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for my own Christmas recipes.

Usually, I try not to make too much fuss about cooking, but I admit that I enjoy making a fuss at Christmas. I include several recipes which you may think are a complete waste of time, so you can buy the finished product in the shops so easily. No, I'm not going to insist that the homemade food tastes better. Taste is, after all, a matter of taste! But I do enjoy the preparation of food for Christmas, and much of this is done weeks before before Christmas Day itself. That would drive many people dotty, I realise. But if you manage it, it makes a great start to the Christmas season, and when the day itself comes, here is all this food which you've practically forgotten about, and you don't even need to hit the shops.

I have found one problem with Christmas. There are three important items: Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies, made of mincemeat. These are all made of dried fruits (raisins, sultanas and currants), candied peel, sugar, spices, spirits (such as brandy) and fat. The cake and the pudding also both have flour. I use nuts in them both as well. The problem is that, if you're not careful, they all end up tasting very similar. They have different textures, of course, and you can spread them out through the Christmas holiday. Christmas pudding is part of Christmas Dinner, on Christmas Day. I have a family tradition that Christmas cake is eaten on Christmas Eve. Mince pies can be eaten any time through the Christmas holiday.

However, you may still think everything ends up tasting of raisins, sugar and booze! So I try to vary the recipes as much as I can. I have tried using different sorts of . Any of them work in any of the recipes. However, dark brown soft sugar colours food, and I tend to think of cake, pudding and mince pies as being dark, so I just use soft dark brown sugar for all of them. If you want to try using a paler sugar for some of them, such as the cake, then go ahead.

You may not want to add any alcohol to these recipes at all. (If you don't, then remember that alcohol is a preservative, and if you leave it out, the food might go bad quicker.) If you do use alcohol, it doesn't always have to be the same type. I add beer to Christmas pudding, and some spirit to the cake and mincemeat. This could be whisky, brandy or rum. If you use different spirits for each, then the taste will vary.

You can vary the spices. There are a lot of different possible spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mace, ginger. If you are using apple, then a small amount of ground cloves could be used. Perhaps daringly you could use cardamom. Mixed spice is a mixture that you can buy. It includes a combination of some of the others. Allspce is not a mixture of spices, but a single spice which happens to smell like a mixture of different spices! If you use different spices for different items, then that will help them to smell (and so taste) different. However, nutmeg is the smell of Christmas for me, so that tends to go in everything. I grate it fresh.

Cherries and nuts are also traditional ingredients. Try not adding them to everything! I put nuts in the pudding and cherries in the mincemeat, and put the nuts and cherries on top of the cake (with a few inside) which makes them taste different. But you can swap these around if you want.

Mince pies can be eaten hot or cold. If they are eaten cold, by themselves, then they are similar to Christmas cake. If they are eaten hot, with brandy butter or rum sauce, then they are like Christmas pudding. So try eating them hot, but with something different, like cream or ice cream.