Traditional Christmas Cake

I know I have already posted a fruitcake recipe, but seeing as that was a non conventional one, I wanted to give you the recipe of a more traditional Christmas Cake. This recipe is from the Betty’s Cookery School in Yorkshire and, as far as tradition goes, it ticks all of the boxes: strong taste, full of plump dried fruit and deliciously boozy. I also thought it would be a nice idea to give you an alternative way of decorating the cake. Rather than covering it in marzipan and then a thick layer of white icing, which then solidifies and becomes a real threat to your teeth, this Christmas forest decoration is both stylish and impressive, not to mention extremely easy to make. The idea comes from Mary Cardogan, a well seasoned baker.

I started my Christmas cake a good moth in advance. As you all know, this type of cakes benefit from ‘maturing’ or ‘feeding’, that is being regularly brushed with more alcohol to keep the cake moist and make it last longer. On that note, I suggest you warp the cake tightly in both baking parchment and foil and keep it in a cool place. Feed it regularly, but make sure you don’t do it more than 3 times per month and leave at least a week between each feed. As for the liqueur, I went for a golden Sherry, but feel free to swap for Cointreau, brandy or the like.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 250g sultanas
  • 100g currants
  • 400g raisins
  • 75g mixed peel
  • 165g glacés cherries
  • zest 1 lemon, juice of 1/2
  • zest 1 orange
  • 80ml Sherry
  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 175g dark muscovado sugar
  • 25g black treacle
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice (or 2 tsp made of your combination of favourite spices)
  • 40g ground almonds

Ingredients (for the pistachio paste & decoration)

  • 100g shelled pistachios
  • 100g icing sugar, sifted
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 medium egg yolks
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • green food colouring
  • 2 tbsp apricot jam, warmed up

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 2 medium egg whites
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp liquid glucose
  • 300g icing sugar, sifted

Method

  1. Start the day (or a couple of days) before by soaking the fruit. Tumble all of the dried fruits in a large bowl with the lemon and orange zest. Pour over the lemon juice and Sherry. Mix the fruit thoroughly to combine. Cover with cling film and leave to stand overnight.
  2. The following day, line the base and the sides of a deep, loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin with baking parchment. Ensure there is enough paper overhanging at the top, this will protect the cake top while baking. Heat the oven to 140C.
  3. Use a wooden spoon to beat the butter, muscovado sugar and the treacle in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Stir the beaten eggs into the butter mixture, a little at a time, to avoid the mixture curdling.
  4. Once all of the eggs have been incorporated, add the flour, spices and ground almonds. Gently fold together with a large metal spoon and thoroughly combine. Add the fruit to the cake mixture and fold through until combined.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top off. Put in the oven and bake for 2 hours. Check if the cake is cooked with a skewer: if it comes out clean, then remove from the oven. Otherwise, bake for another 15 minutes.
  6. Let the cake cool in the tin. When you can hold the tin, remove the cake and leave to cool on a wire rack. Once it has completely cooled, brush the top and sides of the cake with Sherry, then wrap in parchment and foil as per above.
  7. Once you are ready to ice your cake, start with the pistachio paste. Grind pistachio in a food processor as finely as possible, then tip into a bowl with the sugars and the ground almonds. Add the egg yolks, lemon juice and vanilla extract, then mix to combine. Use your hands to knead the mixture to a firm dough, then shape into a ball. Pinch about a third of the mixture, wrap it clingfilm and set aside.
  8. Dust your work surface with icing sugar, then use a rolling pin to roll out the remaining paste to a thick sheet larger than the top of the cake. Brush the top of the cake with the apricot jam, then cover with the paste. Trim the excess at the sides with a sharp knife.
  9. Next, move on to the icing. Beat the egg whites, lemon juice and glucose in a freestanding mixer, then slowly add the icing sugar. The final result should be a thick bright white icing. Use a rubber spatula to spoon the icing on  the cake, then swirl it over the top and tease it over the sides.
  10. Last, make the pistachio trees. Add a couple of drops of food colouring to the leftover pistachio paste, then knead that thoroughly to combine. Pinch small balls of paste, then flatten them between your fingers. Don’t worry if you get a few cracks, that is desirable. Stack the discs on top of each other and have them decreasing in size as you build up. When you get to the top of the tree, pinch the last ball to a point, then place on top.
  11. To decorate the cake, place the pistachio trees on the icing, then dust liberally with icing sugar. Sprinkle a few silver edible balls on the icing and, if you want a little bit of extra sparkle, dust with some edible glitter.

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