Christmas Traditions – A Mother’s Legacy

It is with sadness that I write this post, but I feel compelled to do so in the spirit of sharing and Christmas. My dear mum passed away last week after a lengthy illness and won’t be here to join us this year for our family get-togethers. However the traditions she started will be with us for many years to come. Mum loved Christmas and would prepare weeks ahead by cooking port wine jellies for gifts, soaking the fruit for the Christmas cakes, decorating the tree on the 1st December and making these little morsels of sheer deliciousness and richness…..Rum Balls!

 

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Mum has been making these rum balls at Christmas for approx 40 years and was very seceretive about the recipe and its origins. She has hand written the recipe in my childhood recipe book under threat if I was ever to reveal it to strangers! I will cherish it always but feel the need to share it with you all now, in mum’s honour. Besides, its a simple little recipe that we can all make very quickly and have any little helpers assist. The original recipe came from a lady named Judy Orr, who was the mother of my best friend at the time, Jenny. Judy happily parted with the recipe, not realising the tradition she would create. They have been called Judy Orr’s rum balls ever since!

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They are my preferred rum ball in that they are more truffle like and do not have the cakey consistency and texture of other rum balls. By sheer accident, they are therefore gluten free! The recipe is easily doubled, with the base recipe making approx 20 teaspoon size balls. My neice Phoebe ( a budding little chef herself) and I made a batch the day before Mum’s funeral and decided that the recipe is due for an overhaul and that we need to experiment with other flavours including a mint essence. The rum flavoured ones keep well though and make terrific gifts.

So Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you can all be with the ones you love and share some of your traditions this year. If not start your own and be prepared to hand them down to future generations. To my own Mum I say thank you for all the love you provided me and our family. For teaching me all about food and for sharing your kitchen with me as I grew. Standing side by side with you, I learnt how to prepare and cook food, discover flavours and tastes not known and to provide a meal to my own family. Christmas will always be a special time for me despite your passing, because you made it special with all your traditions.

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In terms of the Rum balls, I don’t think Judy would mind, but I’m renaming them Mum’s rum balls….

Peace and love to all this Christmas….TBH XX

 

 

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Panforte time – a dedication to my friend Cate

It is not only a change in season and temperature that one feels around October each year, but also a change in focus from my wonderful friend Cate. Each year around October she starts to casually (or not so casually ) drop into our conversations the subject of panfortes and have I started my preparations for making them this year? Her concern is not one of unease for the burden this might place on me, but more out of will she be receiving hers again this year and when might that event occur?

You see, Cate loves her panforte and devours it wholeheartedly and avariciously each year at Christmas……..and for this I love her dearly! A cook can not ask for any better compliment than seeing the sheer joy on the face of a good and trusted friend, as a cellophane wrapped round of panforte is presented to her.

The gift of a Panforte

So, my beautiful Cate, this post is dedicated to you and your love affair with Panforte. Its a love affair that has lasted at least 17 years…….May you always be in my life so that I can continue to experience the joy that this small gesture of a gift provides you.

As an aside, Cate gave birth to another Panforte lover 7 years ago….the legend will continue to the next generation with our beautiful Bella. I can see myself making these damn cakes at 80!

I have provided the recipe on my recipes page and realise that this may be a little late for some readers to make for Christmas and or gifts. However Panforte is made and available in Italy all year round, I just happen to make it at Christmas so that I can limit the amount that Cate consumes in a year, and it does make for a lovely gift. I have no issues in doubling the recipe and making two at a time. The results are generally good. If you are going to be making several panfortes then I would recommend buying your glace fruit and nuts in bulk from a warehouse. My Hunter friends should head to Bibina in Warners Bay. Sydney friends head to the treasure troves found in the Greek warehouses and wholesalers in Marrickville.  Perhaps readers have other suggestions? Panforte is delicious served in thin wedges with a strong espresso or a cup of tea. You can dust your finished cake with icing sugar for a lovely effect.

For our historians, I consulted the food techys Larousse Gastronomique and found that Panforte di Siena was created around the 13th Century in Tuscany. Its earliest forms included pepper, and some panforte recipes still have this listed as a traditional ingredient. I prefer the non pepper variety (and I suspect Cate does too) and opt for more cinnamon type spices. Again as I am not a lover of mixed peel I eliminate it from the recipe and add more glace fruit. I have provided the original recipe, but feel free to experiment.

The term panforte literally means ‘strong bread’ and relates to the spices used in the recipe. It is also a durable bread or cake, and history notes its use in the crusades and quests of the era. The sugar and honey provide a “preservative function” for the cake, so that it can last for several weeks without spoiling. I doubt that Cate’s panfortes have ever been put to this test!

