Christmas baking – Illustrators Ireland
We all have our talents but baking isn’t one of mine. Like a lot of people I enjoy watching cookery shows and, of course, LOVE sampling nice food, but as for Christmas baking? That seems too advanced and out of my league.
In my defence, I’m not completely useless. I was fine as a helper back in the day when my mother prepared puddings and cakes. I enjoyed stirring in sultanas and mixed peel, while Mam followed the tradition of popping a coin (hygienically wrapped in greaseproof paper) into the pudding mixture. After the cake was successfully baked and the marzipan and icing layered on, my job was to fluff the white topping into lustrous snow peaks, then decorate it with a Santa and robins.
It’s not just the cinnamon and spice smells, the taste of soft marzipan or fruity mince pies that lingers in my memory. There was a picture in one of Mam’s cookery books of a cake crafted like a Hansel and Gretel fairytale cottage. The log roof was lined with chocolate finger biscuits, dusted with icing as snow. Its walls, door and windows were colourfully dotted with Smarties and Jellytots, their jellied sugar coating glinting like frost.
For me as a young child, this was the ultimate in Yuletide cakes. As much as I liked Mam’s currant confection, couldn’t she do a fairytale cottage instead? Yet here I am, decades later, failing to recreate her magical baking experience with my own kids.
This inadequacy isn’t helped by my friend’s tale of woe in the Christmas cake stakes. Determined to master the craft, she bought ingredients, diligently followed the recipe but, despite hours in the oven, it sank. Burnt on the outside and soggy in the middle, it was an utter disaster. She bawled over the sunken result and in a panic, rang her mother who somehow salvaged a little. “Never again,” she swore, “It’s not worth the expense and stress – cheaper to buy one or pay someone to make it!”
Then there’s the Groundhog Day moment another lady faces every Christmas when her elderly aunt bakes a cake for each niece. Invariably all are scorched on the outside and raw in the middle, probably from a problem with her oven. Each sister would whisper “Any improvement?” They hadn’t the heart to tell Auntie the truth, she was so delighted to present them all with a personal gift.
Not all festive baking is bad. A friend once gave me a brownie cake cut in the shape of a Christmas tree. Smothered in chocolate and decorated with bright coloured Smarties as baubles, it reminded me of Mam’s fairytale photo those years ago.
But still I won’t bake. Bunging a turkey into the oven is a task I can manage and hope it won’t burn, or far worse – be raw on the inside!
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Maeve O’Keeffe, the Frazzled Mammy! ©Maeve O’Keeffe 2014
Maeve O’Keeffe is an Illustrator, Cartoonist, and Journalist in Cork, Ireland. Illustrators Ireland