On the road to my son’s school is a bike shop that posts a countdown to Christmas every year. Depending on how organised a type of person you are, this sign can either strike fear into your very core, or stroke your ego when you realise how on top of things you are.
Last time I passed it, I was horrified to learn there are only 6 weeks to go until The Big Guy visits.
I began wondering where the year has gone. This has been a very big year for me, and though it’s a cliché, I just can’t believe how the time has flown. In January I had my third baby (who is now nearly walking), a week later my eldest son started school. During the year I also became an aunty. My eldest son commenced guitar lessons and started cricket. There have been numerous school activities to attend. And then there has been the daily grind of school drop-offs and pick-ups (though I’ve had help from my parents). In some ways I feel my life has been measured out in school lunches!
But the sign also got me thinking about all things festive, in particular the food we eat around Christmas. In Australia, Christmas is hot, so food tends to be lighter and cooler for our Christmas Day lunch. Cold prawns and oysters are the appetiser, followed by a lasagne entrée (we’re Italian after all) and then the main course buffet with the Weber-cooked ham, roasted turkey roll, served cold, and salads. (I said “lighter and cooler” not “less of it!”) If there is still room, my mum’s trifle makes an appearance for dessert. There’s always room!
Festive food though is not just about Christmas lunch. In Italy, it is traditional to eat Panettone with family and friends around Christmas. Panettone is a sweet yeasted bread-like cake made with candied citrus and dried fruit. It is sold in distinctive boxes or decorative tins and enjoyed for breakfast or dessert. It’s the ideal gift for friends and colleagues. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Panettone. I much prefer the plainer, but similar, Pandoro.
I do however love this Panettone-style cake. Though there is no yeast, and it is a very easy quick-mix cake, the flavours are truly reminiscent of those in Panettone. With chocolate, sultanas, lemon zest and cinnamon, each mouthful is rich and complex. The cake is dense and moist and weighs a tonne, so only small slices are needed. The flavours are festive, but it doesn’t matter which hemisphere you’re in, this is a treat that can be enjoyed in any weather and any time of the year. It is a great cake to give as a gift. This recipe was given to my grandmother by a family friend. I don’t know the origins of the recipe prior to that.
What about you, have you had a busy year? Have you been naughty, or nice? What are your family’s traditions at this time of the year? Are you organised for the Festive Season? Or are you like me, petrified at the very prospect but looking forward to the food? Hopefully you’ll have some time to make this cake and sit down with a cuppa to enjoy it, while you write your Christmas lists!
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 50-60 minutes
Serves: Makes a 23cm square cake.
4 cups self-raising flour
2 cups caster sugar
½ cup sultanas
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (see Recipe Notes below)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 2 teaspoons lemon or vanilla essence)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
250 grams unsalted butter, melted gently
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
300 grams dark or milk chocolate, chopped
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Grease (preferably with lard) or line a 23cm square cake tin.
Sift flour into a large bowl.
Add sugar, sultanas, cinnamon, vanilla extract or essence and lemon zest. Stir well with a wooden spoon to combine.
Add melted butter and mix gently.
Add beaten eggs and mix well. Allow mixture to cool a little.
Add milk and mix well.
Add chopped chocolate pieces and stir well into the mixture to distribute evenly.
Distribute the batter evenly into the cake tin and bake for approximately 50 minutes or until cooked, testing with a wooden skewer.
Cool in tin 5-10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
Serve dusted with icing sugar.
To get the best flavour in this cake be sure to use freshly ground cinnamon. Purchase true cinnamon quills from an Indian grocer or other reputable spice merchant and grind them yourself. In Australia I have also found the Hoyt’s brand of spices in supermarkets to supply true cinnamon sticks. (This is my recommendation and is not sponsored.)
Use an aluminium cake tin to ensure it does not burn. Be sure to grease it well with lard or line with baking paper. Dark non-stick tins cause the cake to brown excessively.