I’ve written at length (and ad nauseum, probably) about Christmas cake before. There are all sorts of Christmas cake recipes out there – those ones that have been handed down from grandparents and great grandparents, and others from Delia or Nigella that people swear by.
As I’ve said before, I’ve got a bit of an aversion to food snobbery, and a healthy addiction to the ‘bung it all in and see what happens’ technique. Basically, as long as you keep the basic proportions right, it will come out okay. And don’t put stuff in just because it says so in the recipe. If you don’t like peel (bleurgh), leave it out and add a bit more of something else. It’s your cake. Some people soak their dried fruit for days (or weeks) beforehand, but I’m afraid I’m lacking in the required patience. If you fancy the fruit soaking version though, I’d heartily recommend the recipe on Ruth’s website, The Pink Whisk.
So here’s the cake(s) that I made this year. For ingredient notes and aternatives, please skip to the end of this recipe.
The Personalised Christmas Cake
800g dried fruit (I used 350g sultanas, 200g dried cranberries, 100g dried apricots, 100g ready to eat dried prunes, 50g glacé cherries)
175ml good quality rapeseed oil or 200g butter
200g dark brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp black treacle
120ml Pedro Ximenez sherry
120ml orange juice (or two fresh oranges, juiced)
About 2tsp spice (I used cinnamon, ginger and a grating of nutmeg)
200g self raising flour (or 300g flour and omit ground almonds).
100g ground almonds
Before you start:
Sort everything out: preheat the oven to gas 2/150 C and double line the bottom of your cake tin/tins with parchment paper, and up the sides too (tiger stripe pattern optional). Weigh all your stuff, crack the eggs into a bowl and mix them… just get yourself completely ready.
Pop the dried fruit into a large saucepan along with the butter, sugar, honey, booze, fruit juice and spices. Stir gently over a low heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is completely dissolved. You can bring it up to a gentle bubble, but don’t let it boil vigorously as your alcohol will disappear.
Now leave it to cool. If you add the eggs straight in, they’ll be scrambled. You can leave it overnight to steep if you like. Oh, and at this stage, have a taste! If it doesn’t taste sweet enough, add something else sweet (this is often the case if you’ve used brandy or whisky which doesn’t have much natural sweetness, as opposed to, say, a liqueur – Nigella suggests a tablespoon of marmalade, which I think is a great idea – or maybe cranberry sauce?). If it’s overpoweringly, cloyingly sweet, then a squeeze of lemon, maybe? It’s your cake – do it how you like it.
When cooled, stir in the eggs, flour and ground almonds. Pile into your one large springform tin, or two smaller ones and bake for about an hour and a half for the two small ones, or up to two hours for the large.
Test by pushing a skewer into the centre of the cake. It should come out clean.
And that’s it! Congratulations, you’ve made a Christmas cake (or two).
Cover the cake(s) in foil while they cool to stop the tops going hard. Then, when completely cool, wrap up the cake in parchment paper and then foil, and stash somewhere until you need it, occasionally unwrapping your gorgeous present to stab it with a cocktail stick and slosh with a couple of tablespoons of your chosen booze. Or just eat straight away.
You can do all that fancy pants marzipan and icing stuff, but for god’s sake don’t look to me for inspiration. I have the artistic ability of a small pickled onion.
Make sure you write your recipe down. You just created a family heirloom! For tips on marzipan, icing and decorating, click here.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS:
One rule here: choose what you like. As I mentioned above, I hate peel with a vengeance so I leave it out. Other people use glacé fruits, snipped into little pieces. I used a 300g luxury pack of mixed raisins, apricots and cranberries which I saw in a nice foodie place and bought, then topped it up with random half packs of leftover cranberries, prunes (chopped into pieces), dried apricots and sultanas. Pick what suits you, bin the rest.
Butter vs Oil
Generally if you need lightness in a cake, butter helps as you can beat in air and it holds it well, but I’m finding I’m using more and more oil, (you can whisk it with the eggs and get a similar airy effect), especially Rapeseed, which adds a subtle nutty flavour and, being rich in vitamin E, high in Omega 3 and half the saturated fat of olive oil is obviously a healthy option. In this recipe you want the moistness, etc, but not the air, so use oil if you like. I made this cake with local P E Mead rapeseed oil, which is my absolute favourite and it turned out perfectly. There’s obviously a bit of water content in butter, so if you’re substituting oil use slightly less. Having said that, don’t kill yourself (you know me, I don’t do adding up): 100g of butter will be about 90 – 100ml oil.
Again, use what you’ve got – the darker the sugar, the more treacly the taste. I used Muscovado. You’re melting it, so it doesn’t matter how big the granulation is.
The honey here gives moistness and sweetness, but you could substitute golden syrup if you don’t like (or are allergic to) honey. I used Rowse Supahoney with lemon, because I absolutely love its taste (I’m a bit into Manuka honey) and use it all the time so I had a pot open. You could also use black treacle which gives a lovely dark toffee taste, or mix the two.
No rules here. I’ve used Morgan’s Spiced Rum which has a gorgeous vanilla flavour but not much sweetness, cherry brandy, which not only has that lovely sweet cherry taste, but gives an almondy hit too and plain brandy as well. Use whatever you like/whatever you have. Again, taste your mixture and adjust sweetness accordingly. If you don’t want to use alcohol, just double up on the fruit juice.
I used cranberry juice, because I thought it would go nicely with the dried cranberries, but you can use freshly squeezed orange juice (bung in the zest too for an extra zing), or juice out of a carton. It honestly doesn’t matter.
I make a lot of curries so my spice turnover is quite high. All I would say is, if the jar of ‘Mixed Spice’ in your cupboard was purchased in the 1940s it’s not going to add much to your cake. I used 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger and a good grating of nutmeg, but use what you have: mixed spice/ginger/cinnamon/ground nutmeg (not too much, it can be overpowering). Just make sure it’s fresh.