asked, “”Have you the Christmas cake made? ” I had to pause and take a guilty moment before answering, that not only had I not. But admit I’ve never made one since growing up. Gasp! Strange but true,

Wether it’s a yule log, gingerbread house, pandoro sponge or a rich fruit cake. Those that celebrate Christmas generally have something sweet to mark the day. In Ireland we have mince pies, sherry trifle, pudding and of course rich booze laden Christmas Cake. And although I adore sweet mince pies and have them religiously every year. (Im currently munching through my second one as I type).

My fondest Christmas cooking memory has to be the Christmas Cake in all its white iced glory. For me, Christmas cake is the most wonderful conjuring of Christmas smells, excited preparation as well as being in the kitchen deciding who will stir the mixture. The perfume of soaking fruit in booze filling the warm heart of our house. It’s everything Christmas is about. It’s my mother and the wonderful feasts she created for Christmas. A day of glorious mountains of food topped off with this rich, complex cake, decorated in white, an age old decoration upon it and red ribbon or tinsel. This masterpiece would be lovingly tended to over the weeks with brandy or whiskey, being wrapped and unwrapped. Oh the temptation to take a “scutch” (a piece) off, Layer it with butter and gobble it when no one was watching. Sometimes the temptation would be too much if Im honest. Almond paste and icing could cover all manner of weakness. It was sensory overload as a child. I love fruit cake and I love butter. These two things combined are heaven. Especially when its a Christmas fruit cake.

And yet, as an adult, as a mother, I have deprived my own home of this wonderful sensory build up to Christmas of making pudding and cake. The tradition has not been continued much to my shame and sadness. Not because I can’t make a cake. But more because tastes, a blending of cultures and traditions and the size of a good Christmas cake do not fit in our family now. Mediterranean culture does not indulge in big heavy fruit filled deserts. It is classical Pandoro in a Maltese house as “Christmas cake”. The Italian influence is everywhere here in our food. Generally it is bought not made. Although I do love how this giant piece of Italian sponge cake looks like an alpine peak covered in snow. And so certain traditions melt away or are replaced over time I suppose .

Due to the restrictions with Covid-19, I have pondered making one to try and recreate this ultimate Christmas tradition. My longing for family mixed with my love of Christmas must be making me nostalgic. The 10 stone I’ll probably gain as the only person eating the cake has been totally overshadowed by my Christmas memories. (Im bad enough when it comes to clearing out the box of mince pies.)

So I thought I’d throw my pondering out into the air at dinner recently . There was a pause as my husband contemplated how to approach this. Finally he gently pointed out that I could just buy a teeny tiny one from the supermarket, “which would be cheaper and probably a better size”. It would also be mass produced, tasteless and lack all that brandy and whiskey from weeks of spooning over, I thought to myself. Thus I am conflicted again. Although I wonder is the cheaper easier version the problem? Have we just become so conditioned to the ease of buying one rather than partaking in the glorious process of making one? We have let this wonderful sensory extravaganza die like so many other family traditions at Christmas? Now people buy candles trying to recreate the smell of Christmas that only a good Christmas fruit cake can make.

I’ve had a good look at the recipe, It is a lot of fruit, it is going to be a big cake, for one. Maybe I could just sniff brandy at regular intervals. Might be easier on the waistline. Although somehow I think the longing for that Christmas magic not only in the smells and ritual but the connection to home might win me over. Of course the idea of a large slice of Christmas cake covered in butter is helping my cause.

My son has never known this part of Christmas being in a Mediterranean Irish family. We are a Christmas house embracing so many Christmas traditions. Yet left this one out. Possibly the nicest one. But the memories, those warming aromas, the laughter in the kitchen. Mammy helping me stir when I was little or watching my sister decorate the cake. They are the greatest gifts I could have been given. It’s where my love of Christmas really began. 2020 has been an odd year , so maybe its a good time to go back to basics and fill the home with Christmas bakes and Christmas Cake. (Sure isn’t the whole point of January to be on a diet anyway. )

Please note the cover shot is not my picture but from the following photographer. Thank you for making it available to use. Christmas photo created by freepik –