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Start stirring for Christmas

Photos: Rachel Zammit Cutajar

Photos: Rachel Zammit Cutajar

Christmas is getting closer and it’s about that time of year when we really start planning for the big day. The Christmas pudding, mincemeat for mince pies and the Christmas cake need time for the flavours to really develop so now’s the time to get your apron, gather your family and friends and get stirring. After all this is the day when wishes are said to come true.

Stir up Sunday, which falls on 25 November this year, is a tradition in the UK that harks back to Victorian times when the family would gather together to stir the Christmas pudding five weeks before Christmas.

The opening words of the Book Of Common Prayer, used on the last Sunday before Advent, reads: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people,” so the tradition stands that this is the day to get started on your Christmas preparations!

The first thing to do is choose your recipes, not only for the pudding, but also for the Christmas cake, and the mince pie filling. The ingredients are similar and it makes sense to buy what you need and prepare the three things that benefit from being made sometime before Christmas (and the Christmas rush!)

By now, the shops should all be stocked with the seasonal ingredients. So make your list.

As a guide, and following the recipes in my Christmas chapter on Pippa’s Festa, here are the ingredients and recipe for the mince pies, also the ingredients list for a large 1.2litre (2pints) traditional Christmas pudding and a 28cm/11inch Christmas cake.

Mincemeat

Ingredients
400g apples
400g mixed candied peel (ideally Italian candied cedro), or make your own candid peel out of long marrow (qaratwil) Recipe in my book: 25 Years in a Maltese Kitchen, or the Maltese edition Fil-kċina ma’ Pippa)
400g currants
400g sultanas
400g raisins (black or golden, or a mixture of both)
400g sugar
50g blanched almonds, chopped
400g beef or vegetable suet (either from your butcher or in packets under the brand name Atora)
3 Maltese lemons, zest and juice
3 Maltese oranges, zest and juice
3 local tangerines, zest and juice
2 ‘lumicel’ (sweet lemons found in old Maltese gardens), zest and juice
1 whole nutmeg
2 tumblers brown rum
The shortcrust pastry
500g plain flour
250g fat – (250g butter or 125g lard (like TREX) and 125g STORK)
2 egg yolks
125ml cold water
Squeeze of lemon juice

Method

• To make the mincemeat, get a large clean bowl and just mix all the ingredients together.

• When all the flavours have blended well, put the mixture into clean, dry, preferably sterilised jars and press down firmly. Store in a dry cool place till needed for mince pies, at least two weeks and up to the following year.

• When ready to make the mince pies make the pastry, mix the cut up fats in the sifted flour with your fingertips and when resembling breadcrumbs.

• Add the egg yolks and lemon mixed in half a teacup of cold water (approx. 125ml).

• Bind well and knead gently.

• Put in fridge for 1/2 hour then bring to room temperature.

• Roll pastry out on floured surface to 0.3 cm thickness.

• Cut out rounds, with a 7cm fluted cutter for the base, and the same amount of rounds with a 6cm cutter for the lids.

• Line greased patty tins with the large rounds. Fill with a heaped teaspoon of your prepared mincemeat.

• Dampen edges of small rounds with water, milk or beaten egg.

• Place on top and press top and bottom together. Make a small cross with a knife on each one.

• The pies are now ready to freeze in their patty tins overnight and then taken out and put in layers with greaseproof paper between and left in the freezer till needed when you bake them straight from the freezer into the oven.

• Alternatively, pre-heat oven to 200°C or and bake pies for 15-20 minutes till pale golden.

• Serve warm dusted with icing sugar.

There are many varieties of the Christmas cake, light or dark, spongey or wet, round or oblong and decorated with marzipan or frosting or both. Made with more or less the same ingredients as the Christmas pudding, the exact recipe differs from region to region.

The Christmas cake is made in November and stored upside down in an air-tight container. Small holes are made in the cake and brandy is poured onto the cake every week – a process known as feeding the cake – which gives the Christmas cake its rich, boozy flavour.

Luxury Christmas cake

Ingredients
300g plain flour
250g butter
250g brown sugar
8 eggs
Cocoa
Mixed spice
1 lemon
1 tangerine
Treacle
400g currents
400g sultanas
200g raisins
150g candied peel
100g blanched almonds, roasted and chopped)
1 orange
Brandy or rum
Vanilla extract (Not essence)

To decorate: pecan nuts, almonds and green and red cherries if not icing the cake.

Icing sugar, egg whites and glycerine if you choose to ice it.

Method

• Grease the bottom and sides of a 28cm springform tin.

• Cut two strips of paper and line the inside circumference of the tin, cutting the strips 4cm higher than the height of the tin. Fold the excess and snip at intervals (to be placed at the bottom of the tin).

• Grease one side of the strip (to face inwards),

• Fit the strips into the tin, folding the snipped flap into the base as you go along.

• Cut three rounds of greaseproof paper to fit the bottom of the tin. Grease one side of one round and fit two of the circles at the bottom of the tin, with the greased side touching the cake mixture. The remaining circle will go on top halfway through baking.

• Preheat the oven to 150°C.

• In a large bowl beat the butter and the sugar until light and creamy.

• In another bowl beat the eggs.

• Mix all the dry ingredients in another bowl.

• A little at a time add the egg mixture and the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating between the two.

• Add the treacle, orange juice, alcohol and essence, folding in one at a time.

• Mix altogether and put into the prepared cake tin.

• Place the baking tray, with the cake on it, into the oven and bake for two hours until set.

• Carefully top with a pattern of nuts and glacé fruit if the cake is not going to be iced.

• Place the last circle of grease proof paper over the top and continue to bake for another two hours, until a skewer placed in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

• Allow the cake to cool in the tin, then remove from the tin and remove all the papers and leave the cake on a wire rack until completely cold.

• Wrap in cling film and set aside until Christmas.

• Once a week remove the cling film from the cake and “feed” it by making holes on the underside with a skewer and pouring over a little rum or brandy.

• Wrap it again and repeat the following week.

• As Christmas approaches you will need to ice the cake if you haven’t decorated it with nuts and glacé fruit.

Once you have decided what you are going to prepare, make your shopping list, adding the similar ingredients together.

Source your shops, go to the spice or Good Earth display shelf, or any Christmas dried fruit shelf, buy your fresh fruit from the Tuesday/or Saturday Farmers market at Ta’ Qali, or from Villa Bologna in Attard.

All the spices and all the other dry ingredients can also be bought at the C&M Coffee shop in Ħamrun.

Farsons make lacto stout.

More recipes on our digital app!

Head over to the digital version for an extra, exclusive recipe by Pippa. If you haven’t done so yet, search for TOM Mag from your Google Play or Apple store and download the app for free. Once it is downloaded, click on the Sunday Circle icon and search for Pippa’s recipes through our contents to access the extra content.

Perfect partners this Christmas

Get Pippa Mattei’s books this Christmas for the ultimate, stress-free Christmas lunch with all the traditional recipes. They also make perfect Christmas presents.

The Gourmand Award-winning Pippa’s Festa is on special offer this Christmas, down from €35 to €25.

Pippa’s Festa, 25 Years in a Maltese Kitchen and Fil-Kċina ma Pippa are available from all leading bookshops and online at www.mirandabooks.com. Free delivery is available to addresses in Malta and Gozo.

This feature first appeared in the Sunday Circle magazine. Browse the magazine for free using the TOM Mag app, available for download in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

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