It may still seem very early to even be thinking about Christmas and I know many people don’t like to hear about it until at least November. However in the case of the Christmas cake I’m afraid I have no choice but to share this recipe with you all now. You see I am a huge fan of a rich fruit cake at Christmas and love nothing more than setting an afternoon aside to make this festive treat. I like to allow optimum feeding time so it can be dowsed in as much booze as is possible which is why I made mine last week.
This year I have opted to try Nigel Slaters small Christmas cake recipe. I am the only one in the house who actually eats it you see, so apart from giving the odd slice away to family when we visit over the Christmas period it will be down to me to scoff it all. Not that it will be a problem of course.
The dried fruits I used were figs, currants and sultanas. I found some delicious looking morello cherries in the supermarket which I have used instead of the standard type, it was hard to resist not eating them all while baking. I left the hazelnuts out, I’m not a fan of nuts in a Christmas cake so added an extra handful of boozy fruit instead which was soaked in rum rather than brandy.
Nigel says this quantity will make a deep 11cm square cake or 2 small loaf tins 13cm x 6cm. However I used a 15cm round tin which I have found to be quite sufficient.
450g dried fruits
3 tbsp brandy or rum.
the grated zest and juice of a small orange
70g light muscovado sugar
55g dark muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
40g ground almonds
125g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
a knife point of ground cinnamon
a knife point of ground nutmeg
the merest pinch of allspice
brandy for feeding the cake
The night before, if you remember, empty the dried fruits into a bowl, finely chopping the larger fruits as you go, pour over the brandy, then add the zest and juice of the orange. Tumble the fruits in the liquid – it won’t cover them – and set aside. Give them another stir in the morning.
To make the cake, set the oven at 160C/ gas mark 3. Put the baking shelf in the lower half of the oven. Beat the butter and sugars till fluffy, using an electric mixer. Take no shortcuts here: the mixture should be latté coloured and the texture of soft ice cream.
Meanwhile, line the cake tin twice with baking paper. The paper should come at least 5cm above the edge of the tin. This seems extravagant but helps the cake not to overcook on the bottom.
Break the eggs into a small bowl and mix thoroughly, adding them, a little at a time, to the fully creamed butter and sugar. If the mixture curdles slightly, and it probably will, then mix in 1 tbsp or two of the flour. Add the dried fruits, ground almonds and whole hazelnuts.
To the flour, add the baking powder and spices and mix well, then add it, a heaped tablespoon at a time, to the cake mixture. Spoon into the lined cake tin, then bake for one hour without opening the door. (This is where I put the timer on.) Turn the temperature down to 150C/gas mark 2 and let the cake continue cooking for a further 1½ hours. If it appears to be browning a little too quickly, place a piece of paper or foil over the top. If you’re baking with two little loaf tins, then cut the cooking time by 30 minutes.
Remove the cake from the heat and let it cool in its tin. When the cake is cold, wrap it, still in its paper, in foil or cling-film and leave in a cool place. It is a good idea to feed it with brandy every week till you ice it. Unwrap the foil and peel back the paper, then pierce the underside of the cake with a metal skewer or knitting needle several times, then spoon over a little brandy. It will soon disappear into the cake. Wrap it up and set it aside for another week.
To cover an 11cm cake you will need about 400g almond paste and icing made with 2 egg whites and about 500g icing sugar.
For the icing:
2 egg whites
500g unrefined icing sugar
a little lemon juice, rosewater or orange blossom water
Whisk or fork the egg whites lightly, just enough to break them up and give a faint head of bubbles. Sift in the icing sugar and mix to a smooth paste thick enough to spread. It will seem too thick at first, but keep going. Add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice or flower water. Scoop the icing out over the almond paste, smooth it out and decorate as you wish.