Friday, 22 November 2013

Christmas Cake

Wouldn't you agree that Christmas cake seems to be a rather typically British thing? 

I could be wrong, but I don't seem to remember having seen a recipe for one on any American food blogs (and I read a fair few). But that's OK, because when it comes to the traditional things, you can't go very far wrong with a certain Ms Delia Smith.

For the past five years, I have been tasked with making the family Christmas cake. It started when I was very seriously struggling after coming home from Oxford Brookes, and Mama thought it would be a good thing to get me to do one day. And it was. The Christmas cake became my project from there on in, despite the fact that I've always been rather convinced that I don't actually like Christmas cake. While I was at uni I would always make it when I came home for Reading Week, then leave it with my mother, with firm admonishments to feed it, as if it was a beloved pet. I'd then decorate it when I came back for Christmas, and it would be devoured before I went back to Cardiff in the New Year.

I've tweaked Delia's recipe very slightly here, but to be honest, the original is a very very good cake. If you want to make this, I would suggest that you make a start tonight, as it will need a few weeks to mature. I'm also told that if you are a complete teetotaller (and more power to you if you are), tea makes a very good substitute for the soaking liquor and to use to feed it. I'd imagine that Chai, with its wintery spices, would work really nicely.

Additionally, you do have some leeway with the dried fruit. I always think that dried cranberries would be perfect in this. But a health warning here- if you are planning on putting dried cranberries in this, please make sure you don't feed it to anyone taking warfarin (like your grandparents), as you are told to avoid cranberries when taking this drug. Silly I know, but I would hate to suggest something which could then make somebody poorly!

You will need:

6oz currants
2oz dried apricots, chopped
3oz sultanas
3oz raisins
1 1/2 oz glace cherries, finely chopped
1 1/2 oz mixed peel, finely chopped
3 tbsp brandy/ amaretto/ cooled tea
4oz soft brown sugar
4oz butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp black treacle
1 1/2oz flaked almonds
Finely grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
Finely grated zest of 1/2 an orange
4oz plain flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice

A 7in round cake tin- as deep as possible
Greaseproof paper
Brown paper

You need to make a start with this the day before you actually want to make it- so start tonight and make it tomorrow. Weigh your currants, apricots, raisins, cherries, and mixed peeled out, and finely chop your peel, cherries, and apricots. Put all of this into a bowl, and add three tablespoons of brandy (or tea, if you're using that. My aunt uses Amaretto which is also amazing, and I imagine a spiced rum like Captain Morgan's would be cracking. Whatever floats your boat). Cover with a clean tea towel, and leave for at least 12 hours. I left mine for three days and it certainly didn't hurt.

On the day, make sure you either leave your butter out of the fridge for a few hours, or soften it in the microwave. I am a firm believer that if there's ever a time to make a cake by hand, it's when you're making your Christmas cake- so put your mixer away, please, and pre-heat your oven to 140C.

Beat your butter and sugar together until light and fluffy- this will take a while, but persist. When it's looking all fluffy and lovely, whisk your eggs together in a mug/ small bowl, then add to the sugar and butter a little bit at a time. When this is all very well combined (and don't worry if it splits slightly, it will be OK!), add your black treacle and flaked almonds, and beat in to the mixture.

Sift together your flour and mixed spice, the fold this in to the mixture. Finally, stir through all of your lovely dried fruit. It really is as simple as that.

Now- lining the tin. Your tin must be greased and lined with greaseproof paper, as standard. I tend to actually double line the sides of my tin, and make sure it goes to about double the height of the tin. Then pour in your mixture and smooth the top over- this cake has no raising agent, so it needs to be smooth or it won't look great when it's finished- then put cuts into your excess greaseproof and fold this down over the sides of your tin, to protect the outside. Then wrap brown paper around the tin, and secure with string. Finally, pop a double-layered square of greaseproof on top of the cake, with a hole cut in the top.

(Before you ask, yes this is all necessary. Due to all the dried fruit, if you don't do this, the fruit will scorch, the cake won't be cooked, and all will be sad times indeed.)

Then put your cake into the oven at 140C for 3 hours, and luxuriate in the smell coming from your kitchen. If it isn't cooked at this point, put it back in for another 15-30 minutes.

When the cake is out of the oven and cooled, wrap in a double layer of greaseproof paper, and then wrap all of that in tin foil before putting it into a tin. Then once a week or so between now and Christmas, poke little holes in the top and pour over a couple of tablespoons of brandy/ amaretto/ tea- this is "feeding"  the cake. Think of it like a pet. You can then marzipan and ice the cake a couple of days before Christmas- I'll post again on decorating a bit closer to the time, if I remember.


  1. It looks amazing! Top work!

    Amaretto is also a great shout! Delia had a nice recipe for a Caribbean one with tons of rum and other exciting stuff. My mum and I just put in whatever is in the cupboard (living life on the wild side) xx

  2. This cake looks just about perfect! Christmas cake is really big in Ireland too - it's right up their with the staples of turkey and mince pies! I'm all about the icing - I like Christmas cake but it's usually a means to an icetastic end :)

  3. This looks delicious Alice! I've never really come around to liking Christmas cake yet sadly, I'm convinced it's because my family always put too much brandy in it so all I can taste is the alcohol instead of the cake - silly people, but maybe next year I'll make my own and give my big sister a run for her money haha! Xx

  4. Ooooh I'm craving Christmas cake now, with thick white icing! I've been considering making Nigella's all in one Christmas cake, the one you don't need to feed since I don't like anything boozy. Yours is such a perfect even colour, you pro!

  5. That looks like it will be delicious come Christmas day! There's something ever so satisfying about spending a long time preparing it, baking it, nuturing it, icing it and then finally eating it - definitely worth it :-)
    I've missed making a Christmas cake this year (for the first time in 4 years) - we're spending it in Cornwall with my sister-in-law so she said she'd make the cake instead. I'll definitely be back making one next year though! :-) x

  6. Americans have this image of fruit cake as being a "brick" that tastes of sawdust. I've never understood why. There are all sorts of jokes about fruit cakes being given as hostess gifts and re-gifted endlessly!

    Your cake looks lovely, Alice! It's bringing back fond Mum always made Delia's Christmas cake when we were little. And thanks for the warning about cranberries--my blood has gone super-thin after over-indulging in those festive sandwiches with cranberry sauce/chutney in them. A tiny bit of cranberry goes a long way when you're on warfarin. (Worth the extra blood test, though. I miss cranberry so much!)


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