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I really do love Christmas time. In our household making the Christmas cakes and puddings kicks off our Christmas preparations and is a proper family event where everyone mucks in. Once we begin zesting our oranges and lemons, opening the cinnamon jar and grating the nutmeg, we know Christmas is not far away.
We’ve been making our Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat for over 25 years and most years we add them to the Christmas hampers as family gifts. Depending on how our growing season went, some of our jams, pickles and sauces also found their way into the hampers.
Pick ‘n’ Mix Christmas Fruit and Spice Cake
Makes: 1 x 20 cm (8 ins) cake or 2 x 15 cm (6 ins) cakes
This is our family’s favourite Christmas cake and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. It’s best to allow time for the cake to mature a little but that said, don’t worry if it’s a last minute decision to make this cake, just add an extra dose of your favourite tipple when it comes out of the oven and you will have an excellent Christmas cake.
I like to use about 1 kg (36 oz) of fruit but you could use more if you wish – this may affect the cooking timings so allow a little extra time. You’ll find I don’t use mixed peel in this recipe, a result of difficulty sourcing a quality peel in our region of France when we lived there. The stickiness and orange syrup of the homemade marmalade I substitute for the mixed peel removes the need for black treacle or molasses and adds to the flavour of the cake.
Dried Fruit Mixture:
1kg (36 oz) of your favourite dried fruits or use our selection:
- 400 g (14 oz) currants
- 200 g (7 oz) sultanas/golden raisins
- 200 g (7 oz) raisins
- 50 g (2 oz) chopped apricots
- 75 g (3 oz) cranberries
- 75 g (3 oz) chopped cherries
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 4 tablespoons homemade or good quality Seville marmalade (chopped)
- 90 ml (6 tablespoons) of your favourite tipple
If your dried fruit contains any large fruits, it’s better to chop them into fairly small pieces as large pieces of fruit may cause your cake to crumble.
- 225 g (8 oz) plain/all purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons of Christmas Mixed Spice (or mixed spice)
- 50 g (2 oz) ground almonds
- 225 g (8 oz) softened butter
- 225 g (8 oz) dark brown soft sugar
- 4 eggs – beaten
- 50 g (2 oz) chopped almonds (or your choice)
Soaking the fruit:
Place your dried fruit mixture and the marinade ingredients in a large bowl (I use a ceramic mixing bowl) and stir. Cover bowl with cling film (plastic wrap).
Soak for at least 12 hours, 36 hours if possible.
Don’t worry if the liquid doesn’t cover the whole of the fruit mix – stirring once a day will make sure all the fruit has received a good dunk.
Making the cake:
In addition to your cake tin(s), you will need a roasting tin to half fill with hot water – this is placed in the bottom of your oven during baking and will keep your cake(s) soft and moist.
The baking parchment used to line you cake tin(s) should be a band at least 5cm (2 ins) wider than the depth of your tin(s).
Likewise you will need a band of strong brown wrapping paper which is wrapped around the cake tin(s) and tied with string – this insulates the cake from becoming too hot.
To prevent over browning of the top of your cake(s), a double layer of baking parchment (with a hole cut in the middle for hot air to escape) is cut to size.
140℃ / 275℉ / Gas Mark 1
Grease and line:
- 1 x 20cm (8 ins) tin or 2 x 15cm (6 ins) tins
Double sift the flour and spices into a mixing bowl and add the ground almonds.
Using a freestanding mixer (or large bowl with a handheld mixer) whisk the softened butter until it is white. It’s important to start with softened butter and even then the whisking may take a few minutes.
Do not overwhip the butter or it will curdle.
Add the sugar and continue whisking for at least 4 minutes until you have a nice and fluffy mix.
Turn your mixer to a slow speed and introduce the beaten eggs one tablespoon at a time, adding 1 tablespoon of flour mix after each spoonful of egg.
The slow speed and the addition of flour should prevent the mixture from curdling. Don’t worry too much about this but you will have a lighter cake if the mixture doesn’t curdle.
Remove bowl from freestanding mixer and using a large metal spoon fold a quarter of the flour mix into the creamed mixture followed by a quarter of the soaked fruit mixture and the chopped almonds. Be gentle and try to keep as much air in the mix you can.
Continue in this way, using one quarter at a time.
Place the mixture into the cake tin(s) and level. Form a shallow indentation in the middle of the cake so that when it rises you won’t have such a ‘domed’ cake.
Wrap the cake tin(s) with the band of brown wrapping paper you prepared earlier.
Use a double layer of baking parchment to size as a cover to prevent over browning of the top of your cake(s). Make a hole in the middle (approximately 3cm / 1¼ ins) for air to escape.
Place the roasting tin in the bottom of the oven and and half fill with hot water.
Pop the cake or cakes into the oven and cook for:
- 15cm (6ins) cake 2½ hours
- 20cm (8ins) cake 4½ hours
Timings are approximate as temperatures vary from oven to oven. Leave at least 2 hours for the 6 inch cake and at least 4 hours for the 8 inch cake before opening the oven door.
The cake is cooked when it feels firm to the touch and a fine skewer (or cake tester) inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin.
Remove the cake from its tin, leaving the lining paper on to keep the cake nice and moist. Using a cake tester or fine skewer evenly pierce the top of the cake and feed with your favourite tipple. Use approximately 2 tablespoons – don’t over do it as you will be feeding the cake weekly.
Make sure the cake is completely cold before first wrapping it in a double layer of greaseproof paper and then in foil. Store your cake in an airtight tin in a cool place.
If you want a boozy cake feed at weekly intervals: carefully unwrap your cake and prick all over the top with a cake tester or fine skewer. Feed with a couple of tablespoons of your chosen tipple. Re-wrap and store.
Decorate your cake – we tend to keep things simple, not least because everyone likes to lend a hand. Here’s how we got on last year.
This post is being entered into a few challenges for November:
- Tea Time Treats challenge where the theme is dried fruit. Run by Karen of Lavender and Lovage (November’s host) and Kate of What Kate Baked.
- One Ingredient run by Nazima at Franglais Kitchen and Laura at How to cook good food; the theme is Fruits of The Vine.
Sarah over at Taming Twins has a fab new linky Festive Food Friday, just the thing to get us all feeling festive. So if you’re looking for some inspiration this Christmas pop over and take a look.