This time of year is always filled with fun, friends, family, and of course, delicious food. That being said, there’s always a lot of pressure when it comes time to prep for that big dinner on Christmas Day. Clearly, any advice on how to make it a delicious success is always welcome.
Looking for some help, I chatted with two of Canada’s culinary veterans, Elizabeth Baird and Rose Murray, about all the hustle and bustle in the kitchen over the holidays. Aside from the 40 cookbooks they’ve collectively edited and published in the past few decades, you’ll probably recognize Baird as one of the hosts of ‘Canadian Living Cooks’. If anyone would have some solid tips on Christmas cooking, I knew it would be them. So, here they are...
Easy Christmas Eve Dinner
Rose Murray: Tourtiere. We always have it on Christmas Eve. It’s good for Christmas Eve because you can make it ahead, which is great. We have a lot of ‘make ahead’ hits in my family. Now my son makes it, so we go to his place. That’s much better! I love it!
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Elizabeth Baird: Start out with some oranges, fresh cranberries, sugar and port. It’s very nice. A little bit of orange helps a lot!
Finishing the Side Dishes
Elizabeth Baird: There’s always a big scramble on top of the stove. Someone mashing the potatoes, etc...The turkey has to rest and needs to be carved before serving, so you can easily reheat all of your vegetables and what not [during that time].
Roasting the Turkey
Rose Murray: Make sure you thaw it out properly. There is nothing worse than a half-frozen turkey! Also, look inside and make sure to remove the bag of ‘goodies’ (giblets).
Elizabeth: Baird: Especially when they’re wrapped in plastic. That doesn’t do anything for the flavour of the turkey! (laughs)
Elizabeth Baird: With shortbread, it’s a long and slow process. So you can develop the butter flavours and not too sweet. It’s supposed to melt in your mouth.
Making Fruitcake Taste Better
Elizabeth Baird: What’s nice about a dark fruitcake is that it’s made with currants...so you get that really wine-y flavour, and then soak it in lots of rum! And, you have to test it as your maturing it, because, otherwise, how are you supposed to know if this rum is ok?
Elizabeth Baird: Add a little bit of cinnamon and hot pepper. Just a smidgen! And, if you’re making it with cream and really good [quality] chocolate, you can’t go wrong!
The Cardinal Rule of Christmas Dinner
Elizabeth Baird: It’s once a year. It’s going to be a big cook. Just enjoy it. Give everyone a job. No personal martyrs!
You can find even more great tips and recipes from Elizabeth and Rose in their newest cookbook, ‘Canada’s Favourite Recipes’, which just came out last month and is available for purchase across Canada.
Rum-Soaked Dark Fruitcake
Elizabeth: Forget all those nasty, slanderous jokes about fruitcake. I suspect those who utter them have never tasted a good fruitcake. For their conversion, I offer a chock-full-of-goodness fruitcake, slightly adapted from Rose’s dark rum nut fruitcake, in her Christmas Cookbook, published in 1979.
Fruit and Nuts
3 cups (750 mL) chopped mixed candied peel
3 cups (750 mL) seeded Lexia or Muscat raisins
2 cups (500 mL) currants, rinsed and patted dry
1 ½ cups (375 mL) halved candied cherries
1 cup (250 mL) slivered blanched almonds
1 cup (250 mL) pecan halves, chopped
1 cup (250 mL) dark rum
¼ cup (60 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (300 mL) packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
1 ½ cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tsp (5 mL) each baking powder and cinnamon
½ tsp (2 mL) each salt, cloves and nutmeg
½ cup (125 mL) darm rum (approx)
Fruit and nuts - Measure the peel, raisins, currants, cherries, almonds and pecans into a large bowl. Drizzle the rum over the fruit and nuts; toss. Cover and macerate (soak) at least 1 day or up to 3 days, stirring the mixture a few times a day, as time allows. Drain, reserving any liquid.
Batter - Line 13-x 9-inch (3.5 L) metal cake pan with 2 layers of parchment paper; set aside. Arrange 2 racks in the oven, one in the centre of the oven for the cake and the other in the bottom position. Place a large wide pan on the bottom rack; pour in hot water to come halfway up the sides. In a very large bowl, using a mixer, beat the butter until light coloured. Beat in the brown sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg. Stir a third of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, then the reserved soaking liquid, then the remaining dry ingredients in 2 additions to make a smooth batter.
Sprinkle the soaked fruit mixture with the ¼ cup (60 mL) flour; toss well. Scrape the batter over the fruit mixture and stir to distribute the batter evenly (although not generously) over the fruit mixture. Scoop into the prepared cake pan, pressing the fruit mixture firmly into the pan. Smooth the top.
Bake in the centre of a 300 degree oven until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean, about 1 ½ hours. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack. Remove the cake from the pan; peel off the parchment paper.
Aging - Place the cake on a rimmed baking sheet lined generously with plastic wrap. Cut a double thickness of cheesecloth big enough to enclose the cake. Wrap the cake with the cheesecloth and brush on enough rum to soak the cheesecloth. Wrap the cake in the plastic wrap and place in an airtight container. Store for at least 2 weeks, brushing the cheesecloth every few days with rum if time and budget allow, or until the cake is mellow and moist. The cake will keep for up to 1 year if refrigerated and doesn’t need more than an occasional redrenching with rum (unless, of course, the cook needs to sample the cake to assess how it’s mellowing).
After the cake has aged, remove the plastic wrap and the cheesecloth. Cut the cake crosswise into 6 rectangular logs. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
by Dan Clapson