Saturday, December 1, 2012

12 Days of Christmas!

Day One! 
I'm very excited about December. Not just because Santa comes and I get to spend time with friends and family. This year I'm very excited because I'm going to bring you:

The 12 Days of Christmas
food and romance
blogging extravaganza!

I've invited 11 friends to share with you all about their favourite Christmas foods, traditions and indulgences. And I have some pretty awesome friends! The blogging line up includes: Ebony McKenna. Joan Kilby, Anne Gracie, Sarah Mayberry, L.A. Johannesson, Alison Brideson, Robin Covington, Louise Reynolds, Cathryn Hein, Rachel Johns, and more!

Today -- to kick things off -- you get, well, me. (Mostly because I only thought of this idea a couple of days ago and I really needed to give everyone else a little more notice.)

And today I'm willing to share with you TWO of my ultra-ultra-secret, kept-in-a-bunker, never-shared-with-anyone recipes for Christmas baking that never fail to deliver.

(Okay, so I might have been overdoing it with the ultra-ultra secret bit. Okay a lot. So, one recipe is from the Women's Weekly and one is from Donna Hay. So not really all that secret at all.)

First off, fruit cake.

I was never a fan of fruit cake. In fact up until a couple of years ago, I always gave it wide berth. My only fond memory of fruit cake was from when I went to Bath, in the UK, and treated myself to afternoon tea at the Pumphouse restaurant in the famous Bathhouse.
As a lowly, church-mouse-poor backpacker at the time, this was a big decision, because it meant I couldn't afford to buy any dinner that night. I savoured every bite of the cucumber sandwich and scones that I was provided and I carefully wrapped the piece of fruit cake in a paper napkin and tucked it away. I ate the fruitcake on the National Express bus that took me back to London that night, and damned if it wasn't pretty bloody good.

But even after that, I wasn't a big fan.

Until I discovered the Australian Women's Weekly Grand Marnier fruit cake.

Yes, this is a lot of work -- it's not one of those Nigella "whip it up in an hour and you're done" kind of things. It's the proper, soak-the-fruit-for-days, line-the-cake-tins-twice, be-prepared-for-the-oven-to-be-on-for-hours, kind of palaver.
Depending on your expertise as a cook,
this is the kind of mess you can anticipate.
But oh, it's worth it. The smell in your kitchen as the fruit soaks in the Grand Marnier and marmalade is divine. Then while the cake bakes -- yum! And when you turn it out, all that hard work, and it looks so perfect and delicious and pretty . . . The photo on the link doesn't do it justice. This is what your fruitcake can look like:
Last year's effort.
I'll admit, I don't exactly follow the recipe. I use only the kind of dried fruits that I like - none of that icky glace stuff. I use apples, and apricots, and pears, and cranberries, and currants, and I use way more nuts than the recipe says. (All kinds of nuts too, pecans, walnuts, macadamias, almonds.) And I soak the fruit for at least a week.

None of my family were ever big fruit cake eaters, either. But I'm proud to say that my fruit cake, this fruit cake, rarely lasts until New Year's Eve.

My second not-so-ultra-ultra-secret recipe is for shortbread. In contrast to the fruit cake recipe, this really is one of those done-in-an-instant kind of things. And yet it tastes as if you've spent hours slaving.

My hint? Use really good butter. The best butter you can afford. It really makes a difference. The recipe from the book (which is a little different to the one I've linked to) suggests baking the shortbread in a slab. I much prefer individual biscuits (cookies) and the dough is well-suited to holding its shape for all kind of cutters.

For an extra special touch, you can dip in a little melted Lindt 75%. (My dad is especially fond of them done that way, but even without the chocolate, he'll hover down half a containerful if no one's watching . . .)

So, that's it for Day One, of the Twelve Days of Christmas Food and Romance Blogging Extravaganza! (I wonder if I'm going to regret that insanely long title?)

My next guest, in two days' time, is the awesome YA author, Ebony McKenna. Ebony is the author of the Ondine series of books, and the owner of a hugely impressive imagination.

