This is as good a time as any to start making the Christmas cake and when it’s finished you’ll feel a great sense of achievement. Perfectly adequate cakes may be bought in any supermarket of course, but there’s something special about making your own. I’ve been using the same basic recipe for years, with a few tweaks here and there to suit the family, and I still have the free supermarket magazine from 1997 that the original recipe was published in.
The cake is made in two stages as the dried fruit is soaked in alcohol for several days before being mixed with the rest of the ingredients. For baking the cake you’ll need either an 8 or 9 inch round cake tin (or a 7 or 8 inch square tin) and it will need a double lining of greased baking parchment plus an outer wrapping of two or three layers of brown paper or newspaper. This might sound a bit excessive, but it’ll prevent the cake from drying out or browning too much during it’s lengthy baking time.
Weigh each of these dried fruits separately and pick them over to remove any bits of stalk:
150g dried prunes, snipped with scissors into pieces similar in size to the other dried fruit
50g mixed peel
When you are satisfied that the fruit is ready to use, place it all together in a bowl and pour over 200mls of brandy. This may sound like a lot of alcohol, but I don’t trust a recipe that suggests only using a couple of tablespoons. It’s hardly worth the bother! If you are the proud owner of a well stocked drinks cabinet, have a rummage in there to check whether there’s a bottle of Cointreau or Grand Marnier lurking at the back. It’s good news if there is! Instead of using just brandy to soak the fruit, you could then use a half and half mixture of brandy and whichever orange liqueur you found. This will give a lovely background flavour to the cake. Anyway, once your alcohol of choice has been added to the fruit, give it all a good mix and cover the bowl with a plate or lid. It’ll happily stay like that for at least a week, but a fortnight is even better. Visit it every now and then, give the mixture a stir and inhale the fumes.
A week or two later we progress to the next stage of the recipe:
Assemble the following ingredients:
225g softened butter
225g caster sugar
4 large free range eggs
225g plain flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon mixed spice
50g chopped almonds or brazil nuts
100g glace cherries – halved, rinsed in warm water and dried thoroughly
the grated zest of 1 orange
the grated zest of 1 lemon
You are now ready to start making your cake!
- retrieve the fruit and alcohol mixture from it’s resting place and give it a good stir, inhaling deeply as you do so – doesn’t it smell great?
- prepare the cake tin as per my instructions above
- preheat the oven to 150°C and position the oven shelf to slightly below the middle
- in a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and softened butter together with the orange and lemon zest until they are well blended, smooth and pale in colour
- in a jug or small bowl, beat the eggs together lightly
- add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time and beat well after each addition
- sieve the flour and spices together and then gently fold them into the butter/sugar/egg mixture a little at a time. Make sure each addition is well mixed in before you add the next.
- add the nuts and cherries to the bowl and mix them in well
- finally, tip the soaked fruit into the bowl and mix this in too
- turn the cake mixture into the baking tin, spread the mixture right into the corners and make a slight indentation in the middle. Place it into the preheated oven
- bake the cake for 3½ hours. Check the cake after a couple of hours of the cooking time and if you think it’s is going to end up being too brown on top, just sit a couple of folded sheets of newspaper on top of the tin to protect the cake
- check the cake when it has been in the oven for the 3½ hours. Insert a skewer into the middle of the cake. If it comes out without any wet cake mix sticking to it, then the cake is cooked. If in doubt give it another 10 minutes, but that should be long enough.
- leave the cake tin in the tin to cool completely, preferably overnight.
- when the cake is completely cold, gently remove it from the tin, removing all the baking parchment as you do so
- lay out a double thickness piece of greaseproof paper, large enough to be able to wrap the cake in
- sit the cake upside down on the paper and pierce the cake all over with a skewer
- pour a couple of tablespoons of brandy all over the surface of the cake, not forgetting the edges, and leave it for a minute or two to soak in
- wrap the cake up in the greaseproof paper and put it away somewhere dry, but not too warm or cold
- once a week, unwrap the cake and repeat the brandy infusion
The Christmas cake will stay quite happily like this until at least Christmas, but a week or two beforehand we will unwrap it and progress to icing and decorating for those who wish to do so. That, however, will be another blog post for another day!