It’s still not too late to bake your Christmas cake. Bake this weekend, it really is a delightful sponge.
Here’s a confession – I hate fruit cake. Well, heavy fruit cake. Anything that has too much dried fruit – which is around 99% of traditional Christmas cake recipes – will wind up off my plate and lobbed straight into the bin.
I can wrap my head around a bit of fruit that is squidgy and soft. Anything bar hard, knubbly raisin shrapnel, is perfectly decent.
Here’s my recipe that is not your traditional fruit cake, but more of a reworking that is less dense. Use of self-raising flour and lower fruit volume yields a lighter sponge, so don’t worry about fruit sinking.
I’d recommend pre-soaking the fruit for at least 24 hours in your favourite spirit (brandy, sherry, port are the usuals). I made a 2kg batch of steeped fruit a few years’ ago which has been enjoying its boozy bath in a cocktail concoction of brandy, sherry and port.
I decanted the fruit mixture into a double-lined Ziploc bag (that’s two bags one inside the other), to avoid leakages. I used the last of the fruit this year, and when I tasted a teaspoon (fine, it was a few tablespoons), the fruit was proper melt in your mouth. Perfect. Without further ado, here’s my Christmas cake recipe. Enjoy.
I have purposefully put the ingredients right at the bottom of the recipe, because I encourage you to read the prep and method first. For so many years, before making any recipe, I skim-read the ingredients’ section, before diving right into the recipe. Often I found I would take longer in the long run, and would find myself having to re-read sections of the recipe. To properly understand the steps of any recipe, is, I think the first step to a successful bake. You can thank me later. 🙂
What you’ll need to bake your Christmas cake
- 8inch cake tin that is deep. I use Silverwood, here’s the link to another recipe that I made using this tin
- Baking belt
- String (to tie the baking belt around the cake tin)
- Small tea sieve
- Pastry brush
- Cooling rack
- Rolling pin
- Icing sugar for dusting
- Cake board
- Fondant smoother
To do the day before baking your Christmas cake
- Prep the cake tin. Create a protective band for the cake whilst it is baking in the oven. This ensures an even bake. No need to buy a cake belt, just get an old tea-towel, measure so that it covers the circumference of the cake tin. Soak tea-towel-belt in water, wring out excess and tie around the cake tin. I was experimenting so I used copious layers of folded up thick paper. I’ve used the paper belt thrice so far, and it was fine, although I prefer the old tea towel baking belt tip.
- Make cake pan lining paste. I use Nancy Birtwhistle’s epic recipe and it takes minutes to make. You can go old school and use dabs of butter for greasing the pan, but honestly, it is SO handy to have this prepped beforehand. It saves you the tedious task of having to grease cake tins (one of my pet peeves) and it keeps indefinitely. I always have a small Tupperware container on the window pane, which is the coolest place in the flat, or you can also store in the fridge. Here’s her recipe. Ingredients are 100g vegetable shortening Trex (or butter), 100g plain flour (or gluten-free), 100ml oil. Whisk the Trex and plain flour till smooth, gently pour in the oil, and you’ll have a paste in minutes.
- Make your own mixed spice by throwing together ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, a liberal pinch of ground cloves and freshly grated nutmeg. If you prefer a particular flavour, say you like cinnamon over ginger, tweak the measurements accordingly to suit your palate. So, for example, I love fragrant cloves and nutmeg, so I would double the amount of these spices and use two liberal pinches of cloves and nutmeg, instead of the one. This mixed spice recipe here is a great base, so I’d recommend making a little bit more, and keeping it to one side, so that it’ll be ready when you want to indulge in a bit of festive baking. Keep it in airtight container and this should last till next year. I start my Christmas baking around September, so if you really think about it, your spice mix is only ‘in storage’ for around nine months.
- Place dried fruit on a chopping board and roughly chop. Throw into a bowl, pour over a cup of brandy and cover with clingfilm. You can do this a few weeks in advance if you want to get ahead. Also, fruit steeped for longer tastes SO much better, and I really prefer the texture as it is a little more squidgier. If you are going to be steeping for longer, put fruity boozy mixture into a double-lined Ziploc bag, and every few days, give it a squidge.
Method for baking Christmas cake
- Stick on some Christmas music. Cooking is always nicer when there’s nice background music. I have a Spotify playlist, the latest album I listen to is Christmas Jazz. It is ace. 😊
- Preheat oven to 150°C.
- Cream butter and sugar until the colour is considerably lighter and slightly aerated. This should take around 4 minutes in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
- Add an egg followed by a heaped tablespoon of flour (to avoid curdling). Continue this until all 4 eggs are amalgamated in the butter-sugar mixture.
- With the mixer still going, slowly add milk until mixture is more like a loose batter.
- Add fruit, its accompanying liquor and ground almonds to the batter.
- Sift spices into the remaining self-raising flour and add to the fruity batter.
- Now is the time to get in a mini-workout. Are you ready?
- Grab the largest wooden spoon you have, and fold in the flour by hand. Don’t use a mixer otherwise the fruit will be reduced to mush.
- Pour your luscious batter into your prepared tin.
- Ogle it for a minute if you have to, because it looks and smells delicious.
- Sling into the oven for 2hours 15minutes. If it needs a little longer, and the top of the cake is getting a little dark, cover with baking parchment to protect it.
- You’ll know when it’s done, when you insert a skewer and it comes out clean.
- Transfer the cake onto a cooling rack. I leave my cake in the tin for an hour, but if you’re on a timer, get the cake cooling asap by removing it from its hot tin and leave the window open.
- Once totally cool, place the jam in the microwave and heat in 30 second bursts.
- Once jam is runny, sieve into a bowl and brush the entire surface of the cake. I use a sieve to get a smoother finish, as you’re effectively removing the apricot bits.
- Place cake onto a cake board.
- Knead marzipan by hand for a few minutes. Roll out so it’s roughly the depth of a pound coin (I had to really think about this as it’s been an age since I actually handled money). Cover the entire cake. Trim away any overhang. Don’t worry if it looks a little messy as it will be covered anyway. Remember, no one knows except you what it looks like inside. And to be honest, no one cares what it looks like inside, because it tastes freaking gorgeous. 😊
- Brush the entire surface with vodka to ensure the fondant sticks to the marzipan.
- Knead the fondant by hand for a few minutes until is soft and pliable like Play-Doh. Roll out so it’s roughly the depth of two pound coins and cover the entire cake. I say double the depth of the marzipan, as you’ll be doing a lot of smoothing and coaxing of the fondant, which might make the fondant thin out in places. Trim away any overhang.
- You might want to take your time with this bit. Use your hands to smooth the cake first for a few minutes, as the warmth of your hands will help mould the fondant a little easier. Once it is looking OK, use the smoothers (I have two plastic ones) and go over the cake so it is looking smooth and shiny.
- Top with your favourite decorations and serve with a flourish.
- Store excess marzipan and fondant in separate Ziploc bags. This will keep for a few months.
- There will be around 5 tablespoons of vodka left. Neck it. You’ve earned it. 😊
Ingredients for Christmas cake
200g butter (room temperature)
400g mixed fruit (cherries, raisins, sultanas)
1 cup brandy (or steeping liquor that you prefer, i.e. whisky, sherry, port)
50g ground almonds
50g nuts (pecans, macadamia, walnuts, roughly chopped)
200g soft light brown sugar
300g self-raising flour
Decorating Christmas cake
Soft white fondant icing (Dr. Oetker 1kg)
Marzipan (Morrisons 454g)
Apricot jam (5 tablespoons)
Cake decorations (I used a selection from John Lewis and Aldi)
5 tablespoons of vodka