I'm also, throughout TDoCFaRBE (it's a crappy acronym, too), going to be encouraging you all to remember to spread a little kindness in the world. Random Acts aims to conquer the world one random act of kindness at a time. You can make a donation to them to support some of the amazing work they do supporting homeless children in Haiti and in spreading kindness throughout the world. Or you can just undertake your own little act of kindness and help spread the joy this season.


  1. Nice idea! You may have just converted me to fruit cake too... :0)

  2. Ohh, you're making me hungry for shortbread!
    Which isn't hard, I'll admit. Dipping it in 75% Lindt? They wouldn't make it to the table, I'd eat it all!

    1. I made myself hungry for shortbread. I don't have time or ingredients to make it right now, so maybe I'll just have to go buy some...

  3. Hey, what's wrong with glace fruit? Am I the only person in the world who still loves it? Seriously, as someone who gives fruit cake a wide berth, I think I could go for your recipe :-) Will have to give it a try.

    1. Never been a fan of the glace fruit and I think the reason this cake is so popular with my family is that it doesn't have any in it. But if you like it, go for it!!

    2. I leave the glace fruit out of my fruitcake recipe too. Except for the ginger - that's a must have.

      No idea why, but glace cherries give me the shudders and I LOVE cherries. They're my favourite fruit!

    3. I'm with you Cathryn. Although I do make a recipe for a roast pork stuffing that uses glace cherries and I find if I wash all the sticky goo off them, it actually turns out really well.

  4. Hi Emmie,

    Recipes sound and look delicious and I have another great cake with loads of glace fruit, which might please Louise.

    And it is from the Women's Weekly Celebration Cookbook, I couldn't paste the picture but it's worth a try.

    12 days is a lovely idea.


    GROUND ALMOND FRUIT CAKE from the Women's Weekly Celebrations Book

    Suitable for people who can’t tolerate gluten
    The Cakes keep well in the refrigerator or freezer, if sealed tightly, for up to 3 months. This recipe is not suitable to microwave.
    250g (1 cup) seedless dates
    150g (2/3 cup) mixed peel – not being a fan, I leave this out and add extra cherries.
    90g (½ cup) red glace cherries
    90g (½ cup) green glace cherries
    80g (½ cup) raisins
    250g (1½ cups) brazil nuts
    185g (1½ cups) pecans or walnuts
    100g (3/4 cup) packaged ground almonds
    ½ teaspoons baking powder
    3 eggs
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 teaspoon vanilla essence
    2 tablespoons rum – I use Scotch because that’s all I could find
    Place whole fruit and nuts in bowl, then stir in ground almonds and baking powder. Beat eggs in small bowl with electric mixer until thick and creamy, beat in honey and essence; stir into the fruit mixture.
    Spread evenly into 2 greased and paper-lined 8cm x 26cm bar pans. (Can use any pan but smaller the cake, shorter the cooking time)
    Bake in slow oven for 1½ to 2 hours or until firm. Brush hot cakes with rum, wrap in foil, cool in pans overnight.
    NB- as long as quantities about right you can mix and match nuts and fruits to suit your taste.

    1. Ooh, a gluten-free recipe - thank you!! I usually allow myself a few gluten passes over Xmas, but this looks like a great recipe! I might just have to give it a try...

  5. My sister and I have a Christmas bake day planned. She'll need no convincing to include your version of the Grand Marnier fruit cake in our line up. I have a soft spot for shortbread but never yet made it. Inspired to go out hunting for Christmassy cookie cutters now.

  6. Sounds like fun! I'm going to treat myself to some new cookie cutters this year too - let me know if you find any especially good ones!

  7. Grand Marnier fruitcake? Whoop! Off to raid my Woman's Weekly collection for the recipe.

    Looking forward to more Chrissy specials. This is going to be fun!

    1. Looking at the one online, it's a little different to the one I got from the magazine, but I'm sure the results would be similar. Worth hunting through your recipe collection, though!

  8. No way you'll convert me to fruitcake but the cookies look GREAT!!