Life

Nuala McCann: I've made the Christmas cake but now the curranty monster is hissing to me from the back of the cupboard

We all have dreams. Mine was that this year, for the first time, I'd make the damn Christmas cake from scratch. I went for luxe and lashings of it. I went for best brandy and natural cherries and fresh almonds and to-die-for dates

Now make me marzipan and royal icing

"SHOULD it feel like you're stirring cement? How was it for you?”

I'm on the phone interrogating a close friend. After committing a large proportion of the weekly household budget to dried figs, unsulphured apricots and high-falutin ideas – Mr Micawber would be rolling his eyes and counting the farthings in misery – I'm feeling slightly uncertain.

We all have dreams. Mine was that this year, for the first time, I'd make the damn Christmas cake from scratch. I went for luxe and lashings of it. I went for best brandy and natural cherries and fresh almonds and to-die-for dates.

In past years, friends have had a slice of my Christmas cake and ooohed and aaaahed over it – not realising that they were biting into some supermarket's finest.

“This year, it will be different,” I told myself this year. Last Saturday, I kind of wished I hadn't.

It's why it ended up with the phone call to a close friend.

“Have you ever made Christmas cake?” I asked

“Yes for many years but a long time ago,” came the reply with a hint of a sigh that was definitely not tinged with nostalgia.

“Should it stir like cement?”

“Yes, definitely,” she confirmed. “My brother makes them but he has an industrial mixer.”

I've got Big Daddy muscles on my arms from stirring that big old cake in that big old bowl, I told her. This should have been reassurance. She confessed that after her mother died, she made a cake for the family every year – keeping up the tradition.

They all loved the smell of it baking, they loved the memory of their mother that it conjured up, but, in the end none of them was really so very fussed on the fruit cake itself.

So she stopped at just the right time – meaning that she has neither bingo wings from an idle gymless youth nor Pop-eye muscles from stirring the big old cake. She is toned and she definitely just buys the cake now.

I'm part of the camp that likes the idea of home-baked cake. I want the air to be wafting cinnamon and ginger and booze and spiced fruits around the house. I want Mary Berry to smile and twinkle and give me the thumbs up.

My cake made a beautiful smell, honestly. How could it not when I'd spent the week's housekeeping on it? But the thing is, when you're in the house, you only smell the baking cake momentarily.

This is a good thing when it's smoked fish. After making the fish the house reeks like a cat wee-ed a week ago in some hidden corner. After a while though, you only notice when entering the house, your nose gets used to it.

It is a mere momentary thought that passes as the smell becomes part of the house. You live in it and your forget it. The alarm is merely on callers' faces.

The thing is that to enjoy the full blast of the Christmas cake experience of last Saturday, you had to exit the back door and walk around to open the front door with a flourish. It was fine for the first three times, but the others could only show a certain amount of appreciation.

They tired of propping up my ego. They tired of the draught from the open front door.

They tired of the bloody cake.

When I went to remove it from the oven, it was a dead weight, it was like hauling out a corpse.

“Wow,” I said.

“Wow,” they said eyeing the curranty monster.

We wrapped it up and I'm trying to forget about it. But it hisses to me from the back of the cupboard.

“I'm in here and I'm an effin' disaster,” it whispers.

“Come Christmas Eve, you'll be a laughing stock! Now go make me marzipan and royal icing.”

Traditionally, I'm a giver upper. If I don't like a book, I won't keep reading. But with that cake, I feel I have to finish it. It will be just as Dylan Thomas's cake in A Child's Christmas in Wales, it will be “a marble grave”. It will also be a tombstone over my reputation.

Should I dig a hole and bury the thing in the back garden?

The trouble is that cutting your Christmas cake is a public thing... all eyes are on you. There is no turning back.

My friend has no such qualms.

“Pour a load of brandy or whiskey over it, it'll be fine,” she says.

Next year, I'll quit living the cake dream... I'm leaving it to the supermarket's finest.

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