I know we're barely into Summer but I start thinking about Christmas cooking as soon as the children go back to school.
This is my step-by-step guide to a scrummy Christmas Cake. I tend to start this towards the end of October.
Step 1: Ingredients
Group 1 Ingredients
50g chopped glacé cherries
50g mixed chopped candied peel
Group 2 Ingredients
225g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ level teaspoon nutmeg
½ level teaspoon ground mixed spice
Group 3 Ingredients
225g dark brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
1 dessertspoon black treacle
225g spreadable butter
Group 4 Ingredients
50g chopped almonds (skin on)
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
You will also need extra brandy (for feeding) and either 100g whole blanched almonds or icing.
Step 2: Equipment
2 LARGE mixing bowls
20cm round cake tin. (I use a loose bottomed one)
Pen or pencil
Step 3: Twas the Night Before Baking
The night before you intend to bake gather up the ingredients from group 1.
So that's the currants, raisins, sultanas, cherries, candied peel and brandy.
Try to remove any little stalks from the fruit, it's a bit fiddly but worth it. Otherwise, some of the more expensive brands have less stalks and would save a bit of time but put the cost of the cake up.
Mix all the fruit in a large mixing bowl, pour on the brandy and give it a good mix.
Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave overnight.
Feel free to give it a stir from time to time during the evening, I just love the smell!
Step 4: Baking Day
The cake will be in the oven for 4-5 hours so make sure you have no plans to go anywhere!
Preheat the oven to 140°C, gas mark 1.
Sift group 2 ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
Add group 3 ingredients. (The treacle might be easier to use if warmed a little)
Beat until well mixed.
You can use an electric mixer for this part, or a wooden spoon. A strong wooden spoon. I have been known to break wooden spoons trying to mix this cake!
Fold in the soaked fruit, and the group 4 ingredients.
Pop to one side while you prepare the tin.
Step 5: Preparing the Tin
It's worth taking a little time to prepare the cake tin.
Firstly, lightly grease the inside. I find the spray oils quite useful here, a few squirts then brush round with a pastry brush.
Stand the tin on top of a doubled over piece of greaseproof paper, draw round the tin and cut out the circle. (You'll have 2 circles now.
Put one circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of the tin.
Next cut out a length of greaseproof paper to line the insides of the tin.
You will also need a double length of brown paper for outside the tin (make sure this will extend past the top of the tin) and 2 brown paper circles for the top of the tin.
Step 6: Bake!
Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin.
If you're not icing the cake, then place your whole almonds in a pattern on top of the mixture.
Cut 50p size circles into the remaining paper circles (1 greaseproof, 2 brown)
Place these on top of the cake.
Wrap the brown paper around the outside of the tin and secure with string.
Bake on the lowest shelf for 4 hours.
It may need another 30 minutes or so, but will need at least 4 hours.
Test with a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean then the cake is done.
Step 7: Looking After Your Cake
Allow the cake to cool in the tin for around half an hour then turn out onto a wire rack.
Wrap the cake well in brown paper, foil and into a airtight container.
At regular intervals in the run up to Christmas, you can feed the cake by drizzling brandy over it and allowing it to soak in.
A tablespoon at a time is probably sufficient.
If you decide to ice your cake, you can do this near to Christmas with either royal icing or ready to roll icing.
I used a marzipan layer followed by ready to roll icing. Decorated with a few Christmassy bits.