There are many reasons why I love Christmas, and one of them is undoubtedly a license to bake in abundance. There are no end of excuses to rustle up a cake at the slightest provocation - usually the many visits to friends and family, where there is now an expectation that I'll roll up with some kind of an offering. And I'd hate to disappoint.
So with the addition of Eli's birthday on the 21st, it is a veritable bakathon in my house. The season's tally kicked off with my usual chocolate cake, as well as some really delightful cranberry and white chocolate cookies (from the Ottolenghi book), which were thin and crispy rather than dough-y - almost like Florentines, as my cousin Xanthe pointed out. I also made a batch of the much anticipated plum and marzipan muffins (pictured), which I actually think tasted better on the second day, perhaps because the fruit compote had really congealed, and the crumb was slightly soggier - not always a good thing, but in this case an advantage.
Next up was the marmalade Dundee cake. Now I love a fruit cake, but acknowledge that they're usually more something to be admired, rather than lusted after. I don't think people usually wake up in the middle of the night craving a slice of fruit cake as they might a doughnut or blueberry muffin. But I have to say, this recipe - the star of Dan Lepard's live bake-along - was about as moreish as it can get. I took it to my brothers house on Christmas day, and despite the fact that we were all groaning with over-indulgence by the time it was cut in the mid-evening, it still went down a treat, and was enjoyed again on Boxing Day. It looked gorgeous too, with its glazed almonds on top. I get quite misty-eyed at the thought of it.
On Christmas Eve, I once again trowled the Ottolenghi book for inspiration. I found a sticky chocolate loaf - dense with agen prunes and glazed with Armagnac - but as I had neither to hand, I used 'regular' prunes and some brandy, but I don't think it suffered too much as a consequence. The recipe was actually for two 500g loaves, but stated that you could make one bigger cake if you adjusted the cooking time. I'm not sure whether this was the cause, but disappointingly, mine sunk in the middle. This has never actually happened to me before, so I was mildly traumatised. But I wrapped it tightly in greaseproof paper and tin foil, and when it was unleashed with my friends Sean and Gina several days later, it really did taste amazing. The dip in the middle certainly appeared to be a cosmetic hitch, and nothing more terminal flavour-wise.
Finally, I made the Apple and Olive Oil cake again, and this time I really nailed it. Rather than baking it in two sandwich tins as I had done the first time, I used one deep 20cm tin which I insulated with several layers of greaseproof paper (a la Dan Lepards masterclass), and cooked it for nearly an hour and a half; longer than the second time, when I maintain it was very slightly underdone. It survived the long journey south to Lou, Wol, Charlie and Frank, our friends in the 'burbs, and was roundly enjoyed by all (I also saved a couple of slices - one for Wyn for fixing my car, and the other for Omari in the office who you may recall loved this cake so much that he actually commissioned me to make him a whole one).
So the New Year is nearly upon us, and I have come to realise the hard way that the Christmas weight-gain armistice really doesn't exist. I don't know why I spend the week eating chocolate coins for breakfast, Lebkuchen for lunch and enormous hunks of stilton with cranberry sauce as a midnight snack, believing that somehow, because all one's usual routines, rituals, timetables and commitments are so totally disrupted during the festive break, that it can't possibly impact on my waistline. I came to work today and was actually waddling rather than walking, and unless I'm mistaken I can confirm that my coat - yes, my coat - is feeling tighter!
I'm still ruminating over whether to knock up a little lemon drizzle for January 1st though - well, citrus fruit is quite good for de-toxing isn't it?