Star- and reindeer-shaped biscuit cutters have been localised, at the back of the baking cupboard. I’ve ordered industrial quantities of raisins, sultanas and blanched almonds plus special Italian flour for panettone. But I’m all out of sprinkles: hundreds and thousands, fairy dust and those silver balls that all but break your teeth.
It’s the joyous time to plan my Christmas bakes.
I have to own up straight away I never bake traditional English Christmas cake. It’s everything, too much and all at once – no one can manage all that fruit, booze, marzipan AND an inch of icing in one slice. It’s much better to spread that richness over several bakes. Caribbean black cake for instance is full of fruit and rum but no icing or marzipan – and absolute delight with a scoop of ice cream for a dainty but rewarding Christmas Day dessert. Or my mum’s fruitcake which is lighter so you can see the cake for the fruit in it. It’s fabulous with good Cheddar or Wensleydale.
Both can be made well ahead, get wrapped in parchment and wait for Christmas in a cool corner of the house.
Lots of fruit and Italian vibes, that’s panpepato: I’d describe it as a kind of posh Christmas rocky road but undoubtedly the Italians would take umbrage. Just joking anyway, panpepato is rich and sophisticated, without a crumb of digestive biscuit inside. Another Italian offering for this year might be ricciarelli, almond-shaped and almond-flavoured biscuits from Siena, which also will make a fantastic gift.
Whilst we’re there, biscuits: what else will it be this year? The usual lebkuchen, cut in Christmassy shapes and lavishly decorated? Or maybe the Dutch version of gingerbread, chunky spekulaasbrokken? Gingerbread biscotti or simply several dozens of mince pies to have with friends who pop round for coffee?
And then there are the truly magical Christmas bakes. Panettone, traditional and involved, on starter that has to be fed during the night like a new born baby. Stollen in two iterations: with poppy seed filling or with fruit, nut and marzipan (I love both). Or a cinnamon star inspired by Swedish kanelbullar. And don’t miss pompe a l’huile, a unique Provencal bake with olive oil, one of thirteen Christmas desserts in Provence. They certainly know how to celebrate it, eh?
There are more ideas in the Christmas content pages, and next week I’ll do a round-up of Christmas dinner related recipes. For now, happy baking!