Dare I mention the ‘C’ word in October? I’d prefer if it were banned until a week before December 25, but while I indulge in a little bah-humbug, I admit certain preparations need to take place weeks before we celebrate the high feast of retail.
Nervous excitement, however, is setting in this year at the prospect of stirring up a Christmas cake, probably round rather than square, and giving it adequate time to mature.
This is the result of a developing love affair with the baking bowl, which means a weekend date has seen me produce heady aromas of banana bread and tea brack in my kitchen, and even taking a chance on some warm lemon and raspberry individual cheesecakes.
But mainly I’m keeping things traditional and uncomplicated with no commitment yet to the serious stuff of choux pastry or crème patisserie.
Stop cookbook pages sticking together by propping it open on a stand (€39.95), and if you want to mix your batter in the traditional way, make sure you have some sturdy wooden spoons. (€24.99 from Aga).
Last weekend I rifled the kitchen cupboards to check out the state of my equipment because as anyone who bakes regularly will tell you, ingredients must be measured carefully, stirred, beaten and poured appropriately, then placed in the correct size of tin.
With simpler baking I use the one tablespoon equals one ounce method, and so far it’s working. But it’s risky not to employ the science of baking when it comes to the complications of a Christmas cake and the costly ingredients and time that go into its preparation.
Get yourself a weighing scale if you don’t have one already. Digital versions tend to be streamlined and easy to store in a cupboard when not in use, but they’re a stress inducer when you’re just about to start measuring everything out and the battery wanes.
The aspirational Kitchen Aid mixer makes a statement on your counter top as well as being sturdy enough to mix the most dense, fruit-filled batters (€575 at Harvey Norman).
Old fashioned versions with a clock face and a bowl on top won’t expire at the wrong time and there are so many cute retro versions out there to make a lovely feature on your worktop or kitchen shelf, propping up your favourite cookbooks.
If you’re adhering to an American recipe, then you’ll need the appropriate cups —which are not the same as our tea cups. Ifyou haven’t someone in American who can send you a set and the matching spoon sizes, then happily Joseph Joseph has brought out a plastic jug (€18.99) that measures wet and dry ingredients in grams and American cups.
They also have a nest of nine bowls (€49.99) for all those separate mixings of eggs and sugar and soaking of dried fruit. (Joseph Joseph from Meadows & Byrne, Debenhams and other stores nationwide).
Keep those flour mites at bay with this retro-style ceramic container (€13). Match it with a scales (€35) and, when not in use, they’ll make a lovely vignette on your kitchen shelf, alongside a tinted glass jug or cake stand (from M&S).
If you’re investing in a gadget to help, then a free-standing mixer will be your best friend. A standard hand-held version struggles to get through the density of batter and fruit, and your biceps won’t thank you for going the traditional route of stirring with a wooden spoon.
The covetable Kitchen Aid is undoubtedly perfect for the job (€575 from Harvey Norman, Brown Thomas and more), but there’s also the old reliable Kenwood Chef (€349.99 at Soundstore), or Kenwood’s more recent kMix (€499). Breville, however, is offering something in between with a mixer that also detaches if you want more control over the mixing process (€79 at DID Electrical), but probably best for lighter and fewer ingredients.
* Next week we’re reflecting on the value of a good mirror.
Let us eat cake
Carol's top pick for a cheery poster to put on the kitchen wall
Get your equipment organised, ingredients measured and ready to go, and you might find baking to be an excellent way of relaxing and a rewarding experience. Keep Calm and Bake kitchen poster approx. €15 at www.artylicious.co.uk
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