Saturday, 30 November 2013

Eggless Christmas Cake

A couple of weeks ago my dad and I had great fun making our own Christmas cake, which due to an intolerance to eggs running in the family, we have made egg-free.  We used a recipe from the 1947 Aunt Daisy's New Cookery No.6, a cookbook that had belonged to my maternal grandmother, who was a friend of "Aunt Daisy", otherwise known as Maud Basham.  "Aunt Daisy" was a regular on the radio in New Zealand between the 1920s and 1960s and apparently would rattle out recipes at a tremendous rate.  It was lovely to make a cake with so many family associations and if the taste of the batter was anything to go by it should be delicious.


We made various changes to the recipe, including halving the quantities, since we have no real need of a vast Christmas cake and I thought I would share what we did in case it could help anyone else who cannot eat eggs.  Older cookbooks, especially those published around the war, can be a very good source of egg free cake recipes, since eggs were sometimes hard to come by.  Anyhow, here goes:

Eggless fruit cake, adapted from Aunt Daisy

Figures in parentheses refer to smaller size of cake

(10oz) 1 ¼ lb plain flour
(6oz) ¾ lb brown sugar
(2oz) ¼ lb peel if liked
(½ tsp) 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
(just over ½) about 1 ¼ cups milk
(4oz) ½ lb butter
(12oz) 1 ½ lb mixed fruit
(2oz) ¼ preserved ginger
(circa 8) circa 16 glacé cherries
(1Tbsp) 2 Tbsp treacle
(½ tsp) 1 tsp each vanilla and almond essence
(2 Tbsp) 4 Tbsp brandy
zest of (½) 1 lemon
(½-1 tsp) 1-½ each ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg

Put oven onto heat to 150C (Gas Mark 2)Cream butter and sugar. Add treacle and mix in, followed by around half the milk, and the essences. Begin mixing in flour and fruit alternately a spoonful or so at a time. Add lemon zest, brandy and spices and stir in. Finally mix the remaining milk with the bicarbonate of soda and stir in. Put in a prepared cake tin, using the smaller quantity we made a cake that came about 2/3rds of the way up a 22cm round tin. Place a circle of greaseproof paper, with a hole in the middle, on top of the cake to prevent it from browning too fast on top. Cook on the lowest shelf of the oven at around 150C (Gas Mark 2) for just under two hours for the smaller cake, I would imagine closer to 3 hours for the larger cake (sorry I cannot be more exact, but 1940s cook books can be a little sparse on detail).
Once the cake is cooked take it out of the oven, place in its tin on a wire rack, remove the greaseproof paper from the top and “baste” with a couple of tablespoons of brandy before covering the entire tin closely in tin foil and leaving until completely cool. I got this tip from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess and it helps to keep the top of the cake from getting dry and hard.

Christmas cake

I found this page of conversions from the BBC Good Food website helpful, especially if you wished to make a square instead of round cake.

Ours is now wrapped up safely and in a tin awaiting Christmas, although we have not yet decided how to decorate it.  I hope you find this recipe helpful and enjoy it.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Today was one of those glorious, crisp, sunny late autumn days and although I did not manage to scrape together the energy to get out in it, I still enjoyed it from indoors.  As befits such a day, the sunset was glorious, our upstairs room was lit up with a warm golden glow, with the slightest hint of pink and the trees were silhouetted against the sky.


A top class sunset does seem to need some scraps of clouds to show off its colour and glory to its very best, a bit like a picture needing dark as well as light.


Sunday, 10 November 2013


Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day I approach with mixed feelings, as I had more ancestors in the German and Austrian armies than the British in the first world war, my maternal grandparents being of German, Austrian and Czech extraction.  My paternal grandfather's brother fought in and survived the first war and his sisters nursed, but it is still a day that makes me feel my mixed heritage more keenly than normal.  Although it is a day to remember the dead of all nations and of all wars, the first and second world wars do tend to dominate in this country, partly, the cynical historian in me thinks, because we won both wars, but also because Remembrance Sunday was founded in response to the widespread grief following the first war.

However, my ambivalent feelings are increased because Remembrance Sunday seems to be focussed on the soldiers who fell in the wars and of course should be remembered and mourned. But meanwhile the civilians, who also died in great numbers, seem forgotten.  I feel this personally as somewhere in the region of three-quarters of my paternal grandfather's family died or disappeared as civilians, whole families vanishing in their entirety, in the Holocaust during the second world war.

Interior view of the destroyed Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, burned during the November Pogroms
From a synagogue destroyed in Berlin on Kristallnacht Flickr Commons

This year Remembrance Day falls on the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht when the Nazis attacked Jewish people, homes, businesses and synagogues in Germany and Austria in reprisal for the killing of a German diplomat in Paris by a Jewish youth.  Ninety one people died and 30,000 were sent to concentration camps, but it marked the beginning of the Nazi "final solution".  My grandfather and his mother were lucky, they got out, my grandfather on the last train he could legally have got; his father and most of the rest of his family were less lucky.

dad ID 1935 czech
My grandfather in his 1935 Czech passport

These events and the sense of loss they created have cast a long shadow across my family.  We need to remember all who have died or suffered loss on all sides, and never to allow remembrance to become glorification of war.  Although on the last point I think this ex-serviceman, writing in the Guardian puts things better than I can.  When I hear the jingoistic writing from the beginning of the first war repeated again and again by politicians, the media, social media, as part of remembrance day I shudder inwardly.  One might as well repeat the last line of Wilfred Owen's Dulce et decorum est and omit the all important context, of "the old lie".

And for the future?  We need to keep talking, keep telling the stories, try to stop ourselves repeating the same mistakes again and again.  We need to make sure our remembrance does not become justification for current or future war and work and pray for peace and reconciliation and healing.

Father forgive us our follies, grant us peace, comfort those who mourn, help us to love mercy and seek justice and walk humbly before you.

I leave you with Michael Tippett's Oratorio A Child of Our Time, which was written in 1939 in response to Kristallnacht.

Monday, 4 November 2013

An Insomniac's Miscellany

Once again I cannot sleep.  No matter how relaxed I try to get before bed as soon as I lie down I get tense and my jaw clenches and the more I lie there, the worse it gets.  So I find it best to get up and potter gently about, listening to quiet music, doing a little simple knitting, reading, anything to try to relax as I sit in the lamp light.  This being unable to sleep has been going on for a few months now and I have reached the point where I am sufficiently fed up that I have made a doctor's appointment, so that is Tuesday's fun outing.

So lack of sleep is making the rest of life harder and I have little to report.  Dad's jumper is coming along nicely and my thoughts are increasingly turning to Christmas, a festival I love.  All those sparkly lights and hope in the darkness and familiar rituals; I love Christmas in all its infinite variety.  Although I do need to get realistic and try to curb my desire to make everything for everyone.

Christmas puddings 2013
Puddings pre-cooking

A few weeks ago we made two Christmas puddings, as we had got down to only one left in the store cupboard and the puddings really are best matured at least a year.  It was a nice family occasion, my parents and I each took tasks and shared out the work; Dad managed to get himself the job of adding the brandy!  I must try to write down a recipe as my mother pretty much carries it in her head, which would make it tricky if I ever wanted to try making one on my own.  Next on the agenda is an attempt at a Christmas cake, which I have less experience at and past attempts have not always been a great success, however, I have been reading up and gathering tips.  How do you decorate your Christmas cake?  My family are not keen on the traditional marzipan and thick icing so I am looking for ideas.

For now, back to the task of trying to relax enough to sleep.