Normally at this time of year I get rather bah humbug about the presence of all things Christmas and can only really get excited once we get to the 20th December. Talk about Scrooge. This year, however, I am so completely enthused about it all – decorations and carols, sparkly lights, presents, Christmas cake, mulled wine. What’s not to love?
So, I thought it only appropriate to share some Christmas recipe delights on the Perky Pancake! The first recipe in the “Perky Christmas Series” (!) is a traditional Christmas Cake. Nothing marks the start of the festive season quite like baking one. It’s a project to nurture over the weeks before Christmas as you “feed” your cake with brandy, or, if you want a non-alcoholic version, with orange juice. This ensures you end up with a wonderfully moist, delicious cake that just gets better over time.
I’m a stalwart supporter of Delia’s Christmas cake recipe. Whilst you certainly couldn’t call it light, it is lighter than some Christmas cakes I’ve eaten in the past, and has a lovely texture with lots of lovely goodies inside.
There’s nothing particularly tricky about a Christmas cake but it’s all in the preparation.
You need to start the day before you want to bake, soaking your fruit in brandy overnight. You then need an afternoon or morning set aside as the cake needs at least 4 hours in the oven plus cooling time.
Christmas cakes are thirsty beasts and enjoy being “fed” brandy in the couple of weeks prior to being consumed (ideally longer), therefore baking it in the first week of December if you want to enjoy your cake over Christmas is a good call.
Added to that, you’re supposed to cover your cake in marzipan a week before icing to allow to dry. This is usually the stage where I fall down. I’ve never remembered to get marzipan-ing early but the resulting cake never seems to suffer by doing both steps on the same day.
Ok, so having re-read all that, it does sound like a bit of a palarva. I can hear the stampede to Waitrose for the ready-made version now. But honestly, it is totally worth the effort to enjoy a home-baked cake over Christmas. Plus you get to enjoy the fun bit of decorating it in a few weeks time…another post to follow on that shortly. So in the mean-time, happy baking!
Very slightly adapted from Delia Smith’s Christmas Cake recipe
This makes a 20cm round cake. If you want a different size/shape, see how to scale up/down here
50g glace cherries, rinsed and halved
50g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
3 tablespoons brandy (plus extra for feeding)
50g whole almonds, chopped
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
225g dark brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
225g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
50g candied ginger, chopped (about 3 balls)
1 orange, zest only
1 lemon, zest only
1 dessertspoon black treacle
1. The night before you want to bake the cake, put the currants, sultanas, raisins, cherries, and mixed peel in a bowl and add the brandy. Cover and leave overnight.
2. Grease and line your tin with baking parchment and wrap it in a layer of brown paper, tying it to the tin with string. Use a double layer of baking parchment if you don’t have any brown paper.
3. Preheat your oven to 140°c/120°c fan/gas mark 1.
4. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy using an electric whisk. Add the eggs one by one, beating well. If the mixture starts to curdle, add a couple of tablespoons of flour. Sift the flour, spices and salt into the bowl and fold into the mix using a large spoon.
5. Gently fold in the soaked fruit, almonds, treacle, lemon and orange zests and ginger.
6. Using a large spoon, transfer the mixture to your prepared cake tin and smooth the mixture out using the back of the spoon.
7. Before baking, make a hat for your cake using a double square of baking parchment with a 50p piece sized hole cut into the middle. Don’t put this on the mixture but over the rim of the brown paper (secure under the string).
8. Bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4 hours (don’t look at it before 4 hours are up!) until it feels springy to touch and if you insert a skewer into the middle it comes out clean. It may take up to 45 minutes longer.
9. Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to complete the cooling.
10. Once cool, store in a double layer of baking parchment in a tin or well-wrapped in foil. “Feed” your cake at regular intervals (weekly or fortnightly depending how boozy you want it to be) by making small holes in top using a cocktail stick and pouring a couple of tablespoons of brandy over it each time.