The icing on the cake

As a foreigner you hear so much about English Christmas cake. It sounds so nice. It looks nice too, especially for people whose eyes have been conditioned by a lifetime of lovely marzipan covered cakes, which do taste wonderful. (But you don’t realise it isn’t what it looks like.)

I met my first Christmas cake about 35 years ago. Mother-of-witch and Favourite Aunt were fairly easily persuaded to spend Christmas in London, at a hotel which offered festive packages. It was an OK hotel, somewhere in Earl’s Court, and we probably got our money’s worth (we sort of had to choose the cheapest Trust House Forte hotel package, instead of the Browns Hotel one I’d have loved).

There was much that was new to us, but we took it in our stride. The hotel seemed quite cosy, in a charming English sort of way, and we knew no better.

I forget which afternoon it was that tea and Christmas cake was on the programme. We were really looking forward to it. But what a shock, and what a disappointment! The cake was dry and unsweet, crammed with mainly currants. The pretty cover tasted like cardboard. It was hard and thick, and while sweeter than cardboard might be, not really any better.

You live and learn. We were none of us in a hurry to try it again. And as we came from a country where you could expect cake to be better for being ‘eaten out’ I have since realised that Christmas cake is best home made.

I make my own these days. I don’t eat my own, however, even though I know it’s not covered in cardboard. The marzipan and icing is too sweet and the cake too heavy, and I can’t tolerate the brandy. I make it for my loved ones, who – surprisingly – have a fondness for both the sugar on top and the fruit and brandy inside.

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