Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas Cake - It's not too late!


I love me all kinds of cake, but if some crazy EU  law decreed that  a person could only consume  one type of cake (hey it could happen; they banned bendy cucumbers) I would have to choose fruit cake.  More specifically, the dark, moist kind of fruit cake, rich with spices, booze and, of course, dried fruit.

Common wisdom would have you believe that it is too late to make a Christmas cake. I suppose the normal kind that needs baking for four hours does need a while to mature. Traditional types are a terrible faff.  But I offer an alternative - a richer version of the boiled fruitcake.

This cake is so popular that I get asked to make several each year. And it is so easy to make that I don't mind making half a dozen during the run up to Christmas. The ritual of it and the wonderful Christmassy smells really put me in the festive spirit. This cake is so forgiving. The extra moisture means you can overcook it and it won't dry out, and boiling most of the ingredients together means that by the time you come to bake, they are already well aquainted, so it doesn't need as long to mature.

Of course maturing will improve any fruit cake, so if you can make this in advance then do. But it's not essential.

For added ease, this recipe uses American cup measurements. Don't panic if you don't have a cup measurement; you just need something that holds around 240ml of water.


Christmas Cake

600g dried fruit (such as raisins, sultanas, currants, cranberries, pitted prunes and dates, candied peel and dried or glace cherries)
Zest and juice of 1 orange, juice made up to 1 cup with water, cider or sherry
1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup melted butter (if using unsalted butter add a pinch of salt to the saucepan)
2 heaped tbsp orange marmalade
1 grated apple (I don't bother to peel)
2 tbsp black treacle
2 tsp mixed spice
50g pecan nuts, or whatever nut you fancy
2 free range eggs
2 tbsp brandy
2 cups self raising flour

1. Chop the fruit a little, particularly if using larger fruit like prunes, dates and glace cherries. No one wants a great big prune in their cake, and roughly chopping even smaller fruit helps it to absorb the liquid and spicy flavours.

2. Put the dried fruit, along with all of the other ingredients except for the nuts, eggs, brandy and flour into a saucepan. Over a gentle heat bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. This smells just like Christmas!


3. Let the mixture cool, so that the eggs don't scramble when you add them!

4. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 150°C and line the bottom of a loose bottomed tin with greaseproof paper. Grease the sides of the tin with butter. You can line the sides with more greaseproof paper if you like, but I never bother.

5. Roughly chop or crumble the nuts into the boiled mixture. Mix in the eggs and brandy, and then the flour, stirring until just combined.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 90 minutes. If the top is getting a little dark, cover with a baking tray. 

7. After 90 minutes, test your cake to see if it is cooked by inserting a cocktail stick. It should be fairly clean. A bit of cake is ok, as it will be fairly moist, but if it looks raw continue to cook for 10-15 minutes.

8. Allow to cool before turning out.


This cake will need a feed or three, which I usually do a day or so after baking. Prick it quite deeply all over with a cocktail stick, then spoon over the alcohol of your choice, ensuring that some goes into the holes that you have made. Brandy, rum, whisky, ginger wine and sherry are all good choices. It's also nice to mix it up with subsequent feeds, which you can repeat every few days.

A word of warning - it is possible to overfeed a fruitcake. I ate one once at a relative's house that was positively sodden. Not only was it soggy and unpleasant, but I didn't feel safe to drive afterwards! To avoid this, it's best to feed little and often. If you poke the cake with your finger and it makes a squishing sound, you have gone too far!


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