I've just fed my Christmas cake a little snifter of brandy. Every time I feed it, it takes all my willpower to not feed myself. With cake. It smells so good!
We used to visit my family in Oxford each year and my grandmother always made a big, wonderful Christmas cake. She always used to say the cake was a bit dry/too moist/not boozy enough/too boozy/had too much icing/didn't have enough icing but it always tasted fab to us. As family numbers have dwindled and we've become more scattered as a family over the past decade, those Christmas get-togethers no longer occur and as such, there is no Nannie's Christmas cake.
So I've made my own Christmas cake for the past six years. I always focus on the cake itself. Although I have a very sweet tooth that even Willy Wonka would cringe at, I'm not a huge fan of icing, especially on Christmas cake. I normally opt for homemade marzipan and a very thin layer of fondant icing over the top of that.
Over the years I've tweaked and combined various recipes and when I baked this year's cake a couple of weeks back, I made a smaller version with the leftover mix and CAKE-BINGO! this is the one. This is my Christmas cake now. I wrote down the recipe and I'm writing it down here too in case you'd like to try it. Yes, there are a lot of ingredients and yes, it is time consuming and a bit of a faff but I really enjoy what has now become my own little Christmas tradition.
- I always make my Christmas cake in mid-October but you'd be okay to make it at the end of November and it would still have time to mature.
- You will need an eight inch (20cm) round, deep cake tin, some brown kraft paper, some string and some greaseproof paper. I use a heavy, loose bottomed tin and I wrap the outside of it in four layers of brown paper, tied with string to secure it. I make sure the paper is taller than the sides of the tin. I then line the base and insides of the tin with greaseproof paper. The cake will be in the oven for quite some time and the brown paper helps to prevent any burning. I also make a little silver foil 'lid' which perches atop the extended brown paper sides. Trust me, all the papercraft faffery is worth the effort. Also, it makes you feel like you're carrying out an ancient cookery tradition which is always fun. (Well, I think it is anyway.)
- Have plenty of greaseproof paper, tin foil and an airtight tin ready for packing your cake in after it is baked.
- You will need to prepare the fruit for the cake the night before the day you intend to bake it.
- Feel free to use whatever dried fruits and/or nuts you fancy. You could add dates or dried apricots if you're not a fan of cherries or cranberries or walnuts if you don't like almonds.
- This recipe is for the cake itself. I'm not covering icing here but you would need about 675g each of marzipan and fondant icing to cover this cake.
100g dried cranberries
100g halved glacé cherries
50g mixed candied peel
150ml black tea (I use 2 teabags and steep for 3 minutes in boiling water)
225g plain flour
225g dark brown muscovado sugar
250g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
4 large eggs (at room temperature)
50g whole blanched almonds, chopped
1 tablespoon of black treacle
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Grated rind of one orange
Grated rind of one lemon
Dash of milk
Put the raisins, sultanas, currants, cranberries, cherries and candied peel into a bowl, pour over the brandy and tea and stir. Cover the bowl and leave overnight so the the fruit soaks up the liquid. You might want to give the fruity booze mix a stir every now and then.
|The fruits soaking in their lovely brandy and tea bath|
On baking day, prepare your cake tin as described in the aforementioned notes and preheat your oven to 150°C (fan oven 140°C).
Put the flour, sugar, butter, eggs, treacle, spices, vanilla, orange and lemon rinds and the dash of milk into a large bowl and mix well. I use an electric hand mixer. When that's all thoroughly combined, add the boozy fruits and any leftover liquid from their bowl. Tip in the almonds and with a spoon fold everything together. This would be a good point to get any young humans you may have about the place to come and have a stir and make a Christmas wish.
When everything is stirred and all wishes have been made, spoon the cake mix into the prepared tin and and smooth out the top. I find using a fork for this part is more effective than the back of a spoon.
Rest the silver foil lid loosely over the top of the tin and put the cake in the oven. Yes, the temperature is low and yes, it's going to be baking for a while. You can't rush these things.
Baking can take between two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half hours. Mine took about three hours. Leave the cake totally alone for the first two hours of baking. Don't open the door in that time. After two hours you might like to turn the cake around and have a quick peek to see that it's coming along. Everyone's oven is different and you know where its hot spots and not-so-hot spots are.
Obviously oven temperatures and cooking times will vary. Your cake will be done when you insert a cocktail stick or skewer into it and it comes out clean, without any raw cake mix on it.
When the cake is baked, don't fret at the colour of it. It will look paler than Christmas cakes you buy. This is because it will get darker as it matures. I brush the top of the cake with a little brandy whilst it's still hot. I then cover the top with foil and allow it to cool in its tin, on a cooling rack.
When the cake is totally cold, take it out of its tin and wrap it in greaseproof paper and at least two layers of foil. Put it in its airtight tin and leave it.
The following week, unwrap the cake and poke several holes all over it (don't go too mad) with a cocktail stick or wooden skewer and then brush the cake all over with brandy. I guess I use about a teaspoon or so at each feeding. Depends how boozy you like your cake.
I feed my cake by brushing it with brandy about every ten days. You don't need to do the pokey hole thing each time. Just make sure you wrap it up nice and tight.
Come Christmas you should have a lovely, moist, fragrant Christmas cake that will taste so much nicer than a shop-bought one.
Google about for Christmas cake decorating ideas. There are so many ways to pretty it up. I normally opt for some icing holly leaves on top and a red satin ribbon tied around the cake.
If you do make a Christmas cake with this recipe, I'd love to hear how you get on. Send me some photographs if you like!