Christmas cake, Part 1

Well it’s a few days late, what with stir-up Sunday having been last weekend. But I finally got my Christmas cake into the oven today.   I thought I’d jot down what I am calling Part 1 of the process: actually making the cake.  Part 2, icing the cake with almond paste and royal icing, comes just before Christmas.

I don’t understand people who don’t like fruit cake.  What’s not to like? It’s sweet, and chewy, and boozy – sort of what Wine Gums SHOULD be like. Though of course, the awful ones one can buy at the supermarket would put anyone off. Making your own candied peel helps; then of course, so does soaking all the fruit in booze at least a day before making the cake.

The other thing is that fruit cakes are actually quite easy to make.  Far easier than a “simple” genoise or sponge cake.  You don’t have to beat eggs until they form stiff peaks, or make clarified butter, or fold in flour alternately with yak milk, or anything like that.  It does help to have a mixer to cream the sugar and butter, but really, that’s the hardest part.

Basically, the process is this:

  1. Weigh out the fruit you’re using, and dump it into a large bowl.
  2. Add the booze specified in the recipe.  Let it sit overnight.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together, adding the eggs gradually.
  4. Stir in the flour and spices, then toss in the boozy-fruit, and any nuts if you’re using them.
  5. Pile the mixture into a prepared pan, and pop it into the oven.

Because these cakes are so dense, you need to bake them at a much lower temperature, and for much longer than, say, a layer cake.  And most recipes say to tie brown paper or newspaper around the pan so that the contents heat more evenly.

I won’t repeat the recipe I used here, because it’s not mine, and it’s already on the web. It’s the “As You Like It” cake on the BBC Food site.  It gets rave reviews from people who have tried it.  (Though several reviewers suggested the cake needed about twice the time in the oven that the recipe stated. So what?  Just time the baking so that it doesn’t overlap needing the oven to make dinner.)

What I like about this recipe is that you can use just about any dried fruit you like. If you don’t like currants, substitute something else. I used a mix of sultanas, Thompson seedless raisins, currants, candied orange and lemon peel (my own), glacé pineapple, green glacé cherries (which I admit, are weird – why dye cherries green? But I like having many colours in each slice of cake.). I also saw dried Montmorency cherries where I buy my baking supplies, so threw some of them in.  They’re delicious out of the bag … how could they not be good in a cake?

You can also switch out any nuts you like for ones you do: I don’t like the texture of slivered almonds in cakes, so I used Brazil nuts instead.

I also like that it’s not a dark cake. There are no ingredients to turn the cake into a black mass of tar, which is what some cakes look at taste like to me.  I used light brown sugar (actually, “brilliant yellow” sugar … which seemed to be a pretty light version of brown), but apart from that, there’s nothing to make the batter itself dark.

So, give it a whirl. You might become one of those people who can’t resist having a little piece of  fruit cake any time you have a cup of tea.


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