My grandmother's Christmas cake recipe
This is the Christmas cake I've been making every year, since I was a little girl, old enough to help my grandmother. She was an instinctive cook, never weighing ingredients but judging by taste and consistency and everything she served, was absolutely delicious! This cake is no exception and without fail, every friend I have given this recipe to, has said that it is the best cake they've ever tasted. The best cake requires the best ingredients so do, please, buy free range eggs (not just because they are much tastier but also for ethical reasons-you'll be happier knowing the hens are enjoying a better quality of life!) and PLEASE do not use anything other than real butter - it just won't taste as good, nor will it be the correct consistency. Okay, lecture over. Here's the list of ingredients:
1 kg fruit (I use 300g sultanas + 300g currants + 400g raisins, but you can mix as you choose)
300g glace cherries (I like lots of cherries in my cake but you can use less)
75g mixed peel (you don't have to use this but it does add to the flavour)
200 ml brandy (NOT brandy essence)
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
half a teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
300g butter (softened)
4 large eggs (free range)
100g chopped nuts (I use pecans and hazelnuts, grandmother used brazil nuts and walnuts, but use any nuts or combination of nuts, you like and chop fairly small. )
250g dark muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
zest of orange and lemon (grated, unwaxed)
1. Put all the fruit including cherries and mixed peel into a saucepan with the brandy and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, cover (lid/tea-towel/plate) and leave overnight.
2. Remove eggs and butter from the fridge and allow them to reach room temperature.
3. Preheat your oven to gas mark 2
4. Prepare your tin. I use either a 20cm square tin or a 23cm round tin. If yours is a different size, you will need to adjust your cooking times. I use baking parchment but greaseproof paper is fine. Lightly grease the tin then line with a double layer on the bottom and the sides.
5. In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar together until creamy, then add the grated lemon and orange zest.
6. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
7. Add the black treacle and stir in, then sift in the remaining dry ingredients (flour, mixed spice and nutmeg)
8. Add the nuts and mix in, then add the fruit mixture.
9. This is the point at which tradition demands you make a wish! You must stir the mixture three times with a wooden spoon and make your wish. All the family can take a turn. This is also where you taste the mixture to see if you want to add any more spices. Your choice entirely - but not too much! Extra brandy and (or sherry) should NOT be added here, that comes later, but a glass of sherry or some other beverage should be drunk at this time, to toast the cake.
10. Put the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 3 hours. To stop the top of the cake from browning too quickly, I loosely cover it with one layer of baking parchment.
11. Check the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer (or knife) into the centre. It should come out clean - or almost clean. If it doesn't, leave your cake in the oven for longer, checking again after fifteen minutes or so. Some of my friends have had to leave theirs in for up to half an hour longer - it really does depend on your oven. Mine takes 3 hours.
12. When cooked, leave your cake in the tin and cover it with tin foil. This keeps in the moisture while the cake cools.
13. When it's cold, remove the cake from the tin. You can make a few little holes with a skewer or knife and add some more brandy (or sherry) - but not too much. Then, wrap the cake in a layer of greaseproof paper and a layer of tin foil and store it in an airtight container. I add a drop of brandy to the cake once a week every week, until I decorate it, a day or two before Christmas Day.
To ice/decorate the cake:
A day or two before Christmas Day, unwrap your cake. Warm some apricot jam (with chunks of fruit removed or seive after warming). Spread a thin layer of jam over the top and sides of the cake. Add a layer of marzipan then ice, or ice directly onto the cake.
I use marzipan on the sides but I ice the top without. I make polar bears and snowmen from white icing and I then mix together some icing sugar and a small amount of desiccated coconut and sprinkle this mixture over the cake when the icing is dry. It looks just like freshly fallen snow!
I also sprinkle this mixture over my Chocolate Log, for the same reason and over some of my mince pies.
If you make this cake, I'd love to know what you think of it. You can make it at any time up to a few days before Christmas Day but I make it during the second week of November, as my mother and grandmother did. You can make it months in advance and freeze it but I never do; it's part of the build up to the festivities to make it in November. Don't forget to get the entire family involved during the stirring and wishing process. Those are the sort of memories we keep with us throughout our lives.