on the eighth day of Christmas…

We meet Modern Heat author, Anna Cleary!

“Hello there, gorgeous Desirabelles. How thrilled and honoured I feel to have been invited to join your Chridwca0hsg8xcamoyg4ncal4c5zucaffw88vcafv9ekwcawmrgtrcaw109ylcas9hp81carjkav6ca3sbvzfcam0iry8cag0shzycaw4ezujca35afxkcank0fd2calvh14wcagnih3pca3yfbh2cawnl9ud1stmas celebration!
For me Christmas is powerfully wrapped up with memories of my mother. She loved it all so much, the gift shopping for children and grandchildren, the secret wrapping bouts behind closed doors, tinselling the house and trimming the tree, gathering her family around her.
The Clearys hailed from Newcastle, and if you know that lovely sea-side city, you’ll know there are some strong traditions there about what constitutes fine cookery. Mum was a proud contender in the fruit cake and plum pudding stakes.beca04haeeca0ssctuca36p4g2cax25z80caqhh58ycafcz369ca6joilvca5na46zcas72y24ca2u9yzdcaoz21m6ca9aeh7hcasyf3t1caadr4flca4zu9yjca0pjinxcav4asomcamo0xhgcauhkl8p
Every year, from my earliest memories, there was no more significant moment in our family than the annual cutting of the cake.
The size of a small car, it would be lifted down from the sacred place where it had been developing its flavours for weeks. After being taken reverently from its outer container, the various wrappings would be parted—it wore more veils than Salome – and the gathered spectators would exclaim in awed unison when its beauty was revealed, inhaling and closing our eyes to savour that rich, heady aroma.images-cake

Rum, almonds, cherries, brandy, fruit, ginger… Ahh. Intoxicating. To me this will always be the smell of Christmas.
Now for the cutting. Everyone would stand back for Mum to do the honours.
The outer slice would be lain to rest, unmolested, while the next layer in was the testing point. We’d hold out our plates to receive our thickish chunks, redolent of the booze the fruit had been steeped in, and then would come the tasting.
Are there words to describe that dark richness, so mellow on the tongue? Not too moist, not too dry. Neither too sweet nor too piquant. Nutty, fruity, but never too much of either. Aromatic, fragrant…
The compliments would flow, and Mum would glow.
Oh, she was a wonderful cook.

I think many mothers have a special family Christmas cake baking secret. Care to share? I’d love to hear some of them. And in honour of all the great 51eic4t6v0l__ss500_ubuv1mothers of the world I would be delighted to give away a copy of my book currently gracing the bookshelves in the UK. It’s called Untamed Billionaire, Undressed Virgin, and while it might not sound exactly like a Christmas story, it is all about family love and connectedness, and wired for wish fulfilment.

Merry Christmas…
Anna Cleary”


39 Responses to “on the eighth day of Christmas…”

  1. December 14, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Anna, what a lovely story! Thought I’d pop over from the Bandits lair (where you left a garter after your last appearance!) to say hello! Congratulations on the new release. I’m sure it’s going to be another mega hit!

  2. December 14, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Anna, love your story! I can almost taste that delicious Christmas cake!
    Congratulations on your new release. All the best to you and yours for
    the festive season

  3. 3 Jane
    December 14, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Hi Anna,
    Congrats on the new release. I know fruit cakes are a tradition, but I’ve never tried it before. The rum part sounds delicious. Is it an acquired taste?

  4. December 14, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Wow Anna – that so brings back memories. My mother baked the christmas cake in November or was it October. Anyway – just before she poured it into the cake tin – all us kids (there were 4 of us) had to stir in our christmas wish. That is when I knew christmas was coming and started to get excited. Then on Christmas eve – we would cut the cake and let the wish out. One of my most treasured memories of Christmas.

    My grandma used to do the plum pudding – and put sixpence coins in it. Now I hated plum pudding – but every year I woul have a peice smothered in custard and jelly just for the chance of finding a coin ot two. Grandma would then replace the sixpence with 5c peices. It was so much fun.

