Thursday, 19 November 2015

Luxury Fruit Christmas Cake (includes Thermomix method)

A rich and decadent traditional style Christmas cake, packed with fruit


For me, this is best prepared by around mid-November, so you can give it a few 'feeds' of brandy before Christmas. This makes one large cake, which is great if you have a family who really love it and will get through it (although it will keep for up to a year!) - or if you don't want lots of leftovers, you can cook it in a large square tin (which is what I generally prefer to do), then just before you're ready to ice it, cut into four smaller square cakes and give three away!

Yes, there is a 'little' missing from the top left square of the cake in the bottom middle photo...

As far as the mixed fruit goes, you can play about with the dried fruit types and quantities I've given you in the ingredients. If you don't like something, then substitute it for something you do like, the same weight - chopped dried apricots or dates, dried cherries, blueberries, pineapple - whatever you fancy. Play around with the weights of different things if you want too, just try and keep the overall weight the same (1kg dried fruit including glace cherries). If you don't have bags of assorted dried fruits permanently hanging around your kitchen cupboards like I seem to have, then for convenience you could just buy an 800g pack of dried mixed fruit of your choice (preferably including peel if you like it) and a 200g tub of glace cherries (or buy a 1kg mix including glace cherries) and mix with the liquid ingredients. Easy peasy!


A 22.5cm / 9 inch square tin gives you a relatively shallow cake, which is the perfect height for cutting into four smaller cakes and covering in marzipan and icing. If you want a taller cake, then use a narrower tin (if you want to make a large round cake, I wouldn't try going any smaller than a 20cm wide deep tin), and increase the cooking time slightly. The two square cakes in the photos above are small ones (as in quarters - they do turn out quite a nice size once iced!), and the round one is a full circular cake. The top left cake is 'iced' with marzipan only, rolled out on sugar, which gives it a nice effect, whereas the other two are covered in white ready-rolled sheet icing (with marzipan underneath). As you can see, I tend to go for minimalist decoration, usually!


Ingredients

For the soaked fruits 

(soak together the night before making the cake)
  • 250g currants
  • 150g raisins
  • 150g sultanas
  • 150g sweetened dried cranberries (aka craisins)
  • 200g glace cherries, halved (preferably natural coloured)
  • 100g mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 100ml brandy (or whiskey if you prefer)
  • 50ml good cherry or orange liqueur (cherry brandy or cherry vodka is fine, I like Condessa black cherry liqueur - which you can even buy in little 100ml bottles for just over a fiver!)
  • Juice of 1 large orange (75ml)

For the rest of the cake
  • 250g butter
  • 250g dark soft brown sugar (e.g. dark muscovado) - you could use light if you want, for a less rich flavour
  • 1 rounded tsp molasses / black treacle 
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • Freshly grated nutmeg (about 1/4 tsp)
  • Zest of 2 large oranges and 1 lemon, finely grated (a microplane grater is best, avoid the white pith
  • 100ml brandy
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten together
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 100g your choice of nuts, roughly chopped (e.g. blanched or slivered almonds, brazils, macadamias, hazelnuts - walnuts or pecans if you want a stronger flavour; but not peanuts)
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • Butter to grease the tin with

To finish the cake
  • Brandy to feed
  • Apricot glaze, or sieved apricot jam to 'stick' the toppings to the cake
  • Marzipan for the first layer (optional, around 750g)
  • Granulated sugar to roll the marzipan out on (optional)
  • Fondant or ready-to-roll / ready-rolled icing (optional, around 750g)
  • Ribbon to go around the cake(s), decorations for the top, cake board(s)
Useful equipment
  • 22.5cm / 9 inch square baking tin with high sides (or you could use a 25cm round tin) and greaseproof baking paper. Foil and preferably a container to keep the cake in.
Method
(See below for Thermomix method in italics)
1. Soak the fruit overnight in the brandy, cherry liqueur and orange juice - soak it for around 24 hours if you can (and if life gets in the way and it ends up soaking another day or two, don't worry, just give it a stir once or twice a day if you can!).

2. The next day, put the butter, sugar, molasses, spices, and grated orange and lemon zest into a large pan and heat over a low heat until the butter has melted, stirring occasionally. Add the soaked fruit (with any juices) and the 100ml brandy to the pan and then bring slowly up to the boil, whilst stirring, then simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat, cover and set aside to cool for about an hour (or until it is below 50C so the eggs don't scramble in it).

3. Preheat the oven to gas mark 2 / 150C / 130C fan oven, and line a 22.5cm / 9 inch square tin (or a 20-25cm round tin) with a double layer of greaseproof baking paper. Grease the top layer of baking paper with butter (I find it easiest to melt a knob of butter, then paint it on with a silicon brush). 

