Exploring the fascinating factory processes behind Christmas cake, baubles, brandy and more. And why Christmas tree lights are called fairy lights.
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Forget the partridge in a pear tree, this Christmas,
we will eat 10 million turkeys and 1.4 billion sprouts.
Our kids will find 165 million presents
under seven million Christmas trees.
It's a festive bonanza produced in factories all over the country.
Tonight, we'll be following the production of Christmas cake.
Last year in the UK, we ate more than 40 million of them.
I'm Gregg Wallace...
Whoa. That's a Christmas cake.
..and I'll be discovering some of the fascinating secrets
of this skilled production line.
I would never have imagined each one of these had to be
done by hand.
1,500 people work 24 hours a day here,
in this enormous factory.
And I'm Cherry Healey.
I'll be helping to turn 20 million apples into some of the brandy
that will light up your puddings this Christmas.
And I'll be attempting to make a traditional festive bauble
from red-hot molten glass.
What's happening? Oh, no!
Oh, I think I killed it.
And historian Ruth Goodman will be shedding some light
on the history of one of Christmas's best-loved decorations.
This year, two million Christmas cakes will fly out of this factory.
And this is the wonderful story of how they put the cheer
into every one.
Welcome to Inside The Christmas Factory.
This is the Park Cakes factory in Oldham near Manchester.
This ten-acre site produces more than 400 different cakes
From chocolate tiffin, to dome-shaped treats
and rainbow cakes.
But, tonight, we're focusing on Marks & Spencer's...
..six-month-matured snowflake bauble Christmas cake.
In the next 24 hours,
10,800 of these cakes will roll out of the oven.
And for that, 40 trucks are arriving at the ingredient arrival area,
bringing boxes, bags and pallets.
They are all unloaded under the supervision of Lisa Senior.
-Are you Lisa?
-I am. Come and meet me.
..I've come to find out how to make a Christmas cake.
OK, first things first, I need you to put this on.
Seriously? Without sort of taking the mickey out of myself,
-I have no hair.
-I didn't want to mention it,
-but everybody's got to put them on.
-Bald or not?
-Bald or not.
-How do I look?
-You look gorgeous.
How many ingredients, Lisa, does it take to make this Christmas cake?
To make this one, 16.
We've had a delivery this morning.
So this one's brandy and this is from France.
-Do you ever have a...?
Yeah, of course. You've got to.
It's all part of the process, so, yes, yeah,
we do have a little taste, to make sure it's OK.
Hang on. When you're making Christmas cake,
you get a chance to sample the brandy?
A little bit, yes, not a lot.
As well as brandy,
this traditional Christmas cake will need exotic ingredients
like currants, sultanas and spices.
And just in, a delivery of cherries.
-Where are they from?
-We get some from Poland, some from Spain,
-some from France.
-How many cherries do you go through?
We go through about 440 tonnes a year.
It's quite a lot.
We'll also need the staple ingredients like flour,
eggs and sugar.
Have I got everything now?
You've got everything that we need to make cakes with today...
..all in the factory ready to go.
Our Christmas cake production line begins now.
Fine. Thank you very much indeed. Am I on your Christmas card list?
-You certainly are.
-At the top?
-Right at the top. All right.
To get started, I'm meeting Dave Glaze,
who has already measured out most of the fruit ingredients.
But he's left me the job of weighing the currants.
If you'd like to carry those over for us.
Yeah, I'll get it. I'll get it.
Just drop the box down here for me.
We'll need enough for 350 cakes.
-And you want five point what, mate?
There we go.
Cor! Look how close, you've got to be absolutely precise.
Standards are standards.
-There we go.
-There you go.
-There you are, Chef. 5.58.
Now Dave adds brandy laced with raisin concentrate to the currants,
raisins and sultanas.
Missed a bit there, look. Dave, don't skimp, it's Christmas.
Looks like a gravy and smells like a big Saturday night out.
This'll be left to soak for 24 hours,
while the brandy plumps up the fruit.
I know how they come in.
I've seen them weighed out.
I've seen them soaked.
I believe you're going to go and take them and mix them for us now.
-Thank you, sir.
-Thank you. Pleasure.
The fruit I prepared won't be ready until tomorrow
so Dave has sent me off with a batch he made earlier.
While I'm preparing the Christmas cake,
Cherry is getting hot under the collar
making another Christmas essential.
Christmas for me really starts when we put up the decorations.
But how do you make a thin, fragile, hollow glass bauble?
Whilst the majority of our Christmas decorations
are made in factories overseas,
the most special ones are made in the UK by artisans
using traditional skills.
I've come to Langport, Somerset, to meet Will Shakspeare.
-Lovely to meet you.
Every year, he makes around 5,000 decorative glass baubles.
They're sold in Liberty's, John Lewis
and in 30 galleries across Britain.
So where do you start?
Well, what we start with is we have a day furnace, which is here.
-If you want to look in there.
-Phwoar! I'm going...
I have to take a step back. That is unbelievable.
Will starts making a bauble by gathering a glob
of molten recycled glass out of the furnace...
..and then adds the colour.
Powdered blue glass.
So this has to go in first of all, the blue powder.
And is that melting onto it, as you roll?
Yes, it's sticking onto it as I roll it because obviously
the glass is hot. So now I've got all the blue on
and this goes into the furnace.