    Thanks for bring the christmas memories into my busy mind – just what I need 😀

  5. December 14, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    ps congratulations on your new release too.

  6. December 14, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Hi Anna and Rachel and the Desirabelles,

    Ooooh, perhaps I shouldn’t be here because I’m a Christmas Cake Grinch! I’m one of those odd people who don’t like dried fruit — but your story makes me wish I did, Anna! You describe so beautifully the reverence with which the Cleary family gathered to worship the cake. Just gorgeous!

    Anyway I hope everyone’s cakes have turned out well (er, needless I haven’t made one – but one will magically appear with my dh’s mum so he won’t go without!)

    Merry Christmas

  7. 7 rachelbailey
    December 14, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Ah, Christmas cake. . . I clearly remember Dad’s Christmas cakes – he’d make them (or buy them) and then *drown* them in rum and leave for a couple of months before they were ready. They packed a punch! 😀

    Anna C, I’m intrigued by your garter comment. Might have to pop over to the Bandit’s Lair and see what’s been happening!

    Helen, thanks for stopping by! Hope you get some lovely cake this festive season. 🙂

  8. 8 Mel
    December 14, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Anna,
    ooh I love the sound of that christmas cake. Unfortunately my mum wasn’t the best cook, so no special recipe or secret to share in the cake making business LOL. But she did try, and if I remember correctly she copied the fruitcake recipe from the back of the no frills mixed fruit packet – and even this is a memory to cherish!
    Congrats on your modern heat =)

  9. 9 rachelbailey
    December 14, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Tracey, that story is *gorgeous*! I’ve never done the ‘baking the wish in’ thing and then releasing it, but I LOVE it, and will use it. Thanks!

    Sharon, I’m not overly fond of Christmas cakes either but we usually substitute plum pudding which I like much better because it’s generally more moist. But I reckon you should have whatever cake you want at Christmas. So go buy a chocolate one or a lemon one and tell everyone that it’s *your* Christmas cake. 😀

  10. December 14, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    Congrats on a great release title and cover, Anna. I can only imagine how much it’s standing out on UK shelves full of snow and mistletoe. Such a reminder of the unique experience Aussies have at Christmas.

    For me, Christmas is all about my mum, but I’m reasonably sure she never baked a chrissy cake in her life. Fake it she did… many times. The old chocolate pudding with burn-your-palatte plum sauce hastily transposed into her own crockery while a spare foot crushed the packaging deeper into the rubbish bin 🙂

    Hell, I didn’t care where it came from as long as it was yummy and full of 5c pieces like Tracie’s. I’m sure the money was supposed to slow us down so that we didn’t inhale it…

    My mum is still with us but a close friend lost her mum very recently, so this chrissy I’ll be giving my mum an extra special hug. I can’t imagine Christmas without her.

    Thanks for blogging, and a very merry christmas to you too.


  11. December 14, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    I’m with Sharon and Rachel – not fond of dried fruit. And Nikki – you have just made my decision to spring a surprise visit in my Mum this year ever so more sweet. I am going to hug her tight too.

    Rachel – I love the christimas wish thing – my favourite part of chrissy apart from the pressies. I regret I didn’t do it with my kids.

  12. 12 Roseanne
    December 14, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Wow, Anne, I can taste that cake. I only shared 6 Christmas’s with my mum, so didn’t get to experience christmas cakes being baked when I was little. What I do enjoy though, is seeing the pleasure, creating christmas cakes, gives to my friends. Their amininated discussions about, grannies recipe’s, that extra dash of something, that makes their cake unique to them. Oh, and I also love the eating of the cakes so lovingly prepared. Merry Christmas to everyone. Enjoy your cakes. Ciao Roseanne

  13. December 14, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Congrats on the release Anna. 🙂

    I love my mum’s cooking and we used to have big fan fare for Christmas but that has slowed down. We would get a packaged pudding (not so much anymore). But I love my mum’s Greek sweets. Her cream kadaifi is to die for and is the one that gets the most popular requests when we go to family get-togethers.
    (found a picture on the net at http://fotos.mundorecetas.net/albums/userpics/10267/Kadaifi_Neraida__30.jpg – but nowhere as nice looking as mum’s).

