Marzipan: God, I love marzipan. I f****** love marzipan. I really, really f****** love marzipan. Really. I’ve loved marzipan since I was little, when I would take a slice of mum’s Christmas cake and prise off the marzipan and icing crust. If it was two weeks after Christmas and we had run out of mince pies and sausage rolls I might eat the cake, but mostly I’d just pick out the glace cherries then lob the rest in the pig bin up the garden. Once I had dealt with the cakey bit I would concentrate on painstakingly separating the icing from the marzipan with a hammer and chisel (see below). This could take ages, but was worth all the effort because once I had denuded the yellow underlay of its snowy crust I would be left with a small strip of almond flavoured fondant that to me was worth its weight in gold. I would roll my marzipan strip into a little tube, like a miniscule Swiss roll, then take tiny, tiny little mouse-like nibbles that were like miniature orgies on my tongue. God, it was grand!
As an adult with a crap metabolism I have to be very wary of marzipan. I have a similar relationship with peanut butter, and refuse most of the time to have it in the house. Marzipan is easier than peanut butter to keep at a distance for most of the year because it’s not in a section of the supermarket I usually frequent, but come Christmas it manages to access all errors in all sorts of different manifestations, and even hides itself away in stollen and tartlets disguised as “frangipane”. The fattening bastard.
Moist: A funny word, moist. I love it, but I know some people react quite badly to it. I think that’s when coupled to (e.g.) “Gusset” rather than as applied to something like a rich fruitcake, but I’m happy either way. I just like the way it rolls off the tongue, if you’ll excuse the unintentional and unfortunate double-entendre. I use it today in that second context, thinking specifically of both the cake mentioned earlier and that great steaming ball of suet and treacle known as Christmas pud. Moist in either case is an absolute must.
The difference between a cake and a biscuit, as any fule kno, is that cakes go dry with age while biscuits turn soggy. Christmas puds are neither fish nor fowl in this regard and stay deliciously moist for years if you keep them well sealed, but that is neither here nor there. The Chrissy cake, on the other hand, lives up to its name by turning rapidly to dust, and for this reason it is imperative to seal it in a tomb of Royal Icing just as soon as you’ve finished feeding the bugger with rum and brandy.
Royal icing, for the uninitiated, is basically a sugar-based concrete mix, made by mixing 1 part water to 4 parts icing sugar and 2 parts sand and cement. Once mixed there is a window of opportunity for icing your cake of around thirty minutes, after which you’ll find your spatula and cake fused together for eternity. Always use a spatula, never your hands (though should you ever break a wrist or finger while decorating a cake royal icing may be used as a stand in for plaster of Paris to fashion a makeshift cast).
My mum used to decorate her Christmas cake with royal icing swept into high peaks. This looked beautiful, like a windswept snowy field, but made eating a slice of her cake a bit like chewing a hedgehog. It took a couple of years of bleeding gums and broken teeth for me to work this out, but eventually I cottoned on and learned how to chip the icing to a fine powder before attempting to snort consume it. Once I had mastered this technique I found I actually quite liked the stuff. Basically, it was just like eating handfuls of sugar straight from the bowl, only without the inconvenience of having to pick the lock on the kitchen press. I even grew to enjoy the little silver ball-bearings mum used for decoration, though this was risky if you sneezed while eating. I killed three cats that way over the course of my childhood and people took some convincing after Tabby Mk III bit the big one that I wasn’t doing it on purpose.
I don’t do Christmas cake these days and if I did I would probably go for a fondant icing, but I do occasionally mix up a batch of R I when the Artex™ on the ceiling needs touching up.
Mince Pies: There’s a bit of a cakey theme today, but it would be remiss of me to not include mince pies in this roundup. My mum made bloody lovely mince pies. I think the mincemeat was just bog-standard Robertson’s (yes, I know with hindsight their marketing strategy was VERY iffy, but let’s not dwell on that), but it was Beattie’s pastry that made the difference. She wasn’t a fancy cook – herbs and spices were a mystery to her once you got past salt and pepper and the occasional grind of nutmeg on a rice pud – but when it came to pastry or a spotted dick she was a bloody marvel. I buy frozen pastry myself, not because I can’t make my own but because I can’t make it anywhere near as good as mum’s, and that’s the benchmark I set myself. The frozen stuff isn’t a patch on hers either, but that’s not the point: at least it’s not down to my incompetence.
Looking back, the fact that she used her false teeth for crimping round the pie crusts a’la Albert Steptoe is a bit off-putting, but everyone was at it in those days and she did give them a good soak in Steradent™ beforehand. Thank you, mum, for all the mince pies and sossidge rolls and spotted dicks. And for everything else. x
 If you don’t, Google ‘Jaffa Cakes and VAT’ for a full explanation.