I did some reflecting this week to help with the Advent retreat I led on Thursday. One of the questions was around what aspects of Christmas Past poured life into you. When I looked at them, there were 3 broad categories. Food, Weather and Community. I can't do much about the weather I decided but I could do something about the other 2 and in that moment the insane desire to make English Christmas Cake was born!
A couple of years ago I blogged here about my Mum's Christmas cake and the wonderful kitsch decorations. I haven't made Christmas Cake since I was 17.
I sat down in front of the fire a few days ago curled up with 2 different Nigella Lawson cookbooks and eventually worked out what I was going to make. I made a few interpretive decisions in terms of ingredients (adding cranberries!) , but I'm so excited about how it's going to taste.
Here is my big batch of mixed dried fruits after they have been soaking all night in a cup of brandy - Nigella recommended 1/2 a cup, but that was barely enough to get them moist. I reasoned that a cup of brandy would also counteract the tartness of the cranberries. Christmas Cake in my family was always liberally doused in alcohol, I think it was partly to disguise the taste.
The cake itself always requires a bit of 'Blue Peter' fiddliness (though without the sticky-backed plastic). First line the sides of the cake tin with parchment coming up about 4 inches above the height of the pan. Then line the inside bottom of the pan with parchment too. Then wrap the outside of the pan in brown paper, also rising about 4 inches above the rim of the pan. The cake cooks for 3 hours in a 300F oven. I believe the paper helps funnel the heat in some way. I've no real answer for why, but Nigella's cookbook told me to do it so it must be important!
Here is the yummy fruit cake batter carefully placed inside all that paper and ready for the oven. You should have seen me trying to hold the brown paper together and tie a one handed knot!
It baked for 3 hours, filling the house with a glorious fruit cake aroma. As soon as it's time was up I took it out of the oven, poured yet more brandy all over it and then wrapped the entire cake and pan in foil. It stays like that until cold, the foil traps the steam and helps keep the top of the cake soft and moist while it cools.
It will now live in an airtight container in the pantry for 3 weeks and then comes the icing.
The completed fruit cake will be covered in Apricot Preserve. On top of that goes a layer of Marzipan and covering all of that is a layer of White fondant or Royal Icing. I'm opting for the fondant icing this year for ease of decoration! Put some ornaments on top, tie a ribbon around it and voila English Christmas descends.
And the best bit of all was that the weather decided to get in the Christmas spirit too.
I had the fireplace roaring away and John Rutter Christmas Carols playing on the ipod. Sometimes I am such a cliche!