Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Christmas Cake

Many of you will have made your Christmas cake in October or, more frighteningly organised still, September, but I feel now is the ideal time to make it. Or at least to start thinking about making it. Having said that, when other things have taken over, I've made mine as late as Christmas Eve and it's still been deliciously rich and moist, if a little harder to slice without falling to bits.
My reason for disagreeing with "the earlier the better", is that Christmas cake is rarely eaten on Christmas Day itself. Okay, maybe a slice to follow the cold cuts in the evening, but Christmas cake is usually still knocking around in a tin somewhere come the end of January, because, well, it lasts, doesn't it? And yule logs, spiced biscuits and stollen have far shorter life expectancies. And then there are the selection boxes, giant toblerones, panettone and trifle, not to mention the tin of Roses. Always conveniently placed within reaching distance, the Roses tin doesn't even require you to get up off the sofa if you want to mindlessly scoff something naughty while "It's A Wonderful Life" or something with Meg Ryan and a Nat King Cole soundtrack is on telly.

A lot of people don't like fruit cake, or think they don't like fruit cake, because they've never had a good one, or because they hate marzipan, but I'll come to that later. These are all certainly part of the reason that Christmas cake is the last thing to get polished off. But it's also to do with the feeling that fruit cake isn't that bad for you, which, as long as you don't count the icing, it isn't. It's far better to get rid of all the other stuff that is bad for you first (by eating it really REALLY quickly), because then you can stop thinking about it and just... relax. Fruit cake is a pleasure that doesn't have as much guilt attached to it as other things, which in my opinion makes it a pleasure worth savouring, and this is the reason I am never remotely tempted to make a small one. Ever. The very idea of it is absurd.

I am a big fan of traditional fruit cake and by this I mean traditional Victorian fruit cake and not the dry old post war excuses for fruit cake that have put a lot of people off for life. For me, the crucial musts for a delicious Christmas cake are:

 1) It absolutely HAS to be moist.
2) It has to be generously spiced.
and 3) It has to be boozy.

I use dark rum in this recipe because I think its natural spiciness compliments the spiciness of the cake much better than brandy (but don't worry, brandy still features for steeping later on...), but by all means substitute the rum for brandy or whisky if the idea of it horrifies you. Also it is worth noting that there is absolutely no reason to include an ingredient you don't like just because my recipe tells you to. This is how I like Christmas cake to be, but if you want to swap the dates for prunes or leave out the cherries or the stem ginger, go for your life. It's your cake. Just make up the missing ingredient with more of something you do like, so that in the end the dry ingredients weigh the same as in the recipe here. If, on the other hand, you are one of the poor unfortunates that hate all dried fruit because, like my friend who shall remain nameless (Catherine), it reminds you of rabbit poo, fear not. Christmas won't leave you out this year. I'll be posting up some festive chocolatey yummies on here for you very soon.

Right, last things last, a note on marzipan. This stuff divides people like nothing else and makes some people wrongly assume they hate almonds and anything that has almonds in it. I must admit, I am hugely fussy about marzipan and absolutely abhor that bright yellow shop bought ugliness that bears absolutely no resemblance to the taste of actual almonds and spends its horrible little life going around spoiling otherwise perfectly nice cakes. It is packed with rubbish, dyed an unsavoury shade of jaundice and flavoured with a bucket load of almond "flavouring" to hide the taste of whatever nasty chemicals and additives they've used to prolong its shelf life. This is why I prefer to make it myself, but if you buy it, it really is worth spending a bit more for the posh 100% natural stuff. If, on the other hand, you like a bit of the yellow stuff, go, as I said before, for your life. It's your cake. Of course, you don't actually have to cover your cake in marzipan if you really don't like it. It isn't THE LAW. I sometimes like to swap traditional almond marzipan for hazelnut and Grand Marnier "marzipan", but you don't have to use anything at all if you'd rather. Sure, it helps keep the cake moist for longer and makes icing it afterwards easier, but if you hate it, why spoil all your hard work? You can always cover your cake in two thin layers of roll out icing (letting the first layer "crust" overnight, before icing it with the second) for a smooth finish, or just a thick layer of stippled royal icing is lovely, especially if neatness isn't your forte or you haven't got a rolling pin.

