Yes, it’s time to make your Christmas cake. Make it now to allow true lusciousness to develop. Make it now so it’s easier to cut. Make it now and enjoy tempting Christmas aromas even before festivities really kick in.
The first step with most festive cakes is soaking dried fruits in brandy to soften them and enhance the flavours. A friend at the gym said his wife uses a whole bottle. When I looked at him aghast he said he buys the brandy duty free. (Well, not this year!) If brandy is a little heady for your budget, use a medium-dry sherry or even a good orange juice plus a tablespoon of honey.
Ensure the dry ingredients are well combined by sifting them together. This ensures they will be evenly distributed throughout the cake.
All cake ingredients should be at room temperature. If the eggs are refrigerator cold then they will probably curdle with the butter. If this happens, add a tablespoon of the sifted flour mixture with each remaining egg to stabilise the mixture.
Long low-temperature cooking is best for fruit cakes. This prevents the fruits from burning. Allow a long slow cooling period. Leave the cake in the pan until it is cold to keep your pièce de résistance moist.
BRANDY CHRISTMAS CAKE
3 cups sultanas
1 1/4 cups each: raisins, currants
8 pitted dates, chopped
140g (1 cup) slivered almonds
1 cup brandy
250g butter, softened
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
2 1/4 cups high-grade flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
3-4 tablespoons brandy, extra
Place the dried fruit and slivered almonds in a large bowl. Add the brandy and mix well. Cover and marinate overnight.
Line a 10cm-deep, 21cm-square cake pan with 2 layers of baking paper.
Preheat the oven to 150°C.
Place the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl. (Preferably of an electric mixer.) Beat until creamy and light. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift the flour, baking soda and spices over the soaked fruit. Mix well with a wooden spoon ensuring the fruit is well coated in the flour. Combine with the butter mixture. Mix well.
Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared cake pan. Smooth the top.
Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Brush with the extra brandy while still warm. When cold, remove from the pan and wrap tightly in foil. Store in a cool place.
FESTIVE CREAM CHEESE LOAF
This loaf is lighter in colour than the brandy Christmas cake. If the loaf pan is lightweight, line it completely with baking paper.
225g butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
250g cream cheese, room temperature
4 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond essence
2 1/2 cups flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups mixed dried fruits, eg red and green cherries, currants, sultanas, raisins
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line the base of a deep 24cm x 13cm heavy loaf pan. Brush the sides with melted butter or oil.
Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the cream cheese and mix well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the essence.
Sift 2 cups of the flour, the baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Mix into the cream cheese mixture.
Place the dried fruits in a bowl and combine with the remaining 1/2 cup of flour ensuring the fruit is well coated. Mix into the batter.
Spoon into the loaf pan evenly. Bake for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Then store, wrapped in foil for at least 4 days before cutting.
GLUTEN-FREE CHRISTMAS CAKE 2020
1.2kg mixed dried apricots, pineapple, papaya, cherries, raisins, chopped
1 cup medium-dry sherry
250g butter, at room temperature
2 cups lightly-packed brown sugar
5 eggs at room temperature
250g gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon each: ground cinnamon, allspice
pinch each: ground cloves, salt
blanched almonds, optional
Place the dried fruit in a large bowl. Add the sherry and mix well. Cover and soak overnight.
Preheat the oven to 150°C. Line the base and sides of a heavy 23cm-25cm round spring-form cake pan with baking paper.
Beat the butter and brown sugar together, until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Sift the flour, spices and salt into a bowl then add alternately to the sugar mixture with the dried fruit and any liquid. Spoon into the cake pan and smooth the top with a wet hand. Decorate the top with the blanched almonds, if using.
Bake for about 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Wrap in foil and store in a cool place.