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CHRISTMAS BELLS BAKE

Christmas is almost here so it’s time to jingle your bells and fire up the oven. Luckily festive bakes and some desserts are best made well ahead because they mellow over time and become easier to cut. And they taste better!

However, some bakes can be relatively expensive. If you enjoy a light fruit cake then try my six-ingredient special which is free from butter and sugar. It’s a ‘fake’ Christmas cake really as it doesn’t keep as long as a traditional one but it is certainly more economical. And it can, of course, be dressed up with icing, nuts or glacé cherries.

Baking times will vary with different ovens. Fan-assisted ovens could take a shorter time. It is wise to cook rich cakes on a low temperature (150-160°C) to prevent the fruit from burning. If you press the cake in the centre and it springs back without leaving a dent, then the cake is cooked. Test also with a thin skewer. If it comes out clean the cake is cooked. Once it is cool, wrap the cake in a double layer of foil and keep in a cool place. 

High-grade flour is recommended for cakes containing a lot of dried fruit as it helps provides support.

Also use level metric measures and when measuring flour or sugar: spoon it into the measuring cup and lightly level the top with a spoon or knife. Do not pack it into the cup. The only ingredient one normally packs firmly is brown sugar. 

MINI CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS

200g plain flour
1 cup each: fresh breadcrumbs, light brown sugar
finely grated rind 1 orange
1 medium carrot, shredded
400g mixed dried fruit
200g coconut oil
2 tablespoons black strap molasses
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
200ml stout or lemonade

Lightly grease 10-12 dariole moulds or small ramekins (no 1 size) and line the bases with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 160°C. 

Combine the dry ingredients and the wet separately. Stir the wet into the dry. Mix well.
Spoon into the prepared moulds. Place in a large roasting pan. Pour hot water into the pan to halfway up the sides of the moulds. Cover tightly with foil.

Carefully lift into the oven and bake for 1 1/4 hours. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and allow the puds to cool in the water.

Remove the puds from their moulds and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or freeze.

Reheat in the microwave before serving. Great served with brandy sauce, custard or whipped cream. Makes 10-12.

SIX- INGREDIENT FESTIVE CAKE

This light cake keeps well in a cool place for one month or it can be frozen. It’s also economical — no added butter or sugar. For a festive look, blanched almonds or glacé cherries can be placed on top before baking.

1kg mixed dried fruit
2 1/2 cups pineapple juice
2 teaspoons each: ground mixed spice, vanilla essence
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups self-raising flour

Place the fruit in a large mixing bowl. Add the pineapple juice and mixed spice. Soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Lightly oil a 23cm cake pan and line with baking paper.

Add the vanilla essence and eggs to the fruit then stir in the flour. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a wet hand.

Bake for about 2 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove and cool. To add a little festive flair, the cake could be brushed with brandy or port while still warm.

MUM’S TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS CAKE

This rich cake keeps well for several months when wrapped in foil and stored in a cool place.

1.5kg good quality mixed dried fruit
1/2 cup orange juice
225g butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons each: finely grated lemon rind, vanilla essence
2 tablespoons marmalade
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups high-grade flour
pinch salt
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice

Place the fruit in a large bowl. Add the orange juice and mix well. Cover and stand for several hours.

Line a deep 20-23cm round cake pan with two layers of baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Cream the butter and sugar, until light and fluffy with an electric mixer. Add the lemon rind, vanilla essence and marmalade. Beat well.

Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If the mixture starts to curdle add a little of the flour. Fold in the mixed fruits alternately with the sifted dry ingredients. Mix well.

Pour into the cake pan. Smooth over the top with a wet hand or rubber spatula. Bake for about 2 1/2-3 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Start testing after 2 1/2 hours cooking. Remove the cake from the oven, cool, remove the baking paper and wrap in foil to store.