Officially I like to wait until after Halloween to allow myself to get excited about Christmas. But truthfully, I get the occasional festive feeling much earlier. Isn’t it fortunate, then, that Christmas cakes have to be made so far in advance? It’s already a little late for making one now, but I’ve been in two minds about it for a while. This year will be a slightly strange Christmas – my second away from home, but hopefully without too much homesickness as my mum is flying out to join me in Hong Kong for the festive period. She has been trying to convince me to make my usual Christmas cake, though the cost of all the dried fruit put me off a bit and I was worried about how it would keep in the Hong Kong weather. But I’ve finally decided to throw caution to the wind and make one anyway, and get the winter excitement underway. I don’t care that it’s only mid-October: I can’t wait to see my mum and to have myself a merry little Christmas!
Before last year I was never a fan of Christmas cake at all – I prefer my cakes to be sweeter and more chocolatey. Regardless of this, for as long as I can remember I’ve been chief Christmas-cake-baker in my family, even when I was just a whippersnapper. Fortunately my tastes seem to have changed: last year I finally realised what all the fuss was about and can now enjoy the fruits of my labour.
For the last few years we’ve been using this recipe for a Luxury Christmas Cake which my mother picked up somewhere. It’s absolutely glorious, and another one that’s all the better for keeping. Making it in mid-October is cutting it a bit fine, but hopefully it will still turn out gorgeous on the day itself. Now, is it too soon to stick the Christmas CD on too?
Luxury Christmas Cake
Ingredients: (I halved the recipe, as it’s just for 2 of us – there’ll still be more than enough!)
112g dried apricots
80g stoned prunes
75ml dark rum or brandy
80g glace cherries
175g self-raising flour
1tsp mixed spice
1/4 tbsp salt
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g soft dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1. First, prepare the fruit (I generally get my mother to do this part. Alas, this year I have to do everything myself!): grate the rind from the lemon and orange, then squeeze out the juice. Roughly chop the prunes and apricots. Mix the apricots, prunes, grated rind and juices in a large bowl with the currants, sultanas and raisins. Add the rum, cover and leave to macerate overnight.
2. The next day, preheat the oven to 160C and line a cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper and grease with butter.
3. Halve the cherries and roughly chop the almonds. Add them to the macerated fruit and stir well. (I couldn’t find any glace cherries in my local supermarket, so I switched to dried and soaked them with the other fruit overnight.)
4. Sift the flour, spice and salt together. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy (I had to use light muscovado because I couldn’t find dark, but hopefully this won’t make too much of a difference. Gradually add the eggs, beating well between each addition.
5. Stir in the treacle, then fold in the flour and fruit.
6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, level the surface, then make a slight hollow in the middle. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 140C and bake for about 90 minutes more. Cool for a while in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack. When it has completely cooled, remove one layer of greaseproof paper and wrap the cake in foil.
7. Up to 1 week before Christmas, put the cake on a cakeboard. Brush with apricot glaze (heat 60g apricot jam with 1 tbsp water, boil for 1 minute, then sieve it), and cover with 225g marzipan. Leave to dry for 24 hours, then cover with 225g ready-to-roll fondant icing. Decorate as you desire.