Generally speaking I am of the school of thought which believes Christmas should not be discussed before December but this Christmas cake is best made in November so I’m afraid I will have to make an exception.
Some of you are probably well ahead of me and I am sure your cakes have been made for weeks already, along with your mincemeat and Christmas pud, but one of the reasons I love this recipe is that it works best of all made about 6 weeks before Christmas. If you are even less organised than me then rest assured that it still tastes great even if you only make it three weeks before the big day.
When I made this cake last year I received one of the biggest compliments I have ever had for my cooking. I didn’t have a deep, 9″ cake tin and so asked if I could borrow my mum’s Christmas cake tin. My mum has been using this tin for years and she always makes a wonderful Christmas cake – I guess I was hoping that, by using her kit, a bit of her skill might rub off on me too. My cake was duly made and when the time came I (somewhat tentatively) offered my mum a slice. She ate it and, when she was done, handed me back the plate and said, quite nonchalantly, “I think you had better keep that tin”.
I was ecstatic. If you have ever seen the film Babe you will understand that this was the equivalent of Farmer Hogget saying “That’ll do pig” to Babe when he had won the sheep dog trials. The Christmas cake baton had been passed on and I take the responsibility seriously.
My recipe is based on Mary Berry‘s classic recipe (all hail Queen Mary) but I have tweaked it a little and use brandy to soak the fruit rather than sherry. If you prefer not to use alcohol at all try soaking the fruit in orange juice.
If you are using alcohol, feeding the cake regularly will add moisture and flavour to the finished item. You can decorate your cake a week or so before Christmas with the classic choice of marzipan and icing or top it with glazed fruit and nuts – whichever you prefer.
175g / 6 oz Raisins
350g / 12 oz Glace Cherries
500g / 1lb 2oz Currants
350g / 12oz Sultanas
150ml / ¼ pint Brandy
Grated Zest of 2 Oranges
250g / 9oz Butter (softened)
250g / 9oz Light Muscovado Sugar
4 Large Eggs
1 tbsp Treacle
75g / 3oz Blanched Almonds (chopped)
75g / 3oz Self-Raising Flour
175g / 6oz Plain Flour
1½ tsp Mixed Spice
Weigh the raisins, currants and sultanas into a bowl or storage box. Wash the glace cherries and pat them dry with kitchen paper, cut them into quarters and add to the other dried fruit. Add the grated orange zest and pour over the brandy and stir well. Cover tightly with cling film or a lid. Leave to soak for 3 days – stirring once or twice a day.
Grease and line a 23cm (9in) deep round tin with a double layer of greased greaseproof paper. Make sure the paper rises a few inches above the rim of the cake tin – this will help it to prevent it from catching around the edges. Preheat the oven to 140ºC / 275ºF / Gas Mark 1.
Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and almonds into a very large bowl and mix well. Add the flours and mixed spice and mix thoroughly until blended. Stir in the brandy soaked fruit and mix again. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface.
Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 4-4½ hours. Check the cake after 2 hours, and, if it is a perfect colour, cover with foil for the rest of the cooking time. When the cake is ready it should feel firm to the touch and be a rich golden brown colour. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
When cool, pierce the cake all over with a fine skewer and “feed” with a little extra brandy. Wrap the completely cold cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper (don’t remove the baking paper) and again in foil and store in an air tight tin in a cool place for up to 3 months. Feed at weekly intervals with more brandy until you are ready to decorate your cake.