There are few things I look forward to more at Christmas than sitting down with a cup of tea and a big wedge of Christmas cake. Whether it’s the weekly brandy feeds that build anticipation or the fact that it’s only made on a yearly basis, Christmas just wouldn’t be complete without this holiday delicacy (somehow calling a multi-kilo loaf a delicacy seems counter-intuitive, but I like it). All traces of red and green cherries have been purged from this recipe as a tribute to my childhood phobia of these non-fruits, and I’ve gone heavy on the nuts. If you’re making your own, mix it up (no pun intended), just try to stick to the same basic volumes.
What you’ll need
500g apricots, chopped
500g pitted prunes, chopped
100g walnuts, chopped
100g pecans, chopped
100g macadamia nuts, chopped
200g almonds, chopped
100g milk chocolate, chopped
100g white chocolate, chopped
650ml/5fl oz brandy
1 orange, grated zest and juice
200g plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g dark muscovado sugar
5 medium eggs
2 tbsp treacle (or molasses for those North Americans present)
9″ cake tin and a small loaf tin for any leftover
What to do
Combine your apricots, raisins, prunes, orange juice, orange zest and 350mL brandy in a bowl and leave to soak and make friends overnight. This is where the magic happens.
On the day
Set your oven to 150ºC/300ºF.
For your prep, double up your parchment paper and line both tins so that the paper comes slightly above the top edge of the cake tin.
Now for the cake. Begin by sieving the flour, salt, cinnamon and allspice.
Next, dig out the largest bowl you have and beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Now, beat the eggs in one at a time and, yes, actually beat them in one at a time. If you whack them all in at once there’s a good chance they won’t mix in properly and you can get a strange separated batter. If you do happen to find yourself in this predicament, don’t sweat it as your end result will still be mighty tasty (with all that fruit, nuts and chocolate, how could it not?).
Next add the treacle and once it’s mixed through slowly add your flour mixture. Add the fruit, its soaking liquid, the nuts and the chocolate, and mix well.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface with the back of a spoon. I like to make the edges slightly higher than the center so that when I go to feed it later on, the brandy can be soaked up more effectively and doesn’t just run down the sides. If you have any leftover batter, fill up your small loaf tin, and if you’re like me, don’t feel guilty about ‘testing’ this one once once it’s baked.
Bake for 3-4 hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the top of the cake starts to get too brown, cover with a sheet of baking parchment.
Once it’s done baking, cool the cake in the tin for 30 minutes and then move it to a wire rack to finish the process. I usuallywrap mine in a few layers of cling film and put in a tin, but whatever means you have of keeping it airtight will suffice, and there is something quite Christmassy about adding a layer of tinfoil.
No one like brandy more than a Christmas cake, and as it’s the season for giving, be generous! The amount of time you have before Christmas will determine the number of feeds you’ll be able to do, but I tend to carry out the task once a week.
First of all, you’ll need to take a skewer or knife and make 10-15 insertions or canals through the cake. Next, a tablespoon at a time, pour your brandy over the cake and let it soak in. Then wrap it back up the job’s a goodun!
And now, for aesthetics…
What you’ll need
3 tbsp apricot jam
450g white marzipan
450g ready-to-roll white icing
icing sugar, to dust
What to do
Firstly, heat the apricot jam and a tablespoon of water in a saucepan until thin enough to pass through a sieve.
Place the Christmas cake upside down on a plate and proceed coat the outside with the sieved jam.
Following this, roll out the marzipan, using the icing sugar for dusting, and place it on top of the cake. Smooth the sides down and trim of any excess with a knife. Repeat with the white icing and you’re finished!
Baking photos compliments of Iain Weir.