Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

Monday, 3 December 2018

My Mum's Classic Christmas Cake

This is a dense, boozy, spicy Christmas cake that evokes many happy memories. My Mum Jenny Hobbs made this every year when we were kids, using a recipe inherited from her own mother, and I have used the same formula (with a few tweaks of my own) for the past 20 years.

You'll find the recipe directly below and, underneath that, my detailed cook's notes. Whether you serve this cake naked, or add a cloak of home-made marzipan, or add marzipan and Royal icing is up to you - isn't it interesting how people have emphatic opinions about what should go on top of a Christmas cake? Is a luscious, almondy layer of marzipan enough? Or must every fruit cake be smothered with a swirly frosting of deliriously sweet, tooth-cracking Royal icing? You tell me!

My Mum's Christmas Cake

I've halved my Mum's original recipe, which is so enormous that it requires a gigantic mixing bowl and very strong arms. But still, this halved formula will make a cake that easily serves 10 people.

Classic Christmas Cake 

For the fruit/nut mix:
½ cup (125 ml) dried apricots
½ cup (125 ml) pecan nuts
½ cup (125 ml) walnuts
½ cup (125 ml) glacé cherries
800 g mixed dried fruit (including candied peel)
½ cup (125 ml) flaked or slivered almonds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) cornflour

For the cake:
500 g unsalted butter, very soft
250 g brown sugar
4 extra-large free-range eggs
500 g cake flour, sifted
60 g cornflour, sifted
½ tsp (2.5 ml) nutmeg
½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground cloves
1 Tsbp (15 ml) good instant coffee
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) syrup or honey
the finely grated zest of a lemon
the juice of a lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract or or 2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla essence
1 tsp (5 ml) almond extract
a pinch of salt

For feeding the cake:

For the marzipan:
1 cup (250 ml) whole blanched almonds
1 cup (250 ml) almond flour
1 cup (250 ml) icing sugar
1 egg white (from an extra-large egg)
a few drops of almond extract
3 Tbsp (45 ml) smooth apricot  jam

For Royal icing: 
650 g icing sugar, sieved
3 egg whites
the juice of a lemon
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) glycerine [optional]

Some of the ingredients for a double batch.
Heat the oven to 150 ºC.

Prepare a deep 24-cm springform tin. Place the tin's base on a doubled-up sheet of baking paper, draw around it with a pencil, and cut out the two circles. Put the base into the ring, snap it shut and press the paper circles onto the base, buttering each one generously.

To line the ring, cut a long strip of baking paper double the height of the tin. Fold it in half lengthways and butter it on both sides. Press the strip, folded side up, around the inside of the ring.

Now prepare the fruit and nuts. Roughly chop the apricots, pecans and walnuts, and cut the cherries in half. Put them into a big bowl along with the mixed dried fruit and almonds. Add 2 Tbsp cornflour and toss well, using your hands, so every piece is lightly coated. Set aside.

To make the cake batter, cream the softened butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition.

When the mixture is smooth and creamy, add the sifted flour and cornflour and mix well. Stir in all the remaining cake ingredients and then add the fruit and nut mixture. Stir well to combine (this is a very stiff batter - please see my tips in Cook's Notes, below). 

Mix to a very stiff batter.
Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and smooth the top. Place on the centre rack of the oven and bake for about two hours and 20 minutes. You will know the cake is done when it is deep brown on top, and feels firm all over when you press it with your fingertips. At this point, stick a wooden skewer into the cake. If the skewer comes out dry, with no wet batter sticking to it, your cake is ready.

Check on your cake after about 90 minutes - if you notice that the top is browning quickly, and/or the raisins are burning, cover it loosely with a sheet of tin foil.

Remove the cake from the oven, and immediately pour over 3 Tbsp of brandy - the cake will sizzle satisfyingly as you do so. Now cover the tin loosely with foil and let it stand for a day.

To 'feed' your cake: leave it undisturbed in the tin, loosely covered. (It's important not to seal the top of the cake too tightly, or the alcohol will not evaporate.) Use a slim skewer to poke about 12 deep holes right to the base of the tin.  Every two or three days (depending on how boozy you want your cake), trickle a little brandy over the top, and tilt the pan as you do this so the alcohol seeps evenly into the holes.

To make the marzipan, blitz the whole almonds to a fairly fine powder in a food processor fitted with a metal blade (but don't overprocess them, or they will become oily). Add the almond flour, icing sugar, egg white, and a few drops of almond extract, to taste, and pulse until the mixture forms a smooth ball.  If the marzipan isn't clinging together, add a few drops of water and pulse again.

While the marzipan is still warm and flexible, roll it out into a thin sheet big enough to cover the whole cake (see Cook's Notes). It's best to do this between two sheets of baking paper.

Warm the apricot jam and brush it all over the top and sides of the cake. Drape the marzipan over the cake, pressing down lightly and easing it down the sides. Trim the excess marzipan all the way round the base of the cake.

For Royal icing, lightly whisk the egg whites until just frothy. Add the sifted icing sugar, a spoonful at a time, stirring well. When the mixture is thick, stir in the lemon juice and (optional) glycerine. (The glycerine prevents the icing from setting to rock hard). Using an electric beater, whisk the icing for ten minutes, or until it is glossy, white and standing in stiff peaks. 

