British Christmas Cooking Questions Answered

Christmas Yule Log

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As Christmas seems to creep up faster every year, there also seems to be less time and more questions. When should you make your Christmas cake? What about Christmas pudding? And what is "mixed spice"? These are very good questions and knowing the answers can make the busiest time of year a little less hectic.

When Should You Bake Christmas Cake?

Christmas Cake with Royal Icing
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The earlier you make a traditional British Christmas cake before the big day, the better it will taste, so you'll want to plan ahead. Two months is good, but you can still get away with a pretty decent cake one month before Christmas.

The reason for baking it so early is that you want to give the flavors of the dried fruits, spices, eggs, flour, and butter time to mature. Ideally, a Christmas cake should be fed at regular intervals with a little brandy or rum which produces a deep, moist, rich-flavored cake.

What's the Best Icing for Christmas Cake?

Christmas Cake
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As if Christmas cake isn't rich enough, the icing is equally intense. Traditionally, the cake is covered in marzipan (almond paste) followed by a thick, sweet layer of icing. This can be a super-smooth fondant icing or, for a more fun cake, royal icing jazzed up to look like winter snow. Both methods are easy but do require a little planning.

When Should You Make Christmas Pudding?

Christmas Pudding
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Christmas pudding doesn't need as long to mature as the cake, although it needs to be done early as well. The two use similar ingredients, but the pudding also contains suet. This is a type of fat (either meat-based or vegetarian) that helps keep it moist and rich while shortening the dessert's maturation time.

Traditionally, the pudding is made on Stir Up Sunday. That's about five weeks before Christmas, or the last Sunday before the Christian season of Advent. While some say the traditional Christmas pudding is no longer as popular because many people now prefer a lighter, healthier, dessert, that's not necessarily true. The Christmas pudding is as essential to a British Christmas as it ever was.

Which Sauce Is Served With Christmas Pudding?

Christmas pudding with sauce
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There's always heated discussion at Christmas over which sauce to serve with Christmas pudding. For some, it has to be brandy sauce. Others believe that brandy butter or a custard sauce is traditional. There's even a preference for ice cream, but for most, that's simply not traditional. None of the sauces are that difficult to make. If you don't feel that it's too indulgent, you can even serve all three and let people make up their own minds. None of the sauces will be wasted, as they are also delicious with warm mince pies.

Perfect Roast Turkey
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Whenever you are cooking a turkey, you must make sure it is cooked properly and safe to eat. It is not difficult to get this right, you simply need to know the weight of your turkey (fresh or defrosted) and work out the safest cooking time. For instance, if your turkey is between 12 and 16 pounds, you'll need to cook it for four to five hours. With stuffed turkey, add an extra 30 minutes.

What's the Difference Between Currants, Raisins, and Sultanas?

The Difference Between Raisins, Currants and Sultanas
Elaine Lemm

Christmas cake, puddings, mincemeat, and mince pies all contain lots of dried fruits. Currants, raisins, and sultanas are among the most common fruits and they're all dried versions of different grape varieties. Each of these stalwarts of British baking brings its own distinctive points to a recipe and they're not necessarily interchangeable. To ensure your holiday recipes end up as intended, it's best to avoid substitutions.

What Is Mixed Spice in Christmas Cooking?

Traditional Christmas Mince Pies
Elaine Lemm

Mixed spice is a frequent ingredient in British Christmas cooking, especially for cakes, puddings, mince pies, and mincemeat. It is a carefully blended spice mix that is bought ready-made. The mix contains ground allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, coriander, and ginger. In the U.S., pumpkin pie spice mix is a great alternative.