Christmas Cake
(I'm going to give you the measurements for 3 different round tin sizes, in the hope that you won't have to go out and buy a new one specially. I have given the amounts for round cakes because I generally prefer the look of them, but if you prefer square or only have a square tin, whatever the amount for a round tin, it will be the same for an inch smaller square. So, if you are following the amounts for a 9" round, it will be enough to make an 8" square cake; a 6" round will make a 5" square, etc).

6" Round Tin:

Cook for an hour at 160 C (140 C fan), then cover the top with baking parchment and turn the oven down to 150 C (130 C fan) and cook for a further 1 1/4 hours.


3 oz (75 g) Currants
3 oz (75 g) Sultanas
3 oz (75 g ) Exciting seedless raisins, such as Australian muscat raisins (if you can't find any just use regular)
5 oz (150 g) Seedless raisins
3 oz (75 g) pitted dates (I like Medjool best), chopped - I just use a pair of scissors and snip them into 3.
2 oz (50 g) Natural glace cherries, halved
1 - 2 balls of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped
3 generous tbsp dark rum
1 generous tbsp ginger wine
2 tbsp very strong black coffee (preferably espresso)
A splash of vanilla extract
Zest and juice of half a large orange
3 oz (75 g) unsalted butter, softened
2 oz (50 g) molasses sugar
1 egg
5 oz (125 g) plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp ground cinammon
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 oz (50 g) ground almonds
A large pinch of bicarbonate of soda

Plus extra dark rum, ginger wine and/ or brandy/whisky for steeping later.

7" Round Tin:

Bake for 1 hour at 160 C (140 C fan), then cover the top with baking parchment and bake for a further 2 hours at 150 C (130 C fan).

6 oz (150 g) Currants
6 oz (150 g) Sultanas
6 oz (150 g) Exciting seedless raisins, such as Australian muscat raisins (if you can't find any just use regular)
12 oz (300 g) Seedless raisins
6 oz (150 g)  pitted dates (I like Medjool best), chopped - I just use a pair of scissors and snip them into 3.
3 oz (75 g) Natural glace cherries, halved
2 -3 balls of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped
6 generous tbsp dark rum
2 generous tbsp ginger wine
2 fl. oz (50 ml) very strong black coffee (preferably espresso)
1/2 tbsp of vanilla extract
Zest and juice of 1 large orange
6 oz (150 g)  unsalted butter, softened
5 oz (125 g) molasses sugar
2 eggs
8 oz (200 g) plain flour, sifted
1 tsp ground cinammon
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
3 oz (75 g) ground almonds
1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

Plus extra dark rum, ginger wine and/ or brandy/ whisky for steeping later.

9" Round Tin:

Bake for 1 hour at 160 C (140 C fan), then cover with baking parchment and bake for a further 2 1/2 hours at 150 C (130 C fan).

9 oz (225 g) Currants
9 oz (225 g) Sultanas
9 oz (225 g) Exciting seedless raisins, such as Australian muscat raisins (if you can't find any just use regular)
1 lb 2 oz (450 g) Seedless raisins
9 oz (225 g) pitted dates (I like Medjool best), chopped - I just use a pair of scissors and snip them into 3.
5 oz (125 g) Natural glace cherries, halved
4 - 5 balls of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped
9 generous tbsp dark rum
3 generous tbsp ginger wine
4 fl oz (100 ml) very strong black coffee (preferably espresso)
1 tbsp of vanilla extract
Zest and juice of 2 large oranges
10 oz (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
7 oz (175 g) molasses sugar
3 eggs
14 oz (350 g) plain flour, sifted
2 tsp ground cinammon
3 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground ginger
4 oz (100 g) ground almonds
3/4 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

Plus extra dark rum, ginger wine and/ or brandy/ whisky for steeping later.

