Our family has many Christmas food traditions, as you would expect when you come from a long line of food-loving cooks. My maternal grandmother raised her family in her native Tonga and was known as one of the best hostesses and cooks in that kingdom in her time. My mother, who came to Auckland for secondary schooling, along with her six brothers and sisters, brought all the family recipes. They were copied by hand into recipe books for her kitchen when she married, and they have long since been handed on to me.
Desserts and baking are the mainstay of our family Christmas; we have lots of desserts and with fresh strawberries, ice cream and wonderful homemade custard, the day is almost over the top with sweet delights.
Nana’s steamed pudding is a must, although we no longer add the shiny threepences and sixpences that I would seek when a kid, and there is always a light-as-air pavlova covered in strawberries and a splendid chocolate log – oozing with cream – that my nieces and nephews, with young families of their own, are always asking for the recipe to make themselves.
The mainstay of the Christmas season is our family Rich Christmas Cake, and it’s one thing that can be prepared ahead and ticked off the list several weeks before the festive season becomes too busy. This is the first Christmas without my mother, so I approached baking the cake this year with a fair dose of sentiment. I have her 27cm cake tin and made the cake exactly as she did. It’s large and requires one of those very large bowls to mix everything together once the eggs and sugar are beaten and fluffy. If you don’t have a large tin, you could bake the cake in two smaller 20cm tins, but you should reduce the cooking time by about an hour.
Once your cake is baked, add the brandy or rum if you wish. You can also add more spirits to keep it moist after about two or three weeks. Cover it well and keep in an airtight tin. It will be a joy to have it around as we hopefully move back into a more social mood as we get into December. There’s nothing quite like a festive cake and a cuppa tea or a glass of bubbles.
Rich Christmas Cake
1.5kg mixed dried fruit,including sultanas, raisins and currants
385g brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
4 tablespoons blackcurrant jam
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon salt mix
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 packet (150g) glacé cherries
100g blanched almonds
¼ cup brandy
Optional: Apricot jam for glazing
Line a 27cm cake tin with several layers of greaseproof or brown paper. Set the oven to 160C. Place all the dried fruit in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well, cool and let stand overnight. In a large electric beater, place the softened butter and beat well together with the sugar until light and creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition, so they are well incorporated. Add golden syrup and blackcurrant jam and beat that in well too. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spice ingredients three or four times. Add the sifted ingredients and the fruit in small alternate batches to the creamed butter, sugar and egg mixture. Finally, fold in the cherries.
Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and lay the almonds on the surface. Bake the cake at 160C for 4 hours. When cooked, pour ¼ cup of brandy over the surface while the cake is still warm. Cool and place in an airtight tin to mature for 2 to 4 weeks. Immediately before cutting the cake, glaze the top with melted apricot jam for a professional looking finish.
Makes one large 27cm cake.