Having almost finished the mince pies my mother made me (I think she makes the best mince pies ever - I have never ever had better - and fear I have no chance of rivalling her prowess) it was quite clearly time to start on the Christmas cake.
A few weeks back I read somewhere (I can't remember who or where) one of those really obvious things which somehow you never consider until it's pointed out to you and which boiled down to practice makes perfect. It was an observation that restaurant cooks make the same dish over and over which is why they get so good at them, and not so many years ago we cooked at home in the same sort of way - a few dishes that appeared again and again and lack of variety aside there's something to be said for it; every time I make bread it gets better because every time I do it I know a little bit more and the same is true of the Christmas cake...
Last years effort was the first fruit cake I'd ever baked - there's nothing very challenging about it - but it was all a bit new and mysterious especially as every recipe is different, second time round I felt I could mess around with it a bit; I found the glacé cherries rather too sweet last time so this year substituted half of them for dried apricots soaked in whisky which for me is a big improvement - next time I might dispense with the cherries altogether. This time round I had a much better idea of how long my oven would take to cook the beast and just generally it all seemed altogether more satisfactory - perhaps because I've discovered that a fruit cake made the way you like it is an altogether more enjoyable proposition than any other sort.
Fruit cake is a recently discovered enthusiasm, or at least the enthusiasm is recently discovered, a nice slab of it (though moderation is necessary) is just the thing to have with a cup of tea; it's rich spiciness transforms even the dullest winter afternoon, I put it down to the solid Victorian comfort of the thing, and the way it feels like it's been built to last and urge the unconverted to have a go... I like the tradition of it too, both in the idea that it's a throw back to the 13th Century crusaders returning with new flavours and ideas, and that my father loves a good fruit cake - they strike me as a very gentlemanly sort of snack and something that calls for further experimentation.