Sheffield Clandestine Cake Club – Christmas Your Way
First door on the Advent calendar opened, December has arrived, Christmas is coming! For many years now there has only been one acceptable Christmas cake in my household and that is Mary Berry’s rich, fruit celebration cake. However, having spent the year going through my baking books in search of inspiration for our monthly meetings I kept coming across various alternative Christmas cake recipes. While there could be no suggestion of any deviation from my usual Christmas offering I was secretly hoping for a Christmas themed Clandestine Cake Club meeting to try out something different in the form of the Italian Panforte.
The panforte isn’t a difficult cake to make but it does require a lot of chopping of the nuts and a bit of elbow work to mix it all together. Once cooked and cooled a dusting of icing sugar gives it a Christmas touch. To make it extra festive I cut out a snowflake and used it as a template to give a Christmas tree and hearts pattern.
The Italians serve panforte in thin slices usually with a cup of coffee. The richness of the cake dictates a small portion. To give an indication of its depth of flavour the recipes states that although it is made in an 8in tin it can serve between 20-24 people. With the addition of some cocoa powder my version was a panforte nero.
I’m now accompanied to the meetings by my trainee baker. As always her cake recipes do require some chocolate in them. We decided to make a cake I had worked out a couple of months ago using my Lakeland Savarin ring tin. It’s a chocolate and walnut cake but to give it a Christmas twist my daughter rolled out coloured icing and and used cutters to make Christmas shapes. These were then placed around the cake to form a Christmas wreath and sprayed with some edible gold simmer.
So onwards to our ‘Clandestine’ location which was the lovely home of faithful Sheffield Clandestine Cake Club member Christine and her daughter, Fleur. I met Christine at the inaugural meeting of the Sheffield branch back in April and have picked up many baking tips from her. Her house looked wonderful with the Christmas decorations and a warm welcome was given to all who came. A beautiful scent of cinnamon filled the house while we were offered English Breakfast or Earl Grey tea, coffee or mulled wine.
Our brilliant organizer Karen Perkins (@fabcoach on Twitter) made a ‘Molly’ cake. If you still want a fruit cake at Christmas but without eggs or any added sugar or fats then a ‘Molly’ cake is the one for you. As it contains no milk or other diary products it is also suitable for vegans and those with a lactose intolerance. Karen used a Waitrose recipe which involves boiling the fruit before adding the flour. The moistness of the cake makes it the perfect guilt-free Christmas cake. To top it off Karen made a sauce using lactose free cream cheese and icing sugar.
Christine is becoming well known in these parts for not only her wonderful cakes but also her great bundt cakes. Last night I was wondering if Christine had the fabulous Nordic Ware ‘Holiday Tree’ bundt tin and and our hostess did not disappoint me. Using a sticky gingerbread recipe from Dollybakes Christine made gingerbread with a twist. While gingerbread is a family favourite chez Christine at Christmas this recipe differs as it includes Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate with Ginger and also Guinness. The day after you have baked it you brush it with warmed ginger preserve and then make a syrup using lemon juice and icing. A sprinkling of icing sugar and you have the prefect Christmas bundt cake.
Christine’s nine year old daughter Fleur made a Malteser chocolate cake from Jo Wheatley’s ‘Passion for Baking’ and then decorated it using the Polar Bear cake recipe from the same book. The cake has chocolate spread in the middle and is then covered with a chocolate ganache before the icing goes on.
We went off to Germany with Helen’s (@HelenMoyes1 on Twitter) traditional Stollen. A mix between a cake and a bread as it contains yeast, Helen’s stollen had the usual marzipan running through the centre but used her favourite dried fruits of cherries and mixed peel to flavour it.
Back to Blighty with Suzanne’s (@suzanneellacott on Twitter) version of Mary Berry’s Mincemeat and Cranberry Christmas Cake. The cake is a lighter version of Mary’s rich celebration cake that I normally bake at Christmas. Suzanne spiked it with brandy (I’m sure Mary would approve) and decorated it with holly from her garden and some dried cranberries. The marzipan topping looked extra festive with the addition of some dried cranberries kneading into it.
We were treated to another delicious Mary Berry recipe from first timer Clare and her Whole orange spice cake. To make the cake you start off by boiling a whole orange for a frightening 20 minutes before pulping and then adding to the rest of the cake mixture. On the top was a stencilled festive icing sugar dusting. If you don’t want a fruit or chocolate cake at Christmas this really is the cake for you. It was definitely a hit with us as the plate was left bare at the end of the afternoon.
It was also Jen’s first Clandestine Cake meeting, who had come to us from Seattle via Ireland. However, Jen also went down the Italian route with her version of panforte di Siena. Jen’s version was lighter in colour as it was the more traditional version without cocoa. I put figs in mine but Jen added her favourite of cherries. We both found it rather hard to cut into slices but this is due to the high nut content in the cake. Thankfully to eat they weren’t tooth breakers but instead very chewy.
Our third first timer was Alice who spiced up a Mrs Beeton’s recipe for date and walnut cake to make a starry present loaf cake. To make the star ‘crater’ she used a star shaped cutter to take out part of the cake and then refilled it with icing and edible glitter.
Our final cake of the afternoon was Jane’s (@JaneHuckerby on Twitter) own creation of a sponge cake with mincemeat topped with a flurry of icing sugar. If you shun mince pies simply because of the pastry make this instead. It’s simple and light but the ideal alternative to the heaviness of traditional Christmas bakes.
After we had chomped through the festive feast it was time for the Secret Santa. I got some violet flakes from Cocoa Wonderland while my daughter got a mini spice and zest grater. Needless to say these were soon swapped and we were both very happy with our gifts. After that it was time to pack up our boxes with our takeaway cake and leave Christine to clear up the cake destruction scene!
Since April cake baking in Sheffield has changed with the formation of the Clandestine Cake Club. For this we have to thank Karen for starting up the Sheffield group and thinking up imaginative themes and finding terrific locations for us to meet in. So hurrah for 2012 and all the cakey loveliness it has bought us and onwards to 2013 with two meetings planned already. Join us in January for some healthy cakes and in February for Valentine’s cakes at www.clandestinecakeclub.co.uk
Finally thank you to other bakers who came and shared their cakes with us and of course to Christine and her family who so generously opened up their house to us.