Well, it's that time of year again. Happy Chanukah everyone! Oh right, it's Crimbo too, if you are into that kind of thing, I guess ;)
This year, I am making my first ever Christmas Cake. And whose help am I wrangling? Only the best will do so Mary Berry of course.
I am using Mary Berry's Christmas Cake recipe that is. I couldn't actually get her in my kitchen. That would be a Christmas miracle.
As this cake takes a couple of days to make, I thought I would split it into 2 posts. Just to let the suspense really soak in. Brandy! I mean just to let the brandy really soak in.
I've never made a Christmas Cake or any kind of dense fruit cake before. I don't like them if I'm honest. I don't think kids really like very boozy cakes either, they taste weird. I didn't like it as a kid and haven't given it a second shot.
So why am I making one? Well, a local school is looking for donations for their Raffle Hampers, one item? Christmas Cake. I don't need much of a reason to put on my pinny and whip up some sugary goodness and I can even say I'm doing it for a good cause. Just a shame they get my first ever attempt, I don't have time to make more from scratch. It's not like me to take on such a challenge, with little time to spare. Yeah right, that is exactly me.
So here we go, the stages to (what I hope will be) an AMAZING Christmas Cake.
Christmas Cake Stage 1 - Boozy Fruit
Mary's recipe says you will need the following:
- 425g currants
- 250g each sultanas and raisins
- 300g glacé cherries, quartered, rinsed and drained
- 150g ready-to-eat dried apricots, snipped into small pieces
- 75g mixed candied peel, roughly chopped
- 4 tbsp brandy, plus extra for pouring
That is a whopping 1.2kg of fruit and candied peel!! And this is where I've made my first mistake. I assumed I had a bag of currants, so didn't buy any but I did buy a 'backup' pack of Sainsbury's finest mixed, pre-soaked fruit. Having weighed out my raisins, sultanas etc I discover I, in fact, have ... no currants. A pretty big chunk of the fruit recipe. So I broke out the backup bag. Two problems there:
- It is only 300g
- It isn't just currants, it's EVERYTHING
I don't have time to go and get more (shops closed, who starts prep at 10 at night seriously) and I can't wait until the morning or I'm another day behind! So I'm just going to have to go with it.
I pour my brandy over and leave it, covered, overnight.
The next morning I add a bit more brandy. This isn't in the recipe, but I've been collecting Christmas Cake advice having never done it before. Someone told me to top it up the following morning. So top it up I did. I then go to work etc and after dinner crack on with the 'cake' part.
Christmas Cake Stage 2 - Cake Pan
Mary's recipe says to really cover the pan. A friend of mine this morning advised the same. Grease the pan and put 2 layers of paper on it. So that is what I've done.
It's a thing of beauty, don't you think. I hope I don't actually need the paper to be that tall, the cake shouldn't rise that much. Or at all.
Christmas Cake Stage 3 - Cake
- 300g plain flour
- 1 tsp ground mixed spice
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 300g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
- 300g dark muscovado sugar
- 5 medium free-range eggs
- 1 tbsp black treacle
- Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
- Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
- 60g whole unblanched almonds, roughly chopped
This part should be easy, it's cake. I've got this! Except, apparently, I don't. For some unknown reason, I don't have enough butter in my house! I can't go out and get any either! I'm only down by 50g so I'm going to risk 50g of (gulp) margarine! I am dying a little on the inside.
It still looks like cake and the batter actually tastes LOVELY so I'm not too worried (I'm really worried). Oh and I need to point out that at this stage in the recipe it says to leave out the nuts. Got it. No problem.
Christmas Cake Stage 4 - Mix
Now you mix the fruit into the cake batter. So here I go. Don't forget to pour in any extra soaking 'juices' (that's Mary code for booze) as well. There weren't any. Did I not add enough booze? Should there be a little lake of Brandy at the bottom of my bowl?
But it's all mixed in and I realise I'm an idiot. I know why there wasn't enough butter. I remembered, when I was shopping, that I didn't have enough fruit. I'd decided I was going to bake a 6-inch cake not a 9-inch cake like the recipe said so I was just going to make less batter and work out the fruit ratio. I did neither. I made the full amount of batter and there isn't enough fruit to go in it. Remember I've never done this before and I don't know what this mix should look like!
Is the fruit supposed to be covered lightly like someone trying to make Rice Krispie cakes go further? Or is it supposed to be like Rocky Road, thickly covered? Probably the former based on my ratio mix up. Oh well. Nothing I can do about it now!
Into the pan it goes. Mary's recipe says to level the top and put on a parchment circle. That's fine. But nowhere does it say how full the cake pan should be? I figure, it's a plain flour cake with no raising agent and it's packed out with dense, alcoholic fruit. It's probably not going to rise at all. So I've left a 1cm gap at the top of the pan, and I'll hope for the best.
I got a great tip from a fellow baker about putting a Bain Marie in the oven
So that's exactly what I've done. Phew, so it's in the oven as of 8.30 tonight with a 4-5 hour bake time. I'll be checking it at 12.30 with fingers crossed.
2 final things. Remember the recipe said "leave out the nuts"? You add them in after you've mixed the fruit. I didn't. I was so preoccupied by my weighing and measuring mistakes that I completely forgot. D'oh.
Aaaaaand, this is how much mix I have left over!
It's about half, just over I'd say. So perhaps I'll add half the nuts to that and bake another one in the morning. The school might not get such a disastrous cake after all!
Join me for Part 2 to see how this cake turns out.