These are just chips of coloured glass and I'm just dotting them
-on quite randomly.
-Cos I don't want each bauble to be the same.
As Will heats it back up to 1,000 Celsius,
the glass chips melt on the surface.
But he's still got to get the air in the middle.
Now I've got a pad of wet paper.
So now I've made the whole piece nice and round.
I'm going to blow down the iron.
-Look at that.
-Blowing it more...
-You really start to see.
To make this a Christmas bauble, it needs a glass loop,
so it can hang on a tree.
You stick this down, pull it up...
..cut it off, twist that bit back and on top of itself,
so you've got no sharp bit on it at all.
-There you go.
That's what you're going to be trying to make.
Uh-oh, now it's my turn.
The only bit I'm going to do for you is get the glass out the furnace.
-Everything else you're doing.
I'm just very aware that I'm playing with molten, hot, fiery glass.
Now keep it turning.
The outside of the glass is cooling quickly,
so I need to create the right shape before it gets too hard to blow.
Just roll it and try and make it round.
Now take a big breath, crouch down and blow down the iron.
Go on, that's about the size of a grape.
You've got to blow a bit harder.
-Is anything happening, Will?
-Not a lot.
It's the build-up of pressure, not the air itself,
that will expand my glass.
Keep lifting your diaphragm up just a little bit at a time.
-Ah! What happened, Will?
-You blew too hard.
Right, OK, let's now carry on as if that didn't happen.
Now for the colour.
So pick up the iron and roll it through the blue.
This is so insane. Ah!
Well done. And now take a deep breath, crouch down and blow.
Don't try and blow too hard. Just keep that pressure up.
That's brilliant. That is now blowing.
-So you can see you've got a bubble.
-I've got a weird shape, Will.
So now you've got to cut it in, right? So, now, that was easy.
-Quick, quick, quick.
-Keep the glass pointing down.
-Will, what's happening?
Oh, I think I killed it.
Try and get the jacks round it.
I want to disassociate myself from it completely.
This is the worst!
Take it off, you walk away, Cherry.
Ah, it's a masterpiece. Look at that.
I think that's the most beautiful Christmas bauble I've ever seen.
-Have you seen a lot?
Let's put it away, shall we?
-That is handmade.
I'm really proud of my Christmas bauble
and it's going to go pride of place on the tree this year.
I think it might even become a new family heirloom.
At the factory, I'm heading for the mixing room with my batch of fruit
that has been plumped up with brandy.
It's been ten minutes since my fruit ingredients arrived.
Now I'm going to mix my cake batter in one of the factory's
200kg mixing bowls.
Guiding me through the process is Phil Brierley.
-Hi, Gregg. Phil.
-I've got a mix.
You have to put that on. We're in a nut allergen area
and we need to wear a yellow hats.
You look as beautiful as ever, don't worry about it.
Are we now going to put a mix together and make a Christmas cake?
To start with, we need 24 litres of egg,
enough to make 240 omelettes.
We need to mix the egg and the sugar syrup.
-Got a posser.
Mate, you don't have to use that language, I asked you politely.
They used to use it for laundry,
but we use it for mixing sugar and ingredients together.
-And it's called a posser?
-It's called a posser.
You can posser it while I put the brown sugar in and mix it through.
Why this brown sugar instead of say, caster sugar?
Cos caster sugar would turn the crumb white.
This turns it brown and gives you the brown colour
you want in a Christmas cake.
Have you ever been tempted to add an eye of newt
-or a wing of bat?
-No, no. We gave that up years ago.
Now we can put half of the egg,
syrup and sugar mix into the mixing bowl.
We add the butter.
That's the fresh mixed peel.
-I want to put that in my bathroom.
Then we have the candied peel.
You feel the difference. That's quite hard and sticky.
-What about the rest of the stuff?
-No, no, that goes in later.
We do things in stages.
If you put everything in now,
you would get everything coagulating and the cake wouldn't bake,
the fruit would sink and we'd get problems with it.
So we pull the lid down.
We press the slow button and it will automatically start and finish.
Whilst it's blending together,
we put it on the fast speed to beat all the lumps out.
Open the lid. We now scrape all the lid down.
-And we just take these little bits off the lid?
This is a nice job.
It reminds me when my grandmother used to bake a cake
and I'd see if I could lick the bowl, lick the spoon.
I don't think you'd be allowed to lick the mixer.
In goes the salt, baking powder, flour and the exotic spice mix.
Oh, let me smell.
Whoa. That's a Christmas cake.
-That's a lovely blend.
-I want to get every little ounce...
..of flavour out of that.
Phil, you're not actually following a recipe, are you?
I've worked here for 40 years.
I've done umpteen million Christmas cakes,
so I know off by heart the recipe that we're following.
-40 years this year.
The recipe now needs the other half of the egg and sugar
that I mixed at the start.
Then the fruit soaked with brandy,
and, finally, the cherries.
Shut the lid and we'll mix it.
If you're out and you see someone eating a cake,
do you have a sideward glance, see what they're having?
I'm proud, yeah, if they're eating one of our cakes.
I often go into a store and look at the cakes we've made,
making sure they're still as good as when they left the factory.
And if they're not on the shelf properly,
I will sort of straighten up. Yeah.
-Is that bad?
-Gregg, I'll open the lid.
