On to the plate

Experimenting with flavours, colours and style of food served at our place

Christmas Cake–a British tradition

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Christmas is all about tradition. No one is going to pretend that it’s not. Most of the tradition is about the meal served on Christmas Day.

We used to have year about as to which family had Christmas Lunch. Christmas Lunch is always the “proper” traditional meal, one that we’ve had all my life, well, all of my life I remember.

This year we had a combined Paling/Munro lunch. Almost all my family was here in Christchurch. My sister and her family from Wellington, and my brother and his fiancé, Kade from Auckland. There were 17 people around two tables spilling from our dining room into the lounge. I was so thankful that it was the predicted 28 degrees, though inside it felt more like 30. Lots of cooking, lots of people.

Ingredients

Lunch is the big deal meal, and it’s always followed by more traditional Christmas food, the Christmas Mince Pies and the Christmas Cake.

I think there’s probably less people in our extended family that like some of these fruit filled Christmas delicacies. But for Mr Fussy it’s a time where he gets to overdose on all the fruit. He loves Christmas fare more than me. I could do without the Christmas Mince Pies, the Christmas Pudding and the Christmas Cake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have some of each, but I don’t yearn for it and count down to the time where Christmas things begin to be mentioned and then the kitchen be taken over by pies, cakes and puddings that take time to mature and for their flavours to deepen.

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I bake the pies, cake and pudding because I like some traditions, and I think there’s something more to add by making these things by hand rather than store bought. There’s that all-important ingredient, love, that’s added to the mix. And if there’s one thing I enjoy most, it’s making Mr Fussy happy, and it’s a small way in which I can show him how much I appreciate everything he’s done for me and us over the year. He sure puts up with a lot of dishes being loaded into the dish drawers for one.

Although making the Christmas Cake is something I’ve done ever since Mr Fussy and I have been together, I tend to change the recipe each year. It’s fair to say I’ve yet to find the cake that is perfect. It needs to be the right texture, colour, flavour, have the right aroma and slice perfectly. Not a lot to ask, right?

This year I sourced the recipe online. I don’t know why I take such huge risks on such an important cake. It’s not the sort of cake you tend to practice and refine over the course of a year. It’s a one hit wonder. And it does have to be wonderful.

The recipe this year is from About.com. One of the ways I whittle down recipes I’m eyeing up is by the photo shown. So imagine my dismay when, after making the cake, I then noticed the photo was not of this particular recipe, but a photo sourced online. I felt a little cheated. But the cake was made and all I could do was wait until Christmas Day to see if it was a good cheat, or a bad cheat.

(I feel a bit silly, as I type this and refer back to the original recipe I see a link for “step-by-step instructions, so probably a photo of the real cake, but then why wouldn’t you use that photo on the main page? (I haven’t looked through the step-by-step yet))

Traditional British Christmas Cake

Ingredients

  • 1lb 2oz/525g currants
  • 8oz/ 225g golden raisins/sultanas*
  • 8oz / 225g raisins
  • 4oz / 110g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
  • 6oz / 165 glace cherries, halved
  • 10oz/ 300g all purpose or plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ level tsp mixed spice **
  • ½ level tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ level tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2½ sticks / 300g butter, slightly softened
  • 10 oz / 300g soft brown sugar
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp brandy, plus extra for feeding (I used the Cherry Brandy I had from making the BFC)
  • Instructions
  • Heat the oven to 300°F/150°C/Gas 2
    The temperature is low as the cake needs a long slow bake. It is packed with sugars, fruits and brandy and if the temperature is any higher the outside of the cake will burn and the inside be undercooked.

