Michelle Darmody: Plan ahead to stir-up some Christmas bakes

Michelle Darmody: Plan ahead to stir-up some Christmas bakes

Last Sunday was Stir-up-Sunday. It is traditionally the day to get your Christmas baking in order. It can make for a long day of measuring, weighing, and stirring, getting the cake started, the pudding on, and the mince jarred.

But, not everyone makes their own traditional Christmas desserts anymore and realistically, not everyone who does got started last week. Not to worry, there is plenty of time.

I use a slight variation on the same Christmas cake recipe each year. As with most of the traditional Christmas recipes, much of the work lies in measuring multiple ingredients.

If you make your cake this weekend, you can wrap it up and store it until the week before Christmas, and ice it then.

The Christmas cake developed from a porridge-style recipe in the middle ages, to the one we know now, rich in dried fruits and spices and coated in white icing. Later, a pudding was added to the end of the festive meal, to show off the many and varied produce of the British Empire.

Ingredients from different parts of the globe were stirred together in British kitchens and the tradition stuck.

I have included two other desserts, as well as the more traditional cake.

If you are having guests over, these are a lighter alternative to the rich, dried-fruit laden confections. The cranberry tarts are a good substitute for a mince pie. The rich almond and butter base contrasts nicely with the sour burst of cranberry.

If I do indulge in a Christmas cocktail, a Brandy Alexander is a favourite choice. It is a luscious mixture of equal parts cream, brandy, and crème de cacao, shaken and topped with freshly- ground nutmeg.

The cheesecake recipe is inspired by the cocktail, and has a little booze in it; so it may not be suitable for all of the family.

Cranberry tarts

50g of soft butter

50g of plain flour

150g of icing sugar

140g of ground almonds

6 egg whites, lightly beaten

50g of dried cranberries

Michelle Darmody: Plan ahead to stir-up some Christmas bakes

Melt the butter over a low heat until it is starting to turn a pale brown colour. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Stir the flour, icing sugar and almonds together.

Add the egg whites to the dry ingredients and combine. Stir in the warm brown butter. Place the bowl into the fridge for about an hour.

Heat your oven to 180C and grease and flour eight fluted bun tins. Chill the tins for five minutes.

Scoop the mixture into the lightly chilled tins, sprinkle the dried cranberries on top and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the mixture is golden on top and firm to the touch.

Once cool enough to handle remove from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Brandy Alexander Cheesecake

Base

250g of dark chocolatedigestive biscuits, crushed

2 tsp of cocoa powder

100g of butter, melted

Topping

600g of cream cheese

20mls of brandy

90g of icing sugar

300mls of cream whipped

50g of grated dark chocolate

1 tsp of nutmeg

Line a 7in round spring form or loose base tin with baking parchment.

Mix the crushed biscuits, cocoa powder and melted butter well. Press theminto the base of the prepared tin. Put the base in thefridge while you prepare the topping.

Whisk the cream cheese and add the icing sugar and brandy. Fold in the whipped cream. Scoop onto the cold base and smooth out thetopping.

Refrigerate and allow cool completely. Gently remove from the tin.

Sprinkle with a layer of the dark chocolate and nutmeg before serving.

Christmas Cake

Michelle Darmody: Plan ahead to stir-up some Christmas bakes

270g golden raisins

270g sultanas

360g currants

225g of mixed peel

120g of dried cranberries

250ml of brandy

225g of soft butter

230g of brown sugar

1 tin of strawberries drained and mashed

5 medium eggs, lightly beaten

275g plain flour

2 tsp mixed cake spice

3 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp of ground cinnamon

100g glacé cherries, washed and patted dry and roughly chopped

Zest of 3 oranges

1 medium-sized cooking apple, cored, peeled and grated

120g of whole almonds, roughly chopped

Half glass of sherry

Put all fruit except cherries into a bowl add the brandy and leave to soak overnight.

Beat butter, brown sugar, then add the strawberries, gently beat in the eggs. Add a little flour if curdling. Fold in flour with the spices. Fold in soaked fruit, cherries, zest, grated apple and almonds. Stir in the sherry.

Line 8in tin scoop in the mixture. Flatten it out with the back of a wet spoon.

Place the cake on a tray of salt, place the tray into the oven and bake for three hours at 100C and then for a further one hour at 140C.

Allow to cool in the tin.

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