The festive fruitcake as we know it today dates back to the Middle Ages. In the 13th century, dried fruits were transported to Britain from the eastern Mediterranean. As a result, breads became light fruit breads then morphed into rich fruit cakes to be enjoyed on special occasions.
For years, making a rich fruit cake was a labour of love. Dried fruits needed to be washed, dried and pitted if necessary. Sugar came in loaves and had to be cut, pounded and sieved. Butter was rinsed in water and sometimes rose water. Eggs were usually beaten for 30 minutes. Finally, the cook had to stoke the fire in the coal range before the cake could be cooked. No wonder these treats were served only on festive occasions.
Present day thinking is that ovens are so sophisticated that cake pans do not require lining. However, I still prefer to line my pans with one or two layers of baking paper to keep the outside of the cake soft.
About 30 minutes before the end of cooking, test your cake with a thin skewer. If it comes out clean it is cooked. If you like your cake moist, you may wish to shorten the cooking time a little.
TROPICAL CHRISTMAS CAKE
Roughly chop the tropical dried mix into 2cm pieces. The topping should be placed on the cake just before serving. Freeze-dried fruits soften once exposed to the air. Alternatively, cover the cake with butter icing.
1 cup sugar
432g can crushed pineapple
300g dried tropical fruit mix (from bulk bin), chopped
150g candied lemon peel
1 teaspoon each: baking soda, mixed spice
125g butter, chopped
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, well beaten
Optional Topping: 3-4 tablespoons sieved apricot jam
a selection of dried fruit or freeze-dried fruit eg Fresh As
gold food spray
Place the sugar, the pineapple and juice, chopped dried tropical fruit, baking soda, mixed spice and butter into a saucepan. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease and line an 18cm loose-based cake pan with baking paper.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in the cold fruit mixture and eggs. Pour into the cake pan.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes then turn onto a cake rack to cool completely.
Optional Topping: Brush the cake top with the melted jam. Top with a selection of fruits and chocolate stars. Spray the sides lightly with gold food spray, if using.
UNBAKED CHRISTMAS LOAVES
These little loaves make great gifts.
1/2 a 395g can sweetened condensed milk
150g mini baking marshmallows
1/4 cup brandy
250g digestive or malt biscuit, finely crushed
1 cup each: unsalted roasted cashew nuts, pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup shredded/long thread coconut
200g pitted dates, chopped
300g red and green glace cherries, halved
Lightly oil eight 10cm x 5.5cm mini loaf pans or four larger 14cm x 8cm loaf pans.
Place the condensed milk and marshmallows in a large microwave bowl. Cook on 50% power for 2-3 minutes until the marshmallows are melted. Stir well to combine.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the brandy.
Combine the biscuit crumbs, nuts, coconut, dates and cherries in a large bowl. Pour the condensed milk mixture over the biscuit/fruit combo. Mix well using a large spoon.
Press the mixture into the loaf pans. Cover and chill for 2 days before turning out.
Can be wrapped in foil and stored in a covered container in the fridge for several weeks. Makes 8 mini or 4 larger loaves.
GLUTEN-FREE CHRISTMAS RING CAKE
This cake could be drizzled with a thin icing, if preferred.
70g each: hazelnuts, blanched almonds
1 cup each: dried apricots, pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup glacé pineapple chunks
375g good quality dried fruit mix
1/2 cup gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon each: baking powder, ground mixed spice
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Preheat the oven to 150°C. Line a 20cm ring pan with baking paper.
Place the hazelnuts and almonds in a bowl with the apricots, prunes, pineapple chunks and fruit mix. Sift the flour, baking powder and spice over the nuts and fruit and combine well.
Cream the butter and brown sugar, until light. Beat the eggs until well combined then gradually add to the butter mixture. Add the flavourings and nut/fruit mixture. Spoon into the prepared pan. Decorate with the Nut & Cherry Topping (see recipe), if preferred.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack. If using the glaze apply while the cake it still warm (see recipe). When cool, wrap in foil and store in an airtight container.
CHRISTMAS CAKE DECORATIONS
Firm festive cakes can be garnished with this nut and cherry topping and/or glaze.
Nut & Cherry Topping: whole or halved red and green glacé cherries, skinned hazelnuts,
Glaze: 2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
Place the nuts and cherries over the top of the unbaked cake.
To prepare the glaze, place the sugar, water and gelatine in a cup and stir well. Heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds, until dissolved. Brush lightly over the warm cake or over the nut topping. When cool, wrap in foil and store in an airtight container.