Christmas Cake – The Whole Story

This post is a compilation of the 3 stages of making and icing a Christmas cake.

Cake12

We start with the fruit:

July is, believe it or not, the perfect time to start making your Christmas cake. In fact, you’re already late! In an ideal, very organised world, my mum likes to have her Christmas cake baked by April/May so that she can feed it for a good few months, before icing it. First (before baking), the fruit needs to be soaked in brandy for a week or so. Throughout the next few months I am going to do step by step posts on making a Christmas cake, as I make mine. This recipe is my grandma’s recipe and whilst I never  got the chance to try hers (not in memory anyway), mum has made it every year and she is famous for it; I had friends at university begging me to bring some back with me after the Christmas holidays. It is boozy, decadent and every year my mum makes two, because the first one never makes it to Christmas day. This year I am making my own, as it is my first Christmas not living at home. I’m still going round on Christmas day, of course, but I’m excited to create my own Christmas too this year.

Christmas Cake Fruit

I’m going to attempt to make my Christmas cake with gluten free flour. I find gluten free cakes can be quite dry but given the amount of liquid (brandy) in this cake, I don’t see that happening. Fingers crossed it’ll work out. Eek!

edit: The gluten free cake was delicious but a little crumbly. The addition of xantham gum would have been a good idea.

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz of currants
  • 10 oz of sultanas
  • 4 oz of seedless raisins
  • 2 oz of chopped glacé cherries
  • 2 oz of mixed peel
  • A bottle of brandy (not all to be used here, you’ll need some to feed the cake later too)

Method:

  1. Place all the fruit in a bowl and add a quarter of the bottle of brandy.
  2. Cover the bowl or place the fruit in an airtight container.
  3. Stir every day, adding a good splash of brandy each time until the fruit won’t absorb any more, about a week.
  4. Once that week is over it is time to make the cake and then spend many months feeding it (if necessary, this depends on how much brandy is in your fruit). Mum’s Christmas cake doesn’t usually need feeding much because there is most of a bottle of brandy in the fruit already.

Then, a week or so later we make the cake and feed it up for a few months:

The fruit had stopped absorbing any more brandy and it was looking plump and smelling delicious. I’m delighted that my cake cooked evenly and took on a lovely golden tone. I used gluten free flour and it appears to have held together perfectly. I find cakes cooked with gluten free flour can be a bit dry but given the amount of moisture in the fruit and also that it will be ‘fed’ with brandy between now and Christmas, I don’t think there’s much to worry about. I shall proceed with the recipe and the tips passed down to me from my Grandma, via my mum. Make sure you’ve got an old newspaper handy!

xmas cake

Ingredients: (For a deeper cake use 1.5 times the cake ingredients but keep the batch of fruit the same, There is still plenty of fruit there to give a fruity and delicious boozy cake!)

  • 1 batch of soaked fruit (keeping any excess brandy)
  • 2 oz of ground almonds
  • 10 oz of gluten free plain flour (or normal plain flour)
  • 6 oz of castor sugar
  • 0.25 tsp of mixed spice (I doubled all the spice quantities shown here because I love festive spices)
  • 0.25 tsp of cinnamon
  • 0.25 tsp of grated nutmeg
  • 0.25 tsp of sea salt
  • 8 oz of butter
  • 4 eggs
  • Brandy, to feed the cake after baking