    • Line a 9 inch cake tin with 2 thicknesses of parchment or greaseproof paper. Tie a double band of brown or newspaper paper around the outside. This acts as an insulator and to prevent the cake from burning on the outside read more about why here.
    • In a large roomy baking bowl mix the currants, sultanas, raisins, peel and cherries with the flour, salt and spices.
    • In another large bowl cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the lemon zest. Add the beaten egg to the butter mixture a little bit at a time, beating well after each addition – do not try to rush this process as the mixture could curdle. If it does curdle simply add a tbsp of flour and mix again, this should bring the mixture back together. If it doesn’t come back together, don’t fret, the cake will still be delicious.
    • Carefully fold in half the flour and fruit into the egg and butter mixture, once incorporated repeat with the remaining flour and fruit. Finally add the brandy.
    • Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin making sure there are no air pockets. Once filled smooth the surface with the back of s spoon and make a slight dip in the centre (this will rise back up again during cooking and create a smooth surface for icing the cake).
    • Finally, using a piece of paper towel clean up any smears of cake batter on the greaseproof wrapping, if left on they will burn, and though it won’t affect the cake, it doesn’t smell too good.
    • Stand the tin on a double layer of newspaper in the lower part of the oven, if you have a gas oven ensure the paper is well away from the any flame, and bake for 4½ hours. If the cake is browning too rapidly, cover the tin with a double layer of greaseproof or parchment paper after 2½ hours. During the cooking time avoid opening the oven door too often as this may cause the cake to collapse.
    • After 4½ hours check the cake is cooked. The cake should be nicely risen and a deep brown all over. Insert a skewer or fine knife into the centre of the cake. If there is sticky dough on the skewer when you pull it out it needs cooking longer, if it is clean, the cake’s done and remove from the oven.
    • Leave the cake to cool in the tin on a wire rack for an hour, then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely. Once cooled prick the surface of the cake with a fine metal skewer and slowly pour over 2 – 3 tbsp brandy. This feeding should be repeated every two weeks up until Christmas.
      The cake should be stored wrapped in greaseproof or parchment paper in an airtight tin.
    • My Notes: I made the cake during Labour Weekend, that’s toward the end of October in New Zealand. The mixture began showing signs it was going to curdle on me but took several tablespoons of the flour to bring it back into line. I stirred the fruit into the flour to coat it, this helps the fruit not to sink. I didn’t line the square cake tin as described, but you can see how it was lined in the photo. I used baking paper over several layers of newspaper on the inside of the tin. The more time you spend pushing the cake batter into the corners and sides the easier it will be to fill in the little gaps left by the fruit in preparation for decorating.
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I have very little skill or patience when it comes to icing. In years passed I’ve pressed little fabric holly and a plastic Merry Christmas into the top of the cake. The Merry Christmas has seen better days, and despite having bought another plastic replacement I thought the iced Christmas tree I found at a cake shop was a step up. I’d also bought an icing nozzle that came as set. Having had a very quick look online I figured I could use the spare nozzle (the other was being used to flood icing onto Gingerbread men) to do something to the edge of the cake. I think you’ll agree I did something, not necessarily a good, something. Clearly I need more practice, and I accept that. I’ll give it another shot next year Winking smile

ChristmasCake1

While we were in Auckland recently I dropped into Milly’s and found a pair of tweezers that were designed so that round things would be held securely while you placed them on whatever it was you were tarting up. I used them for getting the red “berries” onto the holly. This is a spruced up version over what I’ve adorned the cake with up to this point.

The biggest problem I had was remembering to keep my fat fingers out of the icing. As I was delicately placing the holly and berries my fingernails were digging into the icing. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Having baked and iced the cake all that was left was to decide if it ticked all the boxes in terms of texture, taste and aroma.

CakeCrumb

Mr Fussy gave a very energetic “yum!” and no one else said anything bad about it. Though there was the usual “bags-ing” the corner pieces, or at least a side piece. The colour is spot on. The texture is good, though it does seem to spew a good few crumbs as you cut it but it doesn’t crumble when you pick it up and take a bite. And it smells like it should. I think this recipe might be the closest to “good enough” that I’ve made so far.

I didn’t feed it every couple of weeks with additional brandy. I often find it makes the cake too bitter for me, not that it’s all about me.

Oh, and this is the actual cake, not some photo snatched off the internet and plonked on a recipe for a cake.

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