I know, Christmas is seven weeks away so why post a recipe for Christmas cake now? Well, the truth is that if you haven’t already made yours, you’re in danger of it not being as good as it can be.
A good Christmas cake needs time to sit and develop, and you need time to ‘feed’ it. Feeding your Christmas cake is simply brushing it with alcohol several times before the big day. More details below, so let’s get cracking with this luscious recipe that is the culmination of years of experiments. This is the one that always gets eaten, and eaten fast!
75g mixed peel
zest of a lemon, finely grated
juice of 1/2 a lemon
zest of an orange, finely grated
175g butter, room temperature
175g dark muscovado sugar
25g black treacle
3 medium eggs, room temperature, beaten
225g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
40g ground almonds
165g glace cherries
The day before you plan to make the cake, place the sultanas, currants, raisins, mixed peel, finely grated lemon zest, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, the finely grated zest of an orange and the sherry into a large bowl. Mix together thoroughly to combine, cover with cling film and set aside for 24 hours.
Heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1. Line the base and sides of a 20cm spring-form cake tin with baking parchment, leaving at least four inches of parchment standing above the level of the tin. Also, put baking parchment around the outside of the tin, also standing about 4 inches proud of the top of the tin and tied off with string. This prevents the top of the cake from drying out and burning.
In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to beat the butter, muscovado and treacle until it forms a smooth paste. Mixing with a spoon prevents air being beaten into the mix, air in the mix of a fruit cake is a disaster as it allows the fruit to all sink to the bottom.
Now gradually add the beaten eggs to the butter mix, a little at a time to prevent the mixture from curdling. If it does curdle, just add a spoonful of your flour and beat it in.
When all the egg has been incorporated, mix the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon and ground almonds in a separate bowl. Drop the glace cherries into the flour and ensure they are fully coated – this gives them a coating that provides enough friction to prevent them from dropping to the bottom of the mix while it is baking. Now add the flour mix, with the cherries, to the butter and eggs. Fold in gently with a large metal spoon.
Add the glycerine to the soaked fruit and stir well, this will help to keep the cake moist. Add the fruit to the cake batter and gently fold it through until it is evenly mixed.
You will now have quite a stiff batter – don’t panic, this is as it should be. Spoon it into your lined cake tin and level it off with a spatula.
Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately two hours. Check it is cooked by inserting a skewer in to the centre of the cake, if it comes out clean then your cake is ready. If it comes out with some cake mix stuck to it then cook for a further 15 minutes, repeat the process if necessary, but do not cook your cake for longer than 2 1/2 hours.
Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack, in the tin.When the tin is warm to the touch you can remove it, but leave the parchment on the cake and the cake on the rack until it is fully cold.
When the cake is fully cold, use a pastry brush to generously brush the top and sides of the cake with sherry, Cointreau, rum, brandy, Calvados or any spirit of your choice. Don’t drown the cake, but don’t be frugal either. Here is the important bit:
DO NOT PIERCE YOUR CAKE!
It is the single biggest reason for dry, inedible fruit cakes. The alcohol will soak in quite happily – there is no need to dig holes in your cake so all of its moisture can evaporate more easily.
Wrap the cake in a large sheet of baking parchment, then cover that with a large sheet of baking foil and wrap it tightly. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
To feed your cake, brush it as above, A MAXIMUM OF THREE MORE TIMES using your preferred fortified wine or spirit. Leave at least a week between each feed, and allow at least seven days after the last feed before you decorate the cake.
Now isn’t the time to give decorating tips, I will leave that until nearer the time…