Before I embark on this column, I’ll level with you: I don’t particularly enjoy eating Christmas cake. Actually, the cake element of it I can just about cope with, but it’s the marzipan and icing bit I find quite troublesome. And let’s be honest, no-one really likes Christmas cake, it’s one of those things that it’s nice to ‘do’ at this time of year. I mean, it’s a heck of a lot of effort, and the ingredients aren’t cheap, but it makes the kitchen smell nice. And someone will eat it. Probably.
So with all that effort and the expense to consider, I send my girls to Granny where they can stir away to their little hearts’ content, and trash my mother’s kitchen.
I once made a Christmas cake all on my own, for a staff competition at an old job. It was quite nice – a Nigel Slater recipe if I remember rightly – but it didn’t win, so I haven’t bothered since.
There’s stir-up Sunday isn’t there? Or is that for the Christmas pudding? Anyway, it’s around about now, to give your cake / pud plenty of time to fester before the Big Day when no-one eats it.
As we all know, the best thing about Christmas cake is decorating it. You know, making icing snow drifts, getting out all the skanky old Father Christmases with ancient currants stuck to their feet. It’s marvellous, the kids love it. And Christmas is, apparently, all about the kiddies.
This year my girls and Granny loosely used Felicity Cloake’s recipe. If you don’t know Felicity she writes for the Guardian, and her recipes are unfailingly reliable. Her book, Completely Perfect: 120 Essential Recipes for Every Cook is a personal favourite (available in Black Bough last time I checked).
RECIPE FOR A BIG OL’ CAKE
600g mixed fruit — raisins, sultanas, currants, etc. Ms Cloake suggests a few dried figs, but I think they’re gritty and horrible. We used some dried apricots and cranberries instead
100g glace cherries, chopped
100g mixed peel (ours came from Broad Bean in beautiful big bits — chop it up)
125ml apple juice (Apple Teme for us)
125g unsalted butter (Netherend from Rob at the Fruit Basket)
125g muscovado sugar
4 eggs (Lizzie’s Layers)
130g plain flour (Shipton Mill from Myriad Organics)
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
Zest of one lemon (or orange)
50g ground almonds
In order to avoid dryness, soak your mixed fruit. We’ve gone for apple juice, but cold tea, orange juice, whatever will do. Overnight would be ideal.
Preheat the oven to 160C
Cream the butter and sugar together and gradually beat in the eggs. Sift in the flour to the mixture and add the baking powder, mixed spice, and a pinch of salt. Fold in gently.
Now add the soaked fruit (along with their soaking liquid) and lemon zest. In Felicity’s recipe she adds a few chopped almonds and chopped crystalised ginger at this point. It’s up to you.
Tip the mixture into a liberally greased 20cm cake tin which you will have double-layered with baking paper (to avoid scorching).
Bake for an hour, then cover with foil and give it another 30 minutes.
Allow your cake to cool, then transfer it to a snug and airtight container. If you like a boozy cake, pierce the top of it and anoint over a few weeks with your grog of choice. Damson gin perhaps? My mate Shaun at Ludlow Dry Gin has a new winter tipple — I’m sure that would work too. I personally hate boozy cakes and desserts. I blame Great Aunt Joan, and being forced to eat her sherry trifle aged about six. Grim.
Anyhoo, a bit closer to Christmas find some snotty, coughing children to decorate your cake. I’m not going to give you instructions on that. Ready made icing and packet marzipan all the way, and leave the kids to it. Your work is done.
However, if you want to go the simple route just buy your cake. Here are a few delicious options stocked in:
Broad Bean DIY kits
S C Price Bakers
Henry Mackley is LGL’s food columnist