How To Bake the Perfect Christmas Cake

By Nohreen Sloan, Spa Sweethearts WI Committee Member and food blogger at http://www.mrssloanqueenofscones.wordpress.com

Christmas has to be my favourite time of year. It’s not because of all of the presents (although that does help) but because it gives me an excuse to make. I get my Christmas craft on well in advance of December, making anything and everything from decorations, gifts, baked goods and pretty much anything else I can add glitter or tinsel to!

There’s a tremendous sense of gratification that comes from making, whether it’s for yourself or someone else, even more so when the item is edible! There are two food items that I think everyone should make at Christmas time; mince pies and fruit cake. Keep reading to find out my top tips and tricks on how to get a perfect bake this Christmas.

My secrets for the perfect mince pie

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Whilst mince pies can be quite easily done with pre-rolled pastry and jarred mincemeat, making a fruit cake from scratch can be a little more daunting. Here a a few tricks that will help you to get it just right:

– Tie a thick layer of newspaper around the outside of your cake tin. Put another thick layer of newspaper on a baking tray, and place the cake tin on top. This will prevent the edges of the cake from the heat of the oven and cooking too quickly.

– An electric whisk will make the process of creaming the fat and sugar easier, but using a wooden spoon will do the same job-it just takes a little longer. You can check if your mixture has been creamed enough by placing a little blob of mixture into a bowl of cold water. If the mixture floats, it has been sufficiently creamed (the process of creaming adds air to the mixture).

– Eggs at room temperature are best to use, as they will be less likely to curdle the mixture. However, if it looks as though it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour.

– Make sure that your cake mixture is level when putting it in the cake tin. Make indentations all over the surface of the cake mixture – this will prevent the cake from rising in the middle, and give a nice flat top instead.

– Before placing in the oven, fold a large piece of greaseproof paper (larger than the top of the cake tin), fold in half and cut a small circle out of the middle (about 2cm diameter). Placing this sheet carefully over the top of the cake tin will prevent the top of the cake from cooking too quickly, also helping to retain the moisture of the cake.

Amaretto and Orange Christmas Cake, with Cranberries and Cherries

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The recipe below is for a 9″(23cm) cake tin

Ingredients (stage one):

500g currants

225g dried cranberries

200g candied peel

200g dried apricots

150g raisins

100g glace cherries

75g sour cherries

150ml amaretto

zest and juice of 2 oranges

zest of 2 lemons

juice of 1 lemon

Method (stage one):

Wash, dry and quarter the glace cherries. Chop the apricots and sour cherries to the same size. Place all the dried fruit, amaretto, zest and juice into a pan. Bring to the boil, stir, cover and simmer for 5 mins. Pour into a bowl, cover and leave overnight.

Ingredients (stage two):

soaked fruit mixture (above)

275g dark muscovado sugar

275g soft margarine

5 medium eggs – beaten

275g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

50g ground almonds

150g chopped almonds

1 tbsp black treacle

1tbsp marmalade

METHOD stage two

Preheat your oven to 140c/120c(fan)/gas 1.

Grease and line a 9″ cake tin (see above)

Cream the fat and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the beaten eggs little by little, beating in well each time.

Fold in the sifted flour, salt, spices, soaked fruit mixture, chopped and ground almonds, treacle and marmalade until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, levelling then indenting on the top.

Place your large piece of greaseproof paper with the hole over the top of the tin.

Bake on a low shelf for about 4-5 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Mine took about 5 and a half hours, but I checked at regular intervals after 4 hours of cooking.

Take the cake out of the oven and let it cool before removing from the tin. Carefully remove the lining paper and wrap up in some clean greaseproof paper, and then foil. Store in this way until you are ready to decorate.

If you wish to make the cake a little more boozy, insert a skewer into the base of the cake several times, and drizzle over (or brush with a pastry brush) a tablespoonful of your chosen liqueur once a week prior to decorating.

 
 

Create A Simple Scandi Inspired Wreath by Marie Nichols

Blogs by Marie

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Minimal Wreaths are big news this festive season, which is great news because they are also super easy to make. These simplistic Scandinavian inspired wreaths can be whipped up at the last minute with minimal fuss but create maximum impact.

