Like many of your families I'm sure, food is a huge part of our family Christmas traditions. From Mum's savory stuffing to old-fashioned ribbon candy to "Mrs. Santa's butter", we Hendersons enjoy a myriad of festive treats, and try really hard not to worry about our waistlines!
As a baker, I'd like to share the three most special baked treats that make my Christmas every single year. They're not particularly difficult, and I enjoy making them almost as much as I enjoy eating them!
Christmas Plum Loaf
This recipe is over 100 years old, so I'm told. Originally it was made with lard, and yeast cake, and flour that had to be heated, and a few other ingredients that are either extinct or unhealthy or both, so I know it's been modified over the years. I don't have my grandmother's old hand-written recipe, but I have a transcribed version told to me by my Auntie Janet, and it's a good one!
This is a heavy bread made with fat seedless raisins (I assume it used to have plums) and a lot of nutmeg. It is fragrant and delicious and even good stale when toasted. Sitting down with a slice of this and a clementine is nothing short of Christmas morning heaven.
My mother hated to make this. It's a pain and requires lots of stirring and kneading and three risings and patience and exactly the right baking juju to make it work. Some years I have been more successful than others, but I consider it a personal challenge to channel my grandmother and give it a shot. When I was a teenager and discovered my love of baking, I rescued Mum from this job, and Dad and I would make this together.
I plan on taking a slice to him tomorrow in his nursing home to see if the spices and scents reach him like music does.
I have no clue where this recipe comes from - all I have is my own teenaged scribble on an index card, and memories of making this ridiculously easy batch of cookies with my Mum. She would always tell me that I made the cookies too big, but I have never enjoyed bite-sized cookies. Go big or go home!
These are full of chocolate chips and candied fruit, and require a minimum of fuss and cleanup. They look really pretty on a plate, and are as bad as potato chips in that you "can't eat just one". I tried to hide them in the freezer one year so I'd stop eating them. Sadly, they are VERY good frozen.
Now don't roll your eyes, or say "blech". I know many people do not like fruitcake, and I can only guess that it's because they've never had a properly made one. This recipe is from the old Better Homes & Gardens red & white checked recipe book published in 1968 (this was the 3rd printing. It was originally published in 1930 - very interesting history here.)
This recipe is simple and the batter is DELICIOUS. We used this recipe for my sister Elizabeth's wedding cake - I remember my mother substituting fancy nuts like brazil nuts and hazel nuts for the occasion. And every year we made a batch of this cake or the other version, "Dark Fruitcake" (the difference being molasses and the addition of a variety of spices like nutmeg and cinnammon). I like light fruitcake a lot better, and I'm not offended if people don't want any. It lasts forever in the fridge and makes me very happy on a cold winter afternoon with a cup of tea.
Christmas Plum Loaf
- Mix together 2 T of yeast with 1/2C warm water and 1 tsp sugar.
- Scald 2C of milk and cool to lukewarm.
- Combine the yeast mixture with the lukewarm milk, 1C of brown sugar, 1 tsp of salt, and 3C of white flour. Mix well and let rise until light and bubbly (about 1.5 hours).
- Melt 1/2C butter and 1/2C shortening. Add 1C brown sugar, 1-2 whole nutmegs grated (this year I added about 3 large nutmegs - we loooove nutmeg), 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp lemon flavouring, 2-3C of seedless raisins (I add more like 3C), and 1 egg beaten.
- Beat down the risen dough from step 3, and add the mixture from step 4. Mix thoroughly and add 4-5C flour (and no, I can't be more exact... you need enough flour to make a soft, but not sticky dough).
- Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth, adding flour as necessary. (This is tricky. Just enough so it isn't sticky. Any more than that and it will be dry and crumbly.)
- Place the dough in a ball and cover with a cloth, and let it rise until doubled (about 2.5 hours).
- Punch down the dough and divide into two. Knead each and shape into loaves. Place in greased pans (I spray with Pam), cover and let rise again (about 1.5 hours).
- Bake at 350 for about an hour. Check after 30 minutes and if the bread is browning too quickly, cover with tin foil for the last half hour. Tapping the loaves should sound hollow when it's done.
- Turn out on cooling rack and let cool completely. Wrap well to store.
Fruit Jewels (double batch - makes about 60)
- Cream 1C brown sugar with 1/2C butter.
- Add 1C evaporated milk. Beat well.
- Add 4 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cloves. Beat well.
- In a separate bowl, mix 4C candied fruit and 2C raisins with 2C white flour.
- Add 1.5C chocolate chips and 2T of orange or lemon rind and stir well.
- Add wet mixture and stir well. (You need serious elbow grease for this as it gets thick and sticky.)
- Drop about 1.5T of batter per cookie on a greased cookie sheet.
- Bake at 350 for 12-14 mins.
- In a large bowl, mix 1/5C candied cherries, 1C raisins, 1C candied pineapple, 1/2C chopped mixed candied fruit, 1/2C candied lemon peel, 1/2C candied orange peel, 1C chopped walnuts, and 1C of flour.
- Mix together so the flour coats all the candied pieces.
- In a mixing bowl cream 1C butter and 1C white sugar.
- Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating after each.
- Mix 1/4C corn syrup with 1/2C orange juice. Add to creamed mixture, alternatively with 2C flour.
- Fold in fruit and nut mixture. (The recipe calls for 1/4C orange juice and 1/4C wine. I just use orange juice.)
- Pour into 2 greased loaf pans (again, I used Pam. And you'll see I used one loaf pan and four mini pans.)
- Bake at 275 for 1 hour. A knife inserted in the centre should come out clean.
- Turn out onto cooling rack and let cool completely. Wrap well to store.