I know that it is only November but (please humour me), my thoughts are very much turning to Christmas. Or rather, the food that goes with Christmas.
Please don't get all 'Bah Humbug' on me - I have enough of that at home. I am loud and proud when I admit that I absolutely, categorically LOVE CHRISTMAS. Everything about it. But particularly the feasting.
This year, I am feeling slightly bereft though as we are going away for Christmas. Whilst I am very excited to be off to stay with my brother and his family, I am already feeling a bit lost without the usual menu planning that usually starts in earnest around now. I keep looking at food magazines and deliberating whether to do the sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta again this year or try something more radical when I then realise that the decision is taken out of my hands as it won't be me doing the cooking. It is a very strange feeling.
However, I have been tasked with making the Christmas cake. This is perfect as (modesty aside) I think I made a truly delicious Christmas cake. In fact, the only people who I believe rival my Christmas cake for sticky deliciousness are my mother and my sister (both of whom use the same recipe as me)! They are both more adept in the decorating stakes (my sister having the advantage as she is a professional cake decorator) but I enjoy 'having a go'.
This week I baked two cakes as my husband was concerned that we wouldn't have one to enjoy 'at home' once we return from our Christmas break. I decided to bake a round and a square cake and will be deliberating over decorating ideas over the next few weeks. The picture at the top is of last year's attempt!
I usually make my Christmas cake around October half-term time. I have no idea why as I do not have school age children so half term has little impact on my life (other than it leading to a reduction of mid-week parking spots in the parent-and-child spaces at the supermarket - the sort of thing that casts a shadow over an otherwise pleasing morning). Mid-October to Mid-November gives enough time for the cake to mature nicely for Christmas although earlier is good too.
This is not a cake for those who like a very traditional, dark and treacly bake. It is paler in colour, perhaps a touch lighter though not much. It is very sticky and moist and, in my eyes, utterly delicious. I do not soak the fruit in alcohol before baking (though you certainly could if you have the time and inclination) but do feed the cake weekly once it is baked with a heady mixture of rum or brandy and sherry, mixed with all-important glycerin. This gives it the gorgeous sticky texture that I love so much.
I am not quite sure where the recipe originates from - I think perhaps an old wedding cake book - it has been used by the family for many years and lives on a much-scrumpled piece of paper in my recipe folder. If anyone knows the origin, please let me know so that I can credit appropriately.
Delicious Sticky Christmas Cake
N.B. The recipe here is for one 'quantity' of cake. You simply multiply up according to the size tin you are using to bake. This makes it a handy recipe if you are planning a multi-tiered cake for a wedding or Christening.
For 8" round, use 3 quantities - bake approx 3 1/2 to 4 hours
For 8" square, use 4 quantities
For 9" round, use 4 quantities - bake approx 4 to 4 1/2 hours
For 9" square, use 5 quantities
I like a really deep cake and so usually do one extra quantity for my cakes. It does mean the tin is very full but the cake doesn't rise much.
2.5 oz / 71g currants
2.5 oz / 71g sultanas
1 oz / 28g raisins
1 oz / 28g glace cherries
1 1/2 oz / 42g mixed peel
1/4 lemon, zest and juice
2 oz / 57g plain flour
pinch mixed spice
2 oz / 57g light brown muscovado sugar
2 oz / 57g butter, softened
1 large egg
3/4 oz / 21g ground almonds
2 tsp brandy or rum
Equal quantities rum, sherry and glycerine.
1. Pre-heat oven to 140C. Line the tin with a double layer of buttered greaseproof paper.
2. Clean the raisins, sultanas and currants: pour the fruit onto a clean tea towel. Sprinkle over a couple of tablespoonfuls of plain flour and then close the tea towel around the fruit. Give a good shake and rub of the fruit through the tea towel - this should loosen any grit or stalks which should remain attached to the tea towel.
3. Halve the cherries and mix the fruit, mixed peel and lemon zest in a large bowl.
4. Sift flour, spices and salt into another large bowl.
5. Cream together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the ground almonds and then fold in the flour and spices. Add fruit, alcohol and lemon juice and mix thoroughly to combine.
6. Scrape into prepared tin and level the surface. Drop the tin carefully a couple of times onto the work top or floor so that any air bubbles rise to the top.
7. Pour one pint of water into a baking tin and place on the lowest shelf of the oven for the first half of the cooking time - this will create sufficient humidity to keep the top of the cake moist and ensure level results in baking.
8. Bake cake according to timings above - it is done when a skewer comes out clean with just some damp crumbs sticking to it. The timings above are approximate!
9. When baked, leave cake in the tin to cool overnight. The next morning remove from tin and sprinkle with soaking mixture before wrapping in waxed paper for at least three weeks. Feed with soaking mixture every week or so.
10. Decorate as wished!