Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christmas Cake II

It’s ‘Stir-up Sunday’ today, the day when people traditionally make their Christmas puddings; we’re not having the usual sort of pud so, instead, I made my Christmas cake.

(I've just noticed that the whole hazelnuts look like little pebbles on the surface of the cake; too bad, no-one will see them when the marzipan is in place!)

Last year I made Nigel Slater’s small fruit cake; it was really nice, good texture and lighter than most rich fruit cakes I’ve tasted. However, we both agreed that a larger cake was needed to last the two of us through December, so I have to confess I’ve fiddled with the recipe a bit and I’ve also scaled it up somewhat to make an 18cm square cake.

I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but I do like a piece of cake with a cuppa of a winter’s afternoon. If I can combine it with a bit of present wrapping and maybe a Christmas song or two on the radio, so much the better!

675g mixed dried fruit (along with the usual vine fruits I included some dried cranberries, chopped preserved ginger and chopped dried apricots)
3 tbsp brandy
2 tbsp Cointreau
grated zest and juice of an orange
190g unsalted butter
100g light muscovado sugar
90g dark muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
100g whole hazelnuts
60g ground almonds
190g plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
brandy for feeding the cake

an 18cm square cake tin or a 20 cm round tin if you prefer

Put the dried fruit into a bowl, pour over the brandy and Cointreau, then add the zest and juice of the orange. Stir the fruit well to coat it in the alcohol, cover, and set aside overnight.

Next day, line the cake tin with a double layer of non-stick baking parchment allowing the paper to come 5cm above the rim of the tin.

Turn the oven on to 160C.

Beat the butter and sugars with an electric hand mixer until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and add them, a little at a time, to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well after each addition. Add the dried fruit, ground almonds and whole hazelnuts, stirring them in well with a large spoon (don’t use the mixer now, it’ll break up the fruit).

Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices then stir it into the cake mixture, a heaped tablespoon at a time.

Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin then bake for exactly one hour without opening the door. Turn the temperature down to 150C, quickly place a double sheet of baking paper over the top of the cake and continue cooking for a further 1½ hours.

Test by inserting a skewer into the centre of the cake, it should slide out cleanly, if it looks a bit damp or sticky give it another ten minutes in the oven and test again with a clean skewer.

Let it cool in its tin and, when it’s cold, wrap the cake and its paper in another layer of baking paper and store in an airtight tin in a cool place. Feed it with a little brandy every week till you’re ready to decorate it.

I think I'll do the same as I did last year: no icing, just a layer of marzipan topped with nuts and dried fruits with an apricot and brandy glaze.

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