If you bring the bath round, we'll then tip the mix in.
-You call it a bath?
-A bath, cos it looks like a bath.
Finally, my mix, enough for 350 cakes, is ready.
So this cake mix has only got an hour's life now, Gregg,
so we need to cover it and send you on your way
to the tinning department.
The clock is ticking because
the baking powder has begun to produce carbon dioxide bubbles,
which will make the cake rise.
If we leave it too long, the bubbles will disappear.
-So I've got to move quickly?
-Thanks a lot.
-Mate. See you later.
And that is a sticky job.
I'm taking my cake mix to the oven.
Meanwhile, Ruth Goodman's been finding out
about another Christmas essential - decorations.
She's been investigating why it is we put fairy lights
on our Christmas trees.
A Christmas tree wouldn't look Christmassy
without some fairy lights.
But who first invented the fairy light,
and why the reference to fairies?
It is commonly believed that the American Thomas Edison
invented the light bulb in 1879 and it's true that in 1882,
one of Edison's employees promoted the new lights
by displaying them on a Christmas tree.
But there is a British inventor from Sunderland
who has a very strong claim to be the inventor of the light bulb
and the fairy light.
To find out more, I've come to the Savoy Theatre in London
to meet Dr Sarah Walker from Newcastle University.
-What a wonderful place!
This is the first public building lit by entirely electric lighting.
Joseph Swan lit this Savoy Theatre.
He was a developer of a light bulb back in the 1870s.
Why do we all think it's Edison, then?
Well, Edison and Swan both submitted patents at the same time,
but Joseph Swan actually demonstrated his light bulb earlier.
What we've got here is a light bulb that's very similar to the ones that
would've been in this building.
It's over 100 years old and it still works.
So how do we get from this to a fairy light?
It was in this theatre in 1882 that they staged a Christmas production
of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe
and Swan created miniature lights for the fairies.
Here is a reproduction of the lights
that would have been worn by the fairies onstage,
complete with battery pack.
The batteries would've been a lot larger back then,
but they were miniature and they were mobile for the dancers to wear.
Oh, I see!
Imagine that for the first time for the theatre-goers to see.
I would never have guessed...
..that that's why we call them fairy lights.
So these are the reviews, the first reviews of that 1882 production.
"It may be mentioned that for the first time on any stage,
"four of the fairies wore Swan's incandescent electric lamps
-"in their hair."
Quite exciting, obviously!
Yes, and they do actually mention Swan, which is great.
There's the evidence that they're his little fairy lights
that were actually used onstage.
The word fairy light quickly became a more generic word
for a small light bulb.
So here in this catalogue of 1890, we see, amongst all the others,
But, for many years, they remained a luxury novelty for the rich.
It wasn't until the 1950s that fairy lights went mass market in Britain,
thanks to that bright spark from the north-east, Joseph Swan.
Back at the factory, I'm on my way to the tinning department.
Just 31 minutes after my ingredients arrived,
I've got myself 200kg of cake mix ready for the next stage
in the process.
Claire Lawrence is going to show me how to get the tins ready
for my cakes.
-Just leave that there.
Right, so what do I have to do?
To begin with, we'd grease the tin with a brush.
Bottom and sides?
Have I got to do it as fast as this conveyor belt's going?
Yep, you have.
-We then put a paper in the bottom?
-Put one round the sides?
That's just one of the 350 tins I need for my cake mix.
Now I need to fill them.
Right, if we get you up there.
And now you're just going to put the mix in there.
Will it fall through the holes naturally?
No, you need to push it down with the paddle.
-Come on, keep coming.
-Mate, Christmas is coming.
Showing me how to fill the tins is Hasmita Bhagat.
How does this work, how are you controlling that?
It's actually a foot pedal,
so you press it once and it's going to deposit once.
So all I've got to do is press the pedal
and the right amount will come out?
Make sure the tin is underneath, obviously, yes.
-Do I look stupid to you?! Get out of the way!
Oh, I see. It moves, it moves.
It's not as easy as it looks, actually,
cos it's moving, isn't it? Where's my pedal?
More tins, more tins, come on! Christmas is coming.
Oh, oh, oh! Uh-oh.
-It's all right.
-What advice did you give me?
-You're doing perfect.
-Do you know what happened?
-I was looking down at the pedal...
You're not used to it, that's the only reason.
50 tins of cake mix are passing along the line every minute.
Using a temper, the team make sure that every surface is flat.
Why is it so important that it's flat?
These are going to have marzipan and icing on top,
so you don't want a bumpy Christmas cake.
Marzipan. Yum, my favourite bit of the cake.
They use more than three tonnes of the stuff here.
Cherry has been to get hands-on at the factory
where the marzipan is made.
Renshaw in Liverpool has been making marzipan for around 120 years.
The run-up to Christmas is their busiest time,
Christmas cakes have a layer of the sugary nut paste
to seal in the moisture.
My guide to marzipan making
is factory technical manager Mike Wayne.
-Hi, Cherry, how are you?
First, its main ingredient - sweet almonds.
How many almonds are in this box?
Within this box, there is a tonne of almonds straight from California.
These are the everyday almonds you would eat at home
and they go through our process in which we remove the skin.
How on earth do you do that?
These are actually taken to the nut tipper.
Is it actually called the nut tipper?
