Wednesday, December 11, 2013


A Family Christmas Bake Off
by Jenny Oliver

There’s a myth in my family. No one knows where it started or who’s responsible but it exists none the less. What is it? That no one likes Christmas cake. You know - the proper type packed with fruit, laced with alcohol, wrapped in marzipan and thick white icing and decorated with a red bow or a sprig of holly. Growing up we never had one in our house. But ask any individual member of the family who it is that has such an aversion, and no one can quite remember. It’s a mystery. But one that has given us a whole host of other delights...

At Christmas my grandmother would bring with her a battered metal box that would sit on the kitchen table teasing us with the treats inside. And it wasn’t till dessert on Christmas Eve that the lid was lifted. Inside were the biggest, fluffiest meringues - crisp and crunchy on the outside and gooey and soft on the inside, served with mounds of whipped cream and raspberry coulis. I’ll confess, I’ve never had the guts to make a meringue - possibly because I have watched both my grandmother and my mum bake endless rounds of them, watching through the oven door shaking their heads because they’re too brown, they’re oozing sugar, the oven’s too hot, too cold, they’re ruined! The meringue is a mystery of science, temperature and texture to me. Luckily however, the bakers in The Parisian Christmas Bake Off had slightly more guts when it came to piping out meringue mixture than I do!

It wasn’t until I came to writing the book that I realised quite how much baking and creating I had been privy to growing up. From my home economics lessons plaiting tiny loaves of bread, that we ate when no one was watching and all got detention, to my sister making thick, chocolatey fudge when she got bored and only Columbo was on the TV. My granny pouring chocolate into silver moulds to make Christmas decorations shaped like Santa and snowmen and my aunt wrapping tiny spoonfuls of feta with the thinnest filo pastry to make cheese pies that burst and cracked in the oven.

I would watch and taste and stir and to me it was the preparation that was the best bit... the endless cups of tea, the gossip, the arguments, the reminiscing, the fuzzy old black and white TV that never got any reception crackling in the background. And at Christmas that only got better because added to the hustle and bustle was a massive great Christmas tree and a terrible old tape of Christmas chart-toppers that had survived many a chewing-up by the stereo.

For The Parisian Bake Off every single cake, tart, dessert we’d ever made appeared on the page - and then some! Apart from the macaroon. These I adore but I worry that attempting to recreate them at home might spoil the magic. They’re so tiny, bright and delicate I want them to appear in the world ready-made! But everything else, well, I either spied it through the counter of the local patisserie on our summer holiday to France or it came out of my family kitchen - even down to the tiny chocolate cakes iced into the shape of a house and roofed with chocolate buttons and a flake (Blogger's note - A "flake" is a chocolate bar.)

Because, as I say, when it comes to Christmas cake, it’s never fruit. My sister’s wedding cake was passion cake, my wedding cake was a torte, and at Christmas it’s always, without fail, chocolate. Three tiers high, sandwiched together with chocolate icing and always the same recipe. I asked my mum to photograph it and send it over just so you could see how well used it is! (There’s no cover on the cookbook any longer but consensus is that it’s called “The Homepride Book of Home Baking.”) Everyone must have a recipe like this in their family. And, while it’s not the fanciest recipe in the world, I swear it’s the easiest! Everything just goes in one bowl at the same time and then you whack it in the oven - it can’t fail. Just remember if you want to make a house with it, you have to triple the ingredients...depending on how flashy you want your house to be!

And by a stroke of luck, while the fruit cake myth rumbles on back at my parents’ house, it turns out that my mother-in-law bakes a batch of them every year for each of her kids. So now, I get to have both my cakes and eat them!

Merry Christmas, Jen xx

Author Bio 

Jenny Oliver wrote her first book on holiday when she was ten years old. Illustrated with cut-out supermodels from her sister’s Vogue, it was an epic, sweeping love story not so loosely based on Dynasty. Since then Jenny has gone on to get an English degree, a Masters, and a job in publishing that’s taught her what it takes to write a novel (without the help of the supermodels). She wrote The Parisian Christmas Bake Off on the beach in a sea-soaked, sand-covered notebook. This time the inspiration was her addiction to macaroons, the belief she can cook them and an all-consuming love of Christmas. When the decorations go up in October, that’s fine with her! 

Buy The Parisian Christmas Bake Off



Connect with Jenny Oliver

1 comment:

  1. This book sounds wonderful and the cake looks delectable!