One of my biggest pet peeves is a man in the kitchen when I am cooking, and B.A. is in there right now caroling "Down Among the Dead Men" as he grinds up smoked mackerel and cream cheese into a paste. Thus, I am taking a break between barszcz (the soup) and uszka (the dumplings). Uszka are a bit tricky, so for the sake of everyone's sanity, I will wait until the man is out of the kitchen. In my mind's ear, I can hear De Guter (from my book) fleeing my kitchen in Boston while wailing "If you don't like men in the kitchen, how will you ever get married?
Here in the meantime is my mother's Christmas Cake recipe, handed down from her to me. I am not sure where she got it from: neither her mother nor her grandmothers were keen home cooks from anything I've ever heard. My grandma was a champion at ironing (even socks), but cooking was not her thing.
The one thing that marks out this recipe as from times past is its cautious, penny-pinching attitude towards butter. Once upon a time it was expensive or something. I can't find Crisco or any other all-vegetable/tout-végétal shortening in Edinburgh, so I just use butter.
Cummings Family Christmas Cake
1/2 lb. seeded muscat or lexia raisins (or whatever raisins you can find--SS)
1/2 lb. seedless raisins
1/2 lb currants
1/4 lb. soft butter
1/4 lb. soft shortening (or use all butter; I do--SS.)
1 C sugar
1 1/2 Tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 C brandy
1/4 C honey
2 1/4 C unsifted all-purpose flour (get the hardest you can find, perhaps bread flour)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 lb pitted dates, cut up
1/2 lb chopped mixed candied peel
1/2 lb candied cherries, halved
1/4 lb blanched almonds, halved (or if you can't find them halved, chuck 'em in whole--SS)
Use tube pan 10" x 4". Line pan with thick brown paper; grease well with unsalted shortening (or butter).
Wash raisins and currants, dry thoroughly between paper towels. (At this point I diverge from the recipe and soak the raisins and currents overnight in 1/4 C brandy, covered)
Beat butter and shortening together thoroughly; when smooth and fluffy add sugar gradually, beating continuously. Blend in vanilla and almond extract. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in brandy and honey; they may cause batter to appear separated, but it will not affect the results. Mix prepared fruits and almonds in large mixing bowl (and I do mean LARGE); add sifted dry ingredients, and mix well to coat pieces.
Scrape butter and egg mixture into bowl, and, using hands (woo hoo), combine very thoroughly. Fill pan 3/4 full. Preheat oven to 275F. Bake cake 3 1/2 hours. After first hour or so, place pan of water on bottom of oven to prevent cake from drying out. When tested done, remove from oven, and let the pan stand on a rack until the contents are completely cooled. (I leave it out overnight--SS.) Remove from pan, peel off paper wrapping. Wrap it well in brandy-soaked cheesecloth and place in a cookie tin (if you have one), or wrap the cheesecloth packaged cake in tinfoil. Store in cool place (not the fridge) for 4-5 weeks.
If your cake pan isn't big enough, line a bread tin with greased brown paper and bake the leftover batter in that.--SS.