What is it about Christmas time that makes everybody so thingy? Or so kooky? Or just plain positional? Firstly, I think it's the fact that Christmas only comes around once a year (and we should all thank the Maker for that!). Because Christmas only comes once a year, we tend to put a whole lot of energy into making it a wonderful, over the top, sensory experience. And when we have an experience like that, we want it to happen over and over again.
And that, I think, is how Christmas traditions are born. We do something once, decide it's really good, and we keep doing it because we like to feel good again and again.
When I was a little kid I loved the excitement of Christmas. My mother did a great job of establishing a set of Christmas traditions that we repeated every year with great joy: setting the tree up exactly one week before Christmas, wrapping up little bundles of edible goodies in coloured celophane and tying them to the tree... and of course, the Christmas lunch, which was always relyably the same every year.
When I became a teenager, my family lost interest in Christmas. And being a virgo - ie a stickler for routine - I picked up the thread where everyone else had left off, and took it upon myself to perpetuate the Christmas experience I loved. And this included the cookery. With my penchant for sweeties, I took over the cookie baking. I'd also make rum balls, white Christmas and coconut ice - anything to feel the festive spirit.
When Mark came into my life a few years ago, we had an opportunity to craft our Christmas experience anew. I was delighted to discover Mark's Christmas fare had never been something he enjoyed eating. So I introduced him to the unbridled pleasure of roast turkey. Last year, we added ham (just a small one) and we loved both these things so much, we have raced out this year and procured both turkey and ham so we can do it all again. As I unpacked both these treasures from my shopping bag and placed them in the freezer today, I had an insight into how Christmas traditions are born.
I was lost in the Christmas wilderness for a few years. My Christmas experiences were not what they had been, and instead were a source of upset and disappointment for me. I am glad that I've found a way back to joy at Christmas with Mark, and our little dog Derek (light of my heart). I took a stand for the Christmas I wanted, and I finally got it. This year, we are in our new home with a fabulous five star gourmet kitchen for me to cook in. I predict this will be our best Christmas to date! I hope your Christmas is as equally wonderful and filled with lots of delicious traditions, fun and joy!
1 jar Robertson's fruit mince (two if you like a very fruity cake)
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup dark rum
1 cup of buttermilk
250g softened butter
2 cups dark brown sugar
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 tblsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon essence
1 tsp parisian browning essence
1 tsp glycerine
28 glace cherries
A big bag of blanched almonds
1. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees celcius. Line two 12 hole muffin tins with confetta cups of your choice. Red, green, silver or gold are great for the festive season.
2. Pour the fruit mince into a bowl and combine with brandy and rum. Set aside.
3. Cream the butter in the large bowl of your mixer. Add one cup of the brown sugar and continue to mix until sugar begins to dissolve. Add the second cup of brown sugar, and keep mixing until the mixture becomes pale and fluffy.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing for one minute after each addition. For best results, make sure your eggs are at room temperature.
5. Add the flour and baking powder to the butter mixture. Combine gently on low mixer speed while gradually adding the buttermilk.
6. Add the spices, vanilla, lemon essence, parisian browning essence and glycerine. Mix on low speed until all ingredients are combined.
7. Carefully add the fruit mince mixture and continue mixing on low speed until ingredients are well combined.
8. Using your #12 icecream scoop, drop scoopfuls of mixture into each confetta cup. Decorate the top of each cake with a glace cherry in the middle and four blanched almonds stragically placed around it.
9. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cakes are golden brown on top and spring back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
I present these cupcakes with no topping - they are a delicious morsel alone. If you felt compelled, you could dust them with icing sugar as an extra finishing touch (however, you'll need to serve them immediately as the cake will turn the sugar sticky if stored). However, they are suitable for topping with Royal icing, which looks very festive if topped with two little balls of red sugar paste and a couple of green leaves. Or you can pipe dark green butter cream onto them and decorate them with silver cachous to make them look like little Christmas trees.