19th October 2012
Yes, it’s coming up to that time of the year again! I knew there were quite a few Christmas Cake recipes in Mary’s Bible, it was only the beginning of December last year when I started the mission of baking the whole book and one of the first recipes I baked was the Quick Mincemeat Christmas Cake. It was very tasty, but this year I knew I would have more time so I’ve decided to bake this one now and bake the Victorian Christmas Cake later in November. Personally I find Christmas cakes a bit too rich, so hopefully there will be somebody around who will be happy to eat lots of cake for me!
I had intended on baking this a day earlier but totally forgot that you always have to soak the fruit in the alcohol overnight, so it was delayed for a day!
First thing as Mary says is to begin the recipe the night before you wish to bake it! It was time for the dreaded cherries. First they had to be cut into quarters, put into a sieve and rinsed under running water. They you had to drain them and dry them thoroughly before putting them into the bowl. I did as I was told and prepared the cherries as Mary stated, although I must admit in the back of my mind I did think was it really necessary as the cherries were actually going to be soaked in brandy overnight, so it wasn’t as though they were going to be dry anyway when they went into the mixture! Next onto the apricots. These aren’t as bad as the cherries as you can hold them and snip them with scissors into tiny pieces. These too were added to the bowl together with the currants, sultanas, raisins and the finely chopped candied peel (which I love to eat, although I know a lot of people detest it). On top of this you then had to add 3 tbsp of brandy. It didn’t seem that much brandy to add, it sort of disappeared once you had stirred it through. I was tempted to add a bit more but thought no you can do that later when you ‘feed’ the cake before marzipanning and icing it. The fruit was given a quick stir and covered in clingfilm. It was then put to one side in the dining room, out of everybody’s way!
It was late afternoon when I finally got round to baking the cake, I had work in the morning and then a quick walk with the dog after lunch (he’s still got a poorly paw so we only went to the allotment to pick some beetroots and the butternut squash). My runner beans have gone over now (I must admit I’m rather glad as I do get a bit fed up with them by the end of the summer), although the cabbage, parsnips and swede are all coming along nicely. Anyway, back to the cake…
The oven was put on and I had decided to make a 18cm (7″) round Christmas cake. I thought this wouldn’t be too small, but also wouldn’t be too big as I do intend on baking the other Christmas Cake in the Bible. The tin had to be greased and lined (both base and sides) with a double layer of parchment. This was fiddlier than I remembered. I think it was because I thought I would save time by folding the parchment in half. It proved rather difficult when putting it around the sides, I think in hindsight I should have stuck to my normal way as I reckon it took me longer than it would usually. With the tin lined it was off to the dining room to collect the fruit.
When I uncovered the fruit I was amazed at the smell of brandy, I didn’t think 3tbsp would smell that strong, but it did. The bowl was put to one side and out came my big mixing bowl.
Into the big bowl went the flour, grated nutmeg, ground mixed spice, butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and the rind from a lemon and an orange. I also saw I needed chopped almonds. However on checking my box of ‘nuts’ I found I had only sliced almonds, so I quickly crushed these up and hopefully it will not be noticeable – I must admit I did think that some of them looked like fingernails (yuk!!!), but hopefully when cooked in the cake they won’t!!! Looking at the quantity of ingredients already in the bowl I decided to use my electric mixer to mix all of this together. It didn’t take long.
Next I had to add the fruit, this was tipped in and mixed by hand with a wooden spoon. Making a Christmas Cake does bring back good memories of when I was a child. I can remember helping both my mum and grandma with their Christmas cakes and puddings and I was always there to scrape the bowl out afterwards and amazingly I think this is a sense my daughter has inherited, because just as I had finished mixing it all together, she wandered into the kitchen to see what was going on!
The mixture was tipped into the tin and spread evenly out. The top of the cake was also covered with a double layer of parchment. It was then into the oven for 4 hours. Just before the 4 hours was up I thought I’d have a peak to see how it was going, it looked good, although I had obviously pushed the parchment on the top of the cake down slightly too much as it had stuck to the top of the cake and it did tear the top slightly. Not to worry I thought, that would be the bottom of the cake when it came to decorating it, by turning the cake upside down I could guarantee a flat level top. The cake was in fact left in for another 10 minutes after which time a skewer inserted into the top came out clean. The smell in the house was amazing, definitely Christmassy!
By the time the cake had cooled it was very late in the evening, so I did actually leave it in the tin overnight and not remove it until the morning. At this point it was wrapped up in a double layer of baking parchment and then in some foil. It will be fed now once a week with a little more brandy until the middle of December when I will marzipan and ice it, so watch this space for updates!
The cake was marzipaned at the end of the first week of December. A block of marzipan was rolled out in a circle, having measured with a piece of cotton the diameter and height of the sides of the cake. I must admit I don’t like my marzipan too thick, so it was rollled out quite thinly, but not too thin. The top and sides of the cake were brushed with melted apricot jam and the marzipan put over the top and smoothed down with the excess removed.
Again, it wasn’t until Christmas Eve that I actually got round to icing the cake. As above the icing was rolled out after I had measured the diameter and depth of the cake to ensure I didn’t roll out the icing too thin and this was placed on top of the marzipan having brushed it lightly first with water. Using my smoothers, the icing was smoothed and again the excess cut off. It was not time to decorate it.
A decision now had to be made on how to ice the cake. I admit in my head I had a very fancy idea for this year’s cake, but I was running out of time and knew I also had another cake to take with me tomorrow, so it had to be quick and simple. I had seen in a magazine some little marshmallow snowmen, so thought I would give them a go. Having bought the ingredients for these a while ago (they had been hidden from the children as I knew if they found the ingredients they would have been eaten, very quickly) first it was a case of remembering where I had hidden them! Having found them I opened the bag to find I had only 8 white marshmallows in the bag – all the rest were pink. These were very simple to make it was a case of putting two marshmallows onto a cocktail stick and then painting their face and buttons onto them. The hat consisted of a large chocolate button which I stuck to the top of the snowman’s head using some chocolate ganache that I had left over from another cake and again sticking a smaller marshmallow onto this. I was quite happy with these and three of them were put onto the cake. To finish it off I made some snowballs and put a silver ribbon around the outside.
I did make a couple of Snowmen Pops for my niece and nephew (my niece’s had to be made with pink marshmallows, although I knew she wouldn’t mind!) These were wrapped up in Christmas cellophane ready to put on their tree.
The cake, I think was cut on Boxing Day and I must admit I rather liked it. I’m not that partial to fruit cake, but this one was lovely and moist and you could just taste the brandy coming through.