Christmas is a time for baking, but making your own gingerbread village or the perfect Christmas cake can be tricky, so we have turned to master baker Fiona Cairns for her top Christmas tips. Fiona started her bakery 25 years ago after she made her friends some fruit cakes one Christmas and now makes over 750,000 cakes a year, selling her creations in Waitrose, Harrods, Selfridges, and Le Bon Marche in Paris. As if that wasn't impressive enough, the Queen of cakes made Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge's tiered wedding cake back in 2011. So what are you waiting for? Discover Fiona's Christmas baking tips below...
1. Home baking should be enjoyable – have fun with it. If you are feeling stressed, go and do something else for a while and come back to it. Know your limitations. It’s much better to choose a simple delicious recipe and make it really well than be over ambitious.
2. Prepare ahead if possible. I often keep unbaked shortbreads and gingerbreads in the freezer, ready to pop out if unexpected guests visit. They need to be defrosted for an hour before baking as normal.
3. Always use the very best ingredients you can afford as you will taste the difference. A note on chocolate - always use the best quality chocolate you can and follow the percentage indicated in the recipe. Percentages of chocolate are like alcohol content in wine - not an indication of quality!
4. Read the recipe from beginning to end before you start. Assemble every ingredient and piece of equipment.
5. Always turn the oven on first so that it is ready and waiting - uncooked cakes in tins don’t like hanging around.
6. Think ahead before you bake. Warm the ingredients in a warm kitchen to create wonderful cakes, so remove eggs and butter from fridge the night before. If this is not possible then cube the butter and gently soften in a microwave (not melted unless stated- just soften!) and stand eggs in a bowl of warm water for about 20 minutes
7. For perfect biscuits, your ingredients should be at a cooler temperature. It’s not a coincidence that the best shortbreads hail from Scotland…
8. When making meringues, always separate egg whites from egg yolks VERY carefully so there is no trace of egg yolk. Egg whites hate grease and water. De-grease glass, metal or ceramic bowl with a cut lemon and wipe dry with kitchen towel before you start.
9. The best Christmas cakes are baked with well-soaked fruits and roasted nuts; leave the fruits in the alcohol overnight, and roast your nuts in the oven for 5 minutes to release the oils. You really will taste the difference. Prepare your Christmas cake ahead - Stir Up Sunday is on the 25th November this year. A well-matured Christmas cake always tastes better than a fresh one.
10. Create the most perfect delicious Christmas gift with your home baked goodies. Spend a few hours in the kitchen baking, and gather together a few boxes, cellophane bags, labels and ribbons to wrap beautifully. It saves the pennies too!