I Stir-up Sunday is the last Sunday before advent and was traditionally the day for making your Christmas puddings. I use this day to make all kinds of Christmas goodies and this year it had to include the Christmas cake as I had not managed to find time to make it before. I usually try to get the crimbo cakes made in late September so I have plenty of time to feed them before Christmas, but not this year.
It usually means that whoever eats it; has to stay over, as the cake is so well fed, that you won’t be fit to drive after even a small slice. That’s the way we like it in our house, but those of you who know us, know we’re close on alcoholics anyway.
I like this recipe though because even with minimal feeding, it’s still lovely and moist and you can get away with making it up to about a week before Christmas. I once tried to just make it and eat it. Fortunately I made two small ones that time, because without at least a week to mature and a good feed, it tasted bit dry and nasty.
I say feed, but really, what I mean is drink. I give my cakes port and brandy alternately every couple of weeks if I have made them in September or at least one drink of each if I make the cakes last minute. Then they are ready to paint with vodka to prevent mould growing between the cake and the marzipan if you keep the cake for a long time. I then paint on a thin layer of thinned down apricot jam to help the marzipan stick nicely and finally I can ice them if I want or sometimes I just make pretty patterns in the marzipan and toast it a little with a blow torch for a more natural look. The cakes will keep longer if iced as well.
I say cakes because usually at Christmas time I have a whole list of friends and neighbours who put their orders in and the cake making becomes a bit of a marathon. This year ladies and gents we are off on our jollies so I’m giving you the recipe instead and you’ll have to get busy and make your own. So without further a do
100g / 4oz dates
100g /4oz figs
50g / 2oz prunes
75g / 3oz cherries
75g / 3oz mixed peel
75g /3oz walnut pieces
150g / 6 oz raisins
150g / 6oz currants
Rind and juice of 1 lemon
Rind and juice of 1 orange
I slug/tablespoon of rum or brandy
150ml strong cold tea
3 teaspoons mixed spice
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
150g / 6oz butter
150g / 6oz dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons black treacle
200g / 8oz plain flour
pinch of salt
50g /2oz ground hazel nuts
75g / 3oz plain chocolate pieces
Mix all these ingredients together and let them steep/soak for a couple of hours or overnight until the fruit has swollen and absorbed most of the liquid
If there are fruits in this list that you don’t have or don’t like, leave them out and substitute something you do like. This time I couldn’t get prunes so I substituted dry cranberries and I couldn’t get mixed peel so I chopped up some fresh thin skin mandarins instead
Cream the butter and sugar together. Add in the treacle and then the eggs. Sieve together the dry ingredients and fold them in.
Finally fold in the steeped fruit mix and the ground nuts and chocolate.
Pour into a tin double lined with 2 layers of baking paper and bake for 2 ½ hours on 150C/ 300F/ gas 2
In the Video I said gas4 which I need for my tiny low power oven on the boat. at home in my regular oven 150C works perfectly.
Too hot and it will burn
The secret to good christmas cake is
Plumping up the fruit with a bit of liquid first
Cooking the cake on a low temperature for a long time
For long slow cooking, it’s so important to put more than one layer of paper to prevent it from burning on the edges and the bottom. You will also need to cover the top while baking. You will need to test if it’s ready by sticking a knife or skewer in from time to time. If it comes out clean the cake is ready.
The cooking time is a bit of guess work depending on your oven and the size and shape of the cake tin you use. The deeper the cake tin you use, the more time the cake is going to need for cooking. Up to 3 ½ hours for a really deep cake is normal. A 8”/20cm or 9”/25cm tin is fine for this recipe. If you are feeding a crowd and want a big show-stopper cake, double up the recipe and use a larger tin. I have a big 8” x 12” 20cm x 30cm rectangle roasting tray for my oven and I usually make a big, double recipe, cake in that in 2 ¼ to 2 ½ hours.
This time because of the constraints of my tiny boat oven, I divided the mix into two 7”x9” 18cm x 23cm rectangle tins which were cooked in about 45 minutes. When I ice the cakes I have decided to sandwich the two layers together with a layer of marzipan between them to make one full height cake. If you are in a rush thinner layers is the way to go to speed up the cooking time.
To feed the cake prick holes all over it with a toothpick or skewer and spread the port or brandy all over it liberally with a teaspoon. After a couple of feeds the cake is ready to be covered with marzipan and Icing.
I usually make my own and I’ll be showing you that in a video coming up soon. If you are out of time both marzipan and ready-made icing are both available in most supermarkets round about Christmas time. This is a really easy recipe! if you’ve never made a Christmas cake before, why not give it a go? You can check out my accompanying YouTube video where I show you what to do.