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In search of Christmas cake

If cooking was an adventure and a competition, I’ve just entered the Tour de Christmas Cake 2012.

Because I am baking and taste-testing up to 11 Christmas-ish cakes before end of November.

You see, I have a recurring fantasy about giving away boxes of baked goodies instead of store-bought presents this Christmas. Each gift box will have edible gifts, and the centrepiece will be a moist, spice-filled, boozy Christmas cake.

This started a search for a good Christmas cake recipe.

When I first started, I wanted the best Christmas cake recipe that I can find. But, after a bit of vox pop, I realised finding such a cake will be hard, if not impossible. Everyone has their own idea of what the ‘best’ Christmas cake should taste like. Some want a baked-for-4-hours, matured-for-3-months, drunken monster like their English ancestors might have had. Some, like Mr Gander, want something lighter that brings out the flavours, smells and textures of Christmas in a sunburnt, sea-girt country. Others, heaven forbid, do not like fruit cake.

My search for the ‘perfect’ cake soon became a Proustian sojourn through people’s memories of distant, almost mythical Christmases past with no unifying grand narrative (or recipe) in sight.

Instead, I sat down on Saturday morning to compile a list of cake recipes that caters to a range of tastes. Over the coming weeks, I will road test each cake with friends and colleagues, in the hope that empirical evidence will help me where oral history floundered. 

On one end of the spectrum was Delia’s traditional Christmas cakes. This is loaded with dried and candied fruit, brandy, black treacle and heavy brown sugar, and can be ‘fed’ over a couple of months with more brandy or whisky up to when the cake is iced or eaten. At the other end of the spectrum were alternative cakes and baked goodies, even a cake with tropical flavours (!). And in the middle were a range of lighter, quicker, or easier fruit cakes that promise all the pomp and circumstance of Christmas without the toil.

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