The Festive Season Continues with my Month Before Christmas Cake Recipe

With just under a month remaining; fear not, it’s not too late to make a homemade Christmas cake, in fact this recipe has been tried and tested up to a week before Christmas and it has been just as delicious!

I have not always been a fan of this deeply rich boozy, buttery cake, jeweled nay, brimming with plump intoxicated fruit and nuts.  As a child I loved my little packs of Sun Maid raisins, but bring me a slice of  this “adult” cake laden with one of my favourite break time snacks and you’d see me turn my nose up at it quite promptly.  As with many things, my tastes have evolved with age and I now look forward to baking my own boozy Christmas cake and mince pies every year.

My mother particularly loves fruit cakes and so we would have them in the house now and then.  She liked them so much that she would  attempt making them when her cravings demanded it and as no one else liked them, she would eat the entire cake alone- of course, over several days!

I remember my tastes changing around Christmas at 16 or so.  Instead of cooking at home for Christmas, we decided to eat out.  As with any Christmas lunch there are 4 or 5 courses…sometimes more.  The hotel that we were eating at was renowned for it’s restaurant and so we were sure to get a delicious Christmas feast.   Having an undeniable sweet tooth,  I remember working  my way down the menu dreading to  find that the only desserts available would be boozy, fruit based ones.  What I disliked more than Christmas cake, was Christmas pudding.  Stodgy, boozy and fruity.  Not appetizing or appealing to me at all. To my relief there were a number of other acceptable choices.  I can’t remember exactly what I chose, but I am sure it was something chocolatey.  I also noticed that one of the courses on the menu was “Mince Pies and Port” with no alternative;  more for Mum, I thought.   After we had eaten the most deliciously perfect turkey with all the trimmings, along came the mince pies.  The waitress placed a plate of deceptively delicious looking pies in the centre of the table so we could all help ourselves. My mother loves mince pies too, and so I remember us all joking that she would be the one eating the entire plate.  My father took one because he loved pastry and so as usual my sister and I copied him and did the same.  He neatly left the filling behind as he enjoyed the pastry and the port. As I nibbled away at the pastry I remember the taste of the filling that was clinging to the inside of the pastry.  It’s  aromatic, syrupy sweetness and hint of citrus and spice was DELICIOUS!  I slowly but surely ate the entire pie, filling and all.  It was a seriously delicious mince pie.  Yes it was  boozy and full of fruit and nuts, but I loved it.  Ever since that day my interest in boozy fruit and nut filled sweets began!

My Month Before Christmas, Christmas Cake

The recipe I am sharing is the one that I have adapted from probably 4 or 5 recipes that I have tried over the years and now this is the one I make every year.  Although the content of it varies from year to year, the base and measurements stay the same. A month is more than enough time to make a deliciously boozy mature and moist Christmas cake, and in fact if you are extremely last-minute, you can make this even a week before as I have done in the past.  It will be slightly less boozy, but equally moist and delicious.

The night before you make the cake:

Ingredients

1kg of mixed fruit I vary this every year. A good starting mix would be 250g currants, 150g sultanas, 150g raisins,(550g of ready mixed vine fruits will suffice), 150g glace cherries, 150g dried apricots, 150g italian mixed peel. You can vary this with this cranberries, figs, prunes, dates, etc.

125g roughly chopped almonds.  You can used blanched almond without skins, but I leave the skins on.  I also vary this with a mix of nuts.  This year I used 75g almonds and 50g pistachios.

150mls of soaking liquour  I usually use a mix of brandy with 2-3 tbsp of amaretto to make up the 150mls. You can use whisky or rum as well.

The zest of 2 oranges

The zest of 1 lemon

Method

  1. Chop the larger fruits into smallish pieces so that the fruit is uniform is size.   I don’t like to chop the fruit too finely as I think chunks of glistening apricots and cherries look quite beautiful when you cut the cake
  2. Take a large glass bowl (I prefer glass as it is non reactive) and tip in all the fruit, nuts, zest of lemon and oranges and mix well.
  3. Finally add the booze and stir to coat all fruit.
  4. Put a lid or plate on top and leave to macerate overnight so that the fruits can soak up all that lovely booze.

The next day:

Ingredients

250g butter

275g dark muscovado sugar (if you want to try a deeper richer flavour try molasses sugar, likewise if you want a lighter flavour, use light muscovado sugar- or a mix.

225g plain flour

150g ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

5 eggs

Spices: 2 tsp mixed spice, 1 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground cardamon (for the Indian in me!), 1 tsp ground nutmeg, 2 tsp ground vanilla beans (if you cannot find use 1-2 tbsp good vanilla extract.)  You can vary these spices according to your preference.

A couple of extra tbsp of the liquor you are using for good measure.  This is entirely optional.  I just enjoy the spirit of adding more spirit…no pun intended.

