Christmas food special: Sweetness and light

The New Festive Spirit: A Christmas food special

IN KONDITOR & COOK'S mauve-fronted shop, on the fashionable Battersea- Southwark axis of south London, the frivolity is almost overwhelming. Henrietta's Drunken Chocolate Cake jostles with Jolly Rich Fruit Cake (which contains no butter or added fat) and the little square fancies known as Magic Cakes are piped with words like "Sexy"and "Gorgeous". Banoffee Pie is described as a "prescription- free antidepressant", Raspberry Chocolate Fudge Tart as "simply orgasmic".

"The English have a great sense of humour," says Gerhard Jenne, the German pastry chef who launched Konditor & Cook in 1993. "The double entendre is unknown in Germany, but here customers take to some fairly rude things very quickly."

The British also eat a lot of cake. Back home in Germany, to Gerhard's grave disappointment, the cake-eating tradition is in decline. They have even stopped eating their traditional Christmas stollen, a kind of fruit- laden brioche. "It's a dietary thing," he says. "People think it's unhealthy." His theory is that cakes and cookies are the perfect remedy when winter draws in. "The run up to Christmas is when we get Seasonal Affective Disorder and feel depressed. One way to combat that is with things that make you feel good: sugary, starchy food."

In his cafe at the Old Vic theatre, Gerhard has installed special lightbulbs to reduce the effect of SAD. For most pre-Christmas depressives, however, cakes and cookies will have to do. At Konditor & Cook (konditor means pastry chef in German), there are some tempting remedies. "Our Christmas cakes are very English, very traditional," says Gerhard, showing me a rich fruit cake topped with old-fashioned royal icing, "but we give them a modern twist. This year, we've discovered a supplier of a crystallised sugar that looks like sparkling granules, like glitter. Isn't it lovely?"

His other, highly-decorated cake was inspired by the jewellery designer Andrew Logan, a cakeaholic and regular visitor. "I went to a sale of his," says Gerhard, "and a couple of days later I saw a few fragments of gold- covered marzipan lying around in boxes which gave me the idea of making stars that looked like his jewellery. They give the cake a more contemporary look than, say, a robin."

Away from the bustling shop, in the tranquil white void of Gerhard's architect-designed house nearby, he tells me about his true passion - Christmas cookies. "I'm not sure how far the tradition goes back in Germany," he says, "but in Britain it was started by the Victorians. They became particularly popular after the war, because they could be made very cheaply. The pastry is always the same, but you give it a different look."

Under the watchful, mascara'd eye of Boy George, whose portrait, by the artist Stefan Biesenbach, hangs in the kitchen, Gerhard talks me through his recipes. "This one is a Cinnamon Star," he says, "which you just wouldn't bake at any other time of year. It's quite traditional, but the actual composition of the recipe is very "now" because it's made without flour, and wheat allergies seem to be particularly fashionable at the moment." The result, chewy cookies with a texture like macaroons, are bursting with almond and cinnamon flavours - the perfect accompaniment to mulled wine.

The most forward-looking of his creations, is the much publicised Millennium Dome Cake - a crudely executed replica. Such is its kitsch appeal, the Millennium Dome Cake has been a runaway success, even in America. "We sold one to someone in Hollywood," says Gerhard, "but we had to declare it as an architectural model because you're not allowed to sell food to the States." Reaching up to a high shelf, he plucks down his latest prototype. It's a box of Millennium Magic Cakes, tiny square sponges iced with, among others, images of a firework, a Champagne cork, a green alien. The last is a black cake, on which Gerhard announces "The End". Recipes overleaf

CINNAMON STARS

Gluten-free cookies.

Makes 50-60 cookies

400g/14oz icing sugar, sifted

3 medium size egg whites

juice of half a lemon

300g/11oz ground almonds

100g/4oz mixed peel, finely chopped

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon zest of unwaxed lemon

Make meringue with the egg whites, icing sugar and lemon juice. Start off with all the egg whites in a mixing bowl and, using an electric hand- mixer, gradually add all the icing sugar and lemon juice to form a stiff creamy meringue. Set aside 200g (7oz) of the meringue mixture (this is for brushing the top of the cookies). To the remaining meringue add almonds, finely chopped peel, cinnamon and lemon zest to form a paste. Refrigerate for one hour, then roll into a 1cm (12in) thick sheet. If it is very sticky use a sprinkling of ground almonds to roll the paste on. Cut out shapes with star or other Christmas cookie cutter. Brush the top with the remaining meringue using a fine pastry brush. Set all the cookies on to a tray lined with baking parchment and leave to dry for at least one hour.

During this time pre-heat your oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Place the cookies in the oven on a low shelf until the bases are just turning brown (eight to 10 minutes). The top should remain nice and white. Ideally do not use a fan assisted oven. The baking is crucial. The centres should still be a little moist, and if baked for too long the cookies will go very hard. It may take a few attempts to get to know your oven and ideal temperature etc. If the first batch of cookies goes a little hard, cover a damp tea towel with a sheet of baking parchment and place the cookies on them overnight. You may find that by the morning they will have softened enough to be palatable. The cookies will keep in a well-sealed jar for up to four weeks.

