I love a slice of cake or three… for medicinal purposes of course, and I believe everyone should have a foolproof recipe for a traditional Christmas cake in their repertoire.
My version is irresistibly moist, sweet, aromatic and fruity, with zesty orange and almond accents, soft prunes, fragrant walnuts, smoky maple syrup and boozy brandy.
I can sleep soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that I have a slice of this within reach, should the mood strike. Mr C is partial to a slice of this with a cheeky little (or large) tipple on a snowy winter’s night, just an FYI for next Christmas Eve! You certainly won’t be met with coal in your stocking if this rich fruity Christmas cake is left out for Santa the night before Christmas.
Classical Spiced Christmas Cake
20cm or 8 inch round loose-bottom cake tin (about 18 slices)
You can make this cake up to six weeks in advance (if you can fit it into your busy schedule), but the cake must be made at least a month or four weeks before Christmas, to allow the flavours to develop and deepen.
If making six weeks in advance, wrap up the cake in several layers of paper and foil and store in a cool place in an airtight container. Alternatively, you can make three months in advance, wrap up as above and freeze. To defrost, allow the cake twelve hours to thaw at room temperature.
For the Steeped Fruit:
50g dried cranberries
80g soft pitted prunes, finely chopped
For the Cake:
150g chopped walnuts or pecans
150g ground almonds
300g plain flour
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp orange zest
4 large eggs
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp fine salt
½ tsp almond extract
150g dark brown sugar
1 tbsp black treacle
2 tbsp agave nectar or golden syrup
3 tbsp maple syrup
120g unsalted butter, softened
120g Flora or margarine, softened
60g Trex or vegetable shortening
To anoint once baked:
4 tbsp brandy, apricot brandy or Grand Marnier
Prepare the tin:
Line a 20cm/ 8 inch round loose-bottom cake tin with two layers of baking parchment or greaseproof paper, both on the base and around the sides. The lining around the sides of the cake tin should be at least twice as deep as the depth of the cake tin to protect the cake as it bakes.
Fold the baking parchment in half to create a double layer. Stick the corners together with some blue tack or paper clips and draw around the base of the cake tin with a pencil. Cut carefully through the double layered baking parchment around the circle to form two circles that fit the cake tin.
Take a long sheet of baking parchment and use a ruler to draw a straight line that is double the depth of the cake tin. Place the cake tin on top of the paper at the line and roll it along the paper measuring just one full turn of the cake tin, to work out the length of the inside sides of the cake tin. Draw a second line to mark the end of the rectangular strip. Join the two sides together with the pencil and cut out the first rectangle. Repeat to create the second rectangle. If you have enough paper to use the above folding technique to create a double layer of paper and cut two out at once, then do.
Fold one long side of each rectangular strip over by a 2cm and snip into the hem at every inch to create a frill hem.
Grease the cake tin with softened butter or margarine and place the first circle of paper on the base of the cake tin. Grease two cm around the edge of the base of the first circle of paper and slot the first rectangular strip along the side of the cake tin with the frilled hem at the base. Press the frills into the base of the cake tin, the buttered edges will help the frills to lie flat against the first layer of paper. Slot the second rectangular strip along the inside of the first and press it down again. Finally place the final circular piece of baking paper on top of the second rectangular strips frilled hem. (If you choose to prepare the paper a few days in advance, do not grease the cake tin and assemble until you are ready to make the cake. Simply pop the dry paper and the tin away into a dry, clean cupboard till you are ready to make the cake.)
Prepare the dried fruit:
Measure out the raisins, sultanas, currants, dried cranberries and soft pitted prunes. Finely chop the prunes to the size of the raisins. Pop all of the dried fruit into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and pour the brandy onto the fruit. Gently heat the fruit till it begins to come to a bubble. Remove from the heat and allow cooling before covering with a double layer of foil and allowing it to soak for twelve hours. Remove the butter, Flora and Trex or vegetable shortening from the fridge to come to room temperature at least six hours before you plan to make the cake.
Make the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 150°C. Prepare and grease the cake tin and set aside. Chop the walnuts and set aside.
Measure and sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground almonds, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, grated nutmeg, mixed spice, salt and chopped walnuts or pecans. Stir the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon to combine and set aside.
In a separate large mixing bowl, cream the dark brown sugar with the softened butter, Flora and Trex or vegetable shortening and add the grated orange and lemon zest.
Firmly beat the eggs into the sugar and fat, one at a time. Add the black treacle, agave syrup or golden syrup, maple syrup and almond extract to the mixture and beat together vigorously.
Uncover the brandy-steeped fruit and in three parts, alternately mix the fruit with the dry ingredients into the creamed sugar and fat, folding the ingredients together till thoroughly combined.
Retrieve the prepared cake tin and carefully spoon in the batter. Smooth the top with a spatula and bake in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours or till an inserted skewer comes out quite clean, with only the merest smidge of moistness.
As soon as the cake has been removed from the oven, gently brush the brandy, apricot brandy or Grand Marnier over the top of the cake. Wrap it up in two layers of foil whilst the cake is still warm in the cake tin, this will allow the cake to soak up the liqueur and keep it beautifully moist.
Once the cake has completely cooled, remove from the cake tin and rewrap the cake in two fresh layers of foil, store in a dry place in an airtight tin or Tupperware till you are ready to ice your cake.
Be sure to pop back to find out how to ice your cake closer to Christmas!