Christmas cake is an English tradition that began as plum porridge. People ate the porridge on Christmas Eve, using it to line their stomachs after a day of fasting. Dried fruit, spices and honey were added to the porridge mixture, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe, and butter, wheat flour and eggs were also added. The spices represented the exotic eastern spices brought by the Wise Men.
As a child, the only thing I liked about rich fruit cakes was the icing, to the extend I would ask everyone around me if they were intending to eat theirs so that I could have some extra icing. I must have grown up, since I now really like everything about a rich fruit cake, though the marzipan and icing remain my favourite bits. I don’t think this cake needs to be made 2 months in advance, as long as you feed it regularly for a couple of weeks, the result is pretty much the same. Traditionally, Christmas cake gets fed with brandy, but I’m not a fan of brandy, so I decided to feed ours with dark rum as it gives the cake quite a nice caramel flavour. Amaretto would also work wonderfully, or any other nutty spirit.
This cake’s preparations need to start the day before. You must soak the dried fruit for a few hours and the cake takes at least 3 hours to bake. Don’t start baking it late at night, like I did last week, because you will be waiting for a rather long time before you can go to bed. On the plus side, your whole house will smell of Christmas for a whole day. (Note: I will write a post on how to ice the cake in a week or so)
Ingredients – for an 20 cm (8 inch) round cake
50g glacé cherries, rinsed and finely chopped
50g mixed peel, finely chopped
3 tablespoons dark rum
225g plain flour
a pinch salt
¼ level teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 level teaspoon mixed spice
225g light muscovado sugar
1. The day before you make the cake: place all the dried fruits and peel in a bowl and mix in the rum; cover the bowl with cling film and leave to soak for at least 12 hours.
2. Preparing the cake tin: Line the bottom and sides of the tin with greaseproof paper. Tie a double band of brown or newspaper paper (it won’t burn in the oven, rest assured) around the outside, as this will act as an insulator to prevent the cake from burning on the outside.
1. Cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture’s light and fluffy
2. Sieve the flour, salt and spices into a mixing bowl, and keep on the side
3. Beat up the eggs and add them to the creamed mixture, very slowly, beating thoroughly after each addition. If the mix starts to curdle, add a spoon of the flour.
4. Fold in the flour and spices. Stir in the fruit and peel and spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, and spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon.
5. Cover the top of the cake with the double square of greaseproof paper with a small hole in the centre.
6. Bake the cake on the lower shelf of the oven for at least 3h before
7. When the cake is cold, wrap it well in greaseproof paper and store in an cake tin.
8. To feed the cake, strip off the top greaseproof paper, make a few holes in the top with a wooden skewer and pour a few teaspoons of rum in to soak into the cake. Repeat this every couple of days for at least two weeks before you are ready to ice it.