A rich, dark Christmas cake needs time to mature, but if you plan this recipe quickly you still have time to have a luxurious homemade cake ready to slice into on December 25. And December 26, 27, 28 …
The recipe is my own adapted from a classic Christmas cake recipe that Delia Smth first published in 1978. Why did I adapt it? Only because her recipe calls for a 20cm round tin, whereas mine is 25cm. I also prefer more cherries than her recipe asks for, and twice as much candied peel to cut all the sweetness. Also, where Delia uses a half teaspoon of commercial ground mixed spice, I grated cassia (or use cinnamon) and mixed it with ground cloves, using 3ml of that (about half a teaspoon).
Oh, and I have, shall we say, a generous hand with brandy.
There was an element of risk involved, as there always is when you fiddle with tried and trusted recipes, but I’m happy to report that it worked, and that the cooking times remain the same. I also decided, having gone to all this trouble, to go the whole gammon and coat it with marzipan and then with proper royal icing. And when you’ve gone that far, well, it’s not that much of a leap to find the little Christmas trees, sleighs, snowmen and, erm, penguins that help to make the finished product the truly kitsch thing a classic Christmas cake should be.
Do most of the cake-making in the evening, playing carols in the background and keeping that bottle of brandy to hand to enrich the cake, and yourself. Decorating is not my forté, I happily admit, so I’m sure you’ll do a whole lot better with the finished product. I thought the little penguins brought a touch of the southern hemisphere to it.
Traditional Dark Christmas Cake
75g glace cherries
100g mixed candied peel
4 Tbs brandy plus more for maturing
225g cake flour
3ml grated nutmeg
3ml ground mixed spice
250g unsalted butter
225g muscovado sugar
4 extra large eggs
75 almonds, chopped
1 level dessertspoon black treacle (you’ll find it with the golden syrup at your supermarket)
Grated zest of one lemon and one orange
1 25cm springform cake tin
1. The night before you make the cake, measure out the currants, sultanas, raisins, glacé cherries and candied peel in a bowl, stir the brandy in well, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to steep overnight. (A confession: When I got home later that night, I poured in at least as much brandy again, stirred and hoped for the best.)
2. At least 12 hours later, preheat the oven tyo 140°C, with a rack placed on the lowest rung of the oven.
3. Sift the flour, spices and salt into a large mixing bowl, raising the sieve high so that plenty of air gets into the mix for a lighter cake.
3. In another large bowl, beat the butter and muscovado sugar together until pale and fluffy. Switch on the TV and put the bowl on your lap and keep going at it until it is right. Don’t rush or shortcut this.
4. Whisk the eggs and add them to the mix a little at a time, to prevent curdling.
5. Fold in the spiced flour, gently and slowly. No full-on stirring.
6. In the same way, fold in the fruit, chopped nuts and treacle.
7. Grate the orange and lemon zest over the top and fold in.
8. Prepare the springform cake tin (i.e. one with a removabe bottom) by greasing it and then lining with a double-folded sheet of baking paper. Cut a circle of the paper to fit inside the bottom of the tin. Place the double-folded sheet around the edges, inside the tin. This should protrude above the top edge of the cake tin by about 6cm for extra protection.
9. Spoon in the cake mix and even it out.
10. Bake on the lowest shelf of a 140°C oven for at least four hours. Mine was in for four-and-a-half.
11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for half an hour.
12. When cool, unlock the springform tin, and carefully place the cake on a rack to continue cooling.
13. When cool, prick a few holes in the cake, spoon brandy over and wrap in double baking paper, then in foil, loosely, and store in a cool, dark place. Every day or two, “feed” it more brandy.
325ml icing sugar, sifted
1 egg white
3ml lemon juice (about half a teaspoon)
1 or 2 Tbs cold water if required
Whisk the egg white and the lemon juice together in a bowl and start adding a little of the icing sugar at a time. If or when it starts to become too thick to paste on the cake, add a few drops of cold water and stir until the consstency is pliable but not runny. Shape on the cake (after covering it with marzipan (I bought mine commercially) using a palette knife dipped in hot water, and decorate as you like. But no windmills please. That would be silly.