Let’s Have Something Nice.. London Review of Books (Bookshop & Cafe) Write About Christmas Cakes

Christmas cake recipes are adaptable, radically inclusive creatures. Incorporating spices, nuts and dried fruits from all over the world, they gather flavours from distant places together in an indulgent medley. Though the bones of my essential recipe remain the same year on year, I always flip the script, mixing in new tastes and techniques to reflect my inspirations. What do I wish to bring into my circle? Who do I want to recognise and include through the ingredients I choose?

This year, the flavours are reflective of the people around me. I’m using black elder for my Hungarian bandmate: elder grows in abundance in Hungary and is used to make the potent fruit spirits that we’ll pour over the cake as it comes hot out of the oven. I’m throwing in some black elderberries with the rest of the soaked fruits, along with cardamom for Huda, who bakes with me at the Cake Shop. My friend Nick phoned as I was writing these recipe notes to ask if I wanted a load of fig leaves from his garden, so we’ll be grinding up some of those to go in the cake as well, adding a subtle aromatic note of green perfume.

I’ve already started making the hand-painted cake toppers which crown the Christmas cakes. They feature a golden pond lotus, one of my signature designs. Painting them feels especially meditative this year. As I outline the petals with delicate brushstrokes of gold leaf, I have found myself humming for peace – a metta bhavana, or loving kindness meditation, for the heaviness of the world. The lotus represents balance, soft beauty and an opening of the heart. Rising from the mud, it brings light.

At its core, this is what Christmas is: an ancient celebration of light in dark times. A moment to come around a table with your family – however you choose to define that, whoever gives you a sense of home – and feel the warmth of company in the week of the longest nights. It combines the impulse to shelter and put our arms round each other with a joyous drive towards raucous ridiculousness: comfort and excess, the sacred and the profane. Everything is there in the mix.

Order your Christmas cake now!

This year, for the first time, I’m going to be sharing my essential Christmas cake recipe, as well as my tips and techniques for creating your own bespoke symbolic centrepiece. We’ll be holding exclusive hands-on Sunday workshops at the Cake Shop on 26 November10 December and 17 December: participants will receive a cake to decorate and take home, along with a goody bag with the recipe and an assortment of treats. We’ll be playing with flowers, fruit, simple cut-outs in fondant and hand-made paper, and hand-painted motifs. Join us for an afternoon of creativity and connection, fuelled by a lush spread of tea, petit fours and botanical cocktails, or order your hand-made, hand-decorated cake directly from the Cake Shop via email: [email protected]. This year our small 4” cake is £28 and the 6” is £38.