You Will Need

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Wooden Embroidery Hoop

Foliage

Florists Wire

Scissors

Ribbon

Decoration (optional)

Less is most definitely more for this look, so you don’t need to go overboard on the foliage select a few springs (branches / sprigs with a bit of a curve or kink tend to work best)

Place your wooden hoop on the table in front of you and start simply placing the foliage on, playing with the arrangement until you’re happy with the positioning. Remember the aim is not to cover the entire hoop. Think about off-centred and a-symmetric designs.

Wreaths_Making1Use the florists wire to attach the sprigs to the hoop, twisting and bending over on the reverse of the hoop.

Wreaths_Making2Tie a loop of ribbon through the screw at the top and if you wish to add a decoration you can

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These look great hung as a single wreath, as a group or even hanging a smaller wreath inside a large one.

 
 

How To Make Your Own #DreamChristy Christmas Crackers

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Looking for some extra festive fun in the lead up to Christmas? Making your own Christmas crackers is not only easy, but it’s fun to share with the whole family.

All you will need is:

• Your favourite wrapping paper
• Scissors
• Ruler
• Ribbon
• Glue
• Cracker snaps (these can be bought inexpensively from most craft shops.)
• 3 Empty Toilet Rolls
• Token gifts, handwritten jokes and christmas hat

Firstly, roll out your wrapping paper and cut a landscape rectangle measuring 20cm (across) x 30 cm (down). Take your rectangle, turn face down and measure 10cm in from each end. Mark the 10cm point, by drawing a line from bottom to top, firmly with a sharp pencil.

Next, take one of your Cracker Snaps and affix with a dot of glue at either end in a straight line across the top of the rectangle.

You should end up with something like this:

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Using your pencil markings, place 3 used toilet rolls in the columns drawn out. Delicately roll the toilet rolls so the wrapping paper wraps around and covers them. I like to add a dot of glue in the centre to hold the paper together nicely.

You’ll now have a wrapped cylinder. Pull one of the end toilet rolls out very slightly. Gently twist and push the end back inwards to make a crease – this will become your first end. Grab your cut of ribbon and tie in a neat bow around your newly made crease. Once you’ve got it to look exactly how you want, remove the toilet roll altogether.

Take your gifts, hand written joke, Christmas hat (and anything else you want to throw in for that matter)  through the opposite end, then repeat the last step (ensuring none of your inner items fall out in the process).

You should now be looking at your final cracker. Now you can really get creative and decorate further using nameplates and co-ordinating bows.

Share your cracker creations with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, we’d love to see how you got on!

 
 

How To Prepare Your Guest Room This Christmas

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It’s nearly Christmas, which means the food shopping list has been made, the presents are gathering under the tree and the guests are imminent. Everything is ready and waiting for the guests to descend but there’s no chance that you’ll be relaxing just yet – not until everyone has a drink and multiple food options. Vol au vent anyone? Champagne?

If you’re accommodating family or friends overnight, then we’ve got a simple trick that’ll make your home synonymous with hotel quality luxury – perfectly folded towels! Watch the video now, and fold your way to spa style luxury with resident Christy towel designer Julia Hewitt.



Wishing you a very merry Christmas season from all of us here at Christy.

 
 

“When a dream is not just a dream”

By Shaherazad Umbreen, founder, 18 hour heels

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For years I’ve loved the story of the Nutcracker; its elegance, its magic and its spine-tingling mystery. For me, it embodies everything that Christmas is about which is the opportunity to imagine a brighter and more magical world, one in which every step seems to be an effortless dance. The only problem with this is that the Nutcracker dream always ends. Happily, it ends in a safe and happy place but I’m always left wondering what if the dream was not just a dream? What if the magic could be captured and danced every day?

I’m a 39 year old footwear designer and I’ve learned over the years, that luxury is something which shouldn’t be saved just for special occasions. To truly enjoy life it makes sense to enjoy a little luxury every day. I realised this, when one cold November day I decided to wear a beautiful cream suit which I normally save for the theatre, a suit which makes me sparkle in a “look at me” kind of way.  As soon as I put it on, I could imagine myself in the audience of the ballet, watching Clara dance through Christmas. And it was then, suddenly, that I realised that a dream doesn’t have to be just a dream, that it’s possible to capture luxurious happiness every day, if only we let ourselves.

So, this December, whilst I’m busy buying gifts for friends and family, I’ve also decided to treat myself to some new little luxuries which will dreamily carry me through 2017 with grace, poise and elegance. There are two things which I’ll be investing in before this year’s Nutcracker performance comes to town.  

