My household has been awash in the Christmas spirit for a month now, a task which has been staunchly borne as we have sat through three Christmas dinners on as many consecutive Saturday nights. Finally, with the real, thing almost upon us, we gave ourselves a break from all that – so that I could make a last-minute Christmas cake.
Again, the recipe comes from Delia Smith’s Delia’s Happy Christmas and it is devised to have all the brandy-infused fruitiness a good Christmas cake should have without being nurtured for two months before the day. With most of the recipes along the way I have used her recipes as a starting point and adapted them. But this last-minute Christmas cake is entirely Delia’s, and it is so good that I am going to have to bake a second one, as my family and colleagues quickly put paid to the one you can see in the picture on this page.
Other colleagues also devoured my phyllo Christmas crackers, which were inspired by another recipe in Delia’s book although frankly I didn’t follow that recipe at all, only taking the idea from the picture in her book and doing it my own way – mostly because hers uses a pastry called feuilles de brick from Tunisia, which I cannot imagine how to source. It’s a lovely idea – slim tubes with indentations near each end to make them look like little edible Christmas crackers, filled with old-fashioned Christmas mincemeat. So, have an extremely merry Christmas until we all meet up again, right here, in the New Year. But first, make these…
Phyllo Christmas Crackers
1 500g packet frozen phyllo pastry
1 Tbs Christmas mince per cracker (makes about 10)
500ml cooking oil
The thing about phyllo is that it dries out very quickly, so once you have unrolled it you have to immediately brush each sheet with butter, layering them on top of one another, then covering them with a clean kitchen towel while you work. So melt your butter first and have a basting brush to hand. First baste a working surface, board or tray big enough o accommodate a sheet of the phyllo. Place one phyllo sheet on this and brush the top. Continue until all the sheets are buttered and stacked. Now take the top sheet and place it on a new surface, then lay a second sheet on that. With a sharp knife, cut right down the centre towards yourself. Place a Tbs of Christmas mince in the centre towards the top, then roll the pasty over it from the top down to make a tube and keep on rolling. Stop a centimetre before the end, brush the jutting pastry with melted butter, and roll up, pressing the join down fairly firmly. Continue in this way until all the phyllo is used up. Heat oil in a suitably deep pot, dipping a piece of discarded phyllo into it. It should bubble fairly fiercely but not be so hot as to burn the pastry. Deepfry one at a time, for just a few seconds. The pastry will firm up and brown very quickly. Remove with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper to drain. Cut each in half (if you like), arrange on a platter and sprinkle with sieved icing sugar.
Last-minute Brandied Christmas Cake
For the pre-soaking
1 jar Christmas mincemeat
110g prunes, pitted and chopped
50g glace cherries
175g dried fruit mix
50g whole candied peel, finely chopped
For the cake
225g self-raising flour, sifted
3 scant tsp baking powder
150g softened butter
150g soft brown sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
50g brazil nuts, finely chopped
50g mixed chopped nuts (not peanuts)
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
For the topping
20 whole brazils
1 heaped Tbs smooth apricot jam
1 Tbs brandy
20cm round baking tin oiled and lined with greaseproof paper
The night before you want to make it, put all of the pre-soaking ingredients into a bowl, stir well, cover with a cloth and leave in a cool place for the flavours to develop and the brandy to insinuate itself into all the fruit.
Next day, preheat the oven to 170degrees. Place all of the soaked ingredients and the rest of the cake ingredients into a large bowl, then use a large wooden spoon to thoroughly mix it all. It doesn’t matter in what order you put them in – I put all of the cake ingredients in except the eggs, mixed it, then added the eggs and mixed again. Pour into the prepared cake tin, smooth out towards the edges, and place the topping nuts in rows across the top or to your own design. Fold a double square of greaseproof paper and cut a whole in the middle the size of a R5 coin, and put this on top. Bake in the centre of the oven for 90 minutes to 2 hours After 90 minutes, have a quick look, and if it’s too light-coloured and runny, it’s not done. Mine took a full two hours. It is done when the top springs back immediately if pressed with a finger.
Leave to cool in the tin, then turn it out onto a wire rack, removing the lining paper. Finally, mix the apricot jam and brandy in a pot over a low heat and stir until melted, and brush over the top of the cake as a shiny glaze. To store, either keep it in an airtight container or wrap it first in greaseproof paper and then in foil, and store in a cool place.