    But for us Greeks, we have the vasilopita on January 1st. Basically St. Vasili (Basil) day. There is a coin placed into the cake, and whoever gets the coin is meant to have prosperity for the next year.

  14. 14 rachelbailey
    December 14, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Mel, that’s a gorgeous memory – your mother copying the recipe from the packet. I love that she tried. 🙂

    Nikki – chocolate pudding and hot plum sauce? Interesting! Oh, yes, give your mum a great big extra special hug!

    Roseanne, what a lovely way of phrasing your time with your mum – you spent 6 Christmases with her. And I hadn’t really thought about Christmas cake discussions the way you describe them before. Fun. 🙂

  15. 15 Maureen
    December 14, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    I love your description of the cutting of the cake. My mother is more of a pie maker and we are all hoping that she makes an apple crumb pie for Christmas.

  16. 16 rachelbailey
    December 14, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Eleni, those sweets sound delicious. Happy St. Vasili’s Day for Jan 1!

    Maureen, I hope you get an apple crumble pie for Christmas too. 🙂

  17. 17 Nathalie
    December 15, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Congrats on your new release!

    Actually, we don’t have baking secrets in the family as we are mostly not very apt in the kitchen. We usually buy a nice chocolate christmas log that we eat together.

  18. 18 Ellen
    December 15, 2008 at 3:18 am

    My mother was a wonderful cook and baker but we never had any special recipe for Christmas. Her best cake was a bundt cake. She would decorate it with many different items depending on the date. For Christmas she would put an angel in the hole and put pieces of peppermint candy inside along with chocolate chips.

  19. 19 azteclady
    December 15, 2008 at 4:10 am

    What a lovely post, Ms Cleary!

    My mother doesn’t cook or bake much, but my late grandmother (her mother) used to cook most of the Christmas Eve dinner delicacies… :sigh: Sadly, she passed away over six years ago, and very few of her recipes were ever written.

    Which reminds me, I need to get my mother to teach me to make that crème brûlée while she’s here… 😀

    Happy Holidays and best of luck with the book!

  20. 20 Sandra
    December 15, 2008 at 4:49 am

    Mum’s Christmas specialty is Christmas fruit mince pies – little two-bite sized ones. Perfect with a cup of coffee after dinner (or before dinner, or for morning tea, or afternoon tea). Mmm

  21. December 15, 2008 at 5:58 am

    Yum – I loooove Christmas cake! Thanks, Anna. Oh, hey, Sandra, my mum’s standard bake is the mince pies, too. My dad does the turkey on the BBQ because it’s normally too hot here for the kitchen. And this year I’m doing a non-alco pink champagne – 1 tbsp apple juice, 1 tbsp apple juice, 1 tsp lime juice, shaken with ice, then topped with soda water in a martini glass. Very refreshing!

  22. 22 Avi J
    December 15, 2008 at 6:06 am

    Oh my l am very late today. My mom always tells me her secret recipe is love. Now ok l hear it all the time but come on there must be a secret to it. Her fruit cake was the best l have ever eaten and that is saying alot because as a chef l come across alot. l even got my baking lecturer to analyze the recipie and recreate it. ounce for ounce, tsp for tsp it never worked. We gave up after trying five time in the kitchen. She was there the whole time and said we did everything right. Aside from that what l do is substitue butter for margarine in all the recipies and add vanilla essence and wisk the eggs with two button size lime rind. It works wonders for flavour. So that is my secret.

  23. 23 Alison
    December 15, 2008 at 6:13 am

    Hi Anna, congratulations on the new release. Love the title LOL.

    My mother-in-law is the one with all the secret recipes in our family. Christmas pudding is ALWAYS made the first week in October and hung in muslin. (I have got tipsy on this woman’s brandied plums! Just to give you an idea what goes into the pudding) It’s full of florins, shillings, sixpences and treepences that she’s collected and after the meal we give them back and she buys a lottery ticket in the family name.
    BTW, her tomato relish is to die for. Only made with vine grown tomatoes. Over the years she’s had to triple the output to keep up with the grandkids as they leave home and put in their orders for Grandmas relish.