Enjoy! TBH xx

Its all about the Condiments

I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas. My family have always had a hot lunch on Christmas day with all the trimmings. Some of my earliest memories are of watching my Nanna on Christmas day, trussing chickens and turkeys ready for the oven (yes in sweltering heat!). But as much as I love the roasted meats, crunchy cholesterol raising baked potatoes and near burnt blackened pumpkin, it is the little side dishes and jugs of condiments that are hidden among the Christmas crackers, that I crave for every year.

Our family are a gravy family. Always have been always will be. Some children are raised on breast milk, my brother and I were raised on gravy. Plain and simple, it’s not a roast dinner without gravy. Now I’m not talking about that powdered stuff you buy in cans and mix with hot water. I’m talkin’ the rich pan juices that are left after roasting your meat and are flavour ridden with garlic and rosemary or other delicious combinations.  Mixed with a little flour, cooked out and then some hot stock added. I have been known to add left over bits of quince paste, the last drops of red wine, or some local verjuice. All adds to the flavour.

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The Annual Christmas Cake

It seems a ludicrous notion that Australians everywhere insist on cooking the traditional treats that herald in Christmas and the Festive Season. Invariably however, we seem to get a weekend or day just before the big event that allows “us cooks” to have our ovens on full bore for the day, and cook those things that take hours to bake, without melting into our kitchen floors never to be seen again.

For me it was this week as the temperatures dropped to bearable degrees and the opportunity presented itself to finally bake the annual Christmas Cake.

I use a reasonably old recipe by Maureen Simpson for my cake. Maureen calls her recipe “Rich Fruit Cake” and she first published it in the Australian House and Garden magazine in 1989 (where my torn recipe comes from). The recipe appears again with some slight adjustments in her now famous cookbook Australian Cuisine (1990). It makes an enormous cake which is ideal for large Christmas get-togethers. In our house it lasts until approx the 28th December as it is a fav of the food techy and lumps of it also disappear to Nannie and Grandpa to take home to accompany their cuppa whilst watching the Queens speech and the Melbourne Cricket test.

I have been making this cake for Christmas since 1989 and have also used it during my cake decorating days for Weddings. It is dense and flavoursome and cuts particularly well. I start my recipe months before Christmas (sometime in September) by soaking the dried fruit in a mixture of Rum and Brandy. I also omit the glace cherries as I just don’t like them! Instead I bump up the weight of the other fruit to match. So thank you Maureen for your wonderful recipe….it will remain a staple on my Christmas Cooking as long as we always get that day that is cooler to cook!

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Here’s the recipe (its a big one!):

250g currants

750g raisins

500g sultanas

250g each dried apricots, glace pineapple, dates and pitted prunes all chopped

125g glace cherries chopped

125g mixed peel

½ cup overproof rum

½ cup brandy

500g butter

1 cup caster sugar

1 cup brown sugar

10 medium eggs

4 cups plain flour

1 level tsp bicarb soda

1 level tsp ground cinnamon

1 level tsp nutmeg

½ cup ground almonds

125 g blanched almonds chopped

2-3 tablespoons of Grand Marnier, Cointreau or brandy

Extra almonds or pecans for decorating the cake top.

Prepare cake tins:

1 x 25 cm round tin OR 2 x 20cm round tin

I use a square tin that measures 25 x 25 cm.

Line the tin(s) with two layers of brown paper then an inner layer of baking paper. This is to allow for a longer baking time without burning the sides of the cake. Make sure the paper comes approx. 5 cms up beyond the edge of the tin to provide protection to the top of the cake when baked.

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Put currants, raisins, sultanas, apricots, glace pineapple, dates, prunes, cherries and peel into a large bowl. Pour over the rum and brandy. Cover and let stand at least overnight or for several weeks in a cool place.

Cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add 8 of the eggs one at a time and beating after each egg.

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Sift flour, bicarb soda and spices together, then add to the butter mixture with the ground almonds and fold through evenly. Add the fruit (you may need to use a larger bowl) and chopped almonds. Mix all together and then add the last 2 eggs.

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Put the mixture into the prepared tins and spread evenly. Bake in a slow oven (150c) for approx. 4- 4½ hours for large tins and 3 hours for smaller tins. However I start testing the cakes at 2 ½ hours as ovens can vary.

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Once cooked, leave cake in the tin. Sprinkle the top with desired alcohol/liquor. Fold over any edges of paper over top of cake and add more baking paper to top if required. Wrap entire cake in several layers of newspaper so that the cake cools slowly and retains its moisture.

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Try to leave the cake for at least two weeks before cutting. When ready, remove all newspaper, take cake out of tin and remove baking and brown papers and place on a serving plate.