You will also need some newspaper and string, a deep 9 inch cake tin (preferably loose bottomed), baking parchment, a large roasting tin that will fit your cake tin, oil or butter for greasing and your regular cake making utensils.

Method

Preheat the oven to 140C no fan.  I don’t use a fan oven to ensure that the cake doesn’t dry out.

  1. Prepare the tin first by greasing and lining it with baking parchment. Ensure the paper that you line around the side of the tin is taller by an inch or so for a collar. When you make the circle for the bottom, triple up your paper to make 3 circles as you will need 2 circles to place over the cake with while it bakes to protect it from burning.
  2. Take your roasting tin and line it with 3 or 4 folded sheets of newspaper.
  3. Then take 4 sheets and fold to a width that will ensure a 1-2 inch collar above the rim of the cake tin.  Take some string or thread and tie it securely.
  4. Next take the butter and the sugar and cream well until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time beating well each time to incorporate.  The mixture may curdle, but this is fine.
  6. Add the vanilla extract and extra tbsps of liqour now if using and mix.
  7. Now add this mixture to all the fruit and nuts that you have soaked and stir well to coat.
  8. Instead of sieving the flour I take all the dry ingredients- the flour, baking powder. ground almonds and spices and whisk them in a large bowl to lighten them and add air.
  9. Take the dry mixture and fold into the wet mixture in two lots until all is incorporated. The consistency is a soft dropping consistency.  Less soft than a victoria sponge because of the body of the fruit, more the texture of ripe bananas when you mash them.
  10. Spoon the mixture into the greased pan, spreading to level the surface.
  11. Take the two other circles that you cut our earlier and snipe a hole in them about the size of a 5p/dime coin and gently place over the top of the cake batter ensuring you don’t press it down too much.
  12. Place the cake in the middle of the oven to bake for about 2  – 3 hrs.  Every oven is different so please check after 2 hrs  inserting a skewer in the hole you created in the centre of the top layers of baking parchment. Mine was done in 2 hrs 15 mins this time, but it has taken longer before.
  13. The cake is done when your skewer is clean.
  14. Leave the cake to cool for some hours and then remove from tin.   Remove baking parchment around the sides and the top of the cake.  The top of the cake is unlikely to be completely flat and so a tip I have here to ensure a nice even flat surface to decorate on is to use the bottom of the cake as the top.  Place a large sheet of strong turkey foil over the top of the cake.  Then place a large plate over this.  Now flip the cake over so the top now becomes the bottom.  You will now have a lovely smooth flat surface to work with.  Lift the cake using the edges of the foil and place into an airtight tin.  If you don’t have a tin big enough, you will need to wrap it 2 or 3 times in foil each time you feed it.

Feeding the cake

Ingredients

The liquour of your choice.  I mostly make a mix of brandy and amaretto 2:1  and feed the cake with this every 4 or 5 days depending on how long it is before I intend to serve it. You can also use rum, whisky or sherry.

Method

  1. After you have baked the cake and it has cooled, before closing the container and wrapping the top of the cake take a skewer and poke holes evenly all over the cake.
  2. Take your liquor and spoon 5 -8 tbsp over the top ensuring that it is all absorbed before you wrap it up again.
  3. Repeat this process every 4- 7 days depending on how long you have before you are serving it.

Decoration

I don’t like to decorate the entire cake as I don’t like too much icing, so I usually cut out a round of good quality marzipan and white fondant and place on top of the cake before decorating with something Christmassy and wrapping it in a festive wide ribbon.

Roll out the marzipan  to 3-4mm and cut out a circle out by using the cake tin for size.  Attach by brushing the cake with either apricot jam or some more liquor. Leave this to dry for a day.

The next day cut the circle for the white fondant and brush the marzipan lightly with liquor before placing the fondant on top.  Leave to dry for a few hours or overnight before decorating depending on what you are planning to do.  You can wrap the cake with ribbon whether you ice the entire cake or not.

Be sure to come back and check my decorating post in a couple of weeks for some tips on how to decorate your cake!

Happy Festive Baking!

Berry Delicious!

I feel a sudden influx of posts coming your way courtesy of the glorious British summer Sun that decided to reappear sending Rainy Rains-A-Lot far, far away (fingers crossed!) Too much fun has been sucked out of summer, it was about time, not to mention that it was high time the sun started doing it’s job and ripening the last of my blueberries!

While I wait for the Sun to ripen the last of the fruit on the blueberry bush I procured in early spring and various other delicious edibles I have growing in the garden, I picked up a couple of punnets of my favourite berry from the supermarket the other day to cheer me up.  Blueberries blueberries blueberries.  There is something about the blueberry that makes me entirely happy.  As I pop each fat, juicy,  flattened marble berry in my mouth I feel that purple-y goodness doing it’s job!