  24. 24 LJ
    December 15, 2008 at 6:58 am

    My mom always added a bit of freshly grated cinnamon and sugar mixed together in her cakes. lt always tastes heavenly.

  25. December 15, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Hey Rach and Anna

    Sorry I’m late! And you already moved onto the next day o the Christmas calendar…

    I love christmas and am an addict – I do make my own Christmas puddings, it a microwave recipe so soooo simple, and I cook the mince pies, but I don’t make christmas cake as I’m the only one in the house who eats it – so if its there… normal story, I would eat it.

    Have a superb Christmas and congrats again on your new release Anna, can’t wait to read it in print.

    Bye 4 now

  26. December 15, 2008 at 8:09 am

    Oops. Sorry I missed my own post! THank you wonderful Rachel for holding the fort. And thank you, all you magnificent people who popped by. Some of those cake stories are priceless. I wish I had space to answer each and every one. Nathalie, can I just say to you what my mother used to say? If you can read, you can cook? Don’t worry if you have a few disasters. Eat them and try again!

    And Aztedady. Grab that creme brulee recipe before its too late. Family traditions are important.
    Avi J the love is important, but I can’t help thinking the butter is also very efficacious!

    And Mel, how did that recipe turn out on the back of the no-frills mixed fruit packet?

    The really great thing about Christmas cake, I think, especially when its loaded with booze (Yes,Jane. Rum is delicious in a fruit cake. Once tasted, never forgotten. Oh, the fragrance!) is that it keeps extraordinarily well. So if its large enough that the family doesn’t demolish it at the first round, it’s a lovely thing to have on hand to offer friends who drop by for coffee, cups of tea or a glass of Seasonal cheer.

    Rachel, I’m not sure you’re old enough to visit the Banditas. Ms Anna sure had some sassy, flirty friends visiting the other day!

  27. December 15, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Hello Tina! Lovely to see you here! Nearly missed it, as I did myself! I’m not surprised you love Christmas. With those gorgeous boys of yours, it must be a splendid time at your place!

    Ellen, I’m intrigued by that bundt cake. What’s in it, and what corner of the world does that tradition hail from?

    And Eleni, I adore Greek cooking. Can you tell me a little about that vasilopita? What sort of cake is it?
    Please don’t anyone get the idea from this that I’m a great baker of cakes. Not at all. I’m a great EATER of cakes.
    Tracie and Sharon, it is quite possible to eat fruit cake without eating the raisins, the ginger, the cherries, or the mixed peel. If you care enough about Christmas, you simply eat around them!

    Thank you so much for popping by, Helen, you darling woman (and you looked simply beautiful too at the Hilton luncheon affaire)
    Maureen, mind if I pop by for a slice of that apple crumb pie? Oh, the blessed apple. Where would the world be without it? And after that I’ll be knocking on Sandra’s door to join her for afternoon tea and one of those melt-in-your-mouth mince pies.

    By the way Alison, I’m glad you like the title of Untamed Billionaire, Undressed Virgin. I daresay you’ve noticed that it has that certain, indefinable je ne sais quoi.

  28. 28 Rachel Bailey
    December 15, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Nathalie, I love the idea of a chocolate log. I’ve only ever made one a couple of times from a recipe book, but one day I’ll buy one to see what they’re “supposed” to be like.

    Ellen, how cool – choosing her own cake and putting an angel on top. I think that’s what I’ll do this year – choose a chocolate one (no surprise!) and decorate with Christmassy things.

    azteclady, I know just what you mean about grandmothers and no written recipes! My nanna did the same. We have a few scraps of paper but most of the ‘specialness’ was in the technique. We’re all still engaged in a trial and error process to replicate her cooking but I fear we won’t succeed.

  29. 29 Rachel Bailey
    December 15, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Sandra and Paula – what a coincidence that both your mothers do the fruit mince pies! And Paula, your cocktail sounds gorgeous.

    Oooh, AviJ, thanks for the tips! We’re a butter-instead-of-margarine house too. How fabulous that you and your lecturer couldn’t get the same results as your mum. Love must really be the secret!

