Denman College was opened in 1948 by the WI’s first Chairman, Lady Denman and now boasts a shiny new cookery school where Mary Berry, queen of cakes, demonstrated a selection of mouth-watering festive recipes in her ‘Perfect Christmas’ repertoire early this month.
Christmas cake has been an annual indulgence for generations. Although WI recipes are set apart via varying methods, ingredients listings and recommended quantities for candied fruit, it features in every old WI cook book I’ve ever come across – usually several times.
A failsafe Christmas cake recipe is etched into the mind of every seasoned cook, some of whom will start baking from as early as March. Anne Harrison, Chair of Denman College and long-time WI member, began her festive bake-off last month – she’s been making Christmas cake for her family in Yorkshire for nearly 45 years following a family recipe.
Butter, rum and ground almonds are part of her secret mix. She insists on making her own almond paste and relies on Vostizza currants (otherwise known as pinheads due to their tiny form) to avoid chomping down on the stones or stalks of dried fruit. Come summer-time, she’ll whip up at least 15 cakes (minus the icing) for the Great Yorkshire Show – portions are served with a generous slab of Wensleydale cheese.
Such is the ease and versatility of a Christmas cake mix, you can really go to town with the decorations, or, instead, opt for a simpler approach. After leafing through old WI recipe books, I plumped for a White Christmas Cake which is a lighter twist on the traditional slice – less treacle – more caster sugar and crystallised fruits.
You can ice as you please depending on how much time you have. There are some excellent roll-out options for both marzipan and icing on supermarket shelves, however, nothing beats a coating of Royal icing to create the ultimate snow scene. Merry Christmas!
Author and WI cookery tutor Jill Brand brings us an updated version of a classic White Christmas Cake recipe, variations of which have featured in WI cook-books books since 1950. For the almond paste and icing topping, I used my Grandma’s recipes.
For more information on Denman College and its cookery courses, visit www.theWI.org.uk
115g/4oz glace cherries
115g/4oz glace pineapple
115g/4oz crystallised ginger
115g/4oz raisins or chopped peel
250g/9oz caster sugar
4 large eggs
350g/12oz plain flour
115g/4oz chopped walnuts
For the almond paste:
150g (5oz) icing sugar
150g (5oz) caster sugar
300g (10oz) ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp almond essence
For the icing:
1lb 2oz/500g icing sugar
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon glycerine
- Wash syrupy coating from cherries, pineapple and ginger in warm water and then pat dry.
- Cut cherries in half and coarsely chop pineapple and ginger. Soak with sultanas, raisins and chopped peel in brandy.
- Cream butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs.
- Fold in half the flour, soaked fruits and any liquid with walnuts. Fold in remaining flour.
- Spoon into a greased and lined 18cm/7inch round deep cake tin, slightly hollow out centre.
- Bake at 300ºF, 150ºC/gas mark 1 for 2¾ hours. Leave to cool.
For the almond paste:
Sieve the sugars into a bowl. Add ground almonds and mix well. Add the egg, lemon juice and essence. Mix together well, and spread evenly over cake.
For the royal icing:
- Crack eggs whites into a bowl and stir in icing sugar until a think paste is formed.
- Whisk with a hand blender to form stiff peaks before stirring in 1 teaspoon of glycerine and spread over your cake with a palette knife (ensuring top is level).
- Create a snow scene effect by teasing icing into small peaks with a standard knife.
- Tie with a thin red ribbon.