I am no domestic goddess.
In fact, I am more of a defrost and bung in the oven kind of girl.
But after a morning spent in the Bushmills kitchen of Ballyrashane WI member Frances McCollum, I might just have had my epiphany.
Time will tell.
The 68-year-old north Antrim woman says “there is very little to making a Christmas cake”.
Frances has never had a cookery lesson in her life.
Growing up in Tobermore in Co Londonderry, Frances learned a lot about cooking from her mother. She is passionate about it.
The busy mother-of-three regularly gives talks about cookery at WI meetings around the Province and has even catered for more than 300 people at one sitting.
The key is to be organised,” she said. “You have to be.” Before I arrived for my cake baking extravaganza, Frances had all the ingredients set out in chronological order.
Nothing was being left to chance. As the former teacher said, organisation is key.
First you have to cream butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy.
“I do this by hand,” she said. “You can’t mix the fruit in the mixer, and for all the time it takes.
“Then you drop in a whole egg, beat it in, add a tablespoon of flour and fold it in.
“You keep doing that alternatively until you have all the eggs folded in.
“The recipe asks for seven or eight eggs, depending on the size of eggs.””
That done, it is time to get another large bowl and start mixing the fruit.
“You need to mix the fruit thoroughly”, said Frances. “You can put a spoonful of flour through so the fruit does not stick.
“Then you add the fruit to the mixture.”
After that we add lemon juice, spices and some brandy.
While that was being done Frances talks about the importance of how the baking tin needs to be lined with a collar of thick brown paper.
The collar is like an insulator and slows down the cooking process.
It is also lined with greaseproof paper which has been oiled so it won’t stick.
When we put the mixture into the prepared tin, a well is created to the bottom so it doesn’t rise and leaves a nice level top for icing.
“Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit / 150 degrees Celsius for around three and a half hours. Do not open the over door during the first hour,” said Frances.
“Test the cake after three and a half hours with a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean then the cake can be removed from the oven. And when it comes out of the oven I soak it with three tablespoons of brandy.
“You can hear the brandy sizzling down through. It is a gorgeous smell.
“You should really have your Christmas cake made a month before you intend to use it. And you should ice your cake about a week before using.”
While making a Christmas cake can be paralleled to rocket science for some, Frances doesn’t see any problem. And after some time in her kitchen, neither did I.
Follow her recipe:
350g dried fruit mixture
110g glace cherries
275g plain flour
225g Demerara sugar
4 tablespoons of brandy
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2 teaspoons of mixed spice