Article 3. Last minute Christmas: cake kits
It’s still not too late to make a Christmas cake. Vicky Frost tests five kits and asks: can you actually fit a slice in on the big day?
It’s an odd part of the annual festivities: the bit that gets brought out once everything else has been devoured and you’re in need of more calories like the house is in need of more fairy lights. But a Christmas without Christmas cake would be unthinkable. Long after even the turkey remnants have gone and the new year diet should have started, you can still rely on there being a slab in the tin. In some families it can last until spring.
That’s partly because loads of people don’t like Christmas cake – screwing up their face at the cake, or the marzipan, or the cake and the marzipan. What fools! Personally, I’m fond of both in small amounts. But two slices is more than enough to last me until next year. Which is possibly why I’ve never been particularly moved to bake one from scratch.
My dad traditionally made our family cake, often procrastinating so much that he’d only get round to icing it on Christmas Eve while the rest of the family trouped off to midnight mass. That’s not such a terrible plan when you consider the likelihood of anyone having any room for cake after a massive Christmas lunch, or a Boxing Day trifle. But it does highlight the problem with making a Christmas cake – yet more faff at the busiest time of the year.
Which no doubt explains the popularity of the Christmas cake kit. A bag with everything you need to bake the perfect Christmas cake without weighing, overnight soaking and abandoned half bags of fruit. Except, you have to buy, erm, eggs, butter, lemons, and in most cases marzipan and icing – some would question whether it was worth buying a kit at all. That probably depends on whether you are ever likely to bust open the treacle, spices and flour ever again. If not, the kit is definitely worth it. If however you could be cajoled into making your own mincemeat with the leftover fruit, it might be worth reconsidering.
I tested five kits currently on the market. Tesco’s comes courtesy of Mary Berry – whose baking knowledge knows no bounds. It includes all the usual business you’d expect in the way of soaked fruits, chopped nuts, bagged spices, but also marzipan and icing. The result was disappointing in our blind taste tests – and I thought it rather a mean cake in terms of both plumpness and volume of fruit. Sorry Mary, but for once we will have to disagree.
Faring rather better was Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference kit, which had fruit so sticky and juicy it was veering into pudding territory. For me the balance of sponge and fruit tipped too far in favour of the raisin element. Others thought it tasted “like a fruitcake should do: dense and moist”. The Harrods cake also split opinion. On the upside, it comes with (fondant) icing and marzipan, and all the ingredients are packaged in a loose bottom cake tin. On the downside, you have to soak your own fruit, which rather defeats the object and means you need to factor in the cost of booze. The end result is a curious thing. Some of our testers liked it for the generous hunks of cherry that studded the sponge. But for me it was rather odd: an almost gingery cake with too little fruit.
Which leaves the two cakes that did best in the blind tasting, and in my home testing: Whitworth’s and Delia’s for Waitrose. Of the two, Delia’s is the more generous, giving a good, deep 20cm cake. It’s also the one that will please more people – here the sponge is light, the fruit sweet but not sticky, and the balance more in favour of cake than fruit. As an occasional fruitcake eater, it’s my favourite. More hardcore fruitcake fans, however, were quick to praise the Whitworth’s kit, which turns out a boozy, well-balanced cake that is firm enough to slice properly, but sticky enough to count as more fruit cake than tea loaf. Both will need you to buy your own icing and marzipan, but both really deliver when it comes to flavour.
Of course, it’s officially a bit late to be making your cake now, but there are tricks to help those intent on baking at the eleventh hour (any tips you’ve gleaned over the years are welcome). Jane Asher’s last minute recipe has it that heating and soaking the fruit in the boozy liquid gives an overnight appearance and taste of maturity. Using dark brown sugar helps. Delia offers a last minute sherry mincemeat cake recipe that can be made on the day itself (if you don’t have enough to do already) Or try making a lighter version, as the Cottage Smallholder suggests.
The DIY kits are now being reduced in price and mine tasted good in under three weeks, so I reckon you could get away with doing one now, especially if you don’t force it on yourself on Christmas Day when you’ll be too full to appreciate it. Treat everyone by instead cracking it open during those long holiday days in between Christmas and New Year. Or are you a committed Christmas foodster that stoically devours a slice of cake after the rest of the Christmas day feasting? 
Article 4. How do I: Secure my home wi-fi network?
Thursday 15 December 2011
Most of us have stumbled into someone else’s unsecured wi-fi network by mistake in search of a stable connection, but not all surfers are so benign.
According to an “ethical hacking” study carried out by a card-protection company, nearly half of Britain’s home wi-fi networks can be hacked in less than five seconds, leaving the hacker free to hijack emails, steal bank account details and commit fraud.
