There’s a cake in the oven. Not the traditional raisin and nut-laden Christmas cake (which is already wrapped, somewhat untidily in almond paste, like a baby in a blanket) but a second, plainer one, for those unmoved by the idea of a rich fruit cake. I have baked this second cake in a hollow Gugelhupf tin that makes anything you put in it resemble a Christmas wreath.
I could have used a plain, round cake tin, but I rather enjoy preparing special cake tins for such occasions. There is something relaxing about painstakingly brushing the inside with butter and dusting it with flour from a sieve, shaking off any excess, then filling the tin – in this case – with chocolate-freckled cake batter.
For those without baking tins or patience, I have also made some Christmas tarts, their snowy-white filling aglow with passion fruit and sugared roses. You don’t even need an oven, just a packet of biscuits, thick yogurt and a bag of ripe and wrinkled fruits. You could knock them up in half an hour if needs be.
Despite the usual glittering tree and beribboned gifts, the burnished bird in the oven and the plum pudding steaming in its pot, this is far from the usual feast. But I like (and in truth need) the steadying familiarity that goes hand in hand with the season. Even more reason then to offer all comers a treat: a slice of cake and a glass of something sweet. A little gift of sweetness and light.
Chocolate hazelnut bundt cake
If you don’t have a Gugelhupf or bundt cake tin, make this in a classic round, deep-sided 20cm cake tin. You may need to bake it for a little longer to cook the middle. Test occasionally by piercing the centre with a metal skewer – it should come out moist, but without raw cake mixture sticking to it.
For the cake:
butter 200g, plus a little for the tins
caster sugar 200g
skinned hazelnuts 100g
self-raising flour 120g, plus some for the tins
dark chocolate 100g
dark chocolate 200g
edible food paint (optional)
You will also need a 22cm Gugelhupf or bundt cake tin
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Prepare the cake tin by melting a little extra butter, brushing the inside of the tin then dusting it lightly with flour. Turn the tin upside down and shake lightly to remove any excess flour.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a food mixer until pale and fluffy. Toast the hazelnuts in a shallow pan until pale golden brown, moving them round the pan so they colour evenly. Grind them to a coarse powder in a food processor then stir in the flour. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork. Chop the chocolate into coarse crumbs – a matter of seconds in a food processor.
Add the flour and hazelnut mixture and the beaten eggs to the butter and sugar, alternately and a little at a time, beating continuously. Fold in the chopped chocolate. Mix lightly but thoroughly then spoon into the cake tin, smoothing the surface as you go.
Bake for 25-35 minutes until nicely risen. (It is unlikely to come to the top of the tin.) Test with a skewer. Remove from the oven and leave to settle for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a palette knife and turn out on to a cooling rack.
To decorate, break the chocolate into small squares and melt it in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Trickle it over the cake and leave to set. Decorate with food paints or icing sugar if you wish.
Passion fruit and cardamom yogurt tarts
The sweet and crumbly biscuit crust acts as a contrast to the sourness of both yogurt and passion fruit in these easily-put-together tarts. For something sweeter, stir a couple of tbsp of icing sugar into the yogurt. The crispness is essential, but use a loose-textured, buttery biscuit rather than a hard gingernut. Makes 6
For the crust:
crumbly ginger biscuits 180g
cardamom pods 10
For the filling:
passion fruits 6
thick (strained) yogurt 500g
crystallised rose petals 1 tbsp
passion fruits 2
You will also need 6 x 10cm metal rings or loose-bottomed tart cases.
Turn the biscuits to fine crumbs in a food processor or by putting them in a plastic bag and crushing with a rolling pin. Crack the cardamom pods, extract the seeds and grind them to a fine powder using a pestle and mortar or spice mill. Melt the butter in a small pan, add the cardamom then the crumbs and stir thoroughly. Set 4 tbsp of the crumbs aside.
Place the tart cases or metal rings on a baking sheet and divide the crumb mixture between them, packing them down lightly with the back of a spoon to form a thin disc. Refrigerate for 15 minutes until the butter has set.
Halve the 6 passion fruits and scoop out the filling with a teaspoon. Place a fine sieve over a small bowl, then push the juice and pulp through with a spoon. You should be left with an almost dry mound of seeds which you discard. Put the yogurt in a bowl, then stir in the juice. Fill the tart cases with the passion fruits and yogurt, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To finish: crush the crystallised rose petals to a coarse powder. Squeeze the 2 passion fruits and scatter the juice and reserved crumbs over the top. Sprinkle over the crushed roses, and serve.
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