Making an international relocation to London during the holidays can be an added challenge if you’re leaving loved ones behind that you won’t get to share the usual annual traditions with. I haven’t been home for three Thanksgivings or Easters since my relocation to London, but Christmas is my non-negotiable. I head for Chi-town in two weeks. And because I’m going home, a friend the other day gave me the full description of the dessert she’s making for a holiday party that I’ll be missing. The good news is that, contingent on any being left over, I could still eat that same cake in 2012 and beyond if I wanted to. For as long as it takes to prepare it, it lasts even longer. I am speaking of the traditional UK Christmas cake, a labor of holiday love. It requires one-hour of prep time and four-and-a-half hours of baking time. Woe was my friend, then, when she’d neglected to read ahead in the recipe to see that fact and had started her process at 10:00pm. What was even more fun for her was having to wake up every hour-and-a-half and turn her oven back on because it only stays on as long as its hour-and-a-half-max timer. She’s still excited about it, though. And her work isn’t done yet. Every few days for the next few weeks she must pour a few spoonfuls of brandy (or whiskey) into this fruit cake. By Christmas, the cake then gets sealed airtight in marzipan and icing, wrapped in a ribbon and topped with a Christmasy design.

If interested in making this one of your first big projects to test that new London apartment kitchen, here’s a recipe: Another tip-off that it’s officially Christmas-time in the UK was when I was just offered a free mince pie with my holiday-edition latte at Starbucks. These little tartlets of mincemeat (which isn’t meat at all but made of dried and fresh fruits, sugar, brandy, and suet) crop up everywhere, and it’s supposedly good luck to eat one every day in December. I gave my free pie to my husband last night, so guess I’ve already fallen behind. The good thing, though, is that I got said pie right after a dental cleaning, so my sweet tooth and I are ready for all the holiday desserts! In any case, a recipe for mince pie is here: Whatever meets your fancy this holiday season, enjoy all the similarities and differences in how the Brits and London’s international community celebrate. London is the perfect setting for the holidays, right out of one those cute miniature Charles Dickens villages that you set up at Christmas with its Victorian architecture, German markets, and these cozy desserts with mulled wine or hot toddies. If you make your relocation to Londonby then, you’ll be home for Christmas if only in your dreams, as the song says…but you’ll also feel at home in London.

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