Christmas preparations and traditionals are such a reminder of cultural differences. Most of us carry Christmas preferences from home: what to eat (fish, turkey, smoked lamb ribs, pork or nut loaf?), which cookies to bake, which day to celebrate on. We usually alternate Christmases in England and Norway, so we tend to mix and match the traditions we like: purple candles for a Norwegian advent wreath, and clementines studded with cloves to count down the days; Italian pandoro (and red underwear for New Year’s Eve for for good luck, also an Italian tradition), German lebkuchen; and of course, English Christmas cake.
Every year in November my English mother-in-law calls to ask if we would like a Christmas cake, and every year my husband says to me “You know I don’t eat that…..” But I do like them, and happily say yes to her Christmas cake, which she will already have baked weeks ago and fed with brandy since. It is a) a small step to bridge the cultural gap and b) rather delicious.
Our cake, with brandy. She spoons a little brandy over the rich fruitcake regularly after baking (feeding it). It is made with Delia’s recipe, but she soaks the fruit in brandy for at least a week before baking. I was taking notes as she explained. As we were over to see them in London before the holidays, we made marzipan icing from scratch for several cakes. New experience for me. Here we are beating eggs and sugar over boiling water, 7-8 minutes.
From Delia’s Cakes, or online here: Almond Icing (Marzipan)
90g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
90g golden caster sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
a few drops pure almond extract
1 teaspoon brandy
175g ground almonds
a little icing sugar (to knead and roll)
Another slight deviation from Delia: my mother-in-law brushes the cake with apricot jam before the cake is wrapped in marzipan icing layer.
I rolled out marzipan to a sheet, lifted it over each cake, and tucked in the corners. Voila! Almost done! The cake needs to dry for at least a week, and then have a sheet of royal icing layered on top. That then needs to dry for some days before the cake is eaten, according to the instructions I was given. So I carefully wrapped the cake and took it back to Rome (where it is still waiting to be iced and decorated……)
Back in Rome from London with a suitcase of British food:
As you see, the cake survived the flight. And so did the treasure trove of British food: mince pies, crumpets, suet, Bovril, brown sauce, winter Pimm’s, mincemeat, Marmite, Christmas pudding, cheddar, porridge oats…… Yes, you can even carry mince pies in your hand luggage! Wonderful as Italian cooking is, a little British food is very nice indeed. And if I can just get our Christmas cake iced soon, all will be well…….