Christmas baking should be a source of joy. It should be something we look forward to, a break from the hectic organisation of dozens of presents, reams of wrapping paper, cosy-but-thoughtful decoration, enormous meals, endless Christmas parties, and stressful hosting. But Christmas baking can take on a life of its own: fruit cakes that ‘should’ have been made months ago (that three members of your family will tell you loudly they do not like and will not eat), puddings that need hours on the hob, edible biscuity decorations with boiled sweet centres that will inevitably stale on the tree. It can just become another chore.
Now, I love a Christmas pudding. I even love making one, when I have the time, energy and inclination. I will defend the appeal of these traditional bakes to their (or my) death, but not if they become a source of resentment. When baking becomes an obligation, it becomes near-pointless. It is the antithesis to everything I believe and enjoy about baking. So, give yourself a break. No one will care if you buy a supermarket microwave Christmas pud. No one (apart from my husband, but he’s an outlier) will miss a rich fruit cake on the 25th. I survived 31 Christmases without a Yule log, and do you know what, I’m doing just fine. The last thing I want is to add to the pressure that Christmas tends to bring.
But look, perhaps you do want to bake something. You just don’t want to have to buy a thousand types of dried fruit, be tied to the stove for a whole day, or have to contend with making something look like a felled tree. Sometimes, you just want a nice cake that you can bung in the oven, and enjoy the same day. A cake that tastes just a little bit festive. So here is my old-fashioned gingerbread. It doesn’t even require you to cream the butter and sugar together: they are melted together along with the syrup, the eggs stirred through, and flour mixed with a generous dose of spice, and that’s it. And it has great shelf life: this cake is delicious on the day of baking, but will get better and stickier as the days go on, just keep covered with tin foil, or in sealed tupperware.
Makes: 12 slabs of gingerbread
Takes: 10 minutes (plus cooling)
Bakes: 50 minutes
150g salted butter
200g dark brown sugar
300g golden syrup
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon fine salt
250g self-raising flour
100g self raising wholemeal (optional; sub in an extra 100g of normal self-raising flour if not using)
275ml whole milk
- Preheat the oven to 170°C and grease and line a 20 x 30cm rectangular tin. Because this is a loose batter, avoid using a loose-bottomed tin, as the mixture might drip through.
- Place the butter, dark brown sugar and golden syrup in a pan over a low heat, and allow to melt. Stir to combine, and set to one side for ten minutes to cool down.
- In a small bowl, break the eggs up with a fork, and then tip these into the (warm but not hot) butter and syrup mixture, and stir through until thoroughly mixed.
- Combine the flours, spices and salt together, and then fold these through your mixture. Finally, gently stir the milk into the batter – it will be very loose, don’t worry!
- Bake for 50 minutes until the sponge is risen, chestnut brown and, when pressed gently with a finger, springs back.
- Leave to cool, and then cut into twelve slabs. This cake will keep very well for four days in a covered container.