It's called a nut tipper.
Wow! That's a whole load of nuts.
To remove the skin, they're washed,
blanched at 90 degrees,
pinched by a series of rollers...
They're having a little Christmas jig.
..and vibrated clean of debris.
-There they are, beautiful and naked.
Next, my nuts need roasting -
in a giant, three-tiered oven at 80 Celsius.
But these aren't the only nuts in the almond paste.
Mike shows me another surprising ingredient.
The Moroccan bitter almond.
Oh. So they look exactly the same.
Exactly the same, but they have a very, very bitter taste,
which gives marzipan its unique flavour.
These are grown in Morocco.
They're from trees which can't be cultivated.
So they're kind of wild almonds?
Almost wild, but the farmers know which trees
produce the bitter almonds.
So exotic, who would've thought?
All right, how do we get these out of here?
We use this contraption, which is essentially a giant vacuum cleaner.
Factories are so fun.
Both the sweet and bitter almonds are ground up
and churned together with granulated sugar...
This looks a bit like sweetcorn, almost.
..before emerging from the mixer below as a paste.
That is a beautiful thing.
It looks like a whippy ice cream.
This then goes onto the next stage, which is cooking.
My raw paste is put into a 550 kilo pressure cooker...
..by Judy Bromby.
What we do now is you've got a button there
and it'll fall in for you.
Cooking it for 40 minutes at 90 degrees
transforms the bitter paste into a smoother, sweeter marzipan.
Judy, that is the stuff of dreams.
-Is this Christmas for you?
-It is, it is. Every day.
You think about it, because I make it every day.
But don't you get to Christmas and think,
-"I really can't be doing with this"?
-No. I love Christmas.
-Wow, you must love Christmas.
-I love Christmas.
This marzipan is roughly 50% nut and 50% sugar.
Wahey, there it goes.
Look at that.
But to balance the sweet and bitter flavours,
we're blending it with 250 kilos of icing sugar,
before it's packed in ten kilo boxes
ready for the Christmas cake factory.
There you go, Gregg, a lovely batch of freshly made marzipan.
At this peak time of year,
a lorry load is sent off to the cake factory every week.
Back at the Christmas cake factory,
my tins of cake mix are heading into the oven.
It stretches 20 metres from one end of the room to the other.
2,000 cakes travel on a wire mesh conveyor,
baking for 100 minutes at 155 Celsius.
I'm guessing we're not allowed to touch that, right?
No, this is very, very hot.
Merlyn's our trained oven controller
and she's allowed to open up the oven
to have a look at the cake.
Every 25 minutes, trained oven controllers like Merlyn
check on the cakes to make sure they're rising.
One hour and 57 minutes since my ingredients arrived,
the first of my baked batch are starting to emerge.
They're turned out of their tins...
..left to cool...
..and then sent to the bagging department,
where they're sealed in bags,
tagged with a date label
and left to languish in a storeroom.
The aim is for the cake to be
at least six months matured by Christmas...
..ready to take pride of place on your table.
But not every Christmas tradition is so universally loved.
There is a subject that has divided a nation.
A very contentious issue that has pitted young against old.
I'm talking, of course, about Brussels...
Cherry is on a crusade for change.
Ah, that is dreamy.
I have to confess that I love sprouts.
But I want to find out why do some people hate them so much.
Maybe I can persuade them that they're missing out.
I'm starting at one of Britain's largest sprout farms -
TH Clements in Lincolnshire...
..where I'm joining farmer Justin Crowfoot
for the harvest in the run-up to Christmas.
-I've got one!
-It's so big.
Look at the size of that!
So, what? And now I put it in there?
-I'd probably hold your hand a little bit closer.
Why doesn't it want to eat it?
It's like my children. Eat the sprout!
-I got it!
-You got one.
Well done, brilliant. High-five.
All the Brussels sprouts are being chopped off and they fall down here?
Onto the belt, which then goes to the hopper and then into the tank.
Look, there they go.
How many sprouts will this one machine collect in one day?
-We can do two million sprouts a day.
-Two million sprouts?
In just the two weeks before Christmas,
they pick a total of 190 million sprouts.
Look at all those Brussels sprouts.
I can see from the scale of things here
that somebody's eating sprouts at Christmas,
but why do so many people claim not to like them?
To find out, I've come to Elsoms trial farm
to meet sprout breeder Dr Richard Tudor...
..who's developing the perfect sprout.
The reason some people hate sprouts
is probably to do with the bitter chemicals in them.
25% of the population have a gene that means they can
taste these bitter tasting compounds.
So are you saying that I don't have good taste buds?
-That could be the case, yeah.
-I think so!
Over the last, 20 or 25 years, we, as breeders,
have tried to breed out these bitter tasting chemicals,
so they should be nicer for everybody to eat.
-So if you'd like to try one.
This is one of the traditional bitter-tasting sprouts.
-These are what I would've eaten as a child?
I wouldn't normally eat a raw Brussels sprout, to be honest.
They're very good for you raw.
I love sprouts, but that, that is bitter.
Let's compare it to one of the new varieties.
It's so fun just to pick it off the stalk.
-Can you taste the difference?
-Mm. That is noticeably more sweet.
Sprouts have a bad name, but, you know, they're really delicious.
