ARE you stirring it today?

I’m only asking as this first Sunday before advent is a grand excuse to make a Christmas pudding.

Today is Stir-up Sunday, which gets its name from lines in the Book of Common Prayer: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. Over time, it has become associated with the custom of making the Christmas puddings on that day.

If that all sounds a bit Anglican, bend the rules and make a clootie dumpling.

In my book, any opportunity for filling the kitchen with the aromas of seasonal spice is good enough for me.

But I have a confession … I have a sneaky wee recipe for a microwave Christmas pudding which works a treat and takes minutes. If you can’t beat them, cheat them is my motto.

Meanwhile, our locked down nation is experience something of a resurgence in the art of festive baking.

Since November 5, there has been a 76% uplift in searches for seasonal recipes on the BBC Good Food website, with “Christmas cake” up 57%.

Mince pies, gingerbread men and Christmas biscuits are also among the top 10 searched-for festive recipes on the website.

With folk keen for a bit of cheer in these challenging times, people appear to be preparing for Christmas earlier than ever before as increased restrictions keep us close to home.

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And we’re planning ahead, wise since we might be in this for the long haul – the Good Food website has also seen a spike of 644% year-on-year for freezable Christmas baking recipes.

So the pressure’s on …

Every year, I say I’m going to desist from the baking of the Christmas cake. Far easier just to buy the thing. Let someone else do the work. Spare the kitchen from the dusting of flour which lingers until Easter. It’ll taste better anyway.

Every year, I weaken as memory and tradition bears down upon my conscience. At least I only bake the one now, though.

But my cake-baking journey has not been without its bumps along the way.

One ancient recipe, passed on from my mother and her mother before, required a full five hours in the oven. Halfway through, I notice that the aromas of fruit and spice were no longer wafting through the house. That’s because the oven had packed in. Just as your boiler never breaks down in the summer, so too the baking gods had decreed that the Belling would die just when I needed it most.

With few options open to me, I found a plastic basin big enough for the half-baked mixture and finished the cake off in the microwave. The result was a kind of cake-dumpling hybrid, but once it had been disguised by almond paste, icing and topped with some quaint (some might say sad and tattie) Santas and reindeer which are even older than I am, well … it was edible.

There was another year my royal icing set so hard we had to crack it off with a hammer … but that’s another story too traumatic to tell.

I hope you have happier Christmas baking!