“Everyone’s a fruit and nut cake”
After a rather short but sunny break on the continent, my return to wintery Blighty marks the start of my Christmas baking. My latest recipe for a lighter, fruit filled Christmas cake is simple to make, and a brilliant alternative to a traditional bake that often divides consumers. If you are trying to convert friends and family, this recipe is a great way to introduce them to the idea of Christmas cake.
As this recipe is a little less heavy and distinct in flavour than a typical Christmas cake, it is also perfect for any special occasion when a classic fruit cake is called for. I used the same recipe for my Nan’s 90th birthday cake – using the same quantities as noted, but split the mixture between a smaller tin and tray of mini cakes. Decoratively, the miniatures look fabulous, but are also brilliant for offering guests without cutting into the beautifully decorated masterpiece. Due to its density, this cake is also brilliant for stacking in an attempt to create tiers; perfect for a statement cake for any celebratory occasion.
However, bare in mind that by adding a generous spoon of dark, black treacle helps to creates a bake that harks back to more traditional flavours. As well as adding additional richness, the treacle helps with the preserving process. Like mincemeat and festive puddings, any good fruit cake is at its best after a stint in storage. Ideally, my Christmas cake would be maturing for a couple of months – but do not spare, there is still time for a good maturing with still seven weeks until the big day. This allows for at least 5 brandy top-ups, and still time to marzipan and decorate in festive splendour.
To ensure the finish of the cake is a professional as possible, it is always important to use marzipan. Although some people are a little hesitant due to its flavour, the smallest layer of marzipan ensures the icing is smooth, and works as an adhesive between the icing and the cake. Use a small quantity of apricot jam to allow the marzipan to firmly stick to the cake, but ensure it is not visibly oozing out the sides.
Too much icing can sometimes put people off, so I like to limit the amount used, sticking just to icing the top of the cake. This is especially the case when your design includes additional icing decorations. It also seems a particular shame to cover all your hard work with a white sheet, when instead you can showcase all the amazing ingredients and the perfect bake you have achieved.
With quite a few ingredients and important steps that are crucial to a successful bake, here are a few tips to get you started;
- Soak your fruit over night to allow all the moisture to be absorbed, and the fruit to become plump. A wet fruit mixture will also disrupt the cakes liquid quantities. Make sure this is not in a metal bowl as it may react with the fruit.
- Ensure the tin is double lined with an additional greaseproof paper protective coat to allow the cake to cook slowly without burning
- Create a depression in the mixture once it has been poured into the lined tin. This will ensure that the cake cooks level and doesn’t dome in the oven, making it easier when it comes to icing.
- Allow the cake to cool in the tin first. When the tin is cool to touch, turn out and leave to thoroughly cool on a wire rack. If you are too eager to turn out your cake, the fruit will stick to the tin and rip out of the cake.
- If when cooking, the cake looks to be taking on too much colour, simply place another round of baking paper on the top of the cake – this mixture rises very little so don’t be worried about preventing your cake’s growth! This is normally done around 1 1/2 hours into the baking process.
- Store for at least a week, adding additional brandy before putting into storage, and once every week of storage.
- Store you cake first in a parcel of baking paper, then foil to ensure the cake does not react with the foil. Place in a tightly sealed tin before leaving in a cool, dry place.
- 1lb Currants
- 7oz Sultanas
- 7oz Raisins
- 5oz Glacé cherries
- 3oz Chopped mixed peel
- 3oz Flaked almonds
- A little lemon zest
- 2 tbsp Brandy
- 10oz Unsalted butter
- 12oz Plain flour
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 10oz Soft brown sugar
- 5 Free range egg
- Place the dried fruits, cherries, peel, almonds, zest and brandy in a large bowl, mix well, cover, and leave overnight to soak.
- Grease a deep 8inch cake tin, then line the base and side with double thickness of greaseproof paper. Lightly grease the paper too and tie a double band of brown or more greaseproof paper around the outside of the tin, then preheat the oven to 150ºc/Gas 2.
- In a separate bowl, mix together flour and spices, then add butter, sugar and eggs. Mix together using an electric whisk until the mixture becomes smooth and glossy, and all the ingredients are incorporated.
- Using a metal spoon, fold in the fruits until they are evenly distributed through the mixture. Place the mixture into the pre-greased tin, then bang harshly on the work surface to leave the mixture and remove any unwanted air bubbles. Create a small well in the middle of the mixture to ensure the mixture does not dome in the oven.
- Cook in the preheated oven for around 3-3 ½ hours, covering the top of the cake with a circle of baking paper after 1 ½ hours, or when the cake is firm to touch. The cake is ready when a skewer is inserted into the middle of the cake and comes out clean.
- Completely cool in the tin to ensure the cake does not crumble when removed. When cooled, remove from the tin, and fully cool on a wire rack. Wrap the cake in greaseproof paper, before wrapping the whole thing in foil, and placing in a well sealed tin. Allow to mature for a least a week, topping up with a couple of tablespoons of brandy every week until icing.