I think in their childhood,
people are used to eating the bitter types of Brussels sprouts
and maybe they haven't gone back to trying the new sweeter varieties.
So they've tried them a long time ago,
hated them, that slightly scarred them for life?
-I believe so, yeah.
-You're a man on a mission.
-I am indeed.
Back at the farm, the sprouts being processed today are the milder,
..as are most of the sprouts you will find in the shops
But simply labelled "sprouts",
so you may not realise they've changed over the years.
So I want to put these new, sweeter sprouts to the test.
We've roasted some and the high heat has converted the starch to sugar,
so they're even sweeter.
Now I've come to the nearby market town of Spalding...
Excuse me. Hi there.
..to find some sprout haters and see if I can change their minds.
-Not so bad.
-Yes! You like them?
-Do you normally like them?
-Did they taste different to you?
Yeah. They taste a bit sweeter.
Do you think you might try a sprout on Christmas Day?
-It was sweet and nice.
Is that different to how you remember sprouts being?
Yes. I remember ugly childhood taste.
And now it's lovely.
Are you saying that I might have converted you to be a sprout lover?
-Yeah, you did.
-A little bit, yeah.
-She did it.
Success. I have some sprout converts.
-Now you know what to give each other for Christmas.
So even if you think you hate sprouts,
I think you should give them a go this Christmas.
It's been three months and I'm back at the factory.
The cakes are still in storage,
so that when they get eaten at Christmas,
they'll be six months matured.
Meanwhile, I'm heading to the icing department
to make a start on the decorations.
And I'm back with the fittingly named Dave Glaze.
Well, if we're going to make some icing sugar paste,
we need to start by sieving some icing sugar.
These bags are 25 kilos.
25 kilos is a sack of spuds.
So all we do is lift to raise, lower to suck.
It feels like you could take off with it.
Go from the side.
So how many bags would you go through a day?
It's about 375 bags a day.
Now I've got it over here,
I need to get the icing sugar out of the bag.
Nice, confident cut all the way across.
It passes through a sieve to create the fine powder for perfect icing.
And then via a funnel into a large metal container
on the other side of the wall.
My sieved sugar is now in here?
Nice and gently, lid down.
And away we go.
How much sugar have I got here?
You've got 175 kilos in that container.
-It feels like it.
Coming through, got my sieved sugar.
So this is our sugar paste manufacturing room.
This is the machine we're going to be using.
I love this industrial stuff,
because it is quite simply a mixing bowl you'd have at home,
-just times 100!
-The process is no different.
It's just a matter of scale.
In this 250kg bowl, Dave mixes up a base of oil,
stabiliser and gum, which makes the icing stretchy.
That is a lovely big, white, thick, sticky mess.
-Can I now put some sugar in there?
-OK, let's bring it over.
Crying out loud.
Is it too late to say nice and gently?
12 kilos of finely sieved powdery icing sugar fill the mixing bowl,
like a fine dusting of snow.
After another ten minutes of whisking,
we've made enough icing to cover 1,500 cakes.
Now it's loaded into trays, so I can wheel it onto the next stage.
-Right, that's us done.
-Is that done?
Mate, this better be a good-tasting cake, cos I'm exhausted.
I'm taking my icing sugar paste to the factory's decoration department.
In this Willy Wonka wonderland,
they hand make all of the decorations
that sit on top of the cakes.
Helping me to turn my trolley of icing into Christmas decorations
is Paul Webb.
-Are you Paul?
-I am, Gregg.
He's going to show me how to make some icing balls
and two different types of snowflakes.
-Right, come on, then, which one first?
Need to use the silicon moulds.
If you could get that to wear glasses, I'd be out of a job.
So we get a small piece of sugar paste, push it into the mould.
Use our knockout tool.
Go on, it's coming.
-And then roll that into a ball?
Do you ever step back and smile at this, I mean...?
-I'm very proud of it.
-I've done this for 23 years
and what we make is fantastic,
cos you're making someone's occasion.
-You are, aren't you, I suppose?
Well, I like this bit, this bit's nice.
This bit's more creative, less messy.
-There's only 75,000 of those to make.
-In what timespan?
It'll be about six weeks.
And we've got to make 75,000 snowflakes, 75,000 lace snowflakes.
-I think we can say I've conquered the balls, don't you?
-Right, OK, now what?
-So we've got a snowflake plunger. Push in.
-So push it,
-push down there?
-All the way through the sugar paste.
-You've actually got to press down pretty hard.
Pull that out, then.
And you take the sugar snowflake off it.
There's a beautiful thing.
How many of these would you expect me to do in an hour?
-Ten a minute, so 600 an hour.
-Ten a minute?
You can't do ten a minute.
# Five white snowflakes!
# Five big round balls
# La-da-da, da-da-da-da-da! #
For my next trick, the more delicate lace snowflake.
-Right, what do you do with that?
-So we use this...
That's a little bit like modelling clay.
And we just fill the indentations on the mould.
Because this stuff is so thick,
it doesn't instantly fall into the holes...
-It pulls away from it as well.
-Yeah. Yes, it does.
As you pull it, it comes out.
It's got to be worked and worked and worked again.
You know, anybody looking at those snowflakes, I would imagine,
would think that they come off a machine about a million a minute.
So slightly bend it.
And just a case of working around.
Mate, everything about this is delicate and laborious.
