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Sharon Bill Music Tutor & Author

Christmas Baking

The traditions of Christmas, baking Christmas cake, mince pies, buying presents and decorating the home are things that don't particularly move me. In reality, I think it's something that I do enjoy when the mood strikes but I balk at the pressure to conform, particularly when time and budget aren't conducive. The expectation to do certain things and failure to comply resulting in disapproval (real or imagined - there's little different in these matters I find) is what causes me a problem. However, once I've shaken off the shackles (which take some shaking, believe me) I find that I'm actually in the mood to indulge a little. I've never made a Christmas cake before and my mince pies have always left quite a bit to desire. However, now that I'm a member of the Women's Institute, help is at hand and already I'm thrilled with the results.

As I've previously mentioned, I'm through with giving unwanted gifts just to tick some imaginary box - more often than not nobody wants the stuff anyway and I've just whistled my money into the wind. This year I'm making a batch of brandy loaded Christmas cakes and mince pies, along with a Christmas floral arrangement in a festive mug and I'm giving this to those who would appreciate it as a token of the season. In many ways it's not really the economy option as brandy doesn't come cheap. However the Aldi alternative is just as good - I sampled a bit as I was baking just to be sure, quality control being essential. Having never made a cake I sent a hasty S.O.S. to our WI Secretary who promptly replied with her foolproof quick Christmas Cake recipe. I altered it slightly by buying combined dried fruits (economy being of some motivation) and made a couple of cakes as a test. A little fine tuning to adjust to my oven's foibles and then half a dozen cakes were quickly coming off the assembly line. (Quickly being a relative term here as the cooking time was still three and a half hours!)

My husband and I soon polished off the first two which were classed as rejects as they'd 'caught' a bit on the edges until I'd sorted the appropriate temperature for my oven. They couldn't have been that bad though as they still didn't last long. The remaining six are soaking up the last drops of the brandy bottle before the exciting icing and decorating begins. I'm hoping that I can manage that myself, but my artist husband is quite a whizz at cake decorating, his speciality being amazing pieces of art painted in food colouring, so I'm hoping he takes pity on me at the finish and makes it a team effort.

I realise that fruit cake isn't everybody's cup of tea so the flower arrangements and a few other home made items and of course, I have actually bought some gifts too. My friends and I have a £5 challenge and honour is at stake to see who can get the most amazing gift for that amount.