Many many moons ago (about 15 years ago), during a trip to Waitrose I picked up a Delia Smith recipe card for christmas cake. With time on my hands and with the courage of my convictions, I made my first christmas cake.
It turned out really well and from then on it's a request from my family that I make one. This year was no exception. My french family love this cake, you don't get an equivalent in France, in fact this year, samples of the cake did the rounds with my great aunts friends, who have requested pre-orders for next christmas.
As with many of these recipes, they aren't difficult (well some are) they need you to clear some time and plod with patience through the steps. For this one, you need to clear an afternoon. I usually start with the cake in Nov and it sits like a well behaved child on the counter, just waiting. It always feels like a gamble, never sure if its over cooked or under cooked, what surprises it will reveal when you finally cut into it, but rest assured this recipe has never failed. Thank you Delia, I still have your recipe card!
So the day before you bake you need to work on the dried fruits. Also good to make sure you have enough parchment paper, string and 23cm round cake tin. If not, you have time to pop to the shops.
So here's what you need:
250g Dried Apricots (quartered)
200g Mixed Peel
200g Glacé Cherries
100g Prunes (quartered)
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
250g Unsalted Butter
200g Light Brown Sugar
200g walnut pieces
300g plain flour, sieved
200ml brandy or rum
So the day before, take all the fruit and mix with 200ml of brandy or rum and the zest and juice of 1 orange, cover and leave for 24 hrs.
Pre-heat the oven to 150c and put the baking shelf low in the oven.
In a bowl or in your kitchenaid, beat the butter and sugar together until pale. Add the eggs one by one, don't worry about curdling, the flour will settle that. Add the fruits and all the liquid to the mix. Add the walnuts. Fold, don't beat, the flour in with a large spoon.
Now you need to follow instructions to prepare the tin, exactly. This will stop the cake over cooking and over rising.
So I use a 23cm tin, one with a release clip and loose bottom. Wrap the bottom in tin foil and clip back into place. Using the tin as a guide, cut a piece for the base.
Cut to the line of the guide, this will sit in the bottom of the tin.
Then measure the circumference and cut a length of greaseproof paper, fold in half lengthways and wrap the inside of the tin, with this double folded paper inside of the base paper.
Carefully spoon the mixture in to the tin. Make sure that the inner lining doesn't pull the mixture.
If you are careful when filling the tin, you will avoid air pockets, so push the first few spoons to the edges.
Then you have to take another length of paper, fold in two length ways and wrap the outside of the tin, then fix with string. So you have now created a double wrap of paper around the cake.
Again cut a length of paper and fold and place on a tray and place the tin on top.
Double wrapping the tin and placing on paper will help keep the edges moist and makes sure that the cake bakes evenly, so the edges don't cook before the rest. Make sure the paper sits as high as the tin above the tin.
Finally and one more length of paper, again folded in half length ways. Place it on top.
Now bake this for 4 hours at 150c and don't open the oven. At about 3 hours you can check with a skewer.
When the cake is cooked, let in cool on a rack in the tin, until cool. Don't take it out of the tin until completely cooled.
The cake will be lovey and evenly baked, the top should be level.
Now to prepare the cake for it's hibernation. Leave the paper on the cake, but use another length of paper to wrap the cake, then double wrap again in tin foil. Press the paper and foil so its very tightly wrapped. Leave in a cool dry corner of the kitchen.
Every week, unwrap and skewer the cake then feed with brandy or rum (which ever you used for the fruits, use for feeding) with 4 tablespoons.
I'm not a huge fan of thick marzipan and icing sugar, so I always roll the marzipan thin and this year I used stars for the icing sugar paste to avoid over doing the sugaryness.
So to decorate you will need:
A couple of tablespoons of apricot jam
300g royal icing sugar paste