Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Cake Recipe

Our Christmas cake is baked at last. The dried fruit had been soaking in brandy for a whole week in the fridge, but seemed none the worse for it luckily. Not huge amounts of brandy I hasten to add – three tablespoons and the alcohol content long ago evaporated away. So yesterday the kitchen exuded a gentle spicy aroma as the cake cooked extremely slowly for four and a half hours. Just one whiff is enough to conjure up Christmas.

It is just the sort of rich, damp, heavy fruit cake that Captain Hook put out to poison the Lost Boys in the original Peter Pan story. That detail seems to have been omitted in the updated versions, maybe these days it seems too old-fashioned to believe that rich cake is death to young stomachs! My kids aren’t really into the cake itself anyway, but they love the marzipan and icing, so will nibble meagrely at the cake in order to justify feasting on their icing and that of the adults as well, who Jack Sprat-like tend to prefer the cake and leave the excess sweet icing to the children.

At Christmas time I usually get out the reliable old Delia Smith cook book to check out the cake recipe and quantities for the marzipan. Her recipes almost always work and are accurate if not always inspired. I almost remember when she was the hot young TV chef and her ‘One is Fun’ was the latest innovative bestseller in the food book arena. Now she is long supplanted by the younger, sexier Nigella, but her books are still at the back of my shelf for when I need to check details of some ordinary but useful dish.

Rich Fruit Cake recipe

450g/1lb currants
175g/6oz sultanas
175g/6oz raisins
50g/2oz glace cherries(optional)
50g/2oz mixed candied peel chopped
3 tablespoons brandy
225g/8oz plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon mixed spice
225g/8oz unsalted butter
225g/8oz soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
50g/2oz chopped almonds
1 dessertspoon treacle
grated rind of 1 lemon
grated rind of 1 orange

The night before you want to make the cake, soak all the dried fruit and peel with the brandy. Leave it in a covered bowl over night or at least twelve hours.

Grease and line a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin or a 18cm/ 7 inch square one.

Sift together the flour, salt and spices. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy (make sure you do this thoroughly). Beat eggs and add them a little at a time to the creamed mixture, beating well each time. Next fold in the flour and spices gently. Stir in the dried fruit and peel, treacle and the grated lemon and orange rind. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and spread it out evenly.

Tie a band of brown paper round the outside of the tin and cover the top of the cake with a double layer of greasproof paper (with a hole cut in the middle of it) Bake the cake at 140C/275F on the lower shelf of the oven for 4 ¼ - 4 ¾ hours. Don’t open the door to check until at least 4 hours have passed. Once the cake has cooled wrap it in a layer of greaseproof paper then foil.

Delia recommends feeding it with brandy every week or so, by poking a couple of holes with a skewer then letting a few teaspoons of brandy soak in. It depends on your own tastes, whether you want it very rich and decadent. I don’t usually do that myself, I like it as it is.

Now the cake is well wrapped in grease-proof paper and foil and stored on a shelf in the larder to steep in its own flavours. A week before Christmas I’ll make the marzipan to go on it. I’ll have a lot of help with that as the children vie to gather up any scraps that fall or are trimmed off. We’ve even converted marzipan haters in the family to our variety of almond paste, just by leaving out the almond essence, which gives the strong almost metallic taste to shop marzipan. Without it the real almond flavour gets a chance to shine through, more mellow and delicately nutty.

On top of the marzipan goes the top layer of royal icing, made with icing sugar and egg white, put on rough to resemble a snowy scene. When I was growing up we had a set of figures for a Nativity scene that always decorated the cake and it was my favourite job to arrange them with a few tiny pine trees for added effect. Nowadays I try to get an African feel by borrowing the children’s little plastic zebra, giraffe and elephant and have them cavorting through the snowy icing – totally incongruous, but then I don’t think the Nativity scene played out among snowdrifts either!


  1. Oh wow! I can't wait to show this to the chef in the house! aka my husband. I have been craving one! Thanks so much for sharing it!

  2. The cake sounds absolutely delightful. Am already craving for it! Am going to find time to try out your recipe.

    Just 2 questions.

    I am from a part of the world where it is sunny all year long. Our cakes generally can't keep for very long. So, just wondering how long will the cake keep.

    Also, what is in the mixed spice? Not too sure if I can find it here.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Nixed spice is a blend of the sweet spices: nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, mace. If you can't get it try a mix of whichever of those you can find.

    This cake should keep well for at least a month even in heat..we have a hot dry climate and it is ok for longer than that. The brandy helps preserve it all and keeps it moist, so try soaking a little bit in every week. I don't know what effect high humidity would have though.
    Good luck.

  4. In England the cake keeps for several months..I've been at a friend's house finishing up Christmas cake at Easter time and it was still never has a chance to last that long in our house though!

  5. That sound delicious. But I am always so intimidated to make anything this involved. It probably doesn't help that I'm not fond of baking in general... so just to whip up a pan of brownies is really doing A LOT for me...

    Trying to think if I know anyone close by who I could give this to and they might make it for me! ha!

  6. Hi Kit,
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    That is an excellent idea from mommywithattitude! Shall pass it along to my friend who loves baking too. If my efforts failed, at least I get to enjoy her delicious efforts. Haha!


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