All Set To Bake

I’m all set to make and bake the Christmas cakes on the weekend. The fruit will have soaked in rum for a week (large white bowl with blue lid). I have the flour and sugar, baking soda and baking powder, molasses and semi-sweet chocolate, real vanilla and almond extract, ginger, nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon (the seville orange marmalade has already been incorporated into the soaking fruit).

The foil baking pans and parchment paper are on hand, butter and eggs still in the refrigerator but I’ll bring them out Friday night so they can come to room temperature before I start to mix ingredients.

The Ingredients Ready To Go

I’ll start by prepping the foil load pans by adding a wee bit of vegetable oil to the bottom and sides of each (to stick the parchment in place), fitting in parchment paper (so I can lift out the cake more easily after they’ve cooled). Then I need to retrieve my lobster pot (an old 21 litre blue/white enamel canning pot I mostly use for mixing the Christmas cakes), wipe it out, find a sturdy mixing spoon because the fruit is heavy to mix.

21 litre Canning Pot

It’ll take me close to an hour to mix the batter, add and blend it with the fruit. Finally, I’ll partially fill the lined loaf pans (too full and they’ll overflow into the oven), then bake them in a slow oven until a skewer comes out clean.

If you’re interested here’s the recipe. Trust me, it’s a delicious dark fruit cake if you like dark fruit cake.

I haven’t mentioned the Christmas shortbread bars yet. It’s the only other Christmas baking I do. I make one cookie sheet, cut it into eighths and give 7 away! They’re too rich to keep around. They’ll get made closer to Christmas and this year I will try to remember to take a picture to share.

Christmas Shortbread Bars

Can you believe it – I could not find a version of this recipe online. As well, as long as I’ve been making this recipe (I’ve been making it for 30 or more years – I only make it once a year at Christmas time and give 7/8 of it away), I’ve never taken a photo of the finished bars! So I’ve commandeered a couple of images to represent my Christmas Shortbread Bars but while mine kind of look like these, mine are WAAY better (I’ll add pictures when I make these in December, promise)!

IMG_8139_zps10b26850 White-Chocolate-Cherry-Pie-Shortbread-Bars4-150x150

The original recipe came from a box of Robin Hood Shortbread Mix (hasn’t been available for years) – with a recipe for a candied fruit topping. However I have a terrific shortbread recipe “Mrs. Cooke’s Shortbread” (which I got from a friend at least 40 years ago) which I thought would make a great base for the fruit mix. My fruit mix is rich and it’s all held together with one can of Eagle Brand Condensed Milk.

So here is the recipe:

Mrs. Cooke’s Shortbread

(I double this recipe when I make my shortbread bars because I need enough shortbread to cover a large cookie sheet)
Preheat oven 350° F

1/2 lb butter (at room temperature so you can cream it easily)
1/2 c white sugar (this year I will use coconut palm sugar which I’m sure will work as well since I’m avoiding white sugar entirely in my diet)
1 tsp vanilla extract (that’s real vanilla, please)
2 c. white all purpose flour

Cream butter, add sugar, vanilla, and last the flour; Mix well until you have a crumbly texture
Dump onto a large non-stick (or parchment lined or Silpat covered) cookie sheet
Press firmly, particularly at the edges
Pierce with a fork to allow the shortbread to expand uniformly
Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate cookie sheet 180° so the shortbread bakes evenly, then bake for another 15 minutes.
The shortbread won’t be quite fully baked but that’s how you want it because you’re going to continue baking after you add the candied fruit topping. Let the shortbread cool for 10-15 minutes before proceeding

Candied Fruit Topping

1 – 11/2 c shredded coconut (unsweetened if you have it)
1 c of mixed candied fruit (with some chopped cherries and citron)
1 c Thompson raisins (you can certainly use sultanas if you prefer them, or even currents)
1 c chopped pecans (you could use walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts chopped)
1/2 c dried cranberries
1 c bitter-sweet chocolate chips (can also use semi-sweet – the point is dark rather than milk chocolate)
1 can (room temperature) Eagle Brand Condensed Milk

Put all the topping ingredients into a large bowl, add the condensed milk and mix as well as you can – it’s a sticky mess but is it ever going to be good.

Spoon the fruit/condensed milk mixture onto the shortbread making sure you spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of the shortbread (try getting as close to the edges as you can – don’t want to waste any of this Christmas bar).

Bake 25-30 minutes at 350° – until the coconut begins to turn golden.

Cool on a rack, then cut into bars. I cut the entire concoction into 8 portions – which in turn can be cut into 12-16 bite-sized bars. This stuff is SOOO rich you don’t want to serve more (although you’ll want to eat more).

I make these Christmas bars about three-four weeks before Christmas. Slip each of the 8 portions into its own small ziploc plastic bag, store them in the fridge until I give them away.

Let me know how it goes if you decide to try them – they’ll be an instant favourite – trust me!