It'd be quicker to wait until it actually snows and collect them.
For the final flourish,
the snowflakes are coated with gold glitter.
-It's like treasure.
-Edible gold lustre.
It's so fine, we need protection to prevent us breathing it in.
GREGG MIMICS DARTH VADER'S BREATHING
The lustre is strong within you.
-Right, come on, then.
-So we get the snowflakes you've just made.
Lay them in the lustre.
Tap the excess off.
-Is that it?
-Is this stuff really expensive?
Make sure we get both sides and full coverage.
To cap it all off,
my gold lace snowflakes need to be stuck onto the icing balls.
-So, over the back of it.
And lay it over the top of the large ball, then.
You've got to make sure you don't touch the white ball,
because you've got gold on your gloves,
you'll smear it, spoil the look. I can't believe this, Paul.
I would never have imagined each one of these had to be done by hand.
-Much respect, my friend, much respect.
-Listen, I need to put these decorations on a cake.
My decorations are heading for the production line,
where more than 40 people are waiting to finish each cake.
Meanwhile, Ruth's been finding out what inspired Charles Dickens
to write his famous yuletide novel.
A Christmas Carol helped establish the Victorian Christmas.
It popularised traditions such as singing carols, eating turkey,
But could the inspiration for this Christmas classic
have come from inside a factory?
I'm heading to the River Thames embankment
to search for the original location of Warren's Blacking Factory,
where Charles Dickens was sent to work when he was just 12 years old.
It was right next to a place called the Hungerford Stairs.
So I think it was about here,
where Charing Cross bridge now runs into the embankment.
Dickens described the shoe polish factory that stood here as
"a crazy tumbledown house with rotten floors".
His father had been sent to prison for debt, so for ten hours a day,
six days a week, young Dickens pasted labels onto bottles
to earn money for his family.
It was a harsh experience,
but it gave Dickens an affinity for the industrial working classes
that was to resonate throughout his later writings.
When his family inherited some money,
Dickens managed to escape his factory drudgery.
Years later, in 1843,
his friend was the commissioner of a ground-breaking parliamentary report
on child workers across Britain,
and the details profoundly affected Dickens.
I've been given special access to the Palace of Westminster
to read that report for myself.
Here we go, George Francis, aged ten years.
Can read and write a little and he works in a paper mill.
Mr Spicer's Glory Mill.
He comes to work at six in the morning
and leaves off at five at night.
Oh, and here we see about time off.
"Have one day's holiday at Christmas.
"Never at any other time that I recollect.
"And on Christmas Day, we ain't paid for it."
MUSIC: Silent Night
Gosh. Poor little lad.
There's so many stories like that here.
One after another.
The report ran into seven volumes.
Hundreds of thousands of youngsters were working in harsh conditions.
In Charles Dickens's old London writing room,
-I'm meeting Professor Emma Griffin...
..who's been investigating how he campaigned for change.
What impact did all this information from the Parliamentary commission
have upon Charles Dickens?
He realises very quickly that if he's going to make an impact
with any of this, he needs to write a story about it
and so that's precisely what he does.
The story that comes out of all of this is the Christmas Carol.
This image in particular I think captures the idea of what Dickens
is doing. We've got the smoky city background...
-Yeah, the factory, all the chimneys.
-The factories, the chimneys,
-Small, ragged child.
-Absolutely, the brick
and the kind of dark and gloom.
And this sort of ominous ghost sitting there.
A Christmas Carol was a smash hit on publication in December 1843.
It not only revived the spirit of Christmas,
it also popularised being kind to the working poor.
-Don't be a Scrooge.
-I think that's right.
Scrooge is definitely one of our best known characters, isn't it?
I mean, who doesn't know about Scrooge?
And I imagine, at the time, if you'd been an employer,
the last thing you would've wanted was to be called a Scrooge.
Reports from that time document how factory owners
did grant days off as a direct result
of reading A Christmas Carol.
Dickens helped re-establish Christmas
as the season of goodwill to all,
especially to those who worked inside a factory.
In the words of the changed boss Ebenezer Scrooge,
a Merry Christmas to everybody.
In Oldham, they're taking some of the 15,000 Christmas cakes
out of storage. Up until now,
it's taken one hour and 57 minutes to make them and then a long rest
Now I'm going to help with the icing and decorations,
which are amazingly all done by hand.
44 pairs of hands, in fact, on a 30 metre long production line
and Claire Hodgson, the designer of the cake, is going to be my guide.
Why have they been in store for so long?
So when you bake a cake,
the heat from the oven penetrates into the cakes,
so, naturally, the middle of the cake will be softer and moister
than the outside of the cake.
By bagging it and maturing it for six months,
that moisture equalises out throughout the whole of the cake.
What's happening to them now, why are they going through there?
So this big machine here has got a tank of brandy in it
and it injects brandy into the cake.
-I suppose it is Christmas, right?
The needles inject each cake with just over six teaspoons of brandy.
And that gives it both flavour and succulence.
Brandy is a key ingredient in Christmas cake
and the stuff they use here is distilled in France
and made from grapes, but Cherry is in Somerset,
where they make it from a very different fruit.
Here at Burrow Hill Farm in Somerset,
they've been turning apples into brandy for the last 28 years.
And right now, they're harvesting the apples
that will go on to make brandy for Christmas.
