I am the first person to gripe when the Christmas cards start appearing in the shops in September and the first Christmas Tree is spotted, dressed up to the nines, in someone’s front window in November.
To me Christmas and feeling Christmassy is all about December and nothing before. I have to confess though that this year I have let the Christmas spirit creep down the chimney a little bit earlier than usual.
I have never been a very organised person, envying those people who tell me at the beginning of December that the presents have been bought and wrapped, cards written and sent and the food shopping organised down to the last Brussel sprout. Or do I?
I think I must actually enjoy rushing about at the last minute like a headless chicken, making rash decisions and buying enough food to feed an army, just in case. I must do because I do it every year, without fail. Despite every year telling myself that next year will be different, I still haven’t bought a present, or a card or tidied the spare room or planned a menu.
This year one Christmas present arrived a little early, I was treated to a day of basket making with Karen Lawrence at her studio in Redgrave. The day will feature in a post later this week.
Perhaps because of the festive atmosphere at Karen’s house together with bringing home a couple of willow Christmas decorations, I found myself thinking about the fast approaching holiday season and I decided to get cracking with my Christmas cake, an event which usually happens around the end of November. Many people will now be tutting and shaking their heads in despair, thinking my cake should be wrapped up snuggly by now, in the dark and looking forward to a nip of brandy every couple of weeks. I have found the recipe I use is perfectly fine made a month before the 25th, maybe because of the quantity of the fruit, it is always moist and full of flavour.
I have tried many recipes for Christmas cake but always come back to this one which is an old Waitrose recipe. It makes quite a light coloured cake, not a dark brown, almost black fruit cake which I am not particularly fond of. The addition of squashy prunes and apricots give the cake a particularly fruity quality. Two or three feedings of brandy, over fortnightly intervals are quite sufficient, leaving enough time to marzipan and ice the cake ready for Christmas. There is absolutely no reason why this can’t be done in September but for people like me who thrive on last minute stress it is perfectly viable.
Instead of weighing out separate raisins and sultanas, I find Waitrose’s Sweet & Juicy vine fruit mix is a great product, containing extra big juicy Jumbo flame raisins and Orange River sultanas. I do find that cheaper ‘value’ brand fruit can contain seeds and stems which are not very pleasant to crunch on. When cutting up dried fruit I like to use scissors rather than a knife, I find it quite relaxing snipping away while something Christmassy is playing along, my thoughts turning to the turkey, or goose this year maybe?
Brandy and orange are particularly heady Christmas aromas and after the fruit had been snipped and mixed together the kitchen smelt like the special day was just around the corner. I did have Bing and Frank singing in the background so that helped. And a sherry.
I will post again when the cake has been cooked and ready for icing.
- 750g Mixed Raisins and Sultanas
- 250g Dried Apricots quartered
- 200g Mixed Peel
- 200g Glace Cherries halved
- 100g Dried Prunes quartered
- Grated zest and Juice of one orange
- 100ml brandy
- 250g unsalted butter, softened
- 200g Light Muscovado Sugar
- 5 Medium Eggs
- 200g Walnut pieces
- 300g Plain Four
- Place all the fruit (not the nuts) in a large bowl with the brandy, orange zest and juice. Stir well and cover. Leave overnight. (Two days won't hurt).
- When ready to cook, turn oven on to 150c.
- Prepare a 23cm round cake tin (see below).
- Beat butter and sugar together until light.
- Add eggs one at a time.
- Add a little flour if mixture starts to curdle.
- Add the fruit and any juice.
- Add the nuts and mix.
- If using a food mixer, fold the nuts in by hand if possible otherwise the nuts tend to get broken up too much.
- Put mixture into prepared tin and cook for 31/2 to 4 hrs.until a skewer comes out clean.
- I always check after 3 hours, if browning too much on top put a loose sheet of baking paper or foil over the top.
- Leave to cool in the tin, keep the lining paper on the cake, double wrap in foil and put in a cool place.
- To feed with brandy, pierce the cake all over with a skewer and distribute 2 tablespoons of brandy over the cake. I find 2-3 feeds are plenty otherwise the cake can go too soggy.
- Decorate as required.
- To prepare the tin:
- Line a 23cm round cake tin with a double thickness of baking/greaseproof paper so it comes about 5cm above the tin.
- Wrap a double layer of brown paper around the tin and secure with string.
- When cooking stand the tin on a few folded sheets of newspaper or brown paper.
- If you have never made a large fruit cake before, this may seem like a lot of messing about but please don't skip preparing the tin as it will prevent the cake from drying out.
- The prep time below does not include soaking the fruit.