Xmas cake

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C and line your cake tin with three sheets of newspaper and a layer of baking paper; this is important as it stops the outside of the cake cooking too quickly. Try to cut the corners in well, if using a square tin, as this will help your cake to look sharper when you come to ice it. You want to use a fairly large tin, mine was approximately 25 cm square, this made the cake about 6 cm deep. Go for a slightly smaller tin if you’d like a deeper cake.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. I used a handheld electric whisk to do this.
  3. In a separate bowl combine all the dry ingredients (almonds, flour, spices and salt), mix well.
  4. Beat the eggs well and then add then bit by bit, in combination with the dry ingredients, to the butter and sugar mixture. Again, using an electric whisk.
  5. Pour any excess brandy from the fruit into the mixture and whisk this into it. You want a fairly stiff/thick mixture, so don’t add too much if you have a lot of liquid left. Hopefully you haven’t got a lot of un-absorbed brandy, as wasted brandy is a crime. Conversely, add more brandy if your mixture is too thick, but it should be fairly thick to support the weight of the fruit. Never add milk to the mixture.
  6. Fold the fruit into the cake mixture using a spatula, try to do this fairly gently, too keep some air in the mixture.
  7. Pour the cake mixture into the lined cake tin and spread the mixture evenly. Then, using your spatula create a shallow dip in the centre, this will help the cake to rise into a level/flat topped cake.
  8. Bake the cake for 1 hour at 150°C and then for a further 1-3 hours at 135°C. The cake is cooked when an inserted skewer comes out clean. I cooked my cake for a further hour only, even though the recipe suggests 2-3, as it was cooked by then. I imagine this recipe wasn’t written with fan ovens in mind as it gives temperatures in regulo and suggests you check your cake is cooked by inserting a knitting needle into it! It is definitely a recipe that has seen a few generations.
  9. Once your cake is cooked, leave it to cool for two hours in the tin.
  10. Once removed from the tin, let it cool completely.
  11. Use a skewer (or knitting needle!) to poke some small holes into the cake.
  12. Fill a small dish with a few tablespoons of brandy and then coat the top and sides of the cake with it, using a pastry brush. Gently pour any remaining brandy in the dish onto the cake. This is ‘feeding’ the cake and should be repeated every few weeks/month or so until winter (before icing), or until it can’t ‘eat’ anymore.
  13. Wrap in layers of cling film and tin foil. Store it in a safe location, do not refrigerate.
  14. The next installment will be marzipaning (definitely a word) and icing the cake. It’ll be a few months before that post though! Plenty of time for you to come up with some beautiful designs.

Now to ice the cake:

So you’ve soaked the fruit, made the cake and been feeding it up for months and it is time to ice that boozy slab of yumminess.

Cake12

What you’ll need: (to ice a 10 inch square cake or equivalent)

  • 1 baked and fed Christmas cake (I made mine with 1.5 times the cake mixture, see recipe)
  • ~5 tbsp of apricot jam
  • Icing sugar, to dust (vital!)
  • ~1 kg (perhaps less) of fondant icing, the colour of your choice
  • ~500g, more or less depending on desired thickness, of marzipan
  • A rolling pin
  • A pastry brush
  • Coloured fondant icing and edible glue, if decorating further

What to do:

  1. Place your cake on a cake board:Cake1
  2. Dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out your marzipan until 3-5 mm thick and with a surface area larger than the cake:Cake2
  3. Heat the jam in a bowl and the brush onto the top and sides of the cake with a pastry brush. Dust with icing sugar and then roll the marzipan around the rolling pin. Do this placing the rolling pin above the left hand side of the marzipan and gently lifting the edge of the marzipan over the rolling pin. Gently twist the rolling pin to loosely curl the marzipan around the rolling pin, until 3 inches or so remain. Lift the rolling pin with marzipan over the the right hand side of the cake and gently uncurl the marzipan onto the cake. Make sure you leave enough draped over the sides to cover the entire cake:Cake4
  4. Gently smooth down the marzipan on the top and sides of the cake, leave the corners a little ‘baggy’. Trim the marzipan around the sides of the cake with a sharp knife but leave the corners as they are:Cake 5
  5. Trim the corners. I do this by slicing down the middle of the envelope of marzipan and removing one half:Cake6Then I fold the remaining half in and gently smooth it down:Cake8I make sure it is much smoother than this on the fondant layer.
  6. Coat the marzipan in apricot jam and sprinkle with icing sugar:Cake9
  7. Repeat steps 2-5 with the fondant. It helps if the fondant is a little thicker, to get a smooth finish and keep your work surface well dusted. Cake10

Voila, your cake is iced! Here are some of the cakes I’ve decorated this year, it is the first time I’ve ever really done the decorating thing and the edible glue hasn’t dried yet in the pictures:

Cake11Cake14

Cake13Cake12

(Filthy animals cake courtesy of James)

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6 thoughts on “Christmas Cake – The Whole Story

  1. I totally thought you were joking when you said to start these in April! what a lot of work, but they are gorgeous and sound delicious. Hope they go to deserving homes 🙂

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