I think nativity plays should be treated with extreme caution. This isn’t a religious statement or the beginnings of a protest in any way. It’s an acknowledgement that the part you’re given in the school nativity play can influence your life. It sets a tone and a precedent. I think a lot can be explained by my 1985 stage debut. Or more, the role I was given.
You see my mother was a fan of elfin haircuts. As an adult I am with her on this. I love that gamine look. It screams chic and self-assured and dare I say it, French. But as a 5 year old I hated my short hair. The social currency of the reception year was hair length. When the girls sat in a circle plaiting and brushing, I was told I could join in, but that no-one wanted to play with my hair as it was just too short. That, coupled with a preference for jeans meant I wasn’t a proper girl. At least not in the eyes of the long-hair-brigade.
Needless to say, I didn’t get picked to play Mary in the school nativity play; my boyish haircut betrayed me. The Angel Gabriel was my destiny. A good close second in my book. Words cannot describe my emotions that evening when my father gently explained to me that angels are neither boys nor girls. I blame this entire episode on my lack of confidence in wearing anything other than black or green to this day. Now Rebecca who played Mary, I bet she’s more than comfortable in pink.
Here’s a little Christmas hit to see you through until mid December when you might get invited to watch a 5 year old swing a Tiny Tears doll just that little too hard whilst wearing a blue dressing gown. You may recognise this cheesecake from the Bake Off. You may also be pleased to know I have changed the recipe to be less erm ‘claggy’ and rather more, well, light. This serves about 12, depending on hunger.
For the base:
- 225g digestive biscuits
- 65g melted butter
For the cheesecake:
- 150g raisins or sultanas or if you’re feeling really adventurous then a few cranberries and sultanas
- 40mls Armagnac brandy though you can use any booze that takes your fancy
- 3 large eggs at room temperature – this bit is important
- 600g full fat cream cheese at room temperature
- 30g plain flour
- 175g caster sugar
- 142mls sour cream
- zest of one tangerine
- a good grating of fresh nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (between 4 and 7 depending on their size)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Assorted gold Christmassy edible decorations to throw over the top.
Preheat the oven to Gas 2/150C. Make sure the rack is in the centre of the oven. Grease a springform tin (23cm) with soft butter. Boring bit over.
Pop your biscuits in a food processor and pulse until they’re more like sand and less like biscuits. Don’t worry about the odd lump, they’re only biscuits after all. Melt the butter in the microwave and then add the butter to the food processor and pulse until combined. About two whizzes in my machine. Press into the base of your tin and smooth down with the back of a spoon until level-ish. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
Put the dried fruit and brandy into a small saucepan and heat on a medium hob until the alcohol absorbs. Takes about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Separate your eggs and put into two large, separate bowls, being careful not to get any yolk in the white (or it will affect the volume of the egg whites when you whisk them and thus the lightness of the cheesecake.) Then weigh out all the remaining cheesecake ingredients other than the decorations and pop into the large bowl with the yolks already in. Leave to one side.
Take your handheld electric mixer and whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. This took about 3 minutes for me. Set to one side. Then using the same handheld electric mixer (no need to wash the beaters either if you make sure you whisk the whites first) beat together all the ingredients in the other bowl with the yolks and cheese etc in, for about 4 minutes. The consistency will be rather liquid. That’s fine and good. Now add the boozy dried fruit and mix through with a spoon.
Take the firmly whisked egg whites and fold into the creamy, boozy, cheesecake mixture with a metal spoon. You need to be reasonably firm handed in order to incorporate all the egg whites but light enough not to knock the air out. I think of it as slicing the whites in. The end consistency will be like a loose mousse.
Pour your cheesecake mixture into your tin where the biscuit base is already sitting. Bake for about 45 minutes, but please, watch your cheesecake like a hawk as if they overcook, they crack. All cookers are different and of course a different sized tin will need varying baking times. You need to turn the oven off when the cheesecake still has a slight wobble in the middle. I then leave my cheesecake to cool for an hour in the oven as I’ve found cooling the cheesecake too quickly can make for cracks too. But really, it’s up to you. And let’s be honest, nobody really cares about cracks in cheesecakes do they?
If you do go for the cool in the oven option, then after an hour remove from the oven and run a sharp knife around the outside of the cheesecake to release it from the tin slightly. Pop in the fridge to cool completely.
When you’re ready to eat it, release from the springform tin and put on a serving plate. I leave the base there for easy serving. Decorate with festive gold stars or gold leaf or tree shaped sprinkles.
Serve to Father Christmas and anyone who believes in him.