Nana always used to make the Christmas cake. She would make at least two mighty great slabs of it, halve them and gift each of her children one of those halves. It has been a few years since she has made cakes. Her memory started getting a little shady and being a woman without an Iphone timer strapped to her being at all times, she tended to overcook them somewhat...
I was lucky enough to inherit the almighty Christmas cake tin along with her handwritten account of how these cakes were to be made. Upon actually reading her recipe though it would seem a number of factors are missing, like quantities of supporting ingredients. Her baking time is also somewhat two hours longer than necessary. While I remember her cakes being amazing I think that might just be out of nostalgia. In all honesty, I think my product here is better, it is more moist but also has a better Christmassy flavour - maybe it was the whole not being burnt thing.
Her recipe was also lacking a sensible method. It was all over the place and addition of again most of the supporting ingredients was missing. With the help of a couple of other recipes' methods I have filled in the gaps.
This recipe calls for glycerol (aka glycerine). You can find it in the first aid section of your supermarket next to the antiseptic creams etc. Glycerol is a simple sugar alcohol that acts as a humectant. Humectants helps to keep things moist by attracting water allowing for nearby structures to absorb it. So basically it helps to keep your cake moist for longer periods of time. It cost me around $3 for a small bottle so investing won't break the bank. Also don't worry, it is food grade. Most importantly, it keeps your cake moist.
Most recipes call for soaking your fruit in some form of strong alcohol overnight to help with flavour and moisture. I figure the origins of this practice either came our of necessity because of the long storage periods or the fact our European forbearers were all alcoholics. I don’t know where the tradition of storing your cake for months came from either but the alcohol helps to give the cake moisture without risking it going mouldy. I don’t recommend storing your cake for months, like all butter containing things they are best eaten within a few weeks of baking or else they go rancid. Regardless of storage time you still need to soak your fruit a wee bit. If you don’t have any liquor or it’s just not your thing then you can either use the same amount of boiling water or double up on the oranges used.
Regardless of the fruit soaking method I like to 'feed' my cakes for the week following baking. By feed I mean gently pour capfuls of whatever I used over the top of the cakes to keep it moist but also to impart a wonderful festive flavour.
Dad always iced our slab of cake with store bought almond and white icing. Making your own almond icing is super easy and worth the minor effort to be that much cooler than your neighbours. The white coating of royal icing is also stupidly easy. I iced my cake whole then sliced it up into portions to give to people. You could do this or you could not and be greedy and eat the whole thing yourself, up to you.
Nana Huey's Christmas Cake
Makes 25x25cm cake
1 pound (450g) butter
14 ounces (390g) brown sugar (or muscovado if you fancy a richer flavour)
8 large eggs
1 pound flour (450g)
2 tablespoons glycerine
4 tablespoons (60g) golden syrup
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
2 teaspoons almond essence (more if you fancy)
2kg mixed fruit (I included a pack of red and green glace cherries, chopped)
1/2 cup of your choice of festive spirit (bourbon, whisky, port, cognac)
1 orange, juice and zest
2 ounces (56g) ground almond
1/3 cup jam of your choice
(Adapted from Ladies, a plate by Alexa Johnston)
225g ground almond
115g castor sugar
115 icing sugar (plus extra to dust)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond essence
1 large egg white
2 cups icing sugar
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
The day before you plan to make this place your fruit in a large bowl or container and pour over the spirit of your choosing as well as the juice and zest of the orange. Shake or stir well to coat and then leave it to sit overnight to absorb the goodness.
The next day take your cake tin and line it first with either a few layers of brown paper or news paper or a single layer of brown, uncoated cardboard. Layer over the top your baking paper. This will help to insulate the sides of the tin stopping the edges from drying out.
Preheat your oven to 140 degrees Celsius.
Cream together your butter, brown sugar and golden syrup until very light and fluffy then add in your glycerine and the vanilla and almond essences. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. After egg number five or six you might see your mixture starts splitting. If this happens mix in about half a cup of the flour and this will help to stabilise the mixture. Once all the eggs have been added, sieve in your flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt and beat until just combined then mix in the ground almond. Gently stir through the fruit until evenly dispersed throughout the batter (you might need to transfer to a bigger bowl for this step).
Tip the batter into your prepared cake tin and spread to all four corners with a spoon or spatula. Cover the tin with tin foil and bake for two and a half hours before testing with a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean remove the cake from the oven. If there is sticky batter left on the skewer return to the oven for 15 minute increments until the skewer finally does come out clean.
Leave to cool overnight with a tea towel folded across the top. In the morning pour over a couple of capfuls of your choice of spirit and let it soak into the cake.
If you are planning on storing your cakes for a couple of weeks then wait until the day before you plan to eat it to ice it. Of course you don't even have to ice it at all.
Once cool prepare your cake for icing. Warm your jam for 30 seconds in the microwave then spread over your cake. The jam is to act as a glue to the almond layer.
To make the almond icing, beat all of the ingredients together until a smooth paste forms. Roll your almond paste onto a sheet of baking paper and with a rolling pin dusted with extra icing sugar roll it out until it is as large as your cake. Gently drape the paste sheet and baking paper over the cake and peel bake the paper. Trim the edges of the almond layer.
To make the royal icing beat the egg white, icing sugar and a small squeeze of lemon until the icing is thick and fluffy. Add a little more lemon if you want to make it smoother and more spreadable. Spread this over your cake either smoothly or roughed up. Decorate with silver balls or whatever else you feel like. Leave to set for a few hours before slicing into.
This cake should last for yonks, the limiting factor however will be the icing which may go a little stale. Keep stored in an airtight plastic container and it should see you right to the end of December.