The first, is Christy’s Isabelle bed linen. It has an intricate jacquard weave in a sophisticated silver grey with a subtly lustrous finish. In this bed linen I know I will fall asleep in refined luxury and wake up truly refreshed.  

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The second, is a brand new pair of 18 hour heels. These heels are perfect for wearing to the boardroom and then to the bar, so I’m sorted for the office Christmas party, as well as ensuring I’m sparkling all day.

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A dream doesn’t have to be just a dream. This Christmas, I’m insisting that Clara’s dance doesn’t stop at Christmas.

This post was written by Shaherazad Umbreen, founder, 18 hour heels.

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Get Crafty This Christmas With Washi Tape Cards

 

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Handmade Christmas cards are the perfect opportunity to show your loved ones that you care and can really help you get in the festive spirit. Many people are put off the idea because the idea of crafts seems time consuming and tricky, but these simple cards from our lovely blogger friend at Mathilde Heart Manech can be made in a flash. Despite their simplicity, the end result looks like you spent hours labouring, leaving all the more time for a cheeky glass of mulled wine and a mince pie (or two!).

You will need

Washi tape in a variety of designs

Scissors

Card stock

Letter stamps and ink

Instructions

  1. You’ll need five pieces of washi tape cut to your desired size (depends on the shape of tree you would like). Tip! Make a sample tree on a piece of paper to use as a template.
  2. Stick to your card stock, starting with the base, leaving two spaces for your Christmas message.
  3. Stamp your Christmas message inside the two gaps. Leave to dry.
  4. Fill your card with lovely messages for loved ones!

Do you have any Christmas crafts that you’d like to share? We’d love to see some inspiration on our  Facebook and Twitter pages. And don’t forget to share your finished washi tape cards with us on Instagram.

 
 

“Create your own Christmas magic”

By Kach Howe, co-founder, Two Monkeys Travel Group

For the past three years, Christmas has been a strange time for us as we have spent our last three Christmases in some pretty unusual places; 2013/14 – Hanoi, Vietnam; 2014/15 – La Paz, Bolivia; and 2015/16 in Bogota, Colombia. To put it simply, we have not had a ‘normal’ family Christmas in three years and we’re not going to have one anytime soon!

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Don’t get us wrong, we’ve had three amazing years in incredible places with wonderful people, but it’s just not the same. The real feeling of Christmas is just not there; you know, that unexplainable happy feeling of Christmas magic. What we have learned, though, is how to seek out, find, and even create, our own Christmas magic, wherever in the world we are. For that very reason, our ‘nod to the nutcracker’ is all about finding that true magic of Christmas, no matter who you are with or where you are.  

Firstly, and arguably most importantly, find loved ones to celebrate the day with. Because after all, Christmas is all about enjoying the company of those around you. If you’re travelling and can’t be with your family and friends, then spend Christmas with those you feel most comfortable around, whether that’s a fellow traveller, work colleagues and new friends you have made along the way.

Once you’ve gathered everyone together, no matter where you are, it’s time to help each other into the spirit of Christmas. And if you can’t go to Christmas, you’ve got to make Christmas come to you.  

That magical feeling of Christmas is all about using all of your senses to invoke memories of Christmas and get the nostalgia flowing.

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“Dreams are strangely familiar places…”

By Natalie Ellen Cobb,  founder and director, Private Dining London

Transport your dining table to the dreamy world of The Nutcracker story this festive season by using warm reds, wintery foliage and golden injections of color. Begin by laying your table in the classic fashion and warming the table with some candles. Then, use our top tips to achieve “The Nutcracker Look” with any table in your home or dining space this Christmas.

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Foliage Centerpieces
Transfer the botanical foliage trend of 2016 to the festive season by using sprigs of dark-wood fern and stems of cotton to recreate the enchanting pine forest of Alexander Dumas’ story. Layer the foliage throughout the middle length of your table, intertwining the different branches and finish by arranging the stems of cotton on top. If you can get your hands on cotton they can be simple in bringing a dreamy softness to the foliage but if you struggle to find any, white flowers or berries will also be effective. One thing to note is to be careful not to use anything with too much perfume as this will overpower the smells of food.

Warming Décor
For the traditional Christmas touch choose some small wooden Nutcracker figurines for your table and place red charger plates underneath each placing. Gather a collection of nuts and scatter throughout the foliage as well as at the base of your candles and figurines. Due to size and color we find that large Walnuts and Chestnuts are the most effective. Feature a large red glass acorn decoration on each plate before the food arrives.