You can double the ingredients of the 9" for a 12" round cake and add an extra 2 hours to the cooking time at the 150 C (130 C fan) stage.


  • Place the sultanas, raisins, currants, dates, cherries, stem ginger, rum, ginger wine and coffee in a large pan. Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper or baking parchment before placing the saucepan lid on top.
  • Place over a low flame and gently bring to the boil.
  • Uncover the fruit and stir until all the liquid is absorbed.
  • Mix in the orange zest, juice and vanilla extract and leave to cool. If you want to do this stage a few days in advance you can do, but transfer the fruit into a non-metal bowl and cover the top with cling-film to prevent the flavour from tainting or the fruit from drying out.
  • Preheat your oven to 160 C (140 C fan).
  • Grease and line your tin with baking parchment.
  • Beat the butter until creamy and crumble in the sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy (this may take about 5 minutes and if you have an electric whisk, use it to save your arms).
  • Separate the egg/s and beat in the yolk/s (one at a time if you are making a bigger cake than a 6")
  • Gently fold the flour, ground spices and ground almonds into the mixture.
  • Add the cooled fruit and any liquid left in its pan/bowl. Mix well. For bigger cakes I find using your hands is the easiest method.
  • In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until at the soft peak stage.
  • Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 1 tsp of water and whisk into the egg whites.
  • Gently fold into the fruit mixture until well combined. I tend to add a spoonful and vigorously beat it in to loosen the mixture before folding in the remaining egg white.
  • Spoon your mixture into your chosen tin and smooth over the top with a palette knife and brush the top lightly with water.
  • Tie a double thickness sheet of brown parcel paper around the tin with string and bake on the centre shelf for the time advised above or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. You will need to leave the skewer in for a bit of time to tell (30 secs for a 6", 45 secs for a 7", 1 1/2 mins for a 9" and 4 mins for a 12" cake).
  • Remove from the oven and while still hot, stab the cake all over with a skewer and gently pour over some more dark rum (or brandy/ whisky)
  • Allow the cake to cool in the tin before turning it out and carefully peeling off the baking parchment.
  • Pour over a little ginger wine and wrap the cake in greaseproof paper and then foil and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
  • Once a week steep the cake with a little more alcohol. I like to alternate between rum, brandy and ginger wine to layer up the flavour, but you can stick to one if you prefer.

I'll post up my recipe for home-made marzipan a little nearer to Christmas for you. In the meantime, happy baking.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Victoria's Christmas Cake Boutique

Well, it's that time of year again already. I know nobody really likes to think about Christmas before there's a "D" in the month, but thinking about cake is an exception, right? I will post up some delicious Christmas cake recipes for you to try at home in the next few days, but for those of you who don't have the time or the inclination for festive home baking Victoria's Cake Boutique are now taking orders for Christmas.

If you would like to order a Christmas cake, please go to the website at www.victorias-cake-boutique.co.uk then go to the "Contact Us" page and let me know what you would like to order.

Here's our 2009 Christmas list to whet your appetites:

  • Traditional, boozy fruit cake with home-made marzipan and white fondant icing. 
  • Chocolate fruit cake (a sticky, orangey and delicious twist on tradition and the perfect Christmas cake substitute or gift for those who are not fans of Victorian fruit cake) with (or without, please specify when ordering) home-made marzipan and white fondant icing.
  • Both styles of fruit cake can be decorated with a choice of snowmen (collection only), sparkly snowflakes or cute Christmas trees.
  • Spiced chocolate torte topped with chocolate ganache with handpiped white chocolate snowflakes (collection only) or edible gilded holly or Christmas trees.
  • Chocolate and chestnut Yule logs decorated with sugar holly: £25
There is a small extra cost for p&p or, for those of you who are London or Kent based, you can collect free of charge.

Alternatively, why not pop down to The Stour Space Christmas Market on the 12th and 13th of Decemeber from 11 - 6, where you can buy Christmas cakes and biscuits from me, as well as find lots of beautiful handmade gifts for your friends and family this Christmas.


Monday, 16 November 2009

Hello Cakey!

