I LOVE Christmas cake. I love making it just as much as I love eating it. each year, I dig out the same old recipes from the same cooks (Delia Smith and Mary Berry) and read through their ingredient lists and methods with a feeling of happiness growing in my heart. Then, the same thing happens each year, I get out all the ingredients, mixing and matching the two recipes and I enter into a Christmas Cake trance and end up only loosely sticking to them.
I always make sure the dried fruits are soaked for at least 2 days in a mixture of spirits. each year these spirits change, with the exception of Brandy. Once the fruits, a mixture of Glace Cherries, Currants, Sultanas and mixed peel, are settled into a large metal dish, I pour over 35cl of Napoleon Brandy. This is then followed by a generous slug of Cointreau, for a hit of Orange, some Limoncello for the Lemon tones, then a slug of Tia Maria and or Kahlua or a deeper tone. I know it might not sound they mix well, and I probably wouldn’t drink a cocktail of this combination, but once they have permeated the fruit for me, it takes on the first notes of Christmas
The next step, which I try and take my time with as only after a few burnt or crispy cakes did I realise the real importance of getting this stage right, is the lining of the tin. I always use double line the bottom, then a double around the edge. It takes time getting the tin totally lined, but its well worth it. You need to keep the cake protected from the ravages of the oven heat!!!
Once I know the fruit has soaked, I start mixing up the dark brown sugar and butter. It has to be real butter, not margarine, as a Christmas cake needs to be a celebration of richness and dare I say it excess.
I leave these two ingredients running in the stand mixer for at least 5 minutes on medium speed, followed with a quick 30 second burst on full speed.
To this, I add the beaten room temperature eggs, a tablespoon at a time, beating as fast as I can with a thick wooden spoon. More often than not the mixture does start to split, but you can save it by adding a spoon full of flour.
Now, I add the sifted flour, a generous amount of mixed spice, and some salt. I would say a pinch, but really it is a large pinch, maybe two pinches of Maldon Sea Salt.
Fold these dry ingredients in, and resist the urge to beat the mixture, just take your time and slowly let them mix together. Next, I add the black treacle, normally about 2-3 teaspoons worth, which then once stirred in, makes the cake batter a deep brown colour.
Next, the star of the show is the fruit. Tip your fruit and any remaining alcohol that hasn’t been absorbed by the fruit into the batter and stir until totally combined. the glistening fruits and cake mixture just take me to a really magical place.
Once this has been spooned into the cake tin and the top has been leveled out, I add a final disc of greaseproof paper to the top, (with a small hole in the centre) to make sure the cake is fully covered. This helps stop the top from browning before the middle of the cake is cooked. I then wrap a double layer of greaseproof paper around the outside of the tin and tie it in place with some string. This really insulates the cake from the fierce heat of the oven allowing it to set as it cooks gently.
It now needs to go into the oven at gas mark 1 or 140c for at least 4 hours. Its hard, once you start to smell the cake cooking to not check it every hour, but I have found you need to leave it for at least 3 hours before you check to see if it is done. It will normally take 4 hours of cooking at this temperature.
How to check if your cake is cooked? You can insert a clean knife into the hole in the greaseproof paper and if it comes out clean then the cake is cooked. Now really with a cake that is packed this densely with fruit you are always going to hit a piece of fruit as you knife the cake. This will leave a residue on the knife. You can always listen to the cake!! If it “talks” to you, (the fruits make a sizzling noise) it generally means the cake is cooked. Double test by pressing lightly on the top, if it springs back and feels firm to the touch, it is cooked!
The cake then needs to stand in the tin until completely cool. With fruitcakes this takes much longer than with plain sponges, so you are looking at at least 3 or more hours of cooling time. I leave the top layer of grease proof on the cake and leave it over night.
Once cooled and removed from the tin, leave all the greaseproof paper in place, this will help keep the cake moist. Prick holes in the top layer of the cake, and pour over some more brandy. I would say about a teaspoon but really it will be a generous slug. Not too much as you don’t want the cake to be a soggy mess, but maybe about 2-3 teaspoons around the whole cake. Wrap in a layer of clingfilm and then foil and store in a cool dry place until the week before Christmas when you are ready to ice the cake.
Every few weeks, you can feed the cake some more brandy, but make sure you wrap it up well again. I stop feeding the cake around the 7th December to ensure that the cake has time to mature and you don’t get a sharp sting of alcohol when you eat it.
My Ingredients this Year:
1kg of Mixed Dried Fruit
400g Mixed Peel
All placed in a dish soaking in
35cl Brandy, and a slug of Cointreau, Limoncello, and Tia Maria
250g Dark Brown Sugar
325g Sieved Plain Flour
3 teaspoons of Mixed Spice
2 teaspoons of Dark Treacle
4 Beaten Eggs
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and look forward to hearing your comments and seeing your Christmas Cakes. Post pictures of them on my facebook Page, search for Whippys Kitchen and give the page a like.