An alternative Christmas cake: Bettys Spiced Fruit Gugelhupf

Bettys Spiced Fruit Gugelhupf

Bettys Spiced Fruit Gugelhupf

I make absolutely no secret of my love for Bettys. Last year the Yorkshire bakery narrowly but decisively pipped Riverford to the post in a mince-pie-off that I decided to have because I needed justification for eating all the pies. Then I spent a day last month making gorgeous Christmas goodies at the Bettys Cookery School in Harrogate. Basically, for me, Bettys = Christmas.

So I was delighted when the lovely team there got in touch and offered me the chance to try one of the bakery’s 2013 Christmas goodies. I asked what they recommended, and the Spiced Fruit Gugelhupf, a new addition to the seasonal collection, arrived in the post this week.

A gugelhupf is a traditional Bundt-style ring cake which hails from southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland; though there are regional variations in what’s added to the batter, this particular offering is studded with rum-soaked fruit, peel, almond nibs and chocolate chips and finished off with a drizzle of icing and a sprinkling of pistachios. Lightly spiced, it’s something of a heavier, distinctly more Swiss German version of a panettone. As I opened it, a cloud of rum-scented, cinammon-edged warmth hit me: Christmas in a box. It also had a faint hint of something like my mum’s melomakarona, though to my knowledge there’s no honey in it – must have been the whiff of fruit.

Cutting it open, it still looks quite heavy and solid, but when you bite into it it’s actually surprisingly light, and even a little crumbly. On first glance, I wondered if it should have been more packed with ‘bits’, but actually the balance is perfect – any more and it would have been a fruit cake. The spice is added with a delicate hand, letting the fruit shine, and actually the alcohol is more scent than flavour, which I prefer. Despite coming from a similar tradition, this has neither the stodginess nor the intense sweetness of something like stollen or lebkuchen, and the icing is a pleasant dash of sugar which complements rather than overwhelming.

This is a really good alternative for those who don’t like fruit cake and want a satisfying but not cloying sweet which is still essentially Christmassy. It’s not a budget choice at £13.95, but is packed with expensive ingredients and achingly fresh – it should be eaten within two days of delivery, but it can be frozen if you’re preparing ahead.

Bettys ships internationally for most items, but due to its freshness this item is only available in the UK.

Disclaimer: I was sent a Spiced Fruit Gugelhupf by Bettys for free to sample and review. I was not otherwise paid, nor was I required to write anything except my honest opinion.

Bettys Cookery School: Christmas Cakes & Puddings

Me in my apron. Let's just say it's a good thing I do social media for a detergent brand.

Me in my apron. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I do social media for a detergent brand.

My sister might ruin everything, but she is also excellent at presents. Back in March, she got me a gift certificate for the amazing Bettys Cookery School (no, there isn’t an apostrophe; yes, it bugs me). Based in Harrogate, Yorkshire – also home to the first Bettys tearoom – the school offers a multitude of cooking courses for all levels of ability.

We opted for a Christmas-themed course; growing up Greek, fruit cakes and puddings weren’t really part of our frame of reference. My mum’s gorgeous but distinctly light and un-fruity chestnut cream gateau and an M&S trifle were more the order of the day. Thus, going to the most quintessentially British (alright, English) place we could think of to make quintessentially British Christmas goodies was very appealing, and likely to mean we really learned something.

The School & Courses

Some of the beautiful array made by James

Some of the beautiful array made by James

Bettys Cookery School sits alongside the craft bakery which supplies the famous tea rooms and the online shop, which posts items out across the world. This Christmas they’ve already made tens of thousands of puddings and cakes, and are set to supply around a quarter of a million mince pies far and wide – with orders from as far away as Australia (and really, you can’t get much further). The mince pies in particular are a great favourite of mine, as last year’s head-to-head with Riverford showed!

