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.
(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
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
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:
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
10 oz (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
7 oz (175 g) molasses sugar
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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.