These 180 acres of traditional orchards produce enough apples
to make 80,000 bottles of brandy.
Matilda Temperley has been looking after this year's crop.
This one is a Kingston Black. It's a legend in the West Country.
-It's not that bad for eating.
-That's pretty good.
-It's better than most of the cider apples for eating.
So how does this work?
You'll see the brushes are brushing the apples out of the long grass
and they're brushing it up the elevator, into the trailer.
20 million apples are harvested in the run-up to Christmas.
This is a hose. Ah!
The water jet not only gives the apples a wash,
it also bobs them down along a water slide onto a wooden conveyor.
Then they're ground up and pressed to make
almost a million litres of juice...
..which is stored in giant barrels for at least 12 weeks to ferment,
finally producing cider.
But how is that transformed into spirit-strength brandy?
I'm told the trick of turning cider into brandy is done by two very
-This is Fifi.
And this is Josephine.
Why are they called Josephine and Fifi?
Well, they came from France with these names and they have to stay
with their names for ever.
Rob Moore is responsible for the distilling process.
What is distilling?
Distilling, in our sense, is taking cider with alcohol in,
heating it up to about 78 degrees,
and allowing the alcohol to evaporate.
So you're heating up the cider and steam is coming off,
-vapour is coming off, in the same way that if you were heating up the kettle.
-Exactly the same.
How do you heat up the cold cider?
Well, originally these stills would have been wood-fired,
but now we use gas.
-It's quite an intense fire in there.
And every section in here, there's a little plate,
it's like a little valve and it allows vapour
to come up and every level,
it gets higher and higher, the alcohol gets stronger and stronger.
As it reaches the top, the vapour passes across to the condenser,
where cold cider is piped through the tank
and that cools the vapour and turns it back into liquid.
It travels into this here.
-This is called eau de vie.
-Eau de vie.
-Water of life.
-Water of life.
When this jar's got about 25 litres in,
which I think it's just about ready.
-Is it ready?
-Just about ready. So if you press that green button.
-No, just press it once.
And there is a pump under here which drags out
all the spirit to the next stage.
The clear liquid is pumped into oak casks in the warehouse,
where I'm meeting Julian Temperley.
So this is what I've just seen being made in the distillery?
Yes, this is apple eau de vie.
This is around about 70% alcohol.
I just took the tiniest drop and I can't feel my face.
This comes into a barrel and there is an interaction between the wood
and the oak and there's also an evaporation through the wood.
Even when it's in the barrel,
alcohol is evaporating and coming out?
Yes. And that is called the angel's share.
Angel's share, as in you're sharing it with the angels?
Well, the angels live in the sky, they get some.
After ten years, the spirit in the barrel will lose
around a third of its total alcohol
but it's transformed into brandy.
This is ten years old.
This colour has all come from the wood and the barrel.
All come from the barrel.
That is much more drinkable and smooth and sweet.
These oak barrels, they provide the transformation from this to that.
Christmas is in the barrels.
And at Christmas, brandy has a particularly important role to play,
flaming the Christmas pudding,
and Julian's going to show me how it should be done.
First you need to warm it up.
You heat the brandy first.
So it gives off a nice vapour, because it is the vapour that burns.
As soon as you can see it is giving of smoke, then you light it.
There we are.
That is beautiful.
-Happy Christmas, folks.
That, to me, is the best bit of Christmas.
-Happy Christmas to you.
-Thank you. Merry Christmas.
My Christmas cake has been mixed, baked,
matured and injected with brandy.
So far, to make it, it's taken one hour,
57 minutes and 40 seconds of hands-on preparation.
I'm back on the production line and it's time to get messy.
-So now we're going to stick the cake to the board by using
a small amount of apricot jam.
Why apricot jam?
It's fruity, but it's not too distinctive and it doesn't have pips
in it, so it's a really good, sticky substance to stick it to the board.
-Can I put the jam in the bottom?
-Why don't we have a go, Gregg?
The jam will also help the icing stick to the cake,
so it needs to be spread across the top.
-Oh, is that it?
-Yes, that's it.
-One more, one more.
-It's like rubbing suntan lotion into my head.
Have you any idea how much I love marzipan?
I think I'm about to find out, Gregg.
The marzipan from the factory in Liverpool has arrived.
And it's about to play a starring role on my cake.
Assisting me is Linda Kedwood.
What do we do with all this marzipan?
It's kneaded, as Claire's doing there.
Then it's put into the chute.
As you can see it comes down and covers the cake.
Cut off the edge, sling it over there.
Cut it out here.
Knead it around.
-Nice and tight.
-You've got a lot of people here.
-How many people are on this line?
Why is it not machines doing this?
-They're handmade cakes, Gregg!
They certainly are.
This is an extraordinary mix of mass production and craftsmanship.
Now for the icing.
We need to be really careful, because it needs to look perfect,
and it's really soft and sticky.
Amanda Burke has been perfecting her technique here for the last five
-Just make sure you're nice and smooth, you're tight,
and just bring it round, and it's pushing all your air out.
It's a lot thinner, the marzipan.
Smoother. As well, isn't it?
Whatever you do makes an instant impression.
The marzipan, you can really firmly handle it.
This, you've got to be very gentle.
I like this!
This has got a certain amount of skill to it.
Yeah, it is very skilled.
