Its Christmas Cake time!!
No need to panic if you have yet to make your Christmas cake: this recipe tastes just as good whether its made the week before Christmas or several weeks before Christmas. So get your pinny on, get in the kitchen and getting cooking up a tasty cake that will fill the house with those wonderful fruity, festive smells. I may have also put on a bit of Christmas music whilst I was making mine 🙂
And if you have been super organised and have already made your cake, then well done its not easy to find the time; but have a sneaky peek at this anyway and maybe save it for next year 😉
So my Christmas cake recipe has been adapted over several years.
My first Christmas cake was rammed full of fruit and not much else, and although a lot of fruit is just what a Christmas cake is all about; its not exactly to my taste. I feel that all that fruit can make the cake rather bitter and slightly boring after a few bites. So over the years I’ve removed some of the fruits and replaced with different things until I came up with my perfect recipe. My favourite additions include a bit of cocoa powder and ground almonds. The chocolate goes amazingly well with the orange flavours and the ground almonds adds a sweet nutty taste without the dryness of whole almonds.
So baking a cake can be quite a challenge but hopefully I can ease the burden and walk you through what I do at each stage and give a few simple tips along the way.
Lining and preparing your baking tin
This recipe is enough for one 8 inch (20cm) cake tin or two 6 inch (15cm) tins. I was making 3 cakes: one large and two small, so made up the recipe twice and lined two 6 inch tins and one 8 inch tin. The first thing to do when preparing your tin is to wrap the outside with a couple of sheets of newspaper and secure with string. This helps to insulate the tin and stops the outer edges of the cake from burning before the middle is cooked through.
For lining the tin; a double layer of grease proof paper is the usual method. For the base of the tin; fold your grease proof paper in half and then draw around the tin to create 2 circles – use the inside base if your tin is slotted:
To cut this out I usually peg the paper together to prevent the bottom layer from moving.
For the sides of the tin; cut a length of paper that is a little longer than the circumference of your tin. Fold this in half length ways and then fold the folded edge up by 2-3 cm.
On the 2-3cm folded edge cut diagonally up to the fold every 3cm:
Place one of the base circles in the bottom of the tin and then insert the side paper with the cut edge facing down. The diagonal cuts will overlap each other on the base of the tin:
Place the second paper circle over the top of this. Put your tin to one side whilst you make the cake mix.
Making the Christmas cake mix
To ensure your dried fruit is plump, juicy and full of flavour; try to soak it overnight in your preferred choice of alcohol and fruit juice. I always use sherry and usually soak 650g of dried mixed fruit with 200ml of fino sherry and the juice from two average sized oranges. Cover with cling film and leave on the side overnight.
Also if you can; leave your butter out overnight so that it is nice and soft the next day – this helps to achieve a nice light mixture when combining with the sugar.
To make the cake mix I used my Kenwood food mixer, which does a pretty decent job and isn’t too expensive. The 250g of cubed butter and 250g light muscovado sugar go into the mixer first, along with 1 tablespoon of black treacle.
Start the mixer on a low speed until the ingredients have started to combine and then turn up to the top speed and leave to mix for at least 10 minutes – the butter and sugar should have combined into a light and fluffy mixture. (you may need to stop the mixer every now and again to scrape the mixture off the sides and back into the centre of the bowl – just to help it combine).
The next stage is the addition of the eggs, which takes time and patience if it is done correctly. Have your dry ingredients (plain flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder, mixed spice, nutmeg, and vanilla) already mixed in a bowl to one side – spoonful’s of this may be needed if the mixture starts to split. Beat the 4 medium eggs together in a pour-able jug. Return to the butter mix and put the mixer back on high. Slowly, slowly trickle the beaten eggs into the butter mix – this usually takes me 15-20 minutes.
If at any point you feel the mixture is getting too sloppy or if you think too much egg went in all at once; then add a spoonful of the dry ingredients to prevent the mix from splitting. Ideally the mixture should stay creamy and well whipped.
Once all the egg has been mixed in remove the bowl from the mixer; add the remaining flour mixture and the soaked fruits and then use a spatula to gently fold in these ingredients.
Gently transfer the cake mix to the lined cake tin (if you are making two 6 inch cakes then divide the mixture evenly between the two tins). Use a spatula to even out the cake mix at the top of the tin
To bake place the cake in the centre of a preheated oven (150 degrees C); the 6 inch cakes for 2 hrs and the 8 inch cakes for 2hrs 30 minutes. Check cake 15 minutes before the end of these baking times by inserting a skewer into the centre of the cake – if the skewer comes out clean then the cake is done. If not, return to the oven and check every 10 minutes until the skewer comes out clean.
Place the cake, still in the tin, on a wire rack to cool. Whilst cooling skewer all over and drizzle over 2 tablespoons of sherry (or your preferred spirit). After half an hour or so carefully remove the cake from the tin and leave on the wire rack to cool completely.
If you still have several weeks before Christmas the cake can be wrapped in cling film and stored in a tin – unwrap once each week and feed with 2 tablespoons of sherry (or preferred spirit). This will enhance the flavour and help to keep the cake moist. Then ice your cake within the week before Christmas.
If you would rather go for a quicker bake and make something that you can eat straight away, check out my Christmas cake muffins recipe here.
Icing your Christmas cake
To help keep the cake well preserved until Christmas and to stick with the traditional flavours I always cover my cake with a layer of ready to roll marzipan and then a layer of ready to roll white fondant icing. Both the marzipan and icing are held in place with melted apricot jam.
To make this process easier place a blob of melted apricot jam in the centre of a silver cake board and position the cake in the middle. A cake turn table can also be helpful, but not necessary.
If your cake has a slight raise in the middle; use a cake leveller or a serrated knife and your best judgement to slice off the top of the raised part. The whole cake can then be turned upside down and the flat bottom now becomes the top.
Soften both the marzipan and fondant icing by dusting the work surface with icing sugar and kneading well. Use a rolling pin and icing sugar to dust and roll out the marzipan and icing sugar into circular shapes at around 2-3mm thick. Melt the apricot jam in a small pan and allow to cool slightly. Use a pastry brush to paste the jam all over the surface of the cake then use the rolling pin to lift the marzipan and then position over the cake.
Stretch the ‘skirt’ of the marzipan out slightly and then back in to tuck evenly into the side of the cake. Then use a knife to score and then remove the excess.
Paint over a further layer of jam and repeat the process with the icing
At this stage an icing smoother can be used to remove any lumps and smooth off the icing.
Decorating your Christmas cake
This year I have gone for a rustic/autumnal look with my cake decoration. The recipe for my sugared pecans and chocolate stars can be found here. I used icing sugar mixed with water to position the sugared pecans and then balanced the chocolate stars in between and on top of the pecans.
Nutritional information? For a Christmas cake? I don’t know where I’ve put that 🙂