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Christmas cakes


You'll need

500 gm dried fruit, such as cherries, cranberries and crimson (or flame) raisins 300 ml orange juice 125 ml brandy 125 gm softened butter, coarsely chopped 125 gm dark muscovado sugar 2 eggs, at room temperature 40 gm ground hazelnuts 125 gm plain flour ½ tsp baking powder 1 tsp ground cinnamon ½ tsp ground ginger ¼ tsp each ground nutmeg and ground allspice 500 gm fondant (see note) For dusting: pure icing sugar, sieved For decorating: silver cachous

Method

  • 01
  • Combine dried fruit, orange juice and brandy in a bowl, stir to combine, cover and set aside to macerate, stirring occasionally (8 hours-overnight).
  • 02
  • Preheat oven to 150C. Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add eggs one at a time and beat to combine (if mixture curdles, add 1 tbsp of the flour). Add ground hazelnuts and dried fruit mixture (reserve 80ml soaking liquid) and stir to combine. Sieve over flour, baking powder and spices and stir to combine. Spoon into four 10cm-diameter cake tins buttered and lined with 2 layers of baking paper. Bake until cakes are golden and a skewer withdraws clean (1 hour-1 hour 10 minutes). Cool on a wire rack in tin for 30 minutes, then turn out and cool completely.
  • 03
  • Knead fondant on a work surface lightly dusted with icing sugar until malleable, then roll out to 5mm thick. Cut out 10cm rounds with a cutter. Re-roll scraps and cut out snowflake shapes. Brush cakes with a little of the reserved soaking liquid, top with fondant rounds and snowflakes, stud with cachous and serve.

Note This recipe was inspired by one in Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries. You'll need to begin it a day ahead. Alternatively, you could make the cakes a month ahead and, as Slater recommends, "feed" them with brandy once a week until Christmas. Simply pierce them with a skewer and spoon over a little brandy. The cakes can be iced three days ahead and stored in an airtight container until required. Fondant is available from the baking section of supermarkets.


Our oven mitts get a really good workout at this time of year: shortbread, gingerbread, glazed hams and roast turkeys all take turns in the oven. But the lovely spiced, fruit-laden Christmas cakes, which can be made well in advance, are usually first up in the festive kitchen.

The fruit cake is a British specialty once known as plum cake, writes Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food. It dates back to the 13th century, when dried fruits began to arrive in Britain from Portugal and the Mediterranean.

Today's fruit cakes vary from light and golden to dark and dense with fruit. A good fruit cake requires a long time in the oven - about four or five hours - but these little ones require far less, making them better suited to cooking during summer. They can also be made a good month ahead, provided they're stored in an airtight container and regularly moistened with brandy or similar.

The dried fruits we've used here aren't entirely traditional - we haven't, for instance, used sultanas or candied peel - but there are as many potential recipe variations as there are fruits, so let taste be your guide.

A fruit cake really becomes a Christmas cake with the addition of decorative snowy- white icing. To achieve a perfectly even cake, slice off the top with a serrated knife, then turn the cake over so the base becomes the top. Marzipan or almond paste is often applied between the cake and the icing to seal the cake so it lasts longer and to create a smooth surface for the icing, but it's not essential.

While royal icing is a popular option, shop-bought fondant gives a smoother finish. Go with your personal preference, says GT food director Emma Knowles, because "it's all about the nostalgia". Em's mum makes one cake per family member each Christmas, and she says, "They're so good, they're all demolished by New Year."


At A Glance

  • Serves 4 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 4 people

Featured in

Dec 2011

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