Apparently some people make their Christmas cakes three months ahead of time. I didn’t. To paraphrase the old music hall song, I dillied and dallied, I shillied and I shallied, but I finally got around to it this week.
If that strikes fear into your heart – ‘for crying out loud’, I hear you say, ‘it’s only November’ – don’t worry. You can make this at the last minute and it will still be lovely.
I know that because cake queen Pam Corbin says so, and she should know, it’s her recipe. For the original, variations on the theme and a guide to quantities if you want to make a smaller cake, check out her Cakes, one of the River Cottage handbooks.
I’ll be writing again closer to Christmas about marzipan and icing and ideas for decorating the cake. It’ll probably be a car crash as precision isn’t my middle name but at least I’ll know the cake at the centre of it will be good. I used a 25 cm round tin.
Fruit Cake - Part 1
375g each of currants, raisins and sultanas
250g dried apricots, chopped
200g glace cherries, rinsed of syrup, drained and (optionally) halved
Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
4 tbsp brandy + 4 tbsp to finish
315g plain flour
Big pinch of salt
1 1/4 tspn each of mixed spice and freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 tspn ground ginger
250g soft brown sugar (I used muscovado)
315g unsalted butter, softened
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tbsp golden syrup or black treacle
125 g walnuts, chopped (I used half and half walnuts and almonds)
250g cooking apple, peeled, cored and grated
Lightly grease your cake tin and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment. Tie a double band of brown paper round the outside of the tin, 3cm deeper than the depth of the tin, to stop the outside of the cake drying out.
Put the first seven ingredients in a bowl, mix well, cover with foil and place in a cool oven, 130C/Gas Mark 1/2, and leave for 30 minutes for the fruit to get warm and sticky. Or soak overnight.
Increase the heat of the oven to 145C/Gas Mark 1-2. Sift the flour, salt, mixed spice, nutmeg and ginger into a large bowl, add the sugar and mix together well. Add the butter, three-quarters of the beaten egg and the golden syrup or treacle. Create a Jackson Pollock (not rhyming slang) if you’re feeling artistic and a bit silly.
Using an electric whisk (hand-held or free-standing) beat for about a minute and a half until the mixture is light and creamy. Add the remaining egg and beat for another 30 seconds.
Add the dried fruit, nuts and grated apple. Fold everything together until thoroughly mixed. Make a wish.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing it out lightly with the back of the spoon. Make a small hollow in the centre of the cake to stop it rising in the centre.
Place a piece of foil, with a 4cm wide hole cut in the centre, over the cake tin. Bake in the oven for roughly two hours, then remove the foil and cook for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Trickle the remaining brandy over the top of the hot cake.
Allow to cool completely before turning out. Leave the baking parchment on the cake, wrap it in greaseproof paper and place in an airtight container.
Although Pam doesn’t add any more brandy, we have a time-honoured tradition in our house of Feeding the Cake. Using a darning needle or thin skewer, make small holes in the top of the cake and trickle a tablespoon of brandy over it once a week in the run-up to Christmas, re-wrapping each time until you want to decorate it.