    Alison, your mother-in-law’s cooking sounds scrummy. Maybe take a tip from azteclady and me, and make sure you get the recipes before she passes on, because secrets need to be shared down the generations!

  30. December 15, 2008 at 8:50 am

    All these lovely posts, with all these special Christmas secrets for good eating and good cheer, have made me feel quite tearily Christmassy, what with Paula’s turkey on the barbie, Nikki’s chocolate pud, and LJ’s freshly-grated cinnamon cakes. Whooeeeee! Bring it all on now!

    And Roseanne, I like your post so much I really would LOVE to give you a copy of UBUV (I really can’t write it again in full). So how shall we do this? How about you email me at my website, with your postal address?

    Go to http://www.annacleary.com and visit the Contacts page. And I’ll see if I can pop it to you in time for Christmas.
    Love and Merry Everything


  31. 31 rachelbailey
    December 15, 2008 at 8:55 am

    LJ, freshly grated cinnamon sounds divine! I’m gonna use that tip. 🙂

    Tina – what willpower you have not to make the cake coz you’re the only one who would eat it!

  32. 32 rachelbailey
    December 15, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Roseanne! Congratulations on winning Anna’s book!!! Yay!

    Anna, thanks so much for dropping by and starting such a great conversation. As I mentioned, I’ve never been much of a fan of Christmas cake, but now I have lots of ideas of how to tailor it to my tastes. 😀 Can’t wait to see Untamed Billionaire, Undressed Virgin on the shelves here!!

  33. December 15, 2008 at 9:26 am

    THat’ll be February, Rach, and wait till you see how the cover image looks on the Aus version in RED. Wow. Steamy? It’ll melt your socks!

    IN fact, just as soon as I finish my current work and send it on Wednesday, (pant, pant) I’ll be posting that image on my website and blowing cyber-space apart. What is it about the mention of virgins that so inspires the cover artist?

    Thank you A MILLION, lovely Rachel, for inviting me to this delightful party.


  34. December 15, 2008 at 9:32 am

    I’m late!! Anna, I so enjoyed your family Christmas/cake story. When we were young, Granma’s plum pudding held the same reverence for us all. I had mine with a river of fresh cream, no custard or icecream. My sister bakes one now, but I missed out on the cooking gene so I just continue to enjoy. The one thing it’s missing is the silver coins Granma used to include. Wow. I’d forgotten that until now.

    Thanks again, Anna! And congratulations on your wonderful new release. Can’t wait to read it 🙂

  35. December 15, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Anna, lovely to have you here on the Desirabelles!

    Family traditions are so special, aren’t they? My mum always used to bake a Christmas cake but I’ve never been over fond of them. Too weighty for me (although these days I can be persuaded to try a small piece 😉 )

    My dh’s parents used to spend ages making Christmas Mince Pies each year. That’s one family tradition I really miss now my mother in law has gone.

  36. December 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Hi Anna,

    Basically, the vasililopita is a sponge cake with icing sugar on top.

    Here’s a link to one recipe:

    There are variations between regions as well.

    E 🙂

  37. 37 azteclady
    December 16, 2008 at 5:29 am

    Congrats, Roseanne!

    Happy holidays, Ms Cleary!

  38. 38 RobynL
    December 16, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Mom always baked a dark fruit cake and a white fruit cake. The white one
    could be baked a day or two before Christmas because it did not have to cure.
    It had blonde raisins, green and red glazed cherries and coconut in it. I love coconut so this was my favorite one. I’ve tried several years to get it like hers but to no avail.

  39. December 16, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Robyn, that white cake sounds scrumptious. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of that family tradition before. Good luck with trying to replicate it.
    It seems pretty clear to me after reading all these posts of people trying to recreate their mothers’ magic, that every cook must have her own indefinable something, and it’s almost impossible for two people to come up with identical results.
    That’s not say though that YOUR cake isn’t just as delicious as your mum’s, only with your own unique touch! (THat’s the line I’m spinning myself, anyway!)

    And thank you Aztedady, Robbie and Yvonne, (Very generous of you Robbie, cause I know you have a deadline! ) and many thanks to all the lovely people who’ve written in.


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