By Georgina Hayden
I love baking any time of the year. It’s my happy place. But there is something extra special about baking at Christmas. It’s magical – everything just feels more opulent and dramatic, even when it’s really simple. Treats you would normally decline are suddenly deemed acceptable – it is Christmas after all! If you are anything like me, it’s a chance to go OTT on decorations, flavours, ingredients… well, pretty much everything! Even the most basic of cakes can suddenly become a showstopper.
Now, if you haven’t been terribly organised and baked your fruit cake months in advance, panic not. You may not achieve the insanely boozy effect that months of soaking in brandy would give you, but you can still achieve a delicious soft and relatively boozy Christmas cake. Simply take your favourite fruit cake recipe (or try my recipe!) and blitz half the soaked dried fruit in a food processor with some of the alcohol before stirring it into the mixture. This will give you a delicious damp sponge that you can either ‘feed’ with alcohol for a couple of weeks or a couple of months. It’s still wonderful!
When it comes to icing, don’t worry if your skills aren’t all that, just make a royal icing and spread over your cake, but making it as spiky and peaky as possible for a snowy effect. Or top your cake with a layer of apricot jam and large pieces of candied fruit for a striking yet simple finish.
Another way of pimping up your cakes and making them more festive without breaking the bank is by crystallising berries, flowers and leaves (making sure they are all edible first of course!) for decorations. Lightly whisk an egg white until very slightly foamy, then brush it over fresh cranberries, bay leaves, rose petals or whatever you have. Dust them evenly with white caster sugar and leave to dry on a cooling rack. You can then simply pile them on iced or butter-creamed cakes for a beautiful frosty feel.
All these ideas will look beautiful, but if I am really honest I love nothing more than the traditional little plastic figurines you can still buy in baking shops. They remind me of being a kid, when my mum would always make a chocolate log with us and decorate it with plastic trees and a holographic “Merry Christmas” sign. Don’t be afraid to go retro! They’re cheap, fun and look great. You can also pick up cheap treats such as edible glitter for only a few pounds, which transforms pretty much every cake and sweet treat into something special! White glitter on a coconut cake looks like something from a snow globe.
And while you’re looking to impress guests, a classic Christmas tip is to always have a rolled batch of your favourite biscuit dough, ready to bake from the freezer. Dried cranberry and white chocolate dough is a wonderful combination for a Christmassy feel and works a treat. When you need your biscuits in a hurry, just slice as many even-sized discs as you need from the log and pop them on a baking sheet. Bake from frozen, a few minutes longer than you would normally, et voila! Domestic god/goddess in an instant.
So there you have it – a few of my top Christmas baking tips. And remember, you don’t have to be a sugar-craft wizard to create something impressive, just go for it and have fun! What will you be baking this Christmas?
Photography by Laura Edwards