The lights in our Christmas tree are shining bright, our Christmas angel is watching us from the window-sill and Christmas carols are ringing in the livingroom. The only thing that's missing is the Christmas Cake! I've been working on this cake since October, so you can imagine my expectations were high! Needless to say it didn't let me down. I mean, the way it looks is already satisfying!
This Christmas Cake - I got the recipe from Mary Berry and her Christmas Collection - is a traditional British Christmas classic. The main ingredients are dried fruit marinated in alcohol, flour and eggs. Because it contains relatively little flour you can only eat the cake at least 3 weeks after baking for otherwise it will crumble into pieces. By feeding the cake every two weeks with a little extra alcohol (sherry, rum or brandy) the cake will get moist and tasty. And because of the alcohol you don't necessarily need to keep it in the fridge. A cool place anywhere in your house will do.
There are of course serveral types of Christmas Cakes and the favourite one of many Brits is the Scottisch Whisky Dundee. It goes without saying it's made in Dundee with Scottisch whisky. And of course you immediately think of orange marmelade when you think of Dundee and you should. Marmelade maker Keiller from Dundee made the first Whisky Dundee cake in the 19th century and naturally he used candied orangepeels in it. Traditionally the Whisky Dundee is decorated with blanched almonds for - as the story goes - Mary Queen of Scots under any circumstances didn't want candied cherries in her cake!
After baking and feeding the cake for several months, one week for Christmas the best part has yet to come: glazing and decorating it! To glaze it with royal icing you first need to apply a thin layer of marzipan to prevent colouring of the icing. You need to let the marzipan dry out for a couple of days and after that you can apply the royal icing. Let the icing harden for about one night and then decorate your cake. If you want to use figures that have to stand up in the icing, press them into the icing before it sets rock hard. Last but not least: put a ribbon round your cake and present it to your loved ones!
Note: start making preparations for this cake at least 4 weeks before Christmas. Traditionally you bake it on Stir-up Sunday, usually the Sunday before First Advent. This will give you time enough to marinate the fruit, to bake the cake and to feed.
175 gr raisins
350 gr candied cherries, dried, quartered (optional, if you're not Mary Queen of Scots)
500 gr currants
350 gr sultanas
150 ml sherry + more for feeding
zest of 2 oranges
250 gr soft butter
250 gr sugar
1 tbsp treacle
75 gr blanched almonds, roughly chopped
75 gr self-raising flour
175 gr wheat flour
1,5 tsp allspice
3 tbsp apricot jam
150 gr marzipan (ready to roll - come on you have enough going on with this cake as it is, you don't need to make your own marzipan as well, do you?)
one portion royal icing (see recipe below)
1. For the cake, place all the dried fruit, including the cherries - if you're using them, into a large mixing bowl, pour over the sherry and stir in the orange zest. Cover with clingfilm and leave to soak for three days, stirring daily.
2. Grease and line a 23cm deep, round tin with a double layer of greased greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 140C.
3. Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and almonds into a very large bowl and beat well (preferably with an electric free-standing mixer). Add the flour and ground spice and mix thoroughly until blended. Stir in the soaked fruit. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface.
4. Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for about 4 - 4.5 hours, or until the cake feels firm to the touch and is a rich golden brown. Check after two hours, and if the cake is a perfect colour, cover with foil. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake sould come out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
5. When cool, pierce the cake at intervals with a fine skewer and feed with a little extra sherry. Wrap the completely cold cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper and again in foil and store in a cool place for up to three months, feeding at intervals with more brandy. (Don't remove the lining paper when storing as this helps to keep the cake moist.)
One week before Christmas:
6. For the covering, stand the cake upside down, flat side uppermost, on a cake board wich is 5cm larger than the size of the cake.
7. Brush the sides and the top of the cake with warm apricot jam.
8. Liberally dust a work surface with icing sugar and then roll out the marzipan to about 5cm larger dan the surface of the cake. Keep moving the marzipan as you roll, checking that it is not sticking to the work surface (you can also roll it out between two sheets of baking paper!).
9. Carefully lift the marzipan over the cake using a rolling pin. Gently level and smooth the top of the paste with the rolling pin, then ease the marzipan down the sides of the cake, smoothing it at the same time. If you are careful, you should be amble to cover the cake with no excess marzipan to trim (ehhm...) but, if necessary (yes!), neatly trim excess marzipan from the base of the cake with a small sharp knife. Cover the cake loosely with baking parchment and leave for a few days to dry out before adding the royal icing.
3 egg whites
675 gr icing sugar, sieved
3 tbsp lemon juice
optional: 1,5 tsp glycerine
1. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until they become frothy. Mix in the sifted icing sugar a tablespoonful at a time. You can do this with a hand-held electric whisk, but keep the speed low.
2. Stir in the lemon juice and glycerine - if you're using it - and beat the icing until it is very stiff and white and stands up in peaks.
3. To ice the cake, place all the icing onto the top of the cake. Spread evenly over the top and sides of the cake with a palette knife. For a snow-peak effect, use a smaller palette knife to rough up the icing.
4. Leave the cake loosely covered overnight for the icing to harden a little, then wrap or store in an airtight container in a cool place until needed.
Serve the Christmas Cake as dessert or together with a cup of coffee while watching Home Alone. Thanks to the sherry you will lie under the table until you can say 'Merry Christmas'. So, in advance: Merry Christmas!