Christmas Cake Wishes

Christmas cake is a tradition in our family. An un-breakable, must-be-made-and-eaten-no-matter-what part of the festive season that features in even my earliest memories of Christmas. I still remember clearly perching on high stool as a child, helping my dad weigh and mix the ingredients, chopping glacĂ© cherries with precision and providing my finger to help tie the knot in the string around the brown-paper clad tin. And I’d remember the rich, spicy smell of it baking forever more, even if for some unimaginable reason we never made it again.

It’s the activity that defined the beginning of winter and every single November, until the year I was 24 and living in Devon, my dad and I liaised on a suitable date and I made a pilgrimage back home to help mix and stir and pour our annual family Christmas cake.

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We’ve always used the same recipe, without so much as a minor alteration in all the years we’ve done it. It comes from the Reader’s Digest Cookery Year. My parents’ battered and well worn copy was (and still is) pulled carefully from the shelf and dusted off for its annual moment of glory. Slipped between the pages to this day is a lined sheet of paper with my ten-or-so year old handwriting carefully listing the reduced quantities for a slightly smaller cake than that called for in the book, and translating the various cooking temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

It’s such a staple, and such a delicious part of all of my Christmases that obviously it was a tradition that I wanted to carry over to my own little family. To begin with, Ian and I worked from a photocopy of the Cookery Year recipe. Then, a few years ago, we stumbled across a copy of the exact same vintage as my parents on the book stall at a local fete. We snapped it up for fifty pence, and suddenly the experience seemed that much more complete. I added a similar piece of lined paper with the same quantity and temperature adjustments, stickler for tradition that I clearly am.

The Christmas cake has always been made in early November. The year that Thomas was born, I was determined to get it made despite his November due date. I knew it would be an impossible task once I had a newborn to get to know, so the day before I was admitted to hospital to begin the induction process, we made that year’s offering, with heavily pregnant me struggling to reach the bowl to mix. And that year, for the indispensable part of the ritual that sees family members stirring the mixture with their eyes closed as they cast a wish, my wish was obvious: a healthy, happy baby.

That one came true, although romantic as I can be, I acknowledge that it was pretty unlikely to be anything to do with the cake!

Three years have passed and three Christmas cakes made since then. And oddly enough, my wish for each of those years has been exactly the same.

I know it’s supposed to be bad luck to tell. Supposed to mean that it won’t come true. But in my heart of hearts, I know this one won’t come true anyway.

My wish, each year, has of course been for another baby. The first year I simply wished that we would have another happy, healthy baby, still believing then that we could, and would. The second year, already well down the road of infertility investigation, I wished that it would happen soon.

This year, I just wished with all my might that it may happen at all, despite all the wonders of medical science having not made it so.

If only my Christmas cake were as magical as it is delicious, how different things might be. I just wonder if I’ll ever be able to make another wish over the mixing bowl until such time as I reach the menopause.

If you wish hard enough, shouldn’t your dreams come true?

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Thomas Turns Three!

BirthdayBoy
So Thomas, you’re three!

It’s amazing to think that just over three years ago you’d yet to take a breath in this world. But now, you’re very much here in glorious, unmissable four dimensional technicolour. I think it’s fair to say that you’re already determined to make your mark and make sure that everyone knows you’re here. You have opinions, and you’re not afraid to share them.

I actually can’t overstate this. You’re so vivacious, with an infectious enthusiasm for life. You chat non-stop to everyone – even strangers. You tell them about your trains, or trains in general. You tell them what you did yesterday. Or what you had for lunch. You tell them about your mummy, your daddy, your house and your car. And you’re so interested in everything. You look around you, taking it all in and asking questions that sometimes blow my mind.

You’ve always been a wriggle pants and a fidget bum, and that much hasn’t changed. You are pretty much always moving, even in your sleep. (Sleep which you still don’t like much – your answer to tiredness is to run around even more!) Your speeds are still “stop” at which you dawdle incredibly slowly, examining every last minute detail in your vicinity, or “go” which means full pelt, top speed, as fast as you can, be that on two feet or the two wheels of your beloved balance bike. Everywhere we go you can be heard shouting “Let’s be a train” and we follow lines where the pavement has been dug up (“get on the rails mummy”). You’re usually the engine. Of Daddy is with us he’s usually the tender. I’m invariably a coach. We’re most often steam trains, but lately we’re increasingly asked to be Pendolinos – your new favourite. We have to stop at stations, (or because the road has been dug up, or the imaginary signal is red) open our doors, let the passengers on and then you “whoo whoo” as we take off again, snaking our way through the town in a line – I do wonder what people think of us!

Speaking of “whoo whoo-ing” you’ve got a little fan club at our local station. When we sit and watch the trains – usually on a Friday evening – you “whoo” loudly as the train dispatchers blow their whistles. They all know you now, and you’ve caused at least one to burst in to fits of laughter with your exuberant whistle blowing.

You’re still obsessed with your wooden train track and your collection of trains. You love to make your “Thomas Wooden Railway Collection” videos, emulating some favourites on YouTube, where you line up all your trains and tell us who they are. We’ve given you your very first proper electric train set for your birthday, and it’s definitely fair to say it’s a hit!

Despite your unwavering train love, there’s also some room for other obsessions. Toy Story is one. And role playing as a doctor is another. For some reason your diagnosis is always “Bees” and we’re cured by tweezer extraction of the offending critters! In fact, role play in general is big thing. You devise tea parties for your toys (although insist there must be actual water in the kettle and tea pot!) and you act out stories you imagine with your trains, cars or other models. The insight in to your mind from these games is amazing!

