The challenge of the Christmas cake

I am proud.  I have baked my Christmas cake.  It is sitting in the larder, and when I remember, I give it a feed of brandy. 

The idea, I am told,  is that it will age and the flavours mix and mingle.  However, there is a danger with this plan, and that is there is no guarantee it will last until the  25th. 

Which is sort of what happened last year when  I stumbled on what I believe is  the best Christmas cake recipe ever.  Not only is it easy to make, but it is rather yummy.  The recipe came with the cake tin, which is actually a wooden box.

No really.  It's a square box, which, after filling with mixture,  cooks at a lowish temperature in the oven. The Wooden Cakebox Co has been producing cake boxes since 2001, and I know when I'm on to a good thing.  There's no fussing with greasing or even cleaning of tins.  After you've made your cake, you simply brush the box out, there's not even any washing to do.

The first time I used the box, I was a tad sceptical, but not for long and before I knew it I had baked three Christmas cakes.  The first two were eaten before the 25th, the third was made on Christmas morning for my dear mum.  As someone who until recently never even ate Christmas cake, I've come a long way.

But there is another part of the Christmas cake that needs doing - the icing.  This potentially was a different kettle of fish.  Without hesitation, I got in touch with a friend who, for fun, ices magnificent wedding cakes and the like.  Everything Megan touches is truly splendid (if you don't believe me, check out megan.kiwi.gen.nz)   She was happy to come and take me in hand which is just as well, because icing a cake is a complex procedure and takes time.  Raw talent possibly helps too.

The first step involves bogging all the holes and pits in the cake, to ensure a smooth surface on which to put the icing.  Then you boil and sieve jam, which is spread on the cake to seal it.

Then came the tricky stuff - rolling out the marzipan to 4mm thick on a table dusted with icing sugar.  This was then placed with much precision over the cake. A few more steps followed, the result of which was a layer of gleaming white icing.  She then placed the cake on its final presentation board and we decorated it with fondant holly leaves and berries, using a process called vincent marquetry.  Perfection, but it had taken probably a whole day. 

Of course, the whole idea was that, after being shown, I then do it on my own.  And I did, with the help of the daughter. 

After a nail-biting two hours, we realised that what we lacked in raw talent, we made up for in rat-like cunning.  We certainly had something that looked like a cake,  with holly, and berries.  But these were strategically placed over dimples, bubbles and other abominations.  And pretty Christmas ribbon hides a lot, including rodent tracks.  Now  that I am a professional, I can't wait to make this year's elaborate winter wonderland scene with a cast of bunnies, robins and little frosted Christmas trees.   

Although maybe there's an argument for less is more.  Maybe we'll just go for nuts on the top.  After all, you can't have your cake, and ice it too.

Christmas cake

  • 1kg mixed dried fruit
  • 250g butter
  • 250g brown sugar
  • 1 dsp golden syrup
  • zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • ¾ tsp mixed spice
  • ¾ cinnamon
  • ½ tsp curry powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 70g chopped almonds
  • 150ml  brandy or sherry
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 250g flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 160º C.

Put fruit, butter, sugar and golden syrup into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to stop the mixture burning. Add lemon, spices, salt, chopped almonds and brandy.  Stirring continuously, simmer for 10 minutes, then add cornflour.  Mix well and remove from heat.  Leave to cool thoroughly.

Beat eggs.  Sift flour, baking powder and soda, and add alternately to cooled fruit mixture. 

Bake in the middle of the oven at 160ºC for 30 minutes, then 120ºC for three hours.  Cooking times vary depending on the oven. Allow to cool in the box. 

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