Stir up Sunday: My Greek Christmas. Part II: Preparing the Christmas Cake

Stir up Sunday
Stir up Sunday

If you have read Christmas Part I, you are most likely wondering why I was happy to discover, last Thursday, that dried fruit for a  traditional British Christmas cake, needs to be soaked in brandy for three days.

I was all ready and set to start baking when I read this, soaking the fruit for three days, brought me up to today, Sunday.

Guess what today is?

Stir up Sunday!

This is the official Christmas cake and Christmas pudding baking day; the last Sunday before advent.

 This year it falls on Sunday 22nd November, so called, from the opening words of prayer 1549 from The Book of Common Prayer (Anglican Church).

“Stir up; we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

All the family traditionally joined in with this happy event, each member having his turn at stirring the mixture and making a wish for the coming year.
A coin was tossed in for good luck.

Making a wish
Making a wish

I haven’t heard of a coin being put into a Christmas cake, only the pudding, I shan’t be making a Christmas pudding though, I’d better not push my luck as my family don’t like Christmas cake, it is being forced on them!
Anyway, I’ll put a coin in our cake!

Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding

So, by pure chance, I am keeping to tradition, and baking our Christmas cake on the designated day!

Since pagan times, this rich fruit cake has been eaten in Britain, during winter month celebrations, such as the winter solstice, how then; did it become the Christmas cake?

In the sixteenth century the cake was eaten on two feast days, twelfth night (January 5th) and Easter, until, in the 1640s, along came Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, and, kill joy that he was, along with other puritans, banned feasting on twelfth night, (He also banned mince pies!) proclaiming it to be too much in excess!

Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of England
Oliver Cromwell
Lord Protector of England

Christmas Day was still a public holiday, so, feasting was permitted, the cake was made, then,covered in marzipan and the Christmas cake made its first appearance in Britain.

Eat your heart out Oliver Cromwell, this morning I gathered together ingredients for the cake and waited for my little helper to arrive, my granddaughter Melina, who just loves to bake.

Ingredients for Delia Smith's Rich Fruit Cake
Ingredients for Delia Smith's Rich Fruit Cake 

In she came, all smiles, dragged a chair over to the sink, climbed up on it (She knows the drill) and asked what she could do first.

Grate the oranges and lemons for the zest, that’s what, that will keep you occupied while I get on with other things, like beating the sugar and butter together, she won’t do that, she’s scared of the mixer!

Here, we had our first mishap, one of the whisks on the mixer broke, I did try to remedy this set back with tape but to no avail, so Alexandra, my daughter-in-law, hotfooted it home to fetch her mixer.

Broken Whisk
No Susan, you are no good at fix-it-yourself.

Once we got going again, it was time for Melina to throw in the coin, make a wish and stir.
I’m not sure if she fully understood how to make a wish, and keep it to herself; goodness knows what she wished for, whatever it was my darling, I hope it comes true. (This, I may regret!).

Finger licking good!
Finger licking good!

After explaining about how to make a wish, I thought it better not to try and explain about the old tradition of stirring from East to West, in honour of the Three Kings, who visited baby Jesus.

May all your wishes come true.
May all your wishes come true.

I had worried that the mixture looked rather too much to fit into the “I’m not paying that much” extortionately-priced tin, but, my eyes had deceived me, Alexandra managed to put in every last drop. 

Alexandra giving a helping hand.
Alexandra giving a helping hand.

As I had vowed to do everything by the book this time, to save the sides from becoming burnt, I had to make it a little coat from brown paper, and very smart it looked too when wearing it.

A lovely little coat you're wearing!
A lovely little coat you're wearing cake!

And we’re done; into the oven it goes….for the next four to five hours!

 After looking at both Marks & Spencer’s and Delia Smith’s cook books, the rich fruit cake recipe turned out to be the same. I used Delia’s as she had a table of ingredients for various sized cake tins, including my twenty five centimeter square tin.

I did improvise a bit, I couldn't find any black treacle so I used honey and replaced brown sugar with soft brown sugar, I just adore its burnt caramel flavour.
Also, no candid peel; I hate the stuff.

Cookery books
Cookery books

The next five hours passed slowly, I was anxious to see the results, at last, time to take a peek; it looks fine, and smells delicious.

Cheers to my old pal Jan who inspired me to bake this cake.

Now, it must be kept in an airtight container, being occasionally “fed” brandy, for the next two to three weeks, by pricking holes on the surface with a tooth pick or a darning needle, and spooning brandy over it.

Then we can get on with the marzipan, stay tuned for Part III.

To be continued.

See Christmas Part I

See Christmas Part III

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