There are certain food items that are simply obligatory to consume in considerable quantity this time of year. Take for example the humble Mince Pie. As a nation we eat a whooping 370 million pies in the run up to the Big Day. That's 27 mince pies each or the equivalent of 8,640 calories per person. Or the equivalent, in my sweet toothed world, of an average weekday in December.
But if you're finding yourself becoming a little 'bah humbug' about the traditional festive fare, the likes of the mince pie, stollen, turkey, Brussel sprout and that gigantic tin of Quality Street etc, fear not. It's time to think out of the (panettone) box. In fact any ordinary food can be made more Christmassy ...
Even the most miserly bowl of morning porridge can be brightened by a gaudy string of tinsel casually tied around the bowl. Tinsel is not tacky. It's kitsch, fun and screams 'IT'S CHRISTMASSSS' way better than Noddy Holder ever did. A bit like Christmas jumpers. For the minute at least; 2014's fashionistas may have other sweater ideas this time next year. Make sure to pop a subscription to Vogue magazine on your Christmas list to find out (I'd be the worst person to advise on the latest fashion trends, I have a long held belief that my life would be infinitely improved if I could live each day in pyjamas).
Glitter and sparkle
Think the quantity of sparkle used each weekend on Strictly and multiple by a thousand to add a little Christmas magic to any bake with a generous sprinkle of glitter. Be warned though, you'll be picking glitter off your soft furnishings until at least April.
Any food item can be hastily formed into a Christmas themed shape. The supermarkets have latched onto this festive money-spinner in a big way: see ASDA's Christmas Crumpet Trees or M&S's Christmas Pretzel Stars. Meanwhile, the home baker armed with a variety of festive cookie cutters, flour, butter, sugar, a spoonful of syrup and sprinkling of cinnamon has a whole Christmas tree worth of decorative novelty festive biscuits at their disposal.
Add booze. Copiously. The most humble of bread and butter puddings can be 'festive-fied' with a generous gulg of rum. A slice of toast this season isn't complete without a thick layer of whiskey marmalade. Forget whipping double cream to sandwich together your Victoria Sponges, use brandy cream for extra festivity.
Think of the cupcake as a glorious blank canvas of Christmas creative possibilities. A cherry and a couple of pretzels and you've got yourself a Rudolph cupcake. A star nozzle and a few pounds of green icing and you've got Christmas cupcake trees. A generous spray of gold shimmer and cupcake baubles are all yours. Talking of which, we tucked into some glorious Mulled Wine Cupcakes the other weekend, adapted from a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery spotted in last month's Marie Claire magazine.
Mulled Wine Cupcakes
For the cakes:
90g softened unsalted butter
200g soft brown sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk
175ml red wine
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
50g good quality cocoa powder
200g plain flour
For the icing:
50g unsalted softened butter
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp ground cinnamon
175g icing sugar
For the decoration:
Dozen red grapes
1 egg white
50g caster sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and line a twelve hole muffin tray with cases
2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, followed by the wine and orange zest and juice until just combined
3. Fold in the baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cocoa powder and flour
4. Divide the ingredients between the muffin cases and bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Cool in the tin for ten minutes then remove and leave to cool on a wire rack
5. For the icing: beat together the butter, orange, cinnamon and icing sugar in a large bowl until combined. Add the mascarpone and continue to beat until smooth. Use a spoon or piping bag to ice each cupcake
6. For the sugared grapes: dip each grape into the egg white and roll in the caster sugar. Allow to dry and use to decorate each cupcake
- A nice fruity red will do the trick here; make sure it's a decent bottle if you intend to enjoy the rest of it. "Baker's bonus" and all
- These are just lovely: a rich, chocolately, warmly spiced cake with a decadent, sweet icing
- No mascarpone? You could use full fat cream cheese instead
- The cake part can be made in advance and frozen, wrapped tightly, for up to three months. Once fully assembled, store in an airtight container and eat within three days