My Last Minute Christmas Cake
Although I call this a Christmas cake, truth be known I whip it up regularly through the year as it’s my favourite cake of all – chock-a-block with fruit and fragrant with spices. I make a big cake for us, but I also bake smaller cakes like the one in the photograph, as gifts. For me there is nothing more special than giving or receiving something that is homemade, knowing all the care and love that has gone into creating it.
Makes 1 large or 3 med/small cakes
- 300g unsalted butter
- 420g dark brown sugar
- 1.2kg mixed #dried fruits (I use fruits such as raisins, pitted prunes and dates, sultanas, currants and lovely smoky sun-dried apricots)
- 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- 1 cup (250ml) dark rum, port or muscat
- 1/2 cup (125ml) water
- 1/2 cup (125ml) cognac
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 heaped teaspoons cinnamon
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 1/2 cups (400g) stone-ground wholemeal plain flour
- About 150g pecan halves and 120g whole blanched almonds, for decorating
- Apricot glaze, optional (see below)
- * As far as the dried fruit goes; I tend to use whatever happens to be in the pantry at the time – as long as the quantity is roughly the same the cake will be delicious.
Place the butter in a saucepan large enough to eventually hold all the cake ingredients and melt it over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir to partially dissolve it so it’s wet and slushy.
Meanwhile, slice any large pieces of dried fruit (such as the prunes and dates), into two or three pieces.
Now, tip all the dried fruit, the bicarbonate of soda, rum, port or muscat, water and cognac into the pan with the sugar mixture. Increase the heat to high and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once it has, stop stirring and bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and let it bubble gently for 4 minutes. You need to keep an eye on it and adjust the heat at this stage, as it froths up considerably because of the bicarbonate of soda. When it’s ready, turn off the heat and leave the mixture to cool in the pan. I often make this in the evening and leave it to cool overnight. However, if you do this cover it well – I once left the lid slightly askew and woke to find an army of very inebriated ants weaving their way to and from the pan!
Preheat your oven to 150C.
Butter a 23cm x 23cm x 8cm square cake tin (or three 13cm x 13cm x 8cm cake tins) and line the base and sides with a double thickness of buttered baking paper.
Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and eggs to the dried fruit mixture and stir them in well. Mix in the flour, then leave the batter to sit for a few minutes. Scrape it into the prepared tin/tins and give it a gentle shake to level the top.
Now comes one of the most enjoyable things to do: decorating the top of the cake. I love doing this as you can create all sorts of different patterns by marching alternating bands of pecans and almonds across the top, curving them into waves, or creating smaller and smaller squares.
Bake the cake for 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 hours (if you are baking smaller cakes, they will take approx. 1 hour and 40 minutes) until it feels firm-ish in the centre when lightly pressed and a fine skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. After an hour or so, it’s a good idea to check the top; if it’s a good rich brown cover it loosely with a sheet of foil to stop it getting darker.
Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin on a rack, then remove it from the tin, wrap it tightly in cling wrap or foil, and store it in the fridge where it will keep well for up to 3 months.
Just before serving the cake, brush a little warm apricot glaze over the top, if using.
Apricot glaze…is easy to make.
Boil about 1/2 cup of apricot jam or conserve with 1 1/2 tablespoons of water for 5 minutes or so until the mixture becomes thick and syrupy (keep an eye on it and stir it regularly so it doesn’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan). Pour it through a fine sieve into a bowl to remove any bits of apricot skin that may be in it, then brush the hot glaze over the cake and leave it to set.