Around about mid-October (not coincidentally: around the time I last updated the blog), we upped stakes and moved to lovely East Lothian. The move has been…an adventure, to put it euphemistically, but we’re now settled in enough for me to get really excited for the holidays.
I love Christmastime. Especially over here, because Britain gets really into Christmas. Our town had a whole big ‘Christmas lights turn-on’ event. All the shops have crazy-flavoured crisps and specials on giant mixed boxes of chocolates. There are Santa’s grottos everywhere. Ugly Christmas jumpers are a thing, and they are worn with pride. Good times! And it’s not only our first Christmas in our new house, but it’s the first one where the Little Anglophile understood the holiday well enough to get excited too. And let’s face it: Christmas is about 400 times more fun when there’s a small child around squealing with delight every time he sees a Christmas tree!
So, we needed a tree. No shortage of places to get them around here, but as soon as I heard there was an actual tree farm just a few miles from us, I knew that’s where we were going to go. When I was growing up, we always got our tree from a tree farm, and I have fond memories of tromping amongst the lines of evergreens, enjoying the piney scent and the crunch of frozen grass beneath my feet as we searched for the perfect tree.
Off to Beanston Farm! But first: sustenance. It was, literally, freezing the day we went. Actually, I think it was slightly below freezing, thanks to Storm Caroline ripping through and dragging some Arctic temperatures down in her wake. Just a little gift to us from the weather gods! If you’re going to be outside in the cold, you deserve some cake, right? Cake with cranberries and orange, because: Christmas.
Enter the French Yogurt Cake: a delicious combination of almonds and dried cranberries and sticky marmalade. It’s delicious: moist and not too terribly sweet, and more satisfying and filling than most cakes tend to be. A delicious accompaniment to tea or coffee any time of the day!
Once fuelled, we were off, driving down a narrow, unpaved road, trying to spot the itty bitty tree-shaped signs along the way that would reassure us we were, in fact, not completely lost. We found the place, we bundled up, we marched through the rows of trees, pointing out ones we liked and debating their merits. The Little Anglophile found a Stickman-shaped stick and was delighted. He was less interested in selecting an actual tree, but that’ll come in time. He did find a tree for Stickman to live in, though:
And we did find our tree. Perhaps the fattest, jolliest little tree I’ve ever had. I may just be getting a little too into the cheery Christmas spirit, but I swear this tree is smiling.
And I’m smiling because I have a lovely tree. And cake. Who doesn’t smile when there’s cake?
Orange-Cranberry French Yogurt Cake Recipe
Based on a recipe from the New York Times
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds (you can omit these and just use 1/2 cup of flour, but they really do kind of make this particular cake)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Grated zest of 1 clementine or 1/2 regular-sized orange
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup plain yogurt (you can use fat-free, full-fat, whatever you like!)
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower
1/2 cup marmalade, for glazing the top
1 teaspoon water, for glazing the top
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 180 degrees/160 fan. Generously butter an 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch loaf pan, place the pan on a lined baking sheet, and set aside. Whisk the flour, ground almonds, if you’re using them, baking powder and salt.
Combine the sugar and zest in a medium bowl and, working with your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the yogurt, eggs and vanilla to the bowl and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very well blended. Still whisking, stir in the dry ingredients, then switch to a large rubber spatula and fold in the oil and the cranberries. You’ll have a thick, smooth batter with a slight sheen. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake begins to come away from the sides of the pan; it will be golden brown and a knife inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack, cool for 5 minutes, then run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmould and cool to room temperature right-side up.
To make the glaze: Put the marmalade in a small pot or a microwave-safe bowl, stir in the teaspoon of water and heat (on the range or in the microwave oven) until the jelly is hot and liquefied. (The original recipe called for the marmalade to be strained, but I prefer the rustic look and didn’t bother. Feel free to do so yourself, if you’d like a smoother look, though!) Using a pastry brush, gently brush the cake with the glaze.
The cake can be stored, well wrapped at room temperature for 4 days, or can be frozen (unglazed) for up to 2 months.