Christmas cake – the UK way

December 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

The fruit cake gets a bad rap in the US, but it’s prized across the pond – it’s the traditional wedding cake mix (it’s what Kate and Wills ate!), and is also used for Christmas cakes.  As an homage to my Irish side and my mother’s childhood, I made her a Christmas cake this year.  As the Brits would say, what a palava!  But it came out OK in the end:

christmas cake

There are as many recipes for Christmas cake as there are tiny currants jammed in there (some recipes called for almost 2 pounds of currants!).  This is an amalgamation of many I read online as I researched, and my mom LOVED it.  I tried it, and it’s not half bad! 🙂

*Top tip: this cake needs to mature.  So make the cake in November, around Thanksgiving (seriously.  Some people start theirs in October).  Then put the marzipan and icing on closer to the big day.

The stuff

  • 2 pounds (yes, pounds) of dried fruit.  (I used a mix of about half currants, and then threw in chopped dried figs, glace cherries, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, candied orange peel…  the dried fruits section of Trader Joe’s was my friend.  *Update Dec. 2016: now I buy one 10-oz box of currants, then use 1-2 of the 8 oz bags of Trader Joe’s ‘Golden Berry Blend’ [raisins, dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries], then round out with dried cranberries or cherries and candied orange, all from TJ’s)
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • zest and juice of an orange
  • 150 mL of brandy
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 200 grams light brown sugar
  • 175 grams all-purpose flour
  • 100 grams almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp dried ginger
  • 100 grams chopped or flaked almonds
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. Put the dried fruit, zests and juices, brandy, butter and brown sugar in a pan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Dump the fruit mixture into a large bowl and leave to cool for 30 minutes.
  2. Turn the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a deep 8 inch cake pan with a double layer of baking parchment, then wrap a double layer of newspaper around the outside – tie with string to secure.  (I used a cake pan with a removable bottom; a springform would also work well.  All this nonsense with the paper prevents the cake from burning because it is about to spend a LONG time in the oven.)
    • Update Dec. 2016: I have made this in other size pans well – this very same recipe will also make two 6-inch round cakes, or 1 loaf cake and one 6-inch round.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the fruit mixture and stir well, making sure there are no pockets of flour. Pour into your prepared tin, level the top with a spatula and bake in the center of the oven for at least 2 hrs.  (Mine took almost 3 hours to be done for the 8-inch cake).
    • Update Dec. 2016: Bake times for other size tins – a 6-inch round it takes ~80-85 minutes; for the loaf it took ~70 minutes.  I simply baked until toothpick came out clean/with a few crumbs attached.FullSizeRender (1)
  4. Remove the cake from the oven, poke holes in it with a skewer and spoon over 2 tbsp of brandy. Leave the cake to cool completely in the cake pan.
  5. To store, peel off the baking parchment, then wrap well in saran wrap. Feed the cake with 1-2 tbsp alcohol every 2 weeks, until you get ready to ice it. Don’t feed the cake for the final week to give the surface a chance to dry before icing.

MARZIPAN and ICING

  • apricot jam, or fig jam, or whatever jam – you use so little you don’t need to go buy apricot jam just or this (it’s used as glue)
  • 500 grams (~18 oz) of marzipan or almond paste (marzipan = almond paste + loads of powdered sugar.  I used marzipan, but after my mom tasted the cake, she said she remembered almond paste as a child, not marzipan. So since then I’ve used almond paste).
    • Dec. 2016 update: if decorating a 6-inch cake, 7 oz of almond paste is enough if you roll really thin (Odense sells a 7 oz roll; obviously 8 oz would work too!)
  • For the icing:
    •  3 egg whites
    • 500 g powdered sugar
    • 1 tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 tsp glycerine*
      • * Added after icing was too hard the first year
      • Dec. 2016 update: This amount is for an 8-inch round cake, but it will also cover two 6-inch cakes. I have scoured the internet to find a recipe for less icing if you are only icing one 6-inch cake, but to no avail.  So I just make the same recipe and throw the leftover away.
  1. Do this the week before Christmas, leaving a few days between putting on the marzipan layer and the icing, and the marzipan has to completely dry before the cake can be iced.
    • Dec. 2016 update – I have let the marzipan dry for only a couple hours, and it’s just fine.  This allows me to finish the cake the day before I intend to box it up – e.g., put almond paste on around noon, ice the cake that evening, box up next day.
  2. Almond paste: roll out the almond paste to ~ half a cm thick.  Cut out a circle the same size as the top of the cake.  Then roll out a rectangle (or a couple if one is too unwieldy) as tall as your cake, and as long as the circumference of your cake (do some math: circumference of a circle = pi*diameter).
  3. Brush the cake all over with warmed jam – it will glue the almond paste to your cake.  Then set the circle on the top of the cake, and wrap around the sides with the long rectangle(s).  Pinch the top and sides together to seal in the cake.  Set aside for a few days to let the almond paste dry out.
  4. Icing: whip together the egg whites, powdered sugar, lemon juice and glycerine (if using) on low speed until glossy and smooth – this takes only a few minutes.  Spread all over the cake!  Let dry for at least overnight before moving.

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