Rhian’s Christmas cake
This cake has evolved with my cooking, originally it came from the Good House keeping book, still a fantastic cake recipe, however I have adapted it somewhat, adding new types of dried fruit as I find them. The types of fruit are not important, the ratio of fruit to flour and the ratio of butter and sugar are the most important. The only other important issue is the soaking time for the fruit which I think is essential, the type of alcohol you use are again your personal choice, I use brown ale and brandy, but a combination of a beer, ale or cider or Perry and a smaller amount of a stronger booze brandy, whisky, port sherry or calvados, depending on your budget. Every October when I decide to make my Christmas cakes and puddings I buy a bottle of not too expensive brandy and use throughout the whole festive period, in many things. Its warm flavour just seems right at this time of year. My other favourite if you are feeling flush is using English cider brandy, fantastic stuff if a little pricey. This year the types of fruit I have found have been very varied. I found soft dried pears and massive dried prunes in a health food shop, giant black raisins and juicy golden sultanas and bright green raisins which have all gone in to my cake. Along with soft dried figs, mixed peel and glace cherries. Try to find the uncoloured ones they are much juicier and taste like cherries, like wise with the mixed peel buy it whole and chop it up yourself. Your reward will be evident when you try you cake on Boxing Day with a little dry sherry or the incredibly sweet Pedro Ximinez sherry which must have been made to drink with all things sweet and Christmas like.
To produce a large prodigious cake that will last from Christmas day to New Year’s Eve.
(Approximately 16 slices of a 24-26 cm round tin or two 12 cm tins.)
For soaking the fruit in
500ml of Brown ale, Cider, Perry (see above) or cold tea and orange juice if you don’t won’t to use alcohol.
2-3 large measures of your chosen hard liquor (brandy, whisky, rum, sherry or port etc.)
1 kg of dried fruits, apricots, prunes, dried cherries, blue berries, figs, dried cranberries, dried soft pears, dried figs. As long as the fruit you chose are soft and juicy and you don’t use too many of a strongly flavoured fruit such as pears or bananas. And try to include a 100g at least of candied peel and glace cherries.
500g dried vine fruits, such as raisins, sultanas and currants. However you can also you can also use the fantastic golden sultanas, or the green raisins from Pakistan, Muscatel raisins are expensive but add an air of luxury to your cake.
Any large fruit such as apricots, figs, prunes and pears will need to be chopped up, Tedious but essential so your Great Aunt doesn’t choke on giant whole prune. I usually leave the glace cherries whole but you can chop them in half any smaller and they loose there character. The peel if it is not chopped up and I hope it isn’t, the whole stuff is much superior also has to be chopped again tedious but an excuse to give your self a little tipple as you have to open the bottle for the cake, well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! So after all this weighing and chopping place all the fruit in to you chosen roomy receptacle and cover with the booze or tea and orange juice. Cover it with cling film and leave for a few days, as long as a week and definitely overnight. If you don’t go down the alcoholic route it will be necessary to refrigerate the mixture.
Now for the cake
To complete, line your cake tin with a double thickness of greaseproof paper and tie newspaper round the outside of the tin to protect the cake on its long slow baking. And set the oven to Gas 3/325oC/160oC
350g butter unsalted for preference
175g light muscovado sugar
175g dark muscovado sugar
5 large free-range eggs
100g ground almonds
150g shelled hazelnuts/almond/walnuts or a mixture
zest and juice of an orange
zest of a lemon
2 tsp baking powder
350g plain flour or half whole meal for a denser cake 1tsp ground ginger, ground cinnamon and mixed spice, plus a good rasp of nutmeg.
Begin with the butter, beat it till soft with a wooden spoon add both the sugars, continue beating till you have a fluffy brown sugary mess. You can do this in a food processor with the beating attachment fitted but working up a sweat makes it more satisfying, the choice is yours. Now add the eggs one at a time it may curdle but a mixture containing this much goodness can’t go wrong. Next fold in the flour, spices, baking powder and ground almonds. Last fold in the fruit and the orange and lemon juice and zest. Give it a good mix to make sure everything is well distributed.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin or tins. Flatten the surface of the cake with the back of a spoon making a hollow to give a level cake when it rises. Then drop the cake from a height of about 30cm to make sure that all the air pockets have been removed. You may need to cover the top of the cake with a circle of greaseproof if it is browning too fast. Now bake for 2 hrs at 160Oc then lower the heat to 140oc for a further 1hr. Test with a skewer which should come out clean. Allow to cool completely before you do anything with it.
The next day, remove from the tin; upturn the cake and pierce with skewer. Poor a little hard liquor in to each hole, repeat this once a week until you decide to ice it a week or so before Christmas. To store it, wrap in cling film and place in a biscuit tin or other air tight container.