Back in our twenties, my friend Siobhan used to give out beautiful dark Christmas cakes as presents each year, well before it ever occurred to me to give anyone a homemade edible gift. I have learnt so much from Siobhan and her family over the years, but the giving of delicious things tied up with string is one of the best.
It occurred to me recently, as it does sometimes in a jolt, that I am actually a grown up these days and, you know, a baker, and I should probably make my own Christmas cake.
I was going to save this post until next year, it being Boxing Day already, but my family said I was being silly. And it was good, so it needed recording with next year in mind. So here I am on arguably the best day of the year (all the fun of Christmas without the rushing around), after yet another swim and seafood lunch, writing about traditions. I have half an ear on Return of the Jedi playing in the background and Nicholas is building his third set of Lego across from me. It's up there, this type of lazy day.
I am a stickler for Christmas traditions and I come from a line of them. There are arguments if a recipe is to be changed. I had to make a convincing case before I was allowed to try a whiskey glazed ham this year instead of the much loved star anise/sherry/apricot jam glaze I usually do. And Mum has been told, and I mean told, she can never tamper with the macadamia, sage, cranberry stuffing for the turkey. It's there for life.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, creating and/or revelling in your own family traditions.
3/4 cup rum
3 cups dried mixed fruit
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup prunes, chopped
1/3 cup glacé cherries, chopped
3/4 cup port
250g butter, chopped
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
zest of one orange
4 eggs, lightly whisked
3 cups self raising flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup stout
150g dark chocolate, chopped
blanched almonds, to decorate
1/4 cup brandy plus extra
Up to a month ahead:
Place rum and all dried fruit into a snap-lock container and shake around to soak the fruit. Shake once a day until ready to use.
The night before you bake the cake:
Place the soaked fruit, butter, port and sugar into a large heavy based saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Allow to simmer for about 5 mins. Remove from heat and stir in bicarbonate of soda. Set aside to cool completely.
Preheat oven to 150C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm (9") springform round cake tin with baking paper.
Stir the whisked eggs, walnuts and orange zest through the cooled fruit mixture.
Add the sifted flour and spices, and stir until just combined. Stir in stout and chopped chocolate, then spoon into prepared tin. Smooth the with the back of a spoon top and tap the tin on the bench to ensure no air bubbles. Arrange almonds in a circle on the top of the cake.
Bake for 3 hours until a cake skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Liberally brush the top of the cake with brandy while it is still hot. Place a clean tea towel over the top and leave to cool completely in the tin.
When the cake is cold, remove from tin and brush top and sides with extra brandy.
Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container until ready to cut.
* This recipe also works well for six individual cakes, using 10cm springform tins. Bake cakes for 1hr 50 mins. Great for hand baked gifts.