The course room is a large, well-stocked kitchen with huge granite worktops, gas hobs and electric, fan-assisted ovens.  It accommodates around 20-25 cooks, working three to a counter. There’s also a small shopping area with items from the bakery and the cookshop, and a large area with tables at which to take food breaks.

Tutors could be full-timers at the school or staff from the bakery. We had David Haynes from the former group and James Proudfoot from the latter. We also had a ‘host’, Helen, who made sure tea and coffee were plentiful, arranged all the food breaks, welcomed us in and processed any shop orders.

Courses at the school range from half-day ‘mini’ sessions for around £100 to full week-long certification courses up to £1,600. We did a full day, priced at £180, which includes breakfast, lunch and two tea breaks, an apron, a course folder with all the day’s recipes (plus extras if appropriate), whatever you need to take your creations home – in our case a ceramic pudding bowl, three glass jars and various cardboard boxes, plastic tubs and paper bags.

The only thing you need to bring is washing up gloves if you need to use them, as you’ll be clearing up after yourself.

Christmas Cakes & Puddings

On this course we made:

A Christmas pudding
A Christmas cake
3 x 300g jars of mincemeat
A mincemeat streusel tart
A sizeable tub of rum sauce

Afternoon tea break!

Afternoon tea break!

All ingredients were provided, including chilled and rested pastry for the tart; there wasn’t time to make our own that day, but the recipe was included in our folders. Ingredients were already weighed, measured and bagged up neatly on trays, and if there was any excess (we zested a lot of lemons and oranges, but didn’t juce them all), were were invited to take this away with us.

When we arrived, we were given half an hour to settle in, grab our aprons and enjoy some buttery, crisp, achingly fresh croissants from the bakery, with lightly salted butter and Bettys jam, plus as much Yorkshire tea or Taylor’s of Harrogate coffee as we could manage. We sat in groups of six around tables, and introduced ourselves to others on the course; though it’s a lovely thing to do as a pair, everyone was so friendly I wouldn’t have felt awkward alone. It was a real mix of newbies and regulars; one woman came with her mum who, whilst new to Bettys Cookery School, already had FOURTEEN Christmas cakes maturing in her cupboards at home (for the record, she still picked up a new tip or two!).

Poached salmon and veggies - just waiting to add spuds!

Poached salmon and veggies – just waiting to add spuds!

We then gathered around the demo table for the first walk-through – the pudding, and sterilising the jars. Our ovens were already set for us, and nicely to temperature, so we could get straight into hands on – or rather hands in – mixing and washing up our jars so we could pop them in. Once our puddings were neatly packed into their bowls, topped with the pre-cut baking parchment discs we were provided with and trussed up in foil on the hob, we had our first tea break, with hazlenut swirls and chocolate cookies. David and James floated around to help, and during our tea break they ensured all the puddings were turned down to a simmer.

After tea we got to work on the cake, and we seriously earned our lunch. The tutors prefer it to be made by hand so you can understand what’s happening and why; just as well, as nearly all of us managed to have some curdling towards the end of our egg addition. My hands got so buttery from stirring and scraping, I actually have a blister at the base of my little finger! James, who has turned out thousands upon thousands of cakes, took a good half hour to demonstrate the mixing, so you can imagine how long it took us! We picked up great tips, like using glycerine for moistness and making sure the cake is carefully levelled to stop fruit popping out and burning, leaving a bitter taste. We also discovered that the whole wrapping-up-in-brown-paper thing is not only unnecessary but actively detrimental, as it increases the baking time and therefore dries out the finished cake.

Mincemeat streusel tarts - mine is the star, my sister's the tree.

Mincemeat streusel tarts – mine is the star, my sister’s the tree.

After quickly mixing and transferring the mincemeat recipe to the jars, we washed up for a delicious lunch of poached salmon, new potatoes and ratatouille, followed by a dark chocolate bombe concealing a gooey, passionfruit caramel centre (bascially a very posh jaffa cake). We also got a lovely glass of Swiss wine in the colour of our choice.