4. Stir the beaten eggs and chopped and ground nuts into the fruit mix, then sift the flour and baking powder into the mix and stir it in gently but thoroughly until evenly combined with no pockets of flour.

5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, and level it out, pushing the mix right to the sides and corners of the tin, and pushing it down in the middle of the tin. It will sink back again mostly, as it's a pretty wet mix, but pushing the solids towards the sides will stop it from doming.

6. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours (this will depend on your oven, so keep an eye on it - if your oven is a bit fierce, turn it down to gas mark 1 after the first hour). The cake is cooked once it is a dark golden brown on top (it will get darker whilst it matures) and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake, and if it starts to look as if it will get too dark, cover with foil. 

7. Once baked, poke lots of holes all over the cake with a fine skewer, not quite reaching to the bottom, and slowly spoon over about 4tbsp of brandy whilst still warm. Leave to cool in the tin. When completely cool, carefully remove the lining paper, then wrap in a double layer of greaseproof paper first, then foil, (and put in a large enough container if you have one!) and store in a cool, dark place. 'Feed' the cake once a week or so with more brandy (or alcohol of choice), stopping a week before you intend to ice it, to allow the top of the cake to dry out a little.

8. Decorate as desired, e.g. paint the cake in warmed apricot glaze / seived apricot jam, then a layer of marzipan (roll out on a light dusting of sugar), then another thin painting of apricot jam and a sheet of fondant icing on top, a ribbon around the outside, and festive decorations on top.

Thermomix method
1. Soak the fruit overnight in the brandy, cherry liqueur and orange juice - soak it for around 24 hours if you can (and if life gets in the way and it ends up soaking another day or two, don't worry, just give it a stir once or twice a day if you can!).

2. The next day, add the butter, sugar, molasses, spices and zests (you can 'grate' these in the Thermomix first if you prefer, by peeling them off then dropping them onto running blades / Speed 8, but I prefer to use a microplane grater) to the bowl and heat for 4 minutes / 80C / Speed 1 / MC OFF.

3. Insert the butterfly whisk between the blades, add the soaked fruit (with any juices) to the bowl, pour the 100ml brandy over it, and then cook for 15 minutes / 90C / Reverse / Speed Spoon (slowest speed) / MC OFF. Take the bowl off the base, put the MC on (or cover) and set aside to cool for about an hour (or until it is below 50C so the eggs don't scramble in it).

4. Preheat the oven to gas mark 2 / 150C / 130C fan oven, and line a cm square tin (or a cm round tin) with a double layer of greaseproof baking paper. Grease the top layer of baking paper with butter (I find it easiest to melt a knob of butter, then paint it on with a silicon brush). 

5. With the butterfly whisk still in, set the blades running on Reverse / Speed 1 and pour the beaten eggs through the hole in the lid. Then slowly tip the chopped and ground nuts through the hole into the fruit mix, and let mix for about 30 seconds until incorporated and turn the blades off. 

6. Now it's time to fold in the flour and baking powder (preferably sifted). This is best done manually to ensure it is evenly mixed without any of the fruit being mushed up. You can the flour into the bowl if you're careful, adding a couple of large heaped spoons at a time, and folding in with silicone spatula or similar, in three or four lots. Once it is in, make sure it is thoroughly mixed with no pockets of flour anywhere - be especially careful it's mixed in at the bottom of the jug. If you prefer, you can do this in a large bowl instead.

6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, and level it out, pushing the mix right to the sides and corners of the tin, and pushing it down in the middle of the tin. It will sink back again mostly, as it's a pretty wet mix, but pushing the solids towards the sides will stop it from doming.

7. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours (this will depend on your oven, so keep an eye on it - if your oven is a bit fierce, turn it down to gas mark 1 after the first hour). The cake is cooked once it is a dark golden brown on top (it will get darker whilst it matures) and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake, and if it starts to look as if it will get too dark, cover with foil. 

8. Once baked, poke holes all over the cake, not quite reaching to the bottom, and spoon over about 4tbsp of brandy whilst still warm. Leave to cool in the tin. When completely cool, carefully remove the lining paper, then wrap in baking parchment first, then foil, (and a large enough container if you have one!) and store in a cool, dark place. 'Feed' the cake once a week or so with more brandy, stopping a week before you intend to ice it to allow the top of the cake to dry out a little.

9. Decorate as desired, e.g. paint the cake in warmed apricot glaze / seived apricot jam, then a layer of marzipan (roll out on a light dusting of sugar), then another thin painting of apricot jam and a sheet of fondant icing on top, a ribbon around the outside, and festive decorations on top.

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