So Can You Cook ? 15

Christmas Edition
I must confess to not understanding the whole ‘Christmas in July’ thing, or why people go ape over it, trundling themselves off to the coldest climes to celebrate something that has no relevance here whatsoever. This is Australia, and Christmas means heatwaves, bushfires and flies. If you are an American, or English, it kind of makes sense to want to have snow for Christmas, but if you’re an Aussie, and only ever associate Christmas with summer, it just doesn’t work. And apart from that, it is hard to imagine Christmas happening in the middle of the year – snow or no snow.
The whole Christmas thing in Australia has always been too tied up with English and European traditions, and catering to our climate at this time of the year never seems to be something anyone used to consider. I remember my mother slaving over hot stoves months before Christmas even started to get the cake and pudding done on time for it to mature before being reheated and eaten with hot custard in steamy 30-odd-degree heat. Everyone sweated in the hot house, just wanting it to end so that they could kick back with a cold beer. When I lived with my stepfamily back in the 70’s, I remember my poor sister-in-law catering a hot lunch for twenty people every Christmas day. Her reward was a stinking headache, and near dehydration. You have to query if this is the right way to celebrate Christmas day in Australia, especially with our tradition of breaking traditions, and our usual irreverence for anything considered over-the-top.
When I lived in Darlinghurst, I used to cater a orphans Christmas lunch on Christmas day, for anyone who had nowhere else to go. I used to do the full traditional thing for anywhere from 12-15 people, with glazed ham, pork, turkey and pudding. I used to get to bed at about 3am on Christmas Eve, to be back up again at 7am to finish all the prep work. After my last of these – many years ago now – and finding myself with a migraine, I decided it was time to change my approach to Christmas eating.
My partners mother was quick to realize the advantages of having a chef in the family. She swings a couple of hundred dollars my way, and I do the whole thing – but not the old way. I have started a tradition of fresh oysters in the half-shell, with various toppings arranged in small bowls, as an entrée. Everybody in his family – bar his Grandmother – loves them. We go to the fish markets about 10pm on Christmas Eve to get them – take this as a time hint. This is followed by cold ham, cold lamb and cold chicken with a range of salads, and finished off with an ice cream fruit pudding. On a hot day, this is a really refreshing meal, and no one has sweated themselves into oblivion to put it all together. I still do mince fruit tarts, a cake and shortbread but this is all easy to do, and involves little stress on my part. If you are still doing it all the traditional way, I suggest you consider a rethink, and start your own Christmas traditions.
I hope everyone else can enjoy a stress-free and refreshing Christmas day.
Happy Christmas to all readers.

Christmas Cake:

Gluten-Free Christmas Cake – for coeliacs
250g unsalted butter
1 cup soft brown sugar
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon coffee essence
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
1 kg mixed dried fruit
300g glace fruit, chopped
100g slivered almonds
180g soya flour
90g baby rice cereal
90g maize cornflour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
¼ cup orange juice
½ cup sweet sherry
extra 2 tablespoons sweet sherry

Bake in 20cm square tin.
Cook for 3½ hours

Per slice (weight of cake; 2.1 kg)
Kilojoules 985/calories 235; protein 4g; fat 10g; carbohydrate 34g;dietary fibre 3g; sodium 55mg.

Sugar-Reduced Christmas Cake – for diabetics
180g mono-unsaturated margarine
½ cup soft brown sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons coffee essence
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon cherry jam
1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
1 kg mixed dried fruit
100g currants
100g glace fruit, chopped
50g slivered almonds
1½ cups wholemeal plain flour
1 cup self-raising flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon mixed spice
¼ cup orange juice
½ cup brandy
125g pecans for decorating – optional

Bake in 23cm round tin
Cook for 3½ hours

Per slice (weight of cake 2kg)
Kilojoules 785/calories 185; protein 3g; fat 6g; carbohydrate 31g; dietary fibre 3g; sodium 100mg.
TO CONVERT THESE TO A TRADIONAL CAKE, substitute soya flour for 2 cups plain flour, and rice cereal and maize cornflour for ½ cup self-raising flour.

