“If you are going to do a cake, just do a cake,” instructed Chef Catherine Metcalfe.
She was telling us to go ahead and put in all the high fat, real ingredients that the cake recipe has always used, and don’t try to take (low fat,) shortcuts.
I learned a new ingredient language that day, and even though I had tasted all of these Christmas specialities before, they tasted better. Much better !
My group was participating in the Caffi Florence Cookery Workshops given in the Café at the Loggerheads Country Park. They have a long schuedule of courses, several a week, and many teach cooking traditions of the past in Wales.
We were watching a demonstration called: Getting Ahead for Christmas, and would learn to cook Mincemeat Pie, Christmas pudding and Marianna’s Christmas Cake – all without opening one can.
It was easy to tell that our young but experienced chef was passionate about food – especially Christmas desserts. Her eyes twinkled when she talked and although it was the end of October, she was already preparing at home for her own Christmas meals.
We started with Marianna’s Christmas Cake. She told us that we must soak the fruits overnight in brandy. Then she added an ingredient unknown to me – Treacle. Although treacle looks like molasses, it is made from the syrup that results during the sugar refining process. It was originally used as an antidote against poisons.
After a finger tip tasting, I had to admit it did have a different taste. Marianna mixed all the ingredients for her cake together and put it in a pan lined with greaseproof paper.
Then on to the Marzipan Icing. I could never have guessed the ingredients and hers are different, but with some ground almonds, castor sugar, icing sugar, lemon juice and egg white, she mixed a ball and rolled out a delicious icing.
This cake tasted like no Christmas cake I had ever tasted, as I had stopped eating the thick, gooey packaged cake as a child. This will be part of my Christmas tradition, I promised myself.
On to the Christmas Pudding, a strong tradition as you see them for sale in every shop.
The dried fruits must sleep overnight in stout, (beer,) we learned.
“Even if you don’t like the Christmas pudding, you have to eat Christmas pudding,” Catherine emphasized. Setting it aflame and bringing it to the table is just part of the tradition in Wales.
After Catherine mixed all the ingredients in a bowl, she scooped it into a porcelain bowl and put a layer of paper on top, then wrapped it all carefully in foil, ready to be steamed in the oven. Catherine likes to “feed” her cakes with brandy, both before she cooks it, and even after while it waits for Christmas.
A sauce completes the tradition after it is flamed at the table. I can’t wait to try that recipe this Christmas.
We moved on to Mincemeat Pie. Now I am a person who opens a can of mincemeat and plops it in to a pie shell. No longer. Catherine cut a large cooking apple and mixed it with dried fruits, some candied peel, chopped almonds and then an ingredient new to me. Vegetable suet. When it was all mixed, she put it into rounded tart shells that were made with a sweet crust of French origin. She placed a delicately cut star on top. This was, without a doubt the tastiest Mincemeat pie ever.
I learned much from my cooking lesson with Catherine that day. I noticed that she strictly measured ingredients and followed the recipes closely, no substitutions. That is much different from my “slap happy” style of throwing ingredients together. She told us that this was out of respect for the person who wrote the recipe. I gained a new respect for recipes that day and felt honoured to taste the old recipes of Wales that have lived on through the ages.
I can’t wait to enjoy a mincemeat tart while re-reading “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” in front of the fire this Christmas. See recipes for Caffi Florence’s special Christmas recipes.
If You Go.
Caffi Florence is located is a restaurant and cookery school located in Loggerheads Country Park on the Ruthin Road in North Wales.
Cooking courses are all price reasonably at 15£.
Some are cooking demonstrations and some are hands on courses. Courses range from Pastries and sweets to Cooking Fish and Seafood.