Classic Christmas Cake
50g chopped glacé cherries
50g chopped candied peel
225g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 level teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 level teaspoon ground mixed spice
225g dark brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
1 dessertspoon black treacle
225g spreadable butter
50g chopped almonds (skin on)
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
Armagnac or brandy to 'feed' the cake
100g whole blanched almonds (only if you don’t intend to ice the cake)
For the pre-soaking:
For the cake:
For feeding and topping:
You should get the pre-soaking ingredients ready the night before you make the cake.
Put all the fruits (see note at foot of method), in a bowl and mix them with the brandy, cover with a cloth and leave them to soak for a minimum of 12 hours. When you’re ready to cook the cake, pre-heat the oven to 140°C, Gas mark 1.
Now all you do is sift the flour, salt and spices into a very large roomy mixing bowl then add the sugar, eggs, treacle (warm it a little first to make it easier) and butter and beat with an electric hand whisk until everything is smooth and fluffy. Now gradually fold in the pre-soaked fruit mixture, chopped nuts and finally the grated lemon and orange zests. Next, using a large kitchen spoon, transfer the cake mixture into the prepared tin, spread it out evenly with the back of the spoon and, if you don’t intend to decorate the cake with marzipan and icing, lightly drop the blanched almonds in circles over the surface.
Finally take a double square of baking parchment with a 50p-sized hole in the centre (for extra protection during the cooking) and place this not on top of the mixture itself but on the rim of the brown paper. Bake the cake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4 hours until it feels springy in the centre when lightly touched. Sometimes it can take 30–45 minutes longer than this, but in any case don’t look at it for 4 hours.
Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, then remove it to a wire rack to finish cooling.
When it’s cold, ‘feed’ it by making small holes in the top and bottom with a cocktail stick and spooning in a couple of tablespoons of Armagnac or brandy, then wrap it in parchment-lined foil and store in an airtight tin. You can now ‘feed’ it at odd intervals until you need to ice or eat it.