Dan Lepard's Cinnamon Honey Fruit Cake

You can't please all of the people all of the time.  And in my house at Christmas, I end up pleasing nobody any of the time - not even myself.

Decorated by my beautiful, two-year-old assistant
When I was young, my mother used to run her own catering business and every November she went into a frenzy of Christmas cake baking and decorating.  As I grew older, she used to let me have a hand in making the family one.  My involvement ranged from eating the marzipan offcuts, slathered with apricot jam (hence why I'm fat) to making little snowy peaks with the back of a teaspoon and fixing slightly wonky robins and snowmen to the top of the cake.

When she returned to 'proper work', we stopped having a family Christmas cake so a few years ago, I decided to resurrect the tradition.  And what a minefield it's been.  First off, there's my grandfather who hates marzipan and icing.  He'd really like a Dundee cake.  Suggesting he remove the icing and marzipan from the cake and just eat the middle is tantamount to suggesting he eat cranberry sauce with his turkey.  For the record, he doesn't like Christmas pudding either.

Then there are members of the family who only like the marzipan and icing bit.  I figured a bit of Jack and Mrs Sprat logic might work here with my grandfather eating the cake, the others eating his discarded marzipan - but no, that's not good enough because the cake taints the marzipan with dried fruit flavour.

That blue-iced cake
Next we had the sulky faces the year I decided to make a cake with characters on it.  I used blue icing - shock horror.  Apparently, you may only ice Christmas cakes with white icing and still call yourself an Ingram.  At this point in my life I was quite happy to have my married name to fall back on.

That year I also decided to make a yule log as a sop to the non-fruit cake lovers.  This went down really well until the following year when I was trying to decide between fruit cake and chocolate and my mother announced she'd also be making a Stollen.  I asked why.  There are never more than five adults present on Christmas day in my family any more (sad times).  With the requisite mince pies and Christmas pudding, this seemed a little excessive.  So I ended up baking neither and my mother's Stollen was so cement-like, you could have used it as a door stop.

This year, with my girl and her love of cooking, I decided to make a proper cake again, and chose Dan Lepard's Caramel Christmas cake.  It was a behemoth of a cake, smelt amazing and took forever to cook.  But the finished cake felt really dry.  Rather than feeding it for weeks on end, I decided to let people try it with a view of making a second for Christmas.  Apparently, it was the best fruit cake the testers had ever tasted.  Great!

The un-iced version of the Cinnamon Honey Cake
And then suddenly, it was two days before Christmas and I had no Christmas cake.  Luckily, I'd also tried Dan's Cinnamon Honey Fruit Cake a few weeks back to great success.  This is rammed solid with fruit, and is beautifully soft and moist so doesn't need to be fed for weeks on end.  Save for a minor disaster that saw Miss A left unsupervised in the kitchen for five minutes - during which time she decided it would be helpful to mix the three eggs she'd cracked with my 2kg jar of caster sugar - it all went swimmingly and we had a brilliant emergency Christmas cake that tasted like it was made weeks ago.

To save on the calories and flying in the face of arguments over how much icing and marzipan should be on a cake, I went for a simple top-iced cake and opted to use Dan's Brandy Butter Frosting which was great for Miss A to swirl across the top and then decorate all by herself.

As always, Dan's recipes are real winners.  Yes, I've left this post too late for you to make them for Christmas, but the Cinnamon Honey Fruit Cake is a great cake for any time of the year.

Chilli and Almond Biscuits

I am rubbish at blogging.  It's been over a month since I last posted on here.  Like a lot of people who start blogs, I had the best of intentions, but life just keeps getting in the way at the moment and if I can't think of anything vaguely interesting to write about, I get into the head space of 'who cares that I made somebody else's cake recipe yesterday?'  And so I don't bother to write about it.

Hot stuff!
Having spent three hundred and sixty six days of (mostly) using other people's recipes and writing about them for the 366 Recipe Challenge (there are a few of my own recipes scattered throughout the blog), the drive for writing on Small Bites hasn't been there.

I must refocus myself for the New Year and include this as part of my action plan for 2013.  Assuming that The World doesn't end on 21st December.  And if it does, I would quite like it if The World would be so kind as to wait to implode until I've been out and had my birthday lunch.

Anyhow, onto the biscuits.  This is a partner post for a post that's due to appear over on the 366 Recipe Challenge.  I know that technically finished back in September, but I really wanted to take part in the Food Blogger Cookie Swap this year.  And to take part, you had to have a blog that had been in operation since before 15th August 2012.  Small Bites was a little too new to allow me to participate so I used my old blog for qualification and will do lots of linkying between these two posts on Dec 12th - the official 'recipe reveal' date.

Because I am particularly indecisive, I opted to bake three kinds of cookies and ask my work colleagues to vote which were their favourites.  True to form, they picked the chocolate ones, but my favourites were these delicious little savouries, courtesy of Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet.

Ready for the off
They not only appealed because I generally prefer savoury snacks to sweet, but I also loved the baking the blurb for the recipe.  The baking world is bursting at the seams with smutty innuendoes about soggy bottoms, squidgy or nice firm buns and perfect (Paris) Brests.  Dan describes these as 'mildly hot and a pleasure to nibble'.  Oooer, Missus!

With copious amounts of cheese and nuts, how could these be anything other than amazeballs?  I ended up sending a few to each of my Cookie Swap buddies as a bonus.  And they appeared to go down well even though they're not the most robust of biscuits for surviving transport by Royal Mail.  Feedback from work colleagues included 'can I have the recipe for your rather excellent chilli biscuits?' and 'mmmm...hot stuff'  I trust that particular person was referring to the food!

With Christmas coming up, they would also be great with a glass of wine if you have non-fussy visitors.  And you can make the dough in advance and chill it for a few days before you bake it, allowing you to show off for unexpected guests.  The only thing I found was that the chilli flavour was far more intense in the 'mature' ones.

Luckily, this is one of those recipes that was first published via the Guardian so if you don't own a copy of Short and Sweet, you can find it here.