FTT’s Stir Up Sunday

Traditionally this takes place 5 weeks before Christmas (the last Sunday before advent..which makes me panic a bit).  I don’t always manage it but often it’s a good nudge to actually get things done in time.  Only 1 of my 3 really likes fruit cake (though another likes the marzipan) but they love a good stir so they’ll join in.  I love the smell of slow-baking fruit cake filling the house all day (is that a Nigella thing to say?!) and I like to make a cake, a pudding (and some mincemeat, as well as a little Spanish number.  The piles of dried fruit in my supermarket basket make me feel a little crazy but I’m always glad once I’ve done it.  A rainy afternoon helps the process, so fingers crossed (and we are in Manchester).

First, the pudding.  I like this one because it has 2 lovely ingredients, prunes and rum.  It’s boozy, fruity, dark and delicious.  It takes 4 1/2 hours to cook so bear this in mind when you start! You’ll need a 1.2 litre pudding basin, greased and the base lined.

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Boozy Plum Pudding:

200g mixed dried fruit

500g soft prunes

150 ml dark rum

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

100ml apple juice

75g veg suet

75g dark brown sugar

75g plain flour

2tsp mixed spice

2 tsp cinnamon

50g white breadcrumbs

50g mixed chopped nuts

1 large egg

Heat the dried fruit and half of the prunes in a pan with the rum for 5 mins, then cool.

Blitz up the remaining prunes with the apple juice.  Add the remaining dried fruit and all the other ingredients.  Stir well and spoon into the basin.  Cover with a large circle of greased baking paper and a large circle of foil over that; tie tighly around the rim to stop moisture getting in during cooking.

Cook by placing the basin on an upturned saucer in a large pan.  Fill half way with boiling water.  Boil and then simmer for 4 1/2 hours, topping up with water when necessary.  cool completely, then wrap well and store in a cool, dry place.

 

Time for the cake! There are lots of great cake recipes around, I just like this one (can’t even remember where it’s from!) because it’s usually moist and not too crumbly.  I may not be a great judge because I’m pretty much happy with anything but I do present it to others on Christmas day and they don’t complain! I’ve also had a little competitive decorating thing going on with my brother (yes people, there are brothers who bake in this here outfit-but not in our team…yet).  I’m often a little hassled around this time (my excuse is that I have 1 more child than him) so unfortunately he usually wins.

Christmas Cake:

775g mixed dried fruit

110g chopped candied peel

110g glacé cherries

zest and juice 1 orange and 1 lemon

5 tbsp brandy

225g butter

225g plain flour

100g ground almonds

1 1/2 tsp mixed spice

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

225g light brown muscovado sugar

5 large eggs, beaten

Soak all of the fruit, including the zest, in the brandy overnight.  Heat the oven to 150ºc.  Grease a 25cm cake tin and triple line it with parchment (this will protect it as it slow bakes).  Stir together the flour, almonds, spices and a pinch of salt.  In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together and then beat in the eggs a little at a time.  Fold in the dry ingredients.  Spoon into the tin and bake for 1hr, then reduce the temp to 100ºc and bake for a further 1hr, checking with a skewer and covering with foil if it seems to be browning too quickly.

Cool on a rack and then wrap in paper and foil; store in a cool, dry place and ‘feed’ every now and then with a couple of spoonfuls of brandy.

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An easy (honestly) way to make a useful Christmas gift and also to be well-stocked for the festive period is to stir up a batch of mincemeat.  You need to sterilise your jars by putting them in a hot oven for 20 mins and then cooling.  If you’re very ‘crafty’ you can make little fabric lids for the jars or you can get the kids to decorate them with glass pens (I got some from Baker Ross) and ribbon.

Mincemeat:

500g dried fruit

3 dessert apples, peeled and diced

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp nutmeg

3/4 tsp cinnamon

150g dark brown sugar

125ml brandy or rum

75g suet (I use Atora veg suet)

Mix all the ingredients together (kids can do this!) and pack tightly into the clean, sterilised jars, up to 2cm from the top. Finish decorating and store/use!

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Lastly, I like to include something Spanish in the mix because of my time there and also because this is just too good not to.  It’s a kind of sweetmeat/panforte; it’s quite rich and can be served with coffee or wine when people come round unexpectedly over the holiday.  It keeps very well (for a team least 2 weeks) and also makes great presents when cut into wedges and presented in little bags with ribbon (love a Lakeland bag).  This recipe is from one of my favourite Spanish cookbooks, Movida (Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish).  It’s called ‘Pan de Higos’, literally ‘Fig Bread’.  I have to put up with a lot of mocking for my love of all things nutty and dried fruity, as if I’m some kind of woodland creature but I don’t care, this is worth making…

120g dark chocolate

145g caster sugar

350g honey

500g blanched almonds

165g plain flour

4 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tbsp cinnamon

Grease a 2lb loaf tin.  Melt chocolate and set aside.  Melt honey and sugar together until sugar dissolves.  Combine all of the other ingredients in a bowl, then pour in the choc and the honey/sugar mix.  It will be very stiff and sticky.  Spoon into the tin and dampen your hands to smooth it over.  Bake for 25/30 mins until dry but still yielding to the touch a little.  Cool in the tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.  Wrap well to store in a cool, dry place (after eating some!!).

It might be too onerous to do all of this so just select your fave and give it a go.  You’ll definitely feel smug come December 25th!

Cara