RICH FRUIT CAKE

Mature this cake over several weeks by "feeding" it occasionally with brandy. 250g/9oz sultanas

250g/9oz currants

125g/4oz raisins

30g/1oz flaked almonds

75g/3oz glace cherries, chopped

1 desert apple, peeled, cored and grated

2 tablespoon marmalade

2 shots of brandy

2 pinches mixed spice

1 pinch nutmeg

1 pinch cinnamon

zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon

125g/4oz salted butter

125g/4oz soft brown sugar

60g/2oz black treacle

3 medium size eggs

125g/4oz plain flour, sifted

This cake requires a little bit of forward planning. The day before baking, grate the lemon and apple, and place in a large bowl, along with the lemon juice, brandy, all the fruit, almonds and spices. Cover with clingfilm and leave at room temperature overnight. When ready to bake, grease a 20cm (8in) round cake tin and line the base with a double layer of baking parchment. Cream the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, then beat in two to three tablespoons of flour. Repeat until all the eggs have been added, then fold in the remaining flour. Finally add the infused fruit. Spoon all the mixture into the lined cake tin. Smooth the top and bake on the middle rack of a preheated oven 300F/150C/Gas2 for two hours. Put an ovenproof bowl full of water on the bottom rack of the oven to ensure that the cake stays moist. Check after one hour, adjusting the height of the rack or covering the top of the cake if you feel it is already quite dark and yet still wet in the centre. Check after another 30 minutes. When cooked, remove and allow to cool in the tin, then turn it out but leave it wrapped. Wrap well in baking parchment and foil and store for at least two weeks to let cake mature.

To decorate:

60g/2oz apricot jam

600g/1lb 4oz marzipan

900g/2lb royal icing (see below)

edible disco glitter (available, priced pounds 1.80 (plus p&p), mail order from Edable Art, 01388 816 309 or specialist cake shops)

ribbon

Remove the fruit cake from its wrapping and brush top and sides with apricot jam. Roll the marzipan into a 5mm (14in) thick sheet, large enough to cover the entire cake. Drape the marzipan over the cake, level the top and sides, then trim excess from the base.

Secure the cake to a cake drum or plate with a little royal icing. Two layers of royal icing are necessary for a perfect finish. First put a large quantity of the icing on the top of the cake. Using a palette knife, spread it over the top and sides, rotating the cake. Run a straight edged scraper around the sides of the cake and level the top with the palette knife, scraping any excess icing back in the bowl. Repeat until the entire edge is sharp and defined. Set aside to dry for four hours. Add a second layer of royal icing. Pat the edge with a palette knife, lifting slightly to create a frilly edge, and use the tip of the palette knife on the top of the cake to lift the icing into peaks. When the cake is dry, use the tip of a knife to sprinkle silver glitter over the surface. Finally finish the cake with a decorative ribbon.

ROYAL ICING

Makes 900g/2lb

3 medium egg whites

juice of half a lemon

750-850g/approximately 2lb icing sugar

2 teaspoons glycerine

Put the egg whites, lemon juice and half the sifted icing sugar into a large bowl. Stir (do not beat) with a wooden spoon until creamy. Gradually stir in the remaining icing sugar until the mixture is white and smooth. To test the consistency lift the spoon out of the bowl. The icing should be glossy and form soft peaks. Add the glycerine

CHRISTMAS STARS

These can be used as baked, Christmas tree decorations or attached to presents as unusual gift tags.

Makes about 30 cookies

125g/4oz icing sugar, sifted

12 teaspoon vanilla essence

1 medium egg yolk

250g/9oz salted butter, diced

375g/13oz plain flour

To decorate:

450g/1lb royal icing

1 medium egg, lightly beaten

50cm/20ins ribbon, 7mm/ 14in wide

silver-coated sugar balls

Put the icing sugar, vanilla essence, egg yolk and butter in a bowl and mix together quickly with your fingers or a wooden spoon. Add the flour and mix to a firm dough, working as fast as possible, especially in hot temperatures - if it becomes oily the finished cookies will shrink and harden. Shape the dough into a flat slab, wrap and chill for one hour (or up to one week).

Briefly knead the chilled dough to soften, then roll out on to a lightly floured work surface to about 4mm (14in) thick. Cut out stars using an 8cm (3in) star-shaped biscuit cutter or freehand using a sharp knife. Place them on baking sheets lined with baking parchment. Using a skewer, make a small hole in some cookies about 1cm (12in) from the top edge. (The holes should be the same width as your ribbon.) Brush the cookies lightly with beaten egg and then bake the stars in a preheated oven at 350F/180C/Gas 4 for 12 to 15 minutes, until just golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. To decorate the cookies, fill a paper piping bag with royal icing. Pipe swirls, dots and outlines, and while the icing is still wet press on the silver balls. Let dry for at least one hour. Cut the ribbon into short lengths and tie through the holes in the cookies.

Gerhard Jenne's `Decorating Cakes and Cookies' is published by Ryland Peters & Small, price pounds 12.99. Konditor & Cook is at 22 Cornwall Road, London, SE1. Tel 0171 261 0456

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue