Christmas is a very busy time of year for mums, so it makes perfect sense to get ahead wherever you can and make as many things in advance as possible. Luckily, Christmas cake actually improves when it has the time to mature, so making the cake and pudding is actually one of the first things you can do.
When Halloween and Bonfire night are out of the way, it’s time to make your Christmas cake, so the first thing to do is to make a list and go shopping for the best ingredients you can source. It’s really worth splashing out a bit, this is after all a very special cake, and one that will be really savoured until the last tasty crumb is hoovered up!
This cake does require a little planning ahead so it’s perhaps a good idea to do it over the weekend. Before you actually bake it, the fruity ingredients should be stirred together and allowed to steep in brandy overnight, just to make sure they are moist and juicy and oozing with flavour. But when you actually come to make the cake, it’s really just a case of stirring together these delicious ingredients, and then baking slowly in the oven while it makes your kitchen smell glorious.
Once the cake is baked and cooled completely, you carefully wrap it up like a present in grease-proof paper and string and put it away in a cool, dark place, so that it’s ready and waiting for decorating just before Christmas.
This cake is so rich, dark and moist that the beauty is just as much on the inside as out, but when I do decorate it, I go for a glazed fruit and nut topping rather than the more traditional snowy icing on top. It’s a matter of personal taste of course, but it just seems a shame to spoil the goodness with all that white icing, and the glistening fruity jewels on top are far more festive.
Making the cake is one of the first signs that Christmas is indeed on it’s way again!
- 1ib (450g) currants
- 6 oz (175g) sultanas
- 6 oz (175g) raisins
- 2 oz (50g) glace cherries, finely chopped
- 2 oz (50g) mixed candied peel (try to get the whole pieces and chop yourself)
- 3 oz (75g) almonds,chopped.
- Grated zest of an unwaxed lemon
- Grated zest and juice of an orange
- 1 generous tbsp black treacle
- 4 tbsp of brandy
- 8 oz (225g) plain flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground mixed spice
- 8 oz (225g) unsalted organic butter
- 8 oz (225g) soft brown sugar
- 4 organic, free range eggs
- A greased and lined cake tin (20cm round or 18cm square) with double thickness, greaseproof paper.
- The day before you want to bake the cake weigh out all the dried fruit and mix with the orange juice, both fruit zests and almonds. Feel free to add a few chopped dried figs or dried cranberries, just reduce the weight of the currants to allow for it. Measure out the brandy and stir in thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave to steep overnight. It already smells amazing!
- Next day preheat the oven on gas mark 1 (275F / 140C) Gather the rest of your ingredients, make sure the butter is softened to room temperature and warm the treacle by standing the tin in hot water fro 10 mins.
- Sift together the flour, spices and salt into a large bowl,
- In another bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy.
- Add the beaten eggs to the butter mixture, a little at a time, whisking as you go to avoid curdling. It also helps if all the ingredients are at room temperature to begin with.
- Once all the beaten eggs are mixed in, fold in the flour and spices, gently to try to conserve the air as much as possible.
- Next gently stir in the fruit, nuts and treacle, and don't over mix, you want to keep all that precious air inside the mixture.
- Take the largest kitchen spoon you've got and dollop the mixture into the prepared cake tin, allow it to level out and bake on the lower shelf of your oven.
- After an hour or so, take out briefly and gently lay a double thickness piece of greaseproof paper on the top of the cake, lightly so as not to disturb and stick. Cut a round hole the size of a walnut in the centre of the paper to allow the air to circulate. You want the cake to cook slowly and gently to keep it moist and avoid any dry crumbly disasters.
- After 4 hours has passed, take a peak to check the progress. If the cake is still sticky in the middle, then another ½ hour is needed.
- Once the cake is firm and set, but still a bit springy, take it out of the oven and allow it to cool completely. Before you wrap it up to store, you can 'feed' it with a little brandy, make a few small holes with a cocktail stick and trickle a little brandy over the holes to allow the cake to soak it up. A bit fiddly, but you will rewarded by the fabulous flavour.
- It's very important to wrap it thoroughly, first with paper, then with foil, and then store in a cake tin, to make sure it will stay in tip top condition for Christmas.