I was given a last minute commission by a lovely actress at the end of day on Wednesday, for her daughter's 5th birthday on Saturday. As usual, I wanted to make the cake as personal as possible, so wanted to find out what her daughter was into. The answer: swimming, gymnastics and Hello K... aherm, I mean cartoon kittens that may or may not resemble a well known and heavily copyrighted 35 year old Japanese kitty.

I knew a single tier just wouldn't cut it if I was to include all of Izzy's interests in one cake and besides, the higher you go, the more flavours you can get - which is obviously much more exciting to children and greedy people like me. The flavours chosen were gooey chocolate fudge cake for the bottom tier and vanilla and butterscotch for the top.

Next: how to include everything, while still maintaining a proper sense of cohesion? I went for the sea for swimming instead of a swimming pool, partly because there are more things of interest to play around with in the sea (star fish, other fish...), but also because I could make the cake's "story" more comprehensible. I mean, who does gymnastics at the side of a pool? But on a beach? Definitely much more feasible. Probably.

After icing both cakes and a cake board with deep aqua blue sugarpaste, I covered most of the top tier in draped yellow sugarpaste for the sand on the beach. Once that was done I set to work making the cartoon sugar kittens* and fish and star fish. For the beach cats, I had one balancing on a beam, one performing ribbon gymnastics and another doing a hand stand. For the sea, I had a swimming team, two (a big one and a baby one with arm bands) in rubber rings and, of course, there had to be a Hello K... (Shhhh!) mermaid with a gold fish instead of a ribbon on her head. I piped on the sea foam with royal icing, which I also used for mermaid scales and bubbles which spelled out the birthday girl's name.

All in all, Izzy and her mum were delighted with the cake and rang me the next day to thank me, which is always a rather wonderful bonus to the job and makes all the hard work feel thoroughly worth it.

* Any resemblance to actual Japanese kittens, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Psychologies Magazine

Victoria's Cake Boutique is in the December issue of Psychologies Magazine (out now) with advice on how to make the perfect Christmas cake. You can find me on page 155. I'll be posting some delicious fail-safe Christmas recipes on the blog very soon too...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Flame filled fairy cakes

The traditional cake for Bonfire Night celebrations is Thor cake, a cake made using black treacle, oatmeal and ginger, but no flour. The mixture is kneaded into a dough and rolled out to a thickness of about 2 inches, before being baked. The recipe probably pre-dates Guy Fawkes to the Celtic Festival of "Samhain" and has similar ingredients to Parkin, a cake originating from the North of England. Parkin has overtaken Thor as the cake more commonly associated with Guy Fawkes Night and is more of a cakey cake, in that it contains flour and rises on baking.

I was asked to make some festive cupcakes for my friend's Bonfire Night party at the weekend and wanted to keep some of the traditional flavours of Thor and Parkin, but with a more modern feel and lighter texture. I chose ginger cupcakes with ginger buttercream and spiced chocolate cupcakes with rich chocolate buttercream. I adore ginger, so tend to be quite heavy-handed when adding the powdered spice, but if you prefer a milder flavour, by all means add less. The same goes for the spice hit in the chocolate cupcakes; you can even just use cinammon if you'd rather make chocolate and cinammon cakes.

To make the cupcakes properly festive, I decided to make sugar flames, chocolate bonfire wood, sugar rockets and gold stars. For the ginger cupcakes, I made some with undyed buttercream topped with sugarpaste rockets and some with flames and buttercream matching the colours in the flames. I made the flames out of sugarpaste (roll out fondant icing) with yellow centres, wrapped with orange and then red. I also divided the buttercream into 4, left one part undyed, and dyed the other parts yellow, orange and red. Then, using a No. 10 star nozzle, I filled the piping bag with the three colours. The easiest way to do this is to place the bag (fitted with the nozzle) in a glass and then fold the bag down the outside of the glass. Using a palate knife, place the different coloured buttercreams vertically in 3 separate sections, so that when piped, the buttercream will be striped, like Aquafresh toothpaste. When piping with a star nozzle, start on the outer edge and pipe a ring, and then follow the ring inwards until it ends in a point at the top. I then stuck a fondant flame on top of each flame cake.