Dollop the icing on top of the cake and use a spatula to spread it evenly across the top and sides. Using a swirling motion, create little spikes and peaks for a snow-scene effect. Set aside, uncovered, to dry for at least 12 hours, then transfer to a cake tin.

Makes 1 fruit cake, enough for 10. 

Cook's Notes
  • This recipe is easily doubled, but mixing such a large quantity of batter takes powerful arms and a very big mixing bowl. Use a cake tin about 28 cm in diameter and at least 7 cm deep, and insulate the tin by wrapping a double layer of brown paper around the outside and securing it with wet string - this will prevent the outside of the cake burning before the inside is cooked. A bigger cake will take between 2½ and 3 hours. 
  • Add the fruit and nut mixture to the batter in batches, using a wooden spoon and a stabbing motion. This is a very firm mixture, so take your time. If the batter seems impossibly thick, add a little milk. 
  • You can make this cake up to six weeks in advance, but I always start three weeks ahead. Add the marzipan and Royal icing a few days before Christmas.
  • To figure out the size of the marzipan circle, place the end of a piece of string at the base of the cake, drape it across the top, and then take it down to the base on the opposite side - this is the diameter of your circle, but add 1 cm to be on the safe side.
  • You can use all almond flour for the marzipan if you're in a hurry.
Swirl the Royal icing to create little frosty peaks.
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Saturday, 21 February 2009

Audrey's Almond Tart

Audrey Rayner, champion baker, on her wedding day.
My late mother-in-law Audrey Rayner (née Morgan) was a wonderful cook, entirely self-taught, with a particular talent for pastry and cake making. She had a lightness of touch, a fine palate and an innate understanding of good ingredients.

She was also an entirely English cook, producing the sort of fine traditional food that makes grown men weep: the tartest fruit pies, flans and crumbles, the most succulent roasts, the tastiest gravies, the lightest biccies and steamed puddings.

Here is her recipe for Almond Tart, a simple but sublime formula consisting of a light shortcrust pastry, a spreading of excellent home-made raspberry jam and a topping of almond frangipane.

You will notice that this recipe calls for Stork  (a South African margarine or vegetable shortening designed for baking). Audrey wasn't a margarine eater - the very idea of putting it on toast would have appalled her - but she always insisted that vegetable shortening made the lightest and best pastry. Use butter if you like, but Stork is best.

I hesitate to tamper with this recipe, but I have two things to add to it.  One, roll your pastry out between sheets of cling film (and I bless Rachel Allen for this excellent tip), which makes it so easy to handle.

I wanted to show you the whole tart, but my family polished
off most of it before it had even had a chance to cool.
Two: Although Audrey never baked this pastry case blind, you might want to do so if you want a crisp dry bottom on your pastry.

Audrey's Almond Tart

For the pastry:

250 g cake flour
150 g cold Stork margarine, or similar vegetable shortening, or butter, cut into small cubes
about 100 ml ice-cold water (see recipe, below)

For the filling:

100 g soft butter
100 g caster sugar
1 large free-range egg
2 Tbsp (30 ml) self-raising flour
70 g ground almonds
5 ml (1 tsp) natural almond extract, or almond essence
5 Tbsp (75 ml) raspberry jam, slightly warmed

Heat the oven to 190° C. 

First make the pastry. Put the flour and the margarine into a bowl, and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the cold water, bit by bit, until the pastry just holds together. Knead lightly with your fingertips and press into a ball. (You can do this quickly in a food processor fitted with a metal blade: use the pulse button to process the flour and margarine, and add the cold water in splashes, through the tube of the jug, until the pastry comes together and forms a mass. Don't over-process the dough).

Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and put it in the fridge while you make the filling.

Using a whisk or electric whisk, cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk in the egg, self-raising flour, almonds and almond essence. Set aside.

Now roll out your pastry. Place a long piece of cling film on a marble slab, or your counter top. Put the cold pastry ball on top, and cover with another piece of clingfilm. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry into a rough circle about 20 cm in diameter, and about 2 mm thick.

Grease an 18-cm-diameter flan or pie dish.

Peel off the top layer of cling film. Now flip the pastry over and drape it over the flan dish, without peeling off the upper layer of cling film. Gently ease the pastry into the dish, getting well into the corners, and letting its edges drape over the rim.  When the pastry is sitting comfortably in the dish,  run a rolling pin firmly over the rim to slice away any overhang.   Peel off the top layer of clingfilm and pull away the excess overhanging pastry.

Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork, and press down on it a circle of baking paper or tin foil cut to about the same size.  Fill the paper with 2 cups of rice or dried beans, and bake blind at 190 °C for 15 minutes, or until the outer rim feels somewhat dry when you tap it with a finger.  Gently remove the paper with the rice, and return the dish it to the oven - turned down to 180 °C - for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the base of the pastry is a light golden colour, and dry to the touch.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Spread the raspberry jam all over the bottom of the pastry case. Place big blobs of the almond filling on top of the jam, and smooth the surface with a spatula, making sure to bring the mixture right up to the edges of the pastry case and form a tight seal, to prevent the jam from bubbling up.

Roll the remaining scraps of pastry into a long rectangle (again, between sheets of cling film) and then cut into thin strips. Put the strips in a criss-cross or lattice fashion across the top of the tart (you can twist each strip first, if you like.)

Bake at 190° C for 20-25 minutes, or until the filling is golden and puffed up. Delicious warm with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Makes one 18-cm tart.

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