There are some parts of a festive celebration which don’t change from year to year. A traditional Christmas cake is a classic treat we still enjoy and while a shop-bought cake can sometimes come close, baking your own brings with it an opportunity to add a little creative flair! Making a Christmas cake may appear complicated, but the bake itself is easy and your design doesn’t have to be complicated – simple designs can look equally effective.
Christmas cakes improve with age especially if they are fed with a little brandy or rum as they mature. The longer you make a cake before the day, the better it will taste. The flavours of the dried fruits, baked together with the rich spices, eggs, flour, and butter all have time to develop. With just over eight weeks to go until the big day, it’s about the right time to make your Christmas cake. Our head chef, David Kinnes has the perfect recipe to get you started with all the ingredients you need to produce a luxuriously rich and fruity cake which is guaranteed to wow family and friends. You will need to start your cake the day before you intend to bake it as the dried fruit is always much better when plumped up with a good helping of brandy!
50g glace cherries chopped
50g mixed candied peel chopped
100ml good brandy
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
Armagnac or brandy to ‘feed’ the cake
100g whole blanched almonds (if you don’t intend to ice the cake)
The night before, put all the dried fruits in a bowl and mix with the brandy. Cover with a cloth or cling-film and leave them to soak for a minimum of 12 hours. You can omit candied peel and substitute with other dried fruit if preferred.
Making a liner for your tin will protect your cake from over-browning as it will need around 4 hours in the oven. Depending on your final cake design or if you have a preference for the shape of your finished cake, you will need a loose-bottomed 23cm round cake tin or a 20.5cm square tin and some baking paper. To prepare the tin, place your tin on a sheet of baking paper and draw around it. Cut the circle or square out for the bottom of the tin and then measure the circumference of the cake tin and cut out a couple of long strips for the sides of the tin making sure they sit well above the tin to protect the sides when baking. Grease the tin and then line with the baking paper and grease again. For extra protection tie a double band of brown paper around the outside of the tin and secure with string. When you’re ready to cook the cake, pre-heat the oven to 140°C, Gas mark 1.
For the cake batter
Sift the flour, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl (there are a lot of ingredients to incorporate) then add the sugar, eggs, treacle (warm it a little first) and butter and beat with an electric hand whisk until everything is smooth and fluffy. Gradually fold in the pre-soaked fruit mixture, chopped nuts and finally the grated lemon and orange zests. Transfer the cake mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly with the back of a large spoon. If you are not decorating the cake with marzipan and icing, you can arrange blanched almonds in circles over the surface which is more traditional for a Scottish Dundee cake.
Finally take a double square of baking paper with a small hole in the centre (for extra protection during the cooking) and place this on top of the lining paper (not the cake batter itself). 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 minutes longer than this so keep checking after the initial 4 hour baking period.
Feeding the cake
Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, then remove it to a wire cooling rack. When it’s cold, make some small holes in the top and bottom of the cake with a cocktail stick or skewer and spoon in a couple of tablespoons of Armagnac or brandy. Wrap your cake in baking paper or greased proof paper and store in an airtight container. Feed your cake weekly with 1-2 tablespoons alcohol per feeding and remember to re-wrap your cake tightly in between.
If you are feeding weekly then 1-2 tablespoons alcohol per feeding should be enough. It helps to poke holes in the top of the cake with a skewer before feeding it, to encourage the liquor to soak into the cake. Make sure that you re-wrap the cake tightly after each feeding.
Please pop back here in 5 weeks, when our kitchen team will be showing you how to make marzipan and royal icing for your cake.