Yes, it's the 'C' word - Christmas. I haven't even started to think about anything else related to Christmas other than the cake. This is simply because this cake needs to be made in advance to mature for Christmas and be at it's best. It does seem early, but just trust me on this!
This recipe is our family recipe for Christmas cakes, used by my mum since before I was born I think. It originally came from one of the booklets that my mum collected in the 1970's as part of the Cordon Bleu cookery course. There were quite a few of these booklets hanging around the house when I was younger, but my mum being the tidy person she is (and not a hoarder like me, I got that from my dad) chucked most of them out. However, the booklet with the Christmas Cake recipe was always earmarked to stay safe. The cake is made every year for varying numbers of family members - grandparents, aunties and uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces and is also make in mini tins (200g baked bean size, in case you were wondering...) for cake sales at church. Not a cheap cake sale cake, but my mum has requests for these every year from many members of the congregation and they are always massively popular. I think perhaps I'd better start saving my baked bean tins for her again...
There have been a number of minor amendments over the years and so I thought I would record my version of this cake here. As you will see, this is destined to be a Christmas gift (for my dad - I don't think he reads this blog, but if he does... Hi Dad!... then he'll be rather relieved that the cake is made and it's the right one this time) so there are no inside shots.
Last year I completely ran out of time and didn't make this cake, reasoning that I would be better to make a cake that was intended to be eaten soon after making. I found Delia's Last-Minute Sherry Mincemeat Cake and made that instead. It was a disaster. In fact, I was so ashamed of it that I wouldn't even let myself take a photograph of it. I used fruit and nuts for the topping as shown, but they all sank into the middle of the cake, the edges ballooned up and I was embarrassed that I would have to give such a monstrosity as a gift. But having run out of time, I gave it anyway. Hence the need to get ahead on this year's effort.
The year before last I used this same recipe but for some reason (and what with being nearly two years ago I really can't remember what times/temperatures etc I used) the fruit and nuts darkened far too much. I guess I must have misread my recipe. I'm happy to report a better outcome this year.
NB When baking the cake I noted that quite a bit of fat came out of the cake. I was using a lined loose-based tin and having spoken to my mum since making it, she says that this happens to her too, so she doesn't use a loose-based tin. It's up to you, but I'd recommend something under the cake tin to catch the escaping butter if necessary. Hopefully the cake won't be dry....
Traditional Christmas Cake
115g plain flour
1/4 nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp mixed spice
115g glace cherries, halved
85g slivered almonds (or blanched almonds, chopped lengthways)
grated rind 1/2 lemon (or orange)
85g dark brown soft sugar
2 tbsp brandy/rum/sherry or 1 tbsp orange juice
Your choice of nuts and fruits - I used brazil nuts, almonds and glace cherries, but my mum always includes walnuts. You could also use hazelnuts, or whatever takes your fancy.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and line a 6"/15cm round, deep (it needs to be deep) tin with a double layer of parchment paper round the sides and on the base - this helps to protect the cake as it bakes.
Preparation stage (can be done the night before):
Put butter, sugar and zest into a large bowl. This needs to be large enough to hold all of the mixture towards the end of mixing.
Put flour, salt, spices into a small bowl.
Put all dried fruit into a medium bowl with the nuts and toss with a tbsp or so of flour.
- Cream the butter, sugar and grated zest until soft and light.
- Add the eggs one at a time, with a spoonful of flour after each to help prevent the mixture curdling.
- Fold in half of the flour.
- Fold in the fruit and nuts until well mixed and then add the remaining flour mixture and alcohol/fruit juice and continue to mix until all amalgamated.
- Smooth the top of the cake (if baking without nut decoration, smooth with wet fingers to protect the surface of the cake) and arrange the fruit and nuts as you wish. Our family have always gone for concentric circles.
- Bake for 45 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 160C/Gas 3 (or just under, Gas 3 is apparently 170C), cover the cake with a double thickness of parchment weighed down with an old wooden spoon (or a silicon one like I used) - this is just to protect the surface from over-browning. Continue to bake for a further 45 minutes - 1 hour. Test with a skewer/cake tester. If it comes out clean the cake is done. I ended up leaving mine in for two hours in total.
A note on decoration: The cake is perfectly suitable for making as a plain cake to be covered in marzipan and royal (more traditional) or fondant (newfangled) icing. However, in our family it is always, always covered with a fruit and nut topping. This dates back to the 1970's when there was a shortage of icing sugar and so royal icing couldn't be made. (Yes, I know this sounds odd, but it was 1974, the year of the 3 day week, and many things were in shortage, sugar included! There's an article here.)
To store: When completely cold, wrap the cake in greaseproof paper and over-wrap it with foil. Keep in a cool(ish) place (i.e. not next to a radiator...) until needed.
I don't actually know how long this cake keeps, but a good while if properly wrapped. One year, my mum (making the cakes in September...) was either super-organised and thought to make two for the household, or miscalculated how many relatives needed one and there ended up being two cakes. One was consumed over Christmas and into January and then the other one stayed on top of a tall cupboard, hidden with kitchen rolls or some such kitchen related item. It was eventually rescued in about July, cut into, pronounced 'mature' and 'rather delicious'. So I reckon it'll keep for a while.