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Gold Touches
Decorate a number of the nuts with gold leaf, gold paint or pen to add a touch of glamour to your table and place some of them under small glass cloches to create charming focal points for your diners. Crystal bowls work well as alternatives to cloches. To finish, personalize your table with handcrafted stationery featuring elegantly gold calligraphy and your favourite lines from the Nutcracker story.

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#DreamChristy
If you #DreamChristy and take our steps to create “The Nutcracker Look” you can achieve a truly special first impression when guests sit down to your magical Christmas feast this festive season.

 

Natalie Ellen Cobb at Private Dining London & Anna Wallis at Rose, Paper, Scissors

Photoshoot collaboration by Private Dining London http://www.privatedininglondon.co.uk, Rose, Paper, Scissors http://www.rosepaperscissors.com & the private dining room at Bird of Smithfield http://www.birdofsmithfield.com  

 
 

Christmas Table Decoration Tips, from Bloom & Wild

By Sara Gordon, Brand and Creative Director, Bloom & Wild

Tip 1: Choose a theme or color

o   Hygge

  • The home trend of 2016 is Hygge
  • Create warmth with lots of pillar candles
  • Luxurious table cloth and napkins
  • Use lots of white and blues
  • Create a stylish centerpiece with our Scandi inspired bouquet The Sadie
  • These wild, white and wintery blooms contain seasonal blue thistle, white wax flower and white athena roses
  • Fill the room with throws and cushions to create extra warmth 

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o   Classic Christmas

  • Lots of red and gold
  • Add some gold baubles to the table to create some Christmas sparkle
  • Christmas smells – rosemary, pine, oranges
  • Create a centerpiece with large candles surrounded by a festive wreath
  • The Fin –  a letterbox wreath, comes with a gold ribbon, dried oranges and pine cones

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Tip 2: Make your guests feel special

  • Place settings can add a special touch to your table
  • Choose classic options like a gold spray painted pine cone or leaf
  • Make place setting settings with our Posy Party – filled with red roses, thistles and white wax flowers

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Tip 3: Enjoy yourself!

  • Christmas is about your family and friends
  • A cosy atmosphere will help make the day great
  • Good food and fizz

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Top Tips for a Cracking Christmas Celebration

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With the Christmas party season approaching faster than Santa’s sleigh, it’s likely that you’re preparing to celebrate Christmas by organizing a merry party for your friends, colleagues or family.

According to Browns Brasserie & Bar, 72% of people find that their biggest worry over the Christmas period is the fear of their festive celebrations flopping. To help ease your party planning woes, we gained some Christmas party advice from Laura Richardson, Chief Host of Browns.

In this post, we’ll give you insider tips and tricks on how to throw a rockin’ Christmas do that will have people queuing at the doors for their festive fix.

It’s Never Too Early To Plan

When it comes to planning your Christmas party, the sooner you start, the better. Laura says, “almost 7% of people start thinking about booking their table in January”, whilst this may seem too eager to some, you don’t want to miss out on your favourite venue through leaving it last minute.

Keep It Out of Office

If you’re arranging a party for your colleagues, steer clear of an office party location. Laura advises, “It’s increasingly difficult for people to let go of their ‘in-work’ mentality when they’re outside the office let alone in the same building”. To combat those office blues, choose a venue in a restaurant, bar or function room away from work.

Plan the After Party

For those who like to go hard or go home, pre-arrange a location, such as a bar, to head to after the party has finished. This will prevent your party goers from umming and arring on the night and keep everyone from going their separate ways.

Inform the Troops

Once you have planned the event, invite your attendees and ask them to RSVP. Your invite should list all the small details of the party including dates, times, locations, dress codes, menus, etc. If people can see you are organised, they are more likely to respond to your invitation, and you can gain a realistic number of attendees.

The Most Important Part… Have Fun!

“Setting out a couple of hours each week/month to focus just on planning, and when it comes to the actual night, you’ll have nothing more to do but grab a glass of bubbly and relax!” With those lasting wise words from Laura, go ahead and start planning the Christmas party that’ll blow last years out of the – albeit icy – water. And remember…have fun!

Do you have any tips or tricks when it comes to planning your Christmas party? Share your festive celebration ideas with us on Facebook and Twitter, we’d love to hear from you!

 
 

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