As we are still (just) within the Twelve Days of Christmas, I want to give you a quick run-through of some of our homemade/foraged decorations and our home baked sweet treats. I still have in mind to make a Twelfth Night cake one year, but have not got around to it yet. Maybe I will do it for Christmas 2016!
I was writing in a recent Members’ Blog post on Writing.ie about harvesting tomatoes by torchlight (a form of writerly procrastination, don’t you know) and I begin this post with our torchlight holly gathering session. We had decorated the tree and had begun to retrieve the Christmas logs (originally made by my dad) when we realised that we had forgotten to pick any holly to go on the mantelpiece. Cue, a nighttime gardening interlude.
We donned our wellies (as the ground was very storm soggy) put on jackets and grabbed a torch, gardening gloves and secateurs. Then we sallied forth to the far reaches of the back garden to find some berry bearing holly branches for our seasonal display. I discovered that it is quite difficult to harvest holly wearing mud-stiffened gardening gloves, even if someone is aiming the torch in roughly the correct snipping spot. Anyway, we did manage to cut a few sprigs, although even with the aid of the torch it was difficult to see the berries. Memo to self, do this in the daylight next year…
The mantelpiece was duly decorated with holly, off-cuts from the Christmas tree and the painted logs. We also still have the cinnamon sticks that I spray-painted last year to add to the Christmas arrangement in our slightly unconventional boot vase. One of our other natural decorations is a pile of fir cones, some of them sprayed with silver paint, ‘arranged’ in a glass bowl. We have also attached thread to a few painted cones to hang on the tree, but unfortunately didn’t get around to foraging any new ones this year.
While I am on the theme of homemade decorations, I want to give a cheer for the salt dough tree decorations that have survived several years of service (pictures in the gallery). Every December, they benefit from a little spell by the fire to take away the dampness acquired during storage. No matter how well we wrap them, they still end up getting a bit soft during the year. I am not sure how much longer they will survive, but fingers crossed for a few more years. One year, I think we should have a go at making some edible cookies for the tree, maybe that’s another project for 2016.
On the homemade food front, we repeated the fruit and nut Christmas pudding recipe that we wrote about last year, only this year I made the mixture into six small puddings for a change. Another difference was that I cooked them in a bain-marie in a moderate oven, instead of boiling which worked out very well. I took two puddings to my parents and kept the rest. They store very well for a few weeks wrapped in foil, or you could freeze them. So far, we have only eaten one, so we will be munching on Christmas pudding well into January.
This year’s Christmas cake was made from a walnut and cherry loaf recipe (from Cakes and Cake Decorating) which we transformed into a tree shape, after baking it in a small roasting tin. We put a layer of marzipan over it, after brushing on warmed rosehip jam as a change from apricot. With a covering of coloured sugar paste, we created a stylised Christmas tree, which we then decorated with royal icing.
One of my minor seasonal obsessions is to produce varying forms of the ubiquitous mince pie to ring the changes from year to year. I love mince pies, but I only ever make them during December and up to Twelfth Night, then my mincemeat eating ceases forthwith. A couple of years ago, I decided to tweak my usual shortbread recipe to include a layer of mincemeat. Using the recipe here, I divide the paste in half, line the base of the tin and add a layer of mincemeat before rolling out the rest to go on top. I prick the surface with a fork before baking and dredge with castor or icing sugar afterwards. Recently I made a version as a tray bake for a college coffee morning, but for our own Christmas nibbling, I made a half quantity in a seven inch round tin.
That’s about it for Christmas this year, though I am already thinking about things that we didn’t get around to making or that we will try out next year.
Watch this space…and meanwhile, do drop a line with your own suggestions.