Showing posts with label festive. Show all posts
Showing posts with label festive. 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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Monday, 18 November 2013

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary

Here's the first of my Christmas recipes for 2013: an easy flat-bread made with supermarket dough, cherry tomatoes, olives and caperberries. And for a funky festive finish, a snowstorm of edible glitter.  (Cake glitter is normally associated with cupcakes and other dreadful instances of kitchen juvenility, but even so I keep a stash of it in my baking drawer for strewing over savoury dishes, such as Home-Made Glitzers.)

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
I sketched this on my iPad while I was plotting Christmas recipes.

I hope this festive flatbread will draw gasps from your guests as you carry it triumphantly to the table. The hot bread smells gorgeous with its lashings of fresh garlic and olive oil, and looks so pretty all bedecked with rosemary and glitter. Even the fussiest kids will, I hope, show an interest.  Sure, they may pick out the pimento-stuffed olives and caperberries, but they'll wolf down the hot bread.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
This is so quick and easy to make if you use supermarket dough.

You can ring the changes by adding any ingredients you fancy: pork chipolatas, bacon bits, shaved vegetables, nuggets of feta, and so on.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
Puffed up and crusty, and studded with edible decorations.

If you can't find packets of fresh dough in your supermarket, make your own by using one kilogram of bread flour to one 10-gram sachet of instant dry yeast, plus a teaspoon of salt, another of olive oil, and just enough warm water to bind the mixture into a pliable dough.

 Knead it well, let it rise until doubled in size, punch it down in the usual fashion and continue with the recipe.  Here are good basic instructions for bread dough.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary

1 kg ready-made white or wholewheat bread dough
500 g cherry tomatoes (about 24)
16 pimento-stuffed green olives
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
flaky sea salt
freshly milled black pepper
12 caperberries, well drained [optional]
edible cake glitter

Heat the oven to 200 ºC.

Lightly dampen a large baking tray and cover with a sheet of baking paper.  The water on the baking tray will help the paper to stick.

Dust some flour over the top of the paper, then pull and push the dough into a rough tree-shaped triangle. You will find that the dough creeps back, but if you persist with pulling and stretching, you'll eventually have an acceptable shape.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
Use a pair of sharp scissors to snip the dough.
Using a pair of kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut diagonal slits in the dough to form the 'branches' of the tree.

Don't worry if these aren't perfectly symmetrical - the bread will do its own thing in the oven as it rises and crisps up, and there really is no point in faffing about when you should be relaxing on the lawn with with a gin and tonic.

Press the cherry tomatoes deep into the dough.  Cut the olives in half crossways and push them into the dough between the tomatoes. Strip the leaves off the rosemary sprigs and scatter them between the tomatoes and olives.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
A flurry of edible glitter goes over the bread as
it comes out of the oven. 
Now, using your fingertips, make deep dimples all over the bread.

Mix the olive oil and garlic together in a bowl and paint this all over the bread, using a pastry brush or your fingertips.

Generously scatter the bread with flaky salt, grind over plenty of fresh pepper and bake at 200 ºC for about 30 minutes, or until the bread is well risen, golden brown and crisp on top.

Remove the bread from the oven, let it cool for 5 minutes, then arrange the caperberries on top.

Trickle a little more olive oil over the top, and dust lavishly with cake glitter.

Serves 6-8 as a snack. 

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