Preheat oven to slow 150°C. Line the base and sides of your cake tin with greaseproof paper. Using an electric beater, beat butter or margarine and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and creamy. Add eggs gradually, beating well after each addition. Add essences, molasses, marmalade or jam and rind. Beat until well combined.
Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and add the fruit and/or almonds. Using a metal spoon, begin to fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
As you begin to fold in the dry ingredients, alternate with the combined juice and spirits (or juice only). Stir until just combined and the mixture is almost smooth. Spoon mixture into prepared tin. Sprinkle the top with a little cold water and smooth surface with wet hands.
Tap the cake tin gently on the bench top to settle the mixture. Decorate with fruit or nuts if desired. Wrap a double thickness of brown paper around the outside of the tin and secure with string or a paper clip. Bake for required time, or until a skewer comes out clean. If top is browning too quickly, or is starting to burn, cover the top of the cake with a layer of foil.
Store in an airtight tin outside of fridge for 4 weeks, or in fridge for several months.

Frozen Brandy Christmas Pudding:
1 x 475g jar fruit mince (from supermarket)
1 x 1lt tub Old English Toffee ice cream, softened
1 x 1lt tub vanilla ice cream, softened

Combine fruit mince and ice cream in a bowl. Spoon into 10 1-cup size plastic drinking cups. Wrap in plastic, and place in freezer for 6 hours. Dip into hot water, and upend onto plate. Serve with…
Summer Berries and Mango Slices;
2 x 250g punnets strawberries, washed, hulled, halved
1 x 150g punnet mulberries
1 x 120g punnet raspberries
60ml (1/4 cup) fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons icing sugar mixture
4 ripe mangoes

Combiner berries in a large bowl. Add lime juice and icing sugar mixture, stirring gently until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to macerate for 30 minutes.
Cut the cheeks from the mangoes close to the seed. Peel and thinly slice lengthways. Add to the berry mixture and gently stir to combine.

Traditional Shortbread:
2 cups plain flour
½ cup pure icing sugar
2 tablespoons rice flour
250g butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 160°C. Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Sift plain flour, icing sugar and rice flour together into a bowl.
Using fingertips, rub in butter until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Press mixture together to form a dough.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead gently. Halve mixture. Roll or press out each half into rounds about 1cm thick. Place on prepared trays. Decorate edges by pinching. Mark out 8 equal portions on each petticoat. Prick with a fork, and if desired sprinkle with a little castor sugar. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden. Stand for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.


This delicious Italian Christmas treat can be difficult to make using many recipe. This recipes is not so difficult, and is tried and true. You need to work quickly, so have all ingredients ready to go.

1 cup roughly chopped dried figs – stalks removed
¾ cup roasted hazelnuts, skins removed (roll and rub them in a tea towel after baking)
¾ cup roasted almonds
½ cup roughly chopped dark chocolate
1 tablespoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground black pepper (optional)
finely grated rind 1 orange
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
icing sugar, to serve

Preheat oven to 150°C. Lightly spray and line base and sides of a square cake pan (20cm) with baking paper.
Combine figs, nuts, chocolate, spices and orange peel together in a bowl.
Combine sugar, honey and butter in a saucepan. Heat on medium, stirring until beginning to melt (DO NOT STIR AGAIN OR SUGAR WILL CRYSTALISE)
Bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes, until a little of caramel dropped into cold water forms a soft ball when moulded between fingers.
Working quickly, pour caramel over nut mixture, mixing well. Pour into prepared cake pan. Smooth top with a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool. If mixture has not set, place in fridge.
Remove baking paper and dust surface liberally with icing sugar. Cut into small squares to serve.

Sugar Dusted Spice Biscuits
125g butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup golden syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1¾ cups plain flour
½ cup hazelnut meal (from supermarkets or health food stores)
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the butter, brown sugar, golden syrup and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixture and beat until pale. Add the egg and beat well. Add the flour, hazelnut meal, spices and soda and beat until just combined.
Roll 2 teaspoons of the mixture into balls and place on baking trays lined with baking paper, allowing room for spreading. Bake in batches for 8 minutes or until light golden. Cool and dust with icing sugar.
Makes approx 50. Great for gift-giving if presented in a fancy jar.

Cheats Fruit Mince Tarts:
Yep, even I look for shortcuts in hot weather. Buy a packet of frozen sweet tart cases from the supermarket, some sheets of sweet shortcrust pastry, and a jar of good quality fruit mince. Blind bake the shells according to the packet directions. Spoon in the mince. Cut rounds or shapes from the pastry sheet and place on top. Brush with a little beaten egg, sprinkle with some castor sugar and bake in a 180°C oven until golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

Tim Alderman (C) 2015


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