“It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting…”

From Jumpers by Tom Stoppard

With a year of lock-ins, lock-downs and lock outs – the last being my cunning reference to the Brexit débâcle, although using a French term might appear downright impolite at present – we are veering towards a Christmas like no other. With the youngest of our daughters in Kent about to bring her first baby into the world, our son’s fiancée beckoning from the Netherlands – coupled with the consensus that visiting out or receiving inbound visitors, might be classed as a precarious socially folly – I had anticipated a somewhat pared down affair regarding matters gastronomic. On the hopeful assumption that our eldest daughter and her two sons might have escaped contagion, either at school or Nando’s respectively, and that all Avian flu manages to bypass our local free-range turkey farmer – I anticipate collecting a Norfolk Bronze which is presently on standby for the big day. As to puddings, pies and pâtés etc, I had decided on a scaled down event across the board as I’ve found it is nigh on impossible to provide any traditional Christmas dish just for the few. But that was before taking into account the proposed omission of our customary Christmas cake.

Having discovered her recipe I have never strayed from the exalted Delia and her systematic and highly regimented Christmas cake formula, her discipline borders on 50 Shades of Grey, but it always works and is always revered by a consistently overwhelming family majority. I received a severe reprimand on my proposed omission, which gathered a democratic fervour that I would have been foolish to defy. With its bankrupting tally of ingredients and its four and a half hours in the oven the cake has, once again, been duly made. Votes counted, democracy maintained.

Although I have not followed Delia’s advice on cake decoration – hers is far more bourgeois and urbane as I think she was channelling her inner Nigella – thanks to my son’s assistance, ours reflects the Teutonic mores of an earlier royal household under Victoria’s reign. Those original Sandringham winter seasons – where no fantasy was spared in an effort to outshine the discrepant birth date of our Lord – offered us a wonderland of pagan Black Forest hucksterism, which I still find irresistible today. Only surprised we didn’t find a place for the small model penguin, which in earlier years has played an incongruously starring role.

From Delia Smith’s Christmas (1990)

For the pre-soaking:
450g currants
175g sultanas
175g raisins
50g chopped glacé cherries
50g mixed chopped candied peel
100ml brandy
For the cake:
225g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ level teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
½ level teaspoon ground mixed spice
225g dark brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
1 dessertspoon black treacle
225g softened butter
50g chopped almonds (skin on)
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
Armagnac or brandy to ‘feed’ the cake

You will need a 20cm round or a 18cm square loose-based cake tin greased and lined with greaseproof paper.
You should get the pre-soaking ingredients ready the night before you make the cake.
Put all the fruits in a bowl and mix them with the brandy, cover with a cloth and leave them to soak for a minimum of 12 hours.
When you’re ready to cook the cake, pre-heat the oven to 140°C, Gas mark 1.
Now all you do is sift the flour, salt and spices into a very large roomy mixing bowl then add the sugar, eggs, treacle (warm it a little first to make it easier) and butter and beat with an electric hand whisk until everything is smooth and fluffy. Now gradually fold in the pre-soaked fruit mixture, chopped nuts and finally the grated lemon and orange zests. Next, using a large kitchen spoon, transfer the cake mixture into the prepared tin, spread it out evenly with the back of the spoon.
Finally cover the top of the cake with a double square of baking parchment with a 50p-sized hole in the centre (for extra protection during the cooking).
Bake the cake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4 hours until it feels springy in the centre when lightly touched. Sometimes it can take 30–45 minutes longer than this, but in any case don’t look at it for 4 hours.
Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, then remove it to a wire rack to finish cooling.
When it’s cold, ‘feed’ it by making small holes in the top and bottom with a cocktail stick and spooning in a couple of tablespoons of Armagnac or brandy, then wrap it in parchment-lined foil and store in an airtight tin. You can now ‘feed’ it at odd intervals until you need to ice or eat it.

Wine Thoughts

An afternoon slice of rich Christmas cake and a glass full of sweet Madeira wine, (also known as Malvasia or Malmsey) is an unarguable seasonal go-to. For a more medium-rich style, look out for Bual.

If it’s the full honeyed hit you require try ‘Christmas pudding in a glass’ by way of Pedro Ximénez sherry from Jerez. Made from sun-dried grapes with a pungent nose of raisins and caramel. It is alarmingly sweet! Instead of serving it at room temperature, which increases the apparent sweetness, I suggest chilling in the refrigerator door for 30 minutes to add a more refreshing finish. Feliz Navidad as they say down Jerez way.