But it's also quite satisfying to see a perfect cake
at the end of it.
Perfect little snow scene, look!
Now, we cut all the extra icing away from the cake,
so you see the board again.
Then it's just a matter of tucking in the icing blanket
around the base of the cake, to give me a blank canvas,
ready for the section of the line where they add the decorations.
-Am I seeing double?!
-We are twins!
How long have you been twins?
-Since we were born!
-Ladies, can you get off the bus?
-We'd like to have a go.
-There you go, Gregg.
I don't know whether to decorate a cake or order a bottle of wine!
It feels like I'm out on a date!
Hi, I'm Gregg, Libra!
Claire, Cancerian. So, Gregg, this is how we stencil a cake.
This is plastic and stencil.
You need to carefully place it in the centre of the cake.
We're then going to get some royal icing,
and start by scraping it and making sure the icing
goes into the holes on the stencil.
And then scrape any excess off.
The finishing touch, the sparkle.
This is the best bit.
And then just lift...
Yours is off-centre!
-You know why?
-So, cake, on the stand.
Stencil. On the cake.
-In the middle.
Scrape off your excess.
Get your paintbrush.
Paint it with glitter!
That's it. Lift it off.
I'm now beginning to realise why you've got
so many people on this line.
How many of these cakes are coming through here?
We normally work on eight cakes a minute.
Right then, Gregg. So now is the exciting bit.
This is what we have got to create together.
Oh, right, and each step of the way,
somebody else is putting another ornament on the cake?
That's exactly right. We need to indent the top of the cake to give
you a placement to place all your baubles.
Yes! Give me the icing bag!
Pipe a little dot of royal icing
just to make sure that those balls stay
on top of the cake. Right, so we need five baubles now, Gregg.
Oh! Every other one, I think.
My handmade snowflakes are finally getting their starring role.
Right, now I need bronze snowflakes.
Come on! Let's move down!
We need the sparkly one.
Sparkly one! You're holding up production!
Now we put the ribbon on.
The glove's stuck in there!
# Five snowflakes
# One big bald bloke and two icing twins... #
Hiya, I've got a cake, look at that!
Look at that cake!
Come on, fist pump, fist pump!
I've got the cake, come on!
Come on now, Gregg, because it's fantastic looking,
but we now need to put it in a box because it's never going to get to
store just like that.
Does it have to go in a box?!
I'm really proud of my cake!
It will look even better in a carton, trust me.
Eight cakes per minute.
That's 480 cakes an hour.
Boxed and conveyed towards the end of the line.
This machine puts film on the outside of the box
just to finish it all off and make the box airtight.
It's like a funfair ride for cakes!
So, Gregg, now we need to put them in the tray,
and they start on the journey out of the factory to the depot.
I've got it!
And that gets stacked over there?
If you just pop it on the top.
That's a big stack of cakes!
It's a lot of cake. I need you to wrap them all up for me now.
Haven't you got a machine?
No, no, I thought you'd like to do it because you'd gone to such a lot
-of trouble with the cakes!
-You haven't got a machine, have you?!
-No, we haven't got a machine!
OK, Gregg, I think that's enough wrap!
And that's it!
Cakes ready for Christmas all over the nation, right?
-Thank you for helping me.
You're very welcome. It's been a pleasure.
Each finished cake has taken two hours,
53 minutes and 50 seconds of production
and passed through the hands of more than 80 skilled workers.
Now they've moved on to the distribution area, where every day,
20 lorries leave the factory with more than 3,000 cakes on board.
First they'll be transported to a central depot,
before heading to shelves all over the country.
The biggest Christmas cake fans live in the north-east of England...
..where, in Yorkshire, they like to eat it with cheese.
I really enjoyed making that Christmas cake.
It made me feel... Well, it made me feel Christmassy.
I was amazed by how many people are involved in making it in a world of
machinery and automation.
But best of all,
what I loved was how many people were making the decorations by hand.
Like a big team of Santa's helpers.
We'll be back next year to show you the inner workings
of even more factories.
BOTH: Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year to you all.
# When the snowman brings the snow
# Well, he just might like to know
# He's put a great big smile on somebody's face
# If you jump into your bed
# Quickly cover up your head
# Don't you lock the doors
# You know that sweet Santa Claus is on the way. #
In this Christmas special, Gregg Wallace, Cherry Healey and Ruth Goodman explore the fascinating factory processes and surprising history behind favourite festive treats.
Gregg follows 24 hours of production at a cake factory in Oldham, near Manchester, where they make two million Christmas cakes for Marks and Spencer. As he helps to mix dried fruit and spices, Gregg discovers the challenges of producing 480 perfect cakes every hour. He also attempts to prepare some of the 300,000 handmade decorations made from 150,000 tonnes of icing sugar, with very messy results.
Meanwhile, Cherry is given special access to Britain's largest marzipan factory, which produces two thousand tonnes of almond paste every year, and visits one of our largest sprout farms where, during the two weeks before Christmas, they pick 190 million sprouts. She also travels to Somerset to discover how 80,000 bottles of brandy are distilled from cider apples and gets hot under the collar attempting to blow a glass Christmas bauble.
Ruth Goodman adds her own Christmas revelations by investigating how early industrial heritage inspired Charles Dickens to write a Christmas Carol, and why Christmas tree lights are called fairy lights.