Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice… Time to Stir It Up!

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”


Yes, it is indeed that time of year again… to dust off the pudding bowls, crack out the brandy and to laden your life with dried fruit and festive cheer. The day when wishes can be made and we can all look forward to the looming season of advent.

But before I burst into “ding dong merrily on high” let me fill you in with what us students have been up to this week at the School of Artisan Food…

‘Week 9’ saw us digging into the subject of secondary raw materials (eggs, sugars, syrups, fats, oils, nuts, seeds and spices). We made such an array of delectable delights in order to find out how these secondary raw materials function in the dough (it is such a hard job but someone has to do it!). This week saw us make the legendary Bath Buns which were laminated with sugar nibs, so each mouthful you took you had such a pleasant eating experience, with the sugar nibs providing a welcoming crunchy texture in amongst a perfectly smooth, sweet dough. Other products included pecan and maple bread with bran, Mexican pastries and Cornish saffron bread. However, my top three favourites of the week had to be a spectacular 3 seed levain which, all in all, took 36 hours in the making, from soaking the seeds, retarding the dough overnight and finally cutting and baking the finished product, let me tell you it was a labour of love! A labour of love which completely paid off as the taste of the loaf was incredible!

Cutting Skills SAF

We also tried our hands at Turkish pide which is a wonderful flat bread topped with egg wash and sesame seeds which was a welcoming difference. It is such a pleasure to be expanding my knowledge on countless varieties and styles of breads from around the globe!

saf bread

Last but not least we made beautiful Challah. A few years ago I watched the contestants on GBBO get into a fuddle about braiding a Challah loaf and I found myself shouting at the television, exclaiming “Come on, it cannot be that difficult!”. Oh how I ate my words this week, of course our tutor made it look as simple as tying one’s shoelace but then it was our turn… the class turned into an episode of the ‘Generation Game’. Thankfully all the loaves turned out very well, albeit each loaf looked drastically different to the next, which is mind boggling as we all followed the same technique… But that is the beauty of baking and of life itself, everyone can take the same recipe, method, technique, path and completely make it their own. If we all did the same and constrict ourselves to conformity, then life would be very dull indeed!


After such a successful three days in the world of bread making, we looked on to Patisserie Friday and this week was ‘Cake Week’… a plethora of cakes were on the agenda… Ginger cake, Madeira Cake, vanilla and chocolate Genoese sponges, Swiss Rolls and a rather fabulous Victoria Sponge, constructed with the most enticing buttercream I have ever tasted! I have to say I was a Genoese sponge virgin before Friday, having confessed to being rather daunted by these tricky Genoese legends! However, as ever both our tutors dispelled any worries we had, we got on with the task in hand, and actually it turned out to be relatively simple! So if I can do it, you can definitely knock up a Genoese with ease! As Friday came to a close, I was definitely all caked out! Having enjoyed such a splendid week of sugar and spice and all things nice, I made my way home with goodies in hand for family friends and am now looking forward to what treasures next week brings.


This year in the Conway household, we have made an all round decision to just make a small Christmas cake this year just enough to keep us going instead of the dense Christmas pud which most of the family loathes… so this saves me enough artistic license to create two other puddings for the big day (well if you can’t have 3 choices of puddings at Christmas, when can you?!).

So here it is, my recipe for a small yet indulgent fruit cake to see you through the festive period, be sure to make it, if not on Stir-up Sunday during the next week, so you can keep feeding it with brandy weekly right up ‘til Christmas Eve.

Christmas Cake à la The Conways

Generously fills a deep 15cm/6inch cake tin.

P.S. You can use any variety of dried fruit you like, I have just noted the measurements of the particular fruits I am using this year.

150g sultanas

100g dried cranberries

100g dried pears

100g dried figs

Juice and zest of 1 orange

½ tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

125g plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

60g ground almonds

60g molasses sugar

65g light muscovado sugar

70g toasted nuts (I am using hazelnuts and almonds)

2 eggs

125g butter


Combine the dried fruits, brandy, orange zest and juice and leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 160’C/310’F/Gas Mark 3. Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.

Line the cake tin with baking paper twice, and once around the outside secured with string for good measure! The paper should be at least a couple of inches above the edge of the cake tin.

Whisk the eggs and add them little by little to the butter and sugar mixture, the mixture may curdle, if this happens add a tablespoon of flour. Once the eggs have been incorporated, add the soaked fruits, nuts and ground almonds.

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into the cake mixture little by little, folding to incorporate.

Spoon into the lined cake tin and bake for 1 hour, then check it to see if it is taking too much colour on the top, if so place a piece of foil or parchment paper on the top of the cake to stop the cake from browning too much. Bake for a further hour and a half but keep an eye on it and once a skewer inserted comes out clean you know it is ready!

Let the cake cool in the tin before taking it out. Once the cake is completely cool, wrap it in foil and place in a cake tin or airtight container, until you are ready to feed it a week later. Pierce the underside of the cake before feeding with brandy. Keep feeding weekly until Christmas Eve when the decorating begins! I shall be writing a post on how I shall decorate my cake this year closer to the blessed event!

Until next time…

Peace and loaf x