We tend to think of hackers as sophisticated criminal networks but all it takes is a modern laptop and widely available software to breach most home computer networks.
Your first line of defence for your home network is its encryption, which secures the data transmitted between your PC and wireless router. Unfortunately, until recently the majority of routers were shipped with encryption disabled or only installed with WEP, an out-of-date encryption format.
If you haven’t already, enable your encryption. To do this you need to connect your router to your PC with a LAN cable (from £5.99 at maplin.co.uk). Then simply open your PC’s web browser and enter your IP address (normally found on the back of the router).
The interface will vary depending on the model of your router (see manufacturers’ websites for more details) but if your computer is up to date – Windows XP or later – select the WPA or WPA2 form of encryption and create your own unique password of at least 14 letters and numbers. If your router only supports the insecure WEP format check the manufacturer’s website for a firmware update to support WPA.
And for additional protection consider running a software firewall on your PC. A good free download is Zone Labs’ ZoneAlarm, which is reliable and free to download (zonealarm) .
Article 5. Haemophilia gene therapy shows early success
By James Gallagher Health reporter, BBC News
11 December 2011 Last updated at 03:13 GMT
Just one injection could be enough to mean people with haemophilia B no longer need medication, according to an early study in the UK and the US. Six patients were given a virus that infects the body with the blueprints needed to produce blood-clotting proteins. Four of them could then stop taking their drugs.
Doctors said the gene therapy was “potentially life-changing”. Other researchers have described it as a “truly a landmark study.”
People with haemophilia B have an error in their genetic code, which means they cannot produce a protein called factor IX, which is critical for blood-clotting.
Patients are currently treated with factor IX injections, sometimes multiple times per week, but the manufacturing process is expensive.
Researchers at University College London and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the US were looking for a more permanent solution.
They took a virus which infects people without symptoms – adeno-associated virus eight. It was then modified to infect liver cells with the genetic material for factor IX. The gene should then persist in the liver cells, telling the cells to manufacture the protein.
Six people were injected with the modified virus at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Two were given a low dose, two a middle dose and two a high level.
Results published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed levels of factor IX could be increased. Normally, patients will have factor IX levels less than 1% of those found in people without haemophilia.
After injection, levels of factor IX ranged from 2% to 12%. The first patient treated has maintained levels of 2% for more than 16 months. One of the patients receiving the highest dose maintained levels which fluctuated between 8% and 12% for 20 weeks.
Carl Walker, aged 26 and from Berkshire, showed the greatest improvement. He said: “I have not needed any of my normal treatment, either preventative or on-demand as a result of an injury. Previously, I used to infuse at home three times a week. I play football, run and take part in triathlons – and previously I might have had to infuse both before I took part and possibly after as well. Not having to do that has been absolutely brilliant.”
Dr Amit Nathwani from University College London told the BBC that patients with 12% of normal factor IX production would no longer be seen in the clinic.
“They would be able to go about their normal daily lives without any problems. The only time that they would have a problem is if they were involved in a road traffic accident or had a big fall from a building site. In the absence of severe major trauma these individuals would not know that they have haemophilia.”
He said the aim of the research was to take patients from a severe form of haemophilia to a mild one.
“All the patients have actually benefited from this gene transfer approach, even the patients who have not been able to stop protein concentrate infusion [normal therapy].”
He said these people needed fewer injections of factor IX.
“This is the first study that has shown that you can actually achieve stable, long-term, therapeutic level of expression [factor IX production] in subjects with severe haemophilia B, so it’s a fantastic start.
“This is a great breakthrough, this is the first time that anybody has been able to show that.”
The trial was designed to test the safety of the procedure. Trials in more patients will be needed to fully determine its effectiveness and patients will need to be followed for longer periods of time to see how long the effect lasts.
There was an immune response against the infected liver cells around seven to nine weeks after the virus was injected. In the trial it was controlled with steroids, but doctors will also want to see if they can avoid it happening.
Dr Katherine Ponder, from the Washington University School of Medicine, said this was “truly a landmark study, since it is the first to achieve long-term expression of a blood protein at therapeutically relevant levels”.
She added: “If further studies determine that this approach is safe, it may replace the cumbersome and expensive protein therapy currently used for patients.”
Chris James, chief executive of the Haemophilia Society, said: “The society is delighted to see world-class research in the UK which may ultimately provide therapies to improve the life of those with haemophilia showing such positive results at this stage.
“These are early days and all medical and scientific developments need to go through extensive testing for efficacy and side effects. As such we would not wish to raise false hopes at this stage. However, we hope that this research will eventually result in the removal of the need for regular injections and significantly reduce painful bleeds and debilitating joint damage for those living with haemophilia.”