Christmas just wouldn't be complete without a tasty fruit cake to dig into on Christmas day and throughout the holidays. Love it, or hate it . . . Christmas Fruit Cake is a strong tradition here in the UK. Even back home in Canada, we always had fruit cake at Christmas, both a dark one and a light one, as well as my mother's War Cake, which was a type of boiled raisin cake, which we absolutely loved. They weren't as elaborately decorated over there as they are over here though, but you could buy iced ones if you wanted them. My mother never iced hers, and in truth . . . we never missed it.
The Christmas Cake as we know it here in the UK today comes from two customs which became one around 1870 in Victorian England. Originally there was a porridge, the origins of which go back to the beginnings of Christianity. Then there was a fine cake made with the finest milled wheatflour, this was baked only in the Great Houses, as not many people had ovens back in the 14th century.
You don't have to make your own of course. The shop shelves are filled to the brim with a variety of beautifully decorated Christmas Cakes at this time of year, in a great many sizes and shapes. I, myself, however . . . get a certain satisfaction from baking and decorating my own. I am not sure if it is cheaper or not, but it certainly is delicious and, in the doing so, I like to think I am helping to usher in the Christmas Season in our home. I usually bake my cake around the middle of November, and then I will wait until about a week or so before Christmas to decorate it, having given myself a few weeks to plan and get in all the things I will need to fancy it up with.
Fruit cake is one of the things that my Todd looks forward to most at Christmas . . . even more than the turkey, and it is a much loved holiday tradition that I look forward to baking every year. Not only is a show stoppingly beautifully decorated Christmas cake fun to make, but it beats a the flavour of a shop bought one every time . . . seriously! I'll continue with this in a few weeks time when I decorate my cake. Make sure to come back then and see how I make out!
*A Basic Christmas Cake*
Makes one 9 inch round deep cake
I have been making this same Christmas cake for years. It always turns out beautifully moist and is filled to the brim with lots of lovely fruit. This needs to be started the night before so make sure you plan ahead. I always like to make my cake a 5 to 6 weeks before Christmas so that it has time to ripen.
450g currants (3 cups)
175g raisins (generous 1 cup)
175g sultanas (generous 1 cup)
50g glace cherries, rinsed dried and cut in half (1/4 cup)
50g whole candied citrus peel, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
3 ounces of cherry brandy
225g flour (1 1/2 cups plus 2 1/2 TBS)
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
225g butter, softened
225g soft light brown sugar (18 TB)
4 large eggs
50g chopped almonds (1/4 cup)
2 TBS black treacle
the grated zest of both one orange and one lemon
The night before you want to bake your cake, put all the weighed out dried fruit into a large bowl, along with the chopped peel, giving it a good mix. Stir in the cherry brandy. Cover the bowl and allow it to steep overnight, giving it a stir every now and then before you go to bed.
The next morning, pre-heat the oven to 140*C/275*F. Take a 9 inch round deep baking tin and grease it well. LIne it with a double thickness of baking parchment and butter it again. Set aside.
Sift the flour into a bowl along with the spices. Beat the butter and the sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently fold in the flour mixture. Once it has all been incorporated, fold in the dark treacle and the steeped fruits, along with any brandy that may be in the bowl (it is doubtful that there will be any) the peel, the chopped nuts and the grated peels. Spread this mixture into the prepared pan. Set the pan on a large baking tray. Take a double thickness of newspaper and wrap it around the cake tin, tying it on with a piece of string. Top with a piece of parchment paper that you have cut a 1 inch hole in the centre of. Place the oven tray with the cake tin on it onto the lowest shelf in your oven. Bake for 4 1/2 to 4 3/4 hours, until it springs back when lightly touched in the centre and is baked through. Try to resist peeking until at least half an hour before the cake is done.
When done, remove from the oven to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, then remove the newspaper and dump it onto a wire rack and remove the baking parchment. Let cool completely before wrapping it in a large piece of muslin that has been soaked in more brandy. Place into an airtight tin and store until you want to decorate it.