This week’s guest blog is part 1 of a recipe for a Christmas Cake from Pixie Hall Cakes
– part 2, how to decorate it, next month!…
Psst! There are only a few more weeks until Christmas.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of this news but as we all know, Christmas is sneaking up on us! Actually, I don’t think it’s sneaking so much as sprinting, full force, into view. Shops have had advent calendars, tins of chocolates and beribboned treats on the shelves for a couple of months and I’m afraid there is no avoiding it. The man in red will soon be delivering presents and scoffing mince pies.
With that in mind, I’m here to offer a helping hand. Stir Up Sunday falls on the 24th November. It’s on this day that we traditionally get in the kitchen, fire up the oven and make our Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat. Well, apparently some people do. I don’t think I know many of them.
It’s so easy to pop to the supermarket and pick up a good Christmas cake, a small pudding (because inevitably only 3 people in your party of 12 even like it, but they insist on having it) and a 12 pack of mince pies. I will not judge you if that is the route you are going to take. I will, however, tell you that making a Christmas cake isn’t that hard. It’s actually kind of fun. It’s a great thing to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon with the kids. The house smells amazing as the cake cooks thanks to the fruit, booze and spices and, you’ll feel really proud of yourself when you’ve finished.
Christmas cakes are pretty adaptable. You can use any mix of dried fruit that you like. Traditionally currants, raisins and sultanas are mixed but you can add cranberries, apricots, sour cherries or anything else that you like the sound of. Here, I’ve used pre-mixed dried fruit and added cranberries and morello glace cherries to the mix. Dark spiced rum is my spirit of choice in all my Christmas baking. I like the deep flavour it has without being too harsh and the spices work fantastically with the festive flavours. As with the fruit, you can use any spirit you like. Whisky works well, brandy is traditional and, if you don’t want to use alcohol, fresh orange juice or tea impart lovely flavour to the cake.
In short; have fun with this cake and tailor it to suit your favourite flavours. As long as the weight of fruit is equal to that in the recipe, you can change the ratios to suit and mix it up however you like.
So, here’s my take on the classic Christmas cake. This one makes an 20cm/8” round or a 18cm/7” square cake.
800g dried mixed fruit
100g dried cranberries
75g glace cherries
5 tbsp spiced rum
225g softened butter
225g light brown sugar
225g plain flour
½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
Zest of 1 clementine and 1 lemon
1 tbsp black treacle
50g slivered almonds, roughly chopped
The day before you bake the cake you need to plump up the fruit in the rum. Weigh all the fruit into a large bowl and pour over the rum. Stir the mixture to make sure the fruit is coated, cover with cling film and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 140C, line your tin with baking paper on the bottom and around the sides.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and pale. Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time and whisk thoroughly between each one.
Sift the flour, spices and salt into the bowl and gently fold in.
Add the soaked fruit, zest of the lemon and clementine, treacle and almonds and gently stir through until combined.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread flat with the back of a spoon or spatula.
Now, to protect the cake during the long, slow cooking process, you need to tie brown paper around the tin. Just use some string and tie a double layer securely around the outside of your tin. Place a piece of baking parchment with a hole cut in the middle over the top of the cake and place in the oven.
Cook for around 3-4 hours depending on your oven. Start with 3 hours and then check the cake. Leave it longer as necessary. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The cake should spring back when lightly pressed in the centre. Cooking time will vary depending on the kind of tin you use and your own oven so just keep an eye on it.
Leave your cake to cool in the tin for around 30 minutes, transfer it to a wire rack to finish cooling.
It’s done! All you have to do now is wrap it securely in baking paper and foil, pop it into an airtight tin and open it up a few times between now and Christmas to feed it with more lovely rum. Using a skewer, poke holes all over your cake and carefully spoon over a tablespoon or so of booze and allow it to soak in. You can do this as often as you like (or remember!) but do wrap the cake up tightly in between.
Next month, I’ll show you some different techniques to decorate your cake so it looks perfect for your Christmas spread.
Linds Hall runs Pixie Hall Cakes in Fakenham and can be found selling her delicious baking at Fakenham Farmers’ Market on the 4th Saturday of each month.
Photographs by Keith Osborn Photography