Yup, I’m sorry, it’s that time of year again, when the dreaded C-word gets bandied about. However, making your Christmas cake early is a good thing. For one, it’s one less thing to do when Christmas preparations really hit with full force. Also, you want to give it at least a month to mature. If I’m organised and actually remember, I make mine October/November, then wrap it and leave it in the cupboard until a couple of days before Christmas, when I pull it out and decorate it.
I did this in two parts. First, I set the fruit aside to soak in brandy, then mixed up the rest of the cake and added the fruit at the end.
1 lb mixed fruit (if, like me and my mum-in-law, you don’t like peel, make up the fruit with a mix of currants, raisins and sultanas)
12 oz sultanas
1/2 lb currants
1/2 lb cherries, quartered
3 tbsp brandy (rum or whisky works too)
Put all the fruit in a bowl, add the brandy and stir. Cover and set to one side. This can be for the time it takes to mix up the rest of the cake, or you can leave it overnight if you wish.
1/2 lb butter
1/2 lb soft brown sugar
10 oz flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tbsp cocoa
1 tbsp treacle
4 oz almonds, chopped or flaked
In a large bowl (and I mean LARGE) cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Mix in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, mixed spice and cocoa, and mix thoroughly. Add the treacle and almonds and give it a quick stir. Finally, pour in the fruit and blend it in. Pour the mixture into a double-lined cake tin, 8 inch square or 9 inch round. Bake for 1 hour at 150°C then reduce the heat to 140°C and bake for another 3 to 3 1/2 hours (until a skewer comes out clean). Cover with foil if the top starts to get too dark during baking. Let the cake cool in the tin before turning it out and removing the grease proof paper.
Once fully cold, prick some holes in the top of the cake with a skewer or toothpick (or knife, whatever you have to hand that is pointy) and sprinkle a tablespoon (or so) of brandy over the top, letting it soak in. Wrap the cake in paper or foil, then I give it a turn of cling film to seal it. Put it away and forget about it for a month.
Nearer Christmas Day, you will need to decorate it. Marzipan needs to dry for a day or two, so give yourself a couple of days. Once fully iced it won’t come to any harm if it is untouched, so you can do this days in advance.
Trim the top and sides of the cake to give a nice, flat, even finish. The more even you can make it at this stage, the easier it will be to give it a good finish later. Brush the top and sides with some warmed jam. Apricot it traditionally used, but anything that turns syrupy and sticky works. I used strawberry just because there was a tiny bit left at the bottom of the jar and all the chunks of strawberry had gone.
Roll out the marzipan to about 1/4 inch thick, and cut a square to fit the top of the cake. Lay it on the cake and smooth it down. Next, roll a strip long enough to fit all the way around the cake. I use a ruler to measure the height and width needed, and to cut a nice neat line.
If you are making a round cake, use a piece of string if you aren’t too keen on using C=πd. Wrap the strip of marzipan around the cake and neaten up the edges.
Allow the marzipan about 2 days to dry before icing. When ready to begin icing, brush the top and sides with water, gin or vodka. (Someone has far too many spirits in their house, I just use a little water or melted jam) Roll out a square of icing large enough to cover the entire cake (unless you have a round cake, in which case you want a circle of icing). Drape it over the top, smoothing as you go. Pull the corners out and away from the cake, smoothing away the excess icing. Trim around the bottom of the cake, and smooth with your hands, or the back of a knife, or if you have one, an icing smoother. You could try using a plastering float, but you may end up with little bits of grit in the icing. Not a good look.
Finally, the decorations. You can make these yourself, or buy edible or non-edible cake toppers. One thing to remember; a ribbon covers a multitude of sins. Here is my offering. As you can see, cake-decorating is not my strong point.
It does taste extremely good though, and at the end of the day I’d rather be eating it than looking at it.
You can see that the marzipan and icing is quite thin, if you roll it a little thicker it makes it easier to give a smooth finish, as it fills all the rough surfaces of the cake. Just have fun and use your imagination. If modeling and decorating isn’t your thing, go to a specialist cake shop or look online for ideas to either buy or make yourself. Here’s a cake I made 2 years ago, my pride and joy, and the peak of my craft skills. For me, it doesn’t get better than this. Sadly.