After lunch, we embarked on the streusel tart, which mostly meant rolling out pastry and making a crumble topping, and then the incredibly moreish rum sauce. I finally understand how to make a decent roux! While the tarts were baking we squeezed in another tea break with generous slabs of lemon drizzle cake, and then tasted Jame’s pudding and a Christmas cake that had been maturing in the bakery for a couple of weeks. We also learned that you should never cut a fruit cake with a flat-edged knife, as the pressure really messes up the texture and makes it appear dry; always use a serrated edge and saw gently. Seeing the two freshly cut slices in front of us and the difference in appearance was seriously surprising.


I was really excited to go to the school, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although it was a gift, it would have been well worth paying for as it was extremely good value, even taking into account the trip up from the South East (although I do have free accommodation in Yorkshire!). There are a few courses I wouldn’t try, as with the right recipes I’d feel I’m an experienced enough baker to just experiment at home, but as I have absolutely no idea about mincemeat and fruit cakes it was pretty perfect. There are also advanced courses if you’re already quite proficient, plus things like knife skills and several savouries courses, not just baking.

My plan is to save up (or make Christmas / birthday cow eyes) for the breadmaking basics, as I think that’s something where it’s really helpful to have an experienced guide tell you what you should be looking for in terms of texture. Plus it’s a skill I can see me putting to good use at home on a regular basis.

Christmas ‘Baking’: Chocolate Rum Raisin Snowcups

rum raisin snowscapeYes, I used the C-word. Christmas.

It is a little early, but I really want to take some of the stress off my mother this year and, yes, show off a little. I went round to my mother-in-law’s last Friday for Shabbat (late to the party and baffled? I’m not Jewish, but my husband is) and she had made these plain chocolate cups by lining cupcake papers with melted chocolate. She then filled them with fresh whipped cream and strawberry slices and topped the whole mess of wonderful off with crumbled Flake. Gorgeous. And of course it got me thinking of what I could do. This is my first experiment.

As DiDi warned me, if you don’t coat the edges nice and thick, the cups fall apart when you peel away the paper. I was being a bit hasty so some of mine did fall apart. I was using petit fours cases and found that actually you could get away with a certain amount of crumbled edging if it’s small, cute and going to be filled to the brim. But perfectionists should be prepared to spend lots of time applying layers of melted chocolate onto paper cases with whatever implement suits you best (I used a grapefruit knife, my mother-in-law a plastic spoon).

Anyway, once they’ve fully set in the fridge, peel away the paper and get inventive with the filling. I put a handful of raisins in a saucepan with a healthy splash on rum on top, then simmered the contents of the pan for a couple of minutes. Then the heat went off, the lid went on and I gave them half an hour or so to soak up the drink. They then sat out (covered) long enough to cool down.

A heap of raisins went in the chocolate case and a little white chocolate was grated on top to make an artful, Christmassy snowstorm (at least that was the aim; if you think it looks more like Santa’s dandruff, you can leave it out).

Some other ideas I’ve thought of to experiment with:

  • Plain chocolate cups, blackberries smooshed into a lumpy, fruity syrup over heat with sugar and water, white chocolate curls
  • Any chocolate, mincemeat (as in what goes in mince pie, not lasagne!), crumbled cookie / oat topping
  • White chocolate cups, red berries in a little fruity syrup, decorated with holly leaves
  • White chocolate cups, crumbled up left-over Christmas pudding, a blob of cream
  • Layered cups – changing the colour of chocolate every time (after they’ve set in the fridge). Perhaps with a little hollow left for something crunchy – honeycomb?

I’m still thinking this through; I haven’t even got to the creamy or custardy fillings. The possibilities are endless provided you’re willing to spend hours footling chocolate around in paper cups. Of course you could do it without unpeeling them, leaving them in pretty paper cases but still getting the glorious choccy flavour, if you’re in a hurry.