Your other new love is numbers. You learned to read all of your numbers up to 20 several months ago, and you’ve since worked out by yourself how to count higher by adding the numbers to twenty. Everywhere we go, you point out numbers, which makes a trip to the supermarket painful! You’ve now started wanting to write them, and your pen control really astounds me. You’re also making strides to decode the world around you by reading. You can sight-read an impressive number of words and spell your name. You can also read many letters individually, although you currently know a mix of phonic sounds and letter names – the hazard of learning in the Internet age, I think!

Above all though, you’re still my funny, smiley, cheeky little boy. Since you’ve learned to crack jokes, we hear your laugh even more, and my heart still melts where your face cracks in to a grin and your dimples emerge. (The fact that the jokes have a disturbing tendency to involve poo or willies is something I’m overlooking for now. You are only three, after all!) it’s hard to argue with that cheeky grin when you barter for more biscuits, or present a convincing argument as to why you need ice cream.

And inside, there is still my cuddly little boy. I absolutely adore that you love cuddles so much. And then when I kiss you, tuck you up in bed and tell you that I love you, you always lift your head and say “I love you too Mummy.”

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Recipe: Malteser Cupcakes

Malteser Cupcakes close up

It may be a slightly ironic hobby for a type one diabetic, but I’ve always loved to bake. I love the process as much as eating the results. There is something enormously therapeutic about the manipulation of raw ingredients in to aesthetically pleasing finished products. So baking is one of the things I’ve recently promised myself to make more time for. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to pledge to myself to stop buying any pre-made baked items, but instead to spend time baking anything that I want to eat, and baking something at least once a week. Three weeks in to this pledge, which is as much about creating a bit of time to myself as anything else, I’m doing really well!

I don’t usually blog recipes. In fact, I’m almost certain this is my first, but it’s one that I had to share after whipping it up this week when charged with providing cake for a work colleagues birthday.

There is something about those little malty chocolate balls that everyone seems to love – my colleagues definitely included. So straight away I knew I wanted to use a Malteser theme for the birthday cake. The only problem was with transporting a full size cake in to work, whilst also juggling Thomas on the nursery run, was going to be a challenge. I knew that cupcakes would be much easier. So I set about adapting a Malteser cake recipe – from the Hummingbird Bakery – in to one I could use for cupcakes. This is the end result. I may be biased, but they are really good. And judging by the empty box, my work mates agreed!

Malteser Cupcakes

For the cakes

150ml Sunflower oil – using oil rather than a solid fat makes for a much lighter cake
75ml whole milk
75ml buttermilkcan be tricky to find (Waitrose sell the St Ivel brand, find it near the cream) so you can just use extra milk, or plain yogurt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
215g plain white flour
25g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
310g caster sugar
40g Ovaltine or Horlicks powder
100ml boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 140 degrees centigrade

2. Beat together the oil, milk, buttermilk and vanilla extract. Then add the egg and whisk again.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Then mix in the sugar.

4. Mix the Ovaltine or Horlicks with the boiling water (add a little water to the powder at a time, and stir well).

4. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients a little at a time and mix well. A rubber spatula works well here. After each addition of dry ingredients, add a little of the Ovaltine mixture too. Continue adding until all the ingredients are combined.

5. Divide the mixture evenly between 12-16 cupcake cases – depending on size. You need to fill them about 3/4 full

6. Place in the oven. In my very efficient fan oven, they took about 25 minutes to cook, with one turn at about 11 minutes. In the last five minutes they were checked every 1-2 minutes. This is key as the cakes can easily overcook and become dry. It’s important not to cook them at a higher temperature as this will lead to them becoming more dry around the edges, and also gives cupcakes that “peaky” look. They should spring back lightly when they are done. Take them out of the oven and leave for a few minutes to firm, before transferring to a wire rack.

For the topping

200g chocolate – it’s up to you what you use. For a richer topping, use dark 70% cocoa solids. For a lighter result, try milk. or you could do half and half
225ml double cream
150g Ovaltine or Horlicks
50g full fat cream cheese
50g icing sugar
Maltesers to decorate

1. Melt the chocolate (either in a bowl set over simmering water, or in the microwave)

2. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks (use an electric whisk). Whip in the Ovaltine powder.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the cheese with the icing sugar. Be careful not to overbeat. Add the chocolate to the bowl.

4. Add the cream to the cheese and chocolate mixture a bit at a time, still being careful not to overbeat.

5. Pipe on to the cupcakes and add Maltesers for decoration.

more malteser cupcakes

And then: Enjoy!

Thomas and the Chocolate Cake

Yesterday we had Easter lunch at my parents’ house and in the afternoon, we had a chocolate Easter cake. This was very exciting for Thomas, who has previously had chocolate cake only on his first birthday. (I’m a mean mother, right?)

Let me at it

Let me at it!

I'll just have a bit of this

Do you think anyone will notice if I just pinch a bit from the top?

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Mmmmmmm. Mmmmmmm. Everything nice food-wise lately is met with a very firm “Mmmmmmm”. (To the extent that he declared “Mmmmmmm” as his meal was served to him in a restaurant this weekend, and made the waiter giggle – and my heart melt!)

Here I go

Here it comes!

Yummy

Nom, nom, nom!

More!

More! Daddy, give me more of yours!

Messy face

The end result.

Except, that wasn’t quite the end of the chocolate cake, and I really should have known better than to let Grandparents spoil him. We had the chocolate cake in reverse in the car on the way home. All over Thomas. All over the carseat. And I became that mother, pulled up at the side of the road, rinsing everything down with a bottle of water and baby wipes!