This Make and Mature Christmas Cake by James Martin comes from the BBC Good Food website. I’ve made it twice and as we’re heading into “Christmas Cake Making” season, it seemed as good a time as any to take a look!
I love Christmas Cake. It’s the best of all the fruitcakes… dark and rich, squidgy and sweet, loaded with alcohol and covered in a thick layer of marzipan and icing. People are mightily divided on whether they like fruitcake or not – it seems people increasingly hate it. I just can’t figure out why!
I’ve convinced myself that people who say they don’t like it just haven’t found the right one. This recipe is more fruit than cake and probably isn’t the best one to ween a non-believer into the Christmas cake tradition, but it’s perfect for me. I make it towards the end of October, giving me a bit more time to add some extra alcohol!
I originally got the recipe from the November 2012 magazine but thankfully it’s still freely available on BBCGoodFood.com. Now I’m not always the biggest fan of James Martin recipes (for some reason I’ve just never had all that much success with them) but this has earned itself a five star review rating, which is pretty good going. And I think it’s well deserved.
But. (And isn’t there always a ‘but’?)
Choose your ingredients wisely.
Starting at the top of the list: “1 kg mixed dried fruit (use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, cranberries, prunes or figs)”. Don’t make the mistake of using something like dried apple. No matter how much you like the flavour of apple, the texture just doesn’t work in a this rich and dark fruit cake. Believe me. I tried. The pieces don’t soften up in the same way as other dried fruits, so they texturally stand out in the final cake.
A combination I rather like is sultanas or raisins, currants, glacé cherries, cranberries, candied citrus (orange or lemon) and chopped up dates.
Next: the alcohol. You’d think that adding your favourite tipple to the cake would be a sterling idea. In my case, that’s Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. Turns out… it’s not a good idea. My first cake made with this just didn’t have the punchy warming alcoholic quality I was after. Of course I’m not saying I want to eat slices of alcohol – but the cake lacked the overall warmth I’d expected of Christmas cake.
What do I recommend? Calvados. It’s an apple brandy from the Normandy area of France and it’s perfect for this cake.
Worried about having something left over that you won’t use up? Have no fear! This alcohol is fabulous mulled – and though you might see a post on it later in the year, for now it’s as simple as warming a mixture of cloudy apple juice, calvados, cinnamon sticks and clove studded citrus peel with a dash of honey.
Oh, and if you’re not a fan of having actual pieces of nut in your cake (I’m not), just leave out the 100g of flaked almonds.
As for the cooking and baking, there’s only three tricky things.
Number one: wrapping paper around the cake tin. I didn’t have newspaper, so I went with a double layer of parchment both outside and inside. My cake wasn’t burnt or drying at the edges, so I assume it worked.
Number two: not eating all the warm, alcohol infused fruit after it’s been simmered. It smells sooooo good. So good. If you stand over it to stir, you’ll feel like you’re having an alcoholic sauna. It’s kinda great. And I don’t really drink all that much. Whilst writing this, I’m not even sure when my last alcoholic drink was!
Number three: don’t be tempted to over feed the cake. Use just over a tablespoon on the cake every fortnight. It’ll give great flavour and moistness but without making the cake soggy.
I will admit I didn’t cover the cake in clingfilm to store. I did it the way my Grandma did, by covering in parchment and then tinfoil and storing it in a Tupperware box. Actually, Grandma used an old biscuit tin but the effect is similar.
When it comes to decorating, make sure to let your cake have a week off from brandy feeding first. Flip the cake so the top becomes the bottom, giving a lovely flat surface.
In my world, the first layer should be marzipan. I haven’t found anything in Germany that would do the job properly and as I didn’t want to make my own, I imported my favourite Waitrose Marzipan through British Corner Shop. Simply roll it out, brush the cake with warmed apricot jam and smoothly wrap the cake in marzipan! Let it dry for a few days before icing. If you’re using a ready-to-roll icing on top, you’ll need a bit of ‘glue’: cold boiled water.
I apologise for the above photo – it was taken with an old HTC phone, pre-blog days. But it was at a time when I was thinking about maybe starting a blog… which meant I played about with process photos but entirely forgot about a final “complete” or internal shot! Pfffft. Fail.
Anyway, lacking all my usual decorating kit, I kneaded cocoa power into left over icing and made an approximation of gingerbread men. Not a professional finish by me, but delicious all the same.
If you’re searching for a traditional Christmas cake recipe to try this year – this one gets my vote!