It’s a bit late to be making a Christmas cake, I know, but it’s taken me this long to get around to it, being so busy and all. Ideally you should bake a Christmas cake at least four weeks before you want to use it: four weeks to sit and mature, plus at least a day to ice and decorate it. But, for my purposes three weeks will be adequate, and I’m sure it’ll be fine for anyone else who fancies making one at this late stage too.
I think people are sometimes put off making Christmas cakes because they think they’re complicated. In fact Christmas cakes are really simple, they just have a lot of ingredients. I remember when I made my first one I was overwhelmed at the whole page of ingredients but, actually, when I looked more closely I saw that you basically threw all the ingredients in a bowl, mixed them up, and put them in a tin! So don’t be put off. The only real way you can go wrong with a Christmas cake is with the cooking times, as it’s such a dense cake it’s very easy to burn the outside before the inside is cooked. Slow and low (heat) is the way to go.
I’ve tried a few different Christmas cake recipes over the years, but this one is my ultimate favourite. It has dried figs in with the other fruit, and is heavily laced with brandy. It’s also HUGE, so there’ll be plenty to go around!
- 750g mixed dried fruit
- 100g blanched whole almonds (roughly chopped)
- 100g chopped mixed peel
- 200g dried figs (roughly chopped)
- 100g glace cherries
- 300g plain flour
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- the zest of 1 lemon
- 250g lightly salted butter
- 250g light muscovado sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp clear honey
- 1 tbsp black treacle
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tbsp milk
- 3 tbsp brandy
Method (demonstrated by my toddler who is an expert cook):
Heat the oven to 140C. You’ll need a 20cm wide cake tin that is deep too. If you’re using silicone as I did, just grease the tin with butter and sit the tin on a baking tray so it has a stable base. If you’re using a metal tin like most people prefer you’ll need to line it very well with greaseproof paper so the outside of the cake doesn’t burn (you can get detailed instructions on how to do this properly online).
In a very large bowl mix the dried fruit, almonds, peel, figs and cherries.
Set aside a small amount of flour, then add the remaining flour, spices and lemon zest and mix it all up well.
In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar using an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract, honey and treacle and beat with the mixer.
Add the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour with each (to prevent curdling) and beat into the mixture. Then stir these wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well.
Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk and add, stirring well. Then add the brandy in spoonfuls, mixing, until the batter is a soft, dropping consistency.
Place into the cake tin and make a dip in the middle using the back of a spoon. Bake for around 3 1/4 hours, but check it after three just to make sure using a skewer. It may take slightly longer depending on your oven. I’d also suggest turning the cake every hour or so to make sure it cooks evenly, as all ovens have hot spots. If you notice the cake browning too quickly around the edges, reduce the heat and expect it to take a little longer. (As long as you check it regularly, which you can do as it doesn’t matter if the cake doesn’t rise – it’s a dense cake – you shouldn’t have a problem with it burning around the edges).
Remove from the oven when done and let it cool in the tin. The next day remove it from the tin, wrap it in greaseproof and foil and leave it for around four weeks. Every week or so sprinkle more brandy over the top, turning it upside down each time so both sides are done.
After the four weeks you can ice the cake with marzipan and royal icing, as is traditional, and decorate it how you like. I have gone to the effort of making marzipan and royal icing from scratch before… once. It’s a pain! Buy pre-made stuff. Honestly. Do it!