I usually don’t like to cook blueberries I prefer eating them raw and will only end up cooking them if I feel that they are not at their absolute best to enjoy eating fresh.  The blueberries I bought the other day had been forgotten as I have been in and out of town a lot recently.  Trying to save 2 large punnets from their diminishing freshness by consuming them all in one go was a bit much.  To add to this list of forgotten fruit, I had also bought a baby super-sweet pineapple and some new season nectarines that were nearing the end of their peak ripeness too.  As I strongly dislike waste, there was a lot of fruit to make into something tasty.

When I eat  blueberries raw, I usually buy them together with either peaches or nectarines if they are in season.  I chop the fruit up to match the berry size up and mix together.  This makes a delicious combination.  Another favourite combination, actually, probably my most favourite way to eat them is with chopped fresh pineapple.   With the addition of some freshly shredded mint, the combination is DIVINE; I don’t think anything could make me remember what summer should feel like or pick me up more than this on dreary days like we’ve been having.

After the best nectarines were eaten, I decided to slices a few of them up and add them to half the blueberries to make a tart.  While slicing, a bottle of Elderflower cordial caught the corner of my eye.  Every summer I have a ritual that I started a few years ago to buy a bottle of Elderflower cordial and a bottle of St Germain (Elderflower liqueur) at the start of summer.  There is  something that is just so quintessentially British about Elderflower (although St Germain is entirely French…which kind of makes me love it more….and the bottle too.) and even if the weather is not so good,  the mere smell of it reminds me that it’s summer.  It’s one of my memory flavours.  I will happily drink a concoction of St Germain & Gin (sometimes topped with Champagne) on any summer night, if only to act as a reminder that we are in fact in July/August and not October as the weather would like to have us believe. Anyway, the memory flavour got my experimentation juices going and I decided to pair the blueberries and nectarines with the elderflower cordial.  In my head I’d married the most perfect summer flavours together, so I doused the sliced nectarines and blueberries in a good 3 or 4 glugs of cordial while I set my sights on the pastry base.

I always have pastry in the freezer- especially sweet tart pastry as you never know when you need a quick last minute dessert and a tart can be quite impressive at short notice!  My slabs of pastry are flattened quite thin before I freeze them purely for the reason that they defrost quicker this way (10-15 minutes tops).  I was feeling particularly lazy and decided that I wouldn’t even bother with a tart tin so once the pastry had defrosted, I rolled it straight onto parchment paper that was on a rimless baking sheet into something that roughly resembled a circle, ready for encasing the topping.  All that was required then was to mix some sugar with the fruit before tipping out the contents on to the pastry and gently folding up the edges to envelope what would become  fragrant, syrupy, juicy jewels after some time in the oven.   The tart was delicious and I would definitely make this combination again.  In fact, I think it would make a delicious cocktail too! Peach nectar muddled with blueberries, mint, some glugs of St Germain and topped with champagne.  You know you want to try it!

Fragrant Nectarine, Blueberry & Elderflower Tart

This is so simple, quick and easy.  A perfect way to use up a glut of berries.  Use whatever berries you have to hand.  Raspberries would also work fabulously here.  Serve warm with vanilla icecream.  The perfect summer pud!

Serves 5-8

Ingredients

250-300g Pâte Sucrée or if you want to try something different with a more tender texture try Rugelach pastry which is made with cream cheese.  (Recipes to follow or use your favourite )

4-5 nectarines slices

1 punnet of bluberries approx 200-300g

a couple of heaped tbsp caster sugar

some glugs of elderflower cordial (1/4-1/2 cup)

Method

  1. In a bowl place the sliced nectarines, blueberries and elderflower cordial and leave to the side while you prepare the pastry.
  2. Pre Heat the oven to 165C
  3. On the baking tray you are going to be cooking on, roll out the pastry into a round shape about about 3-4mm thick.  You need to make it bigger than you want the final tart to be as you will be folding in the edges considerably (about 3-5cm )
  4. Empty the contents of the fruit into the middle of the pastry and sprinkle over the sugar generously
  5. Fold up the sides of the pastry to envelop the fruit, but still leaving enough to show them in the middle.
  6. Place the tray in the oven and cook until the fruit is soft and caramelised and the pastry is uniformly golden.  About 25 -35 mins
  7. Allow to cool a little before serving. This dessert is delicious alone or with some vanilla ice-cream

My Favourite Way To Eat Blueberries

Seeing that I didn’t use all the blueberries, I ended up cutting the pineapple into small bite sized chunks and after nipping outside to pick some fresh mint,  I finely shredded the mint it and garnished the fruit.  The only good way to mix the fruit is with your hands and so with impeccably clean hands I ensured an even distribution of all the flavours.  If you leave it to macerate in the fridge for an hour or so it’s even more delicious!

All you need are some ripe, plump, juicy blueberries, fresh pineapple cubed and mint to taste, shredded. Mix well, serve and enjoy. :)