I supposed there comes a point in every couple’s life together when they have to have ‘the’ conversation. We’d been dancing around the topic for a while, half talking about it without really acknowledging what we meant until, eventually, we sat down about a month ago to come to some sort of decision.
I am, of course, referring to the decision about where we are going to spend Christmas this year.
For the last few years, my boyfriend and I have settled into a very satisfactory Christmas routine. We spend a few days together at his parents for his birthday on 23rd December and then, on Christmas Eve, I’ve tended to return home for a few days with my family. While it means that we’ve never spent a proper Christmas together, it has given us enough of the festive season as a couple and still allowed us to take part in our respective families’ traditions.
I had assumed that we’d do something similar this year not least because I’m not quite ready to cut the ties with the Christmases of my childhood yet. It seems, however, that it hadn’t occurred to my boyfriend that we wouldn’t spend the whole thing together.
And so, whilst we will follow our usual routine of a couple of days with his family pre-Christmas, on Christmas Eve we’ll both travel back to London. We aren’t totally abandoning his parents though as they will come and join us with my extended family on Christmas Day.
While some may argue that moving in together or getting a mortgage are fairly big steps, this whole combining our families at Christmas thing is a whole new level of commitment. It’s the final confirmation that we come as a package these days.
As regular readers will know, my contribution to the Christmas meal is something suitably indulgent for dessert. Last year, it was this chocolate and salted caramel bundt cake which is still being talked about (by me, if no one else). This year, as I’ll not just be serving my family but my boyfriend’s too, the pressure is really on.
There are a few requirements when it comes to our Christmas dessert – it has to be gluten free, it shouldn’t involve any kind of dried fruit (ugh), it should be both decadent enough to befit the finale to a Christmas feast but also light enough that everyone goes away feelingly only mildly uncomfortable.
Normally fancy-looking cakes are really not my forte. I have neither the skill nor the patience to recreate those works of art that I slavishly pin. This year, I have decided to set my sights slightly higher.
My vague plan is for something like this but less pink and with less marzipan. Alternatively, I’m just going to stick to the tried and testing traditional battenberg approach that you see in the pictures here.
A battenberg, for the uninitiated, is a fairly light, normally a bit almondy cake made from alternating squares of pink and white sponge all covered in marzipan. My Christmas version will be alternating squares of chocolate and vanilla (or maybe orange, I haven’t quite decided) sponge, all smothered in my favourite chocolate and sour cream frosting.
The finished cake looks fairly impressive when you slice into it but it’s actually not too much of a challenge, even for someone as unable to follow simple instructions as me. I think the key to a successful battenberg is the little spell that the cakes spend in the freezer to firm them up. This makes cutting equal sized branches that much easier. The only other tricky part is ensuring that you divide your cake tin in two with enough layers of protection to stop your cake batters merging into one. A few bits of silver foil really comes into their own here. Once you’ve done that though, it’s just a matter of simple construction work and a frosting that hides a multitude of sins.
I served this version when my boyfriend's parents came round for the tea and cake a couple of weeks ago (before it had been decided that they would come for Christmas) and we agreed that it worked very well. There is a lightness to the sponge which is a nice contrast to the richness of the frosting and a little dust of icing sugar over the top gives it a nice festive look.
- 135ml (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) extra virgin olive oil
- 175g (7/8 cup) demerara sugar
- 3 medium eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 125g (1 cup) gluten free flour
- 50g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons apricot jam
- 100g (4 oz) milk chocolate
- 50g (2 oz) dark chocolate
- 120ml (1/2 cup) sour cream
- A pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 170C/325F (fan). There's no way I'm going to adequately describe how to divide a 20cm square baking tin into two but I'll give it a go... Take a piece of kitchen foil and fold it in half. Measure it so it's the same width as your baking tray and trim it so it will fit down the middle and hold its shape firmly. Using a few other small bits of foil, line the corners where the foil meets the baking tray to prevent any leakage. Finally, line each side of the tin with well-greased baking paper. There's undoubtedly a more professional way to do this but whatever.
- Hopefully, after all that, you haven't lost the will to live and you still want to make a cake. If so, whisk together the olive oil and sugar, add the eggs and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Fold in the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.
- Divide the cake batter into two bowls of equal weight (or, you know, just sort of the same amount). Add the cocoa powder to one of the bowls and fold it through the mixture.
- Pour the vanilla batter into one half of the tin and the chocolate batter in the other half of the tin. Bake for about 20 minutes until firm to the touch and when a knife will come out clean if you poke it in the middle. Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
- At this point, I stuck my cakes in the freezer overnight. It makes the next stage way easier...
- Heat the apricot jam in a small pan until melted. Take your two cakes and trim them so they are the same width, length and height and then cut each piece into half, lengthwise. Using the apricot jam as your glue, place one of the chocolate cakes on the plate and stick one of the vanilla cakes next to it. Spread both cakes with more jam and place the remaining vanilla cake on top of the chocolate cake and vice versa. Wrap the cake up tight in a piece of baking paper and chill for half an hour.
- While the cake is chilling, make the frosting by heating the milk chocolate and dark chocolate in a pan over a very low heat (take it off the heat before it has fully melted and let it sit to finish the job to prevent is splitting. Add the sour cream and salt to the melted chocolate and beat until smooth and shiny.
- Frost the chilled cake with your sour cream frosting. Sprinkle with icing sugar/whatever you like before serving.
Frosting adapted from this chocolate and sour cream cake