For the other half of the ginger cupcakes, I used a palate knife to smooth over the undyed ginger buttercream and then topped them with a sugar rocket (a triangular cone on a cylinder of sugarpaste in your choice of colour, with a little tail made out of black sugarpaste for the fuse and with a little gold star at the end for the spark.

I decorated half of the spiced chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream and bonfire wood made out of milk chocolate plastique, and topped them with more fondant flames. I dyed the rest of the buttercream black and piped it with a No. 10 star nozzle, topped with edible gold glitter and edible gold stars (I used a tiny star cutter on chocolate plastique rolled very thinly and painted them with edible gold lustre dust). The black icing will dye your mouth black, like you've eaten a big bag of black jacks, but it doesn't last long and it's fine, and indeed fun, if everyone's eaten some.

Obviously Bonfire Night has been and gone for this year, and the cakes don't need to be decorated with flames and fireworks, but then again, I don't really think you need to wait a whole year for an excuse to make these pretty, fun treats either.

Ginger Cupcakes with Ginger Buttercream

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C if you have a fan assisted oven) and place your cupcake cases in muffin trays. The mixture makes 24 cupcakes.


8 oz (200 g) unsalted butter
6 oz (175 g) molasses sugar
3 tbsp black treacle
1/4 pint (150 ml) whole milk
2 large eggs, beaten
5 pieces of stem ginger, drained and chopped (retain the syrup for the buttercream)
10 oz (300 g) self raising flour
1 1/2 heaped tbsp ground ginger
A pinch of salt
2 - 3 tbsp ginger wine

7 tbsp ginger syrup (the syrup from the stem ginger)
8 oz unsalted butter, softened

16 oz (450 g) icing sugar, sifted

5 tsp lemon juice

  • In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter, sugar and treacle together until the sugar is fully dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool slightly.
  • Stir in the milk and add the beaten eggs and stem ginger. Mix thoroughly.
  • Sift the flour, ground ginger and salt over the warm mixture and combine.
  • Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for 20 - 30 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • While the cakes are still hot, stab the cakes all over with a skewer and, using a teaspoon, pour a little ginger wine on to each cake.
  • Transfer on to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
  • Beat the butter until extremely soft and sift over the icing sugar. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add the ginger syrup and lemon juice and beat again until the buttercream is smooth and fluffy and ready to be dyed (if you want to), smoothed or piped on top of your cooled cupcakes.

Spiced Chocolate Cupcakes

(Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C Fan and line your muffin trays with cupcake cases. This recipe is enough to make 24 cupcakes, but you can reduce the quantities by half for 12).


8 oz (200 g) good quality dark chocolate (70% plus cocoa solids), broken into pieces
7 fl. oz (200 ml) whole milk
9 oz (225 g) molasses sugar
3 oz (125 g) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa
5 oz (125 g) plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Rich Chocolate Buttercream

8 oz (200 g) unsalted butter, softened
14 oz (350 g) icing sugar, sifted
8 oz (200 g) dark chocolate, melted
2 tbsp milk

  • Place the chocolate, milk and 3 oz (75 g) of the sugar into a saucepan and heat gently, until the sugar and chocolate have melted. Allow the "chocolate milk" to cool.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and remaining sugar together until pale and creamy.
  • Gradually beat in the eggs and then the cooled "chocolate milk".
  • Sift the dry ingredients over the mixture and fold in. Mix in the salt and spices.
  • Spoon the cake batter into the cupcake cases and bake for 10 - 15 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Once baked, leave the cakes in their tins to cool for a few minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Beat the butter until really soft.
  • Sift over the icing sugar and beat again until well incorporated.
  • Pour the chocolate and milk into the mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy and ready to be smoothed or piped on to your cakes.

As with almost all of my cake recipes, these cakes can be baked as a whole cake in a loaf tin or 8" round/ 7" square.