By Ruth Hazard
“Mmm, it smells like Christmas” murmurs my brother as he drifts in to my designated Christmas cake preparation zone. I’ve been soaking, mixing, beating, whipping, stirring, greasing, snipping and drinking (the latter not being strictly part of the recipe) for the last four hours in a bid to prepare the traditional cake of the festive season.
Before the compulsory moan about it being too early for any mention of the ‘C’ word I would like to point out that, as all good bakers know, a Christmas cake is best if you make it 6-8 weeks in advance. This allows it to ‘mature’ while you feed it swigs of brandy at regular intervals over the coming weeks until you’re ready to tuck into what promises to be a fruity, boozy, delicious delight.
Rather than dishing up a sad little supermarket substitute, why not have a go at cake baking yourself? It’s an easy recipe (even if you’re a novice), and it’s cheaper and tastier than a pre-packaged version. What better excuse to crack on the Christmas tunes, pour yourself a sherry and start feeling festive on an otherwise dull November night? It’ll be baked and ready well before the stresses of the season take hold and you have full artistic licence to decorate as you please. My first Christmas cake was adorned with a ‘Christmas Hippo’ complete with his own marzipan Santa hat.
I enjoy making the cake (almost) as much as I like eating it. My Grandma made one from scratch every year and I use her same recipe and special ceramic bowl in the spirit of tradition that so befits Christmas. I also make sure I stir my Christmas wish into the batter, just as she taught me to do when I watched her as a little girl.
Even if your family have always been buyers rather than bakers, why not start a tradition of your own? The cake is impressive enough to be used as a recession-busting gift too, earning you extra Brownie points because it’s been homemade.
Below you’ll find the recipe I use for Christmas cake. It’s under such demand in my family that I actually have to make two! Of course it’s all the tweaks that make it your own: you can swap the fruit and booze according to preference and add or omit as you see fit.
225g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
200g dark brown sugar
1 tbsp black treacle
3 tbsp marmalade
¼ tsp vanilla essence
4 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
800g mixed dried fruits (I use figs, apricots, sultanas and raisins)
100g chopped mixed peel
150g glacé cherries
100g ground almonds (optional)
a Christmas wish!
- Heat the oven to 150C. Grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment.
- Sieve the flour, salt, mixed spice and cinnamon into a bowl.
- Cream the butter and the sugar in a large mixing bowl. You can do this with an electric whisk or by hand with a metal spoon. It’s important the butter is at room temperature for it to mix easily. You will know when it’s ready because all the sugar will be combined in to the butter.
- Then add the treacle, marmalade and vanilla essence and mix until it looks light and fluffy.
- Mix in the eggs a little at a time adding a tablespoon of flour mixture with the last amount. Don’t worry if it looks as though it has curdled, it will come together in the end.
- Fold in the remaining flour mixture until well mixed and then stir in the dried fruit, mixed peel, glace cherries. If you want to add almonds, then do so now.
- As you stir, whisper your very own Christmas wish in to the batter!
- Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and make a slight hollow in the centre with the back of a spoon. Place a sheet of baking parchment cut in to a circle over the top of the cake with a small hole cut in the centre. This is to stop the top of the cake from burning during the long bake.
- Bake in the oven for 2 hours and then test with a skewer. If it isn’t ready bake for up to another two hours testing every 20 minutes until the skewer comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes.
- Turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool.
- Once cool, make a few holes in the cake with a skewer and pour over 3-4 tbsp of brandy. Let the brandy soak into the cake.
Store the cake wrapped in foil and in an airtight tin or plastic container, holes side up.
For a rich and moist cake, spoon over a few tablespoons of brandy every week until you are ready to ice and decorate your cake.