Friday, November 9, 2012

Time to Make the Christmas Cake 
Keeping the Tradition

The first week in November is always special - ( along with the Melbourne Cup and Guy Fawkes) - time to bake my Christmas cake. Carrying on the tradition from my Mum , the first week in November was the time to bake the Christmas cake.
This is a very easy and economical recipe (post World War 2) a time  when ingredients were sometimes hard to come by - there is no spice in the original recipe but add some if you like - ground cinnamon, allspice, mixed spice and cloves are all good for a Christmas cake.
This cake isn't iced - but if you like the almond paste and white icing go for it! I just make a decorative pattern with whole blanched almonds.

It can be done in one day or can be done in stages over several days if you are pushed for time.

Note: the cake does take about three hours to cook. My Mum used to prepare the cake one day, leave overnight and bake it early the next morning when she knew she would be home for several hours. We would wake up to the gorgeous smell wafting through the house on Christmas cake baking day.

First prepare your tin:
I use a 20cm - square tin that is 9 cm deep - (8 inches square, 3 1/2 deep) 

Wrap your tin in newspaper - about 5-6 layers - tie with string - if you are not using the tin for anything else it will keep for years. Wrapping your tin ensures even heat distribution and that the outside edges of the cake don't become dried out. Some people say that with thermostatically controlled ovens this step is no longer necessary - but this is a tradition I like to hang on to.

Line the tin with a double layer of thick brown paper - the kind that old fashioned grocery bags are made of - whenever I get one of those bags I keep it "for the Christmas cake tin".

Next line with a double layer of baking paper.

Prepare the fruit:
I use a mixture of dried fruit, black raisins,sultanas, prunes, figs, glace cherries and mixed peel. Any combination of dried fruit will do - you can use already mixed dried fruit too.Chop the large fruit into small pieces and halve the cherries - mix.

Now pour some brandy or rum over the fruit and stir - I use about 1/3 cup. At this stage you could leave the fruit for several hours, days or up to a week (stirring occasionally).

Get your ingredients ready.

 Beat the butter until pale and creamy (New Zealand butter is very yellow!)

Add sugar and beat until pale and creamy too.Add the vanilla.

Add the egg yolks and beat.

 Add the fruit and stir in by hand so it doesn't become squashed - I use my own clean hands for this stage.Add flour and baking soda - stir or mix by hand again.

Lastly beat the egg whites until stiff and mix into the fruit batter - this lightens the mixture.

With a large spoon or spatula carefully put the mixture into the prepared tin.

Smooth the top with a spatula . Make a decorative pattern on the top with whole blanched almonds.
Cover the cake with a clean teatowel and leave to stand for at least 8 hours.
When you're ready to cook the cake pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit or 135 degrees celsius. The cake cooks slowly to retain moisture.If the top is becoming very brown cover with a square of tinfoil for remainder of cooking time.
The original recipe says it takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours to cook but mine only takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Start testing your cake after about the first 1 1/2 hours - rotate the cake in the oven at this time too.Watch the top (see above)
Use a skewer or cake tester to check if the cake is cooked - test in the middle of the cake.

Remove the cake from the oven and wrap the whole tin in a towel to completely cover - this keeps the moisture in the cake. 
When the cake is completely cold ( overnight) remove from the tin and remove the layers of brown paper and leave one layer of white baking paper.

 The next step is the beginning of "feeding " the cake. You will need a pastry brush and about 2 tablespoons of alcohol of your choice.
With a cake tester , thin skewer or hat pin make holes all over the top of the cake.Only go 3/4 way down into the cake so that the alcohol doesn't run through the bottom!

Brush evenly with the alcohol until it is all used.

Place two pieces of tinfoil cross wise and two pieces of baking paper on top in the same way.

Wrap the cake so that it is sealed but so that the top of the foil and paper can be easily opened for "feeding" once a week until Christmas time. Store in a cool dark place - NOT in the refrigerator.

Once a week  feed the cake with 1-2 tablespoons of brandy or rum. If when you unwrap the cake it appears wet STOP ! Leave it for a few days and then see if it has soaked in. Don't make the cake soggy.

Anytime close to Christmas slice and enjoy !Between times keep the cake wrapped and in a large tin or container.


Butter 10 ounces - 275 grams - at room temperature
Sugar  10 ounces - 275 grams
Eggs   6 - separated
Dried fruit 3 1/2 pounds - 1.6 kg
Flour - plain all purpose - 12 ounces - 350 grams
Baking soda - 1/2 teaspoon
Vanilla Essence pure - 1 teaspoon
Brandy or Rum - for soaking and feeding
Spices - optional - powdered - 2-3 teaspoons

The cake cut 7 weeks later on Christmas Day
Enjoy !