Christmas Cake

Ever since we moved to live in Madrid, back in 1989 – I haven’t once made another Christmas cake.  So I thought that it was about time my now grown-up children tasted one!!

Living in Madrid, I can’t find either mixed spice or allspice, so I made my own (click over the indicated links to see how).

‘Allspice’ is an aromatic spice that looks like a large, smooth peppercorn (about the size of a pea), allspice is the dried berry of the West Indian allspice tree. It’s also called Jamaican pepper or pimento and is so called because its taste is said to resemble a combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper. It is used in both sweet and savoury dishes including mulled drinks, Christmas pudding, pickles and marinades and Jamaican jerk chicken.  Click over the above link and see how you can substitute this spice.

Neither could I find candied peel, so I made my own too.  This was an amazing discovery.  It’s truly delicious, and I’ve not really got a sweet tooth!

So – for those of you who work, don’t even attempt making this cake mid-week!  It takes quite a while!!  I started the macerating process on a Saturday evening and finally finished off cooling the cake late on Sunday evening.

It’s Delia Smith’s original Christmas cake from her first book ‘Delia’s Cakes’ – a combination of her grandmother’s, her mother’s and a few of her own tweaks.

Ingredients

For the pre-soaking:
450g currants (see Dried fruits note at foot of method)
175g sultanas (see Dried fruits note at foot of method)
175g raisins (see Dried fruits note at foot of method)
50g chopped glacé cherries (see Dried fruits note at foot of method)
50g mixed chopped candied peel (see Dried fruits note at foot of method)
100ml brandy
For the cake:
225g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ level teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
½ level teaspoon ground mixed spice
225g dark brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
1 dessertspoon black treacle
225g spreadable butter
50g chopped almonds (skin on)
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
For feeding and topping:
Armagnac or brandy to ‘feed’ the cake
100g whole blanched almonds (only if you don’t intend to ice the cake)

Equipment

You will need a 20cm Round Loose-based Cake Tin (or similar), greased, with base and side lined plus some baking parchment. Tie a double band of brown paper around the outside of the tin for extra protection (I didn’t have any brown paper so I just used a double layer of greaseproof paper).

Method

You should get the pre-soaking ingredients ready the night before you make the fruit cake.

Put all the fruits (see note at foot of method), in a bowl and mix them with the brandy, cover with a cloth and leave them to soak for a minimum of 12 hours. When you’re ready to cook the cake, pre-heat the oven to 140°C.  Now all you do is sift the flour, salt and spices into a very large roomy mixing bowl then add the sugar, eggs, treacle (warm it a little first to make it easier) and butter and beat with an electric hand whisk until everything is smooth and fluffy.

Now gradually fold in the pre-soaked fruit mixture, chopped nuts and finally the grated lemon and orange zests. Next, using a large kitchen spoon, transfer the cake mixture into the prepared tin, spread it out evenly with the back of the spoon and, if you don’t intend to decorate the cake with marzipan and icing, lightly drop the blanched almonds in circles over the surface.

Finally take a double square of baking parchment with a small hole in the centre (for extra protection during the cooking) and place this not on top of the mixture itself but on the rim of the brown or greaseproof paper. Bake the cake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4 hours until it feels springy in the centre when lightly touched. Sometimes it can take 30–45 minutes longer than this, but in any case don’t look at it for 4 hours.

When it’s cold, ‘feed’ it by making small holes in the top and bottom with a cocktail stick and spooning in a couple of tablespoons of Armagnac or brandy, then wrap it in greaseproof paper and tinfoil and store in an airtight tin. You can now ‘feed’ it at odd intervals until you need to ice or eat it. As you can see by the image, the final cake weighed in at 2.5kgs!!!