It may only be the beginning of November but it won’t have escaped your notice that Christmas is on its way already. One thing that really does benefit from forward planning is Christmas Cake. Make it now and you have a couple of months to feed it with brandy so it is deliciously rich and moist when it’s time to eat it.
Assembling the ingredients takes a bit of time but making it really couldn’t be simpler. It uses a very simple method and bakes for a long time on a low temperature: not a lot can go wrong!
Many families have a recipe they have been using for years and it becomes part of family tradition. I have never been in charge of the Christmas Cake before: since I left home my mum has always made one using the same recipe she has had since we were little. One of my main memories of the lead-up to Christmas is helping to make the cake: soaking the almonds in boiling water to remove the skins, chopping the cherries and trying to measure out treacle effectively.
For the sake of tradition I should have used the “family” recipe but I thought maybe it was time for a change, if only so that we know it really is the best! This time I have decided to try the Mary Berry Classic Rich Christmas Cake recipe. These days you can easily get whole almonds that have already been skinned which is good news – no more burnt fingertips!
One of the best parts is soaking the fruit in brandy overnight:
If you don’t already have a recipe that you use or one that you’d like to try, here is the one I used:
100g glacé cherries
100g dried apricots
50g chopped candied peel
3 tablespoons brandy
225g plain flour
A quarter teaspoon nutmeg
a half teaspoon mixed spice
225g softened butter
225g dark muscovado sugar
4 large eggs
50g chopped almonds
1 tablespoon black treacle
grated rind of a lemon
grated rind of an orange
This recipe makes an 8″ round cake.
The night before you want to make the cake, chop, rinse and dry the cherries. Chop the apricots and put all the dried fruit into a large bowl. Add the brandy, mix and cover. Leave in a cool place overnight.
Set the oven to 120ºC (fan) or 140ºC. Grease and line an 8″ loose bottomed, deep cake tin.
Measure the flour, spices, butter, sugar, eggs, almonds, treacle, orange and lemon rinds into a large bowl. Beat well. Add the soaked fruits and mix.
Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and level. Cover with a double layer of baking parchment.
Bake for 4½ to 4¾ hours or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin and do not remove the lining parchment when storing. When cool pierce the cake at intervals with a skewer and feed with a little brandy.
The cake should be well wrapped in baking parchment and foil and kept in a cool place. Every now and then feed with some more brandy. Be careful where you leave it: one Christmas the cat sat on my mum’s cake…
The cake will need to be covered with marzipan about a week before it is iced: details to follow!
I made sure that I fed the cake brandy on an at least weekly basis, to the point where I was afraid it might not be suitable for the kids!
I covered it with marzipan:
Then I left it again before realising that it was nearly Christmas and I hadn’t remembered to ice the cake… Luckily I had already bought some green and red icing and a Christmas ribbon for the sides, although I had overestimated the height of the finished cake and had to fold the ribbon to get it to fit. I wanted a really simple design and had seen a lot of holly and berry designs that I liked and already happened to have a holly biscuit cutter in a set of Christmas cutters I have had for years.
I used a knife to make the pattern on the holly and added some bright red berries.
I was really pleased with the taste of this Christmas cake and would happily appropriate it for our family Christmas cake for years to come. And the brandy didn’t seem to have any effect on the kids, so I recommend a good feeding of brandy for it too!