Here’s a useful recipe, you don’t need to make it very far in advance and several different cake sizes are given: it’s made by the boiled method which plumps up the fruit beautifully...
If the Three Bears were to make their own Christmas cake, they would probably make a great big generous cake for Daddy Bear, a nice medium size cake for Mummy Bear and a teeny, tiny, little one for Baby Bear. It’s useful to be able to make different size Christmas cakes: you can share them around the family and give the smaller ones away as gifts. Options are also given for round, square and bar shaped cakes.
This recipe will make one traditional 23cm (9inch) round cake, baked in a loose bottomed tin. If you would prefer to use a square tin for the same amount of mixture you will need a 20cm (8 inch) one. (The discrepancy in measurement is due to something complicated to do with surface area!)
Alternatively, you can make two medium sized cakes. There is enough mixture to distribute equally between 2 x 18cm (7inch) round loose bottomed cake tin or 2 x 1lb loaf tins. You can use one of each if you prefer: whichever you choose the two cakes will bake happily side by side.
You could also make some dinky round miniature Christmas cakes in a 12 cup muffin tin, or miniature bar cakes in some of those tiny loaf tins you can buy: usually in packs of 4. Since these are quite pricey, you might like to use a combination of the muffin tin and the loaf tins together and make a mixed batch. (You don’t actually need cake cases but Christmassy ones can look very festive for the round ones.) The mixture is enough for 30 little cakes, but you may prefer to make one medium sized cake with half the mixture and 15 little cakes with the other half. When filling the medium tin, whether it is round or loaf shaped, fill the mixture to a depth of 4.5cm (1¾ inch). Bake the medium and small sizes separately as they will need different cooking times: otherwise by the time you have got the smaller ones out of the oven you have lost too much heat.
175g (6oz) raisins
- 175g (6oz) currants
- 175g (6oz) sultanas
- 250g (8oz) soft dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground ginger and mixed spice
- 175g (6oz) butter
- 220ml (7floz) water
- 30ml (1 floz) brandy
- 300g (10oz) plain flour
- 2 level teaspoons baking powder
- 3 medium eggs, beaten
- 50g (2oz) glace or dried sour cherries
- 50g (2oz) ideally candied peel, finely sliced and cut into small pieces (or mixed peel if candied not available)
Put all the raisins, currants and sultanas and (dried cherries if you are using them) into a large saucepan with the butter, sugar, spices and water. Bring it all to the boil and simmer gently for five minutes. Leave to cool.
Grease the tin(s) of your choice (line the large and medium ones)
Preheat oven to 150C (fan ovens) or equivalent for all cake sizes
Once cold, stir in the brandy and cut the glace cherries, if you are using them, into quarters and dust in a little of the flour. Sieve the rest of the flour into to the mixture with the eggs. Stir in the floured cherries and candied peel. Stir everything together thoroughly.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin(s) and tuck a piece of greaseproof paper loosely round the big and medium cakes (there is no need to do this with the miniature ones).
Bake the big cake for 1¼ hours until it is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted comes out clean. You may find a square cake will take slightly longer: watch the corners as they can catch and be prepared to turn the cake round if your oven doesn’t heat evenly.
Bake the medium cakes together, side by side in the oven, for about 1¼ hours: test earlier if your oven is very fierce. The round and the loaf versions will take about the same time to cook.
If you are baking one medium cake by itself it will still take about 1¼ hours: again test earlier if your oven is very fierce.
For the miniature cakes, fill the tins barely half full, as you want them to be fairly flat on top and not too domed. Smooth the top of each little cake gently with a teaspoon and bake for about 20 minutes. You may find the little loaf shapes bake a fraction more quickly. As always, they are ready when firm to the touch and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Leave the cakes to cool in the tin and contract before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. The miniature loaf tin ones should come out very easily: there is no need to poke about with a knife which may scratch the tins, give them a sharp tap on the bottom if they seem reluctant.
When cold, wrap the cakes in clean greaseproof paper and store in a tin until ready to ice, just before Christmas. (Try not to bake the tiny ones too early, as they can dry out more quickly.)
If you are using dried sour cherries rather than glace cherries, you may also like to try dried cranberries for a change.
You may wonder why the large and medium cakes take the same length of time to cook: this is because the tins are filled to a similar depth.
Finally, just to warm you up for all those cracker jokes to come:
What is the best thing to put into Christmas cake?
Almond paste is so simple to make at home and well worth it. Fresh and almondy and not at all cloying it’s quite a revelation in comparison to shop-bought.
You can make it by hand but a food processor makes it easier: just one word of warning, don’t over-process or the almonds will become oily. Work it a little on the board, kneading it gently, before rolling out.
Glaze the cake before icing with warmed shredless marmalade.
110g (4oz) sieved icing sugar
- 225g (8oz) ground almonds
- 1 very fresh egg yolk
- 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon natural almond extract
Tip the icing sugar into the food processor bowl. Whizz briefly. Add ground almonds and whizz again to combine. Add egg yolk, almond extract and lemon juice. Whiz for a few seconds then stop and scrape the mixture from around the sides into the centre and whiz again. Repeat a few times. Stop immediately the mixture congregates together on the side of the bowl (if you over-process it will become oily).
Transfer to a board lightly dusted with icing sugar. Knead gently into a ball then roll into a circle slightly larger than the cake.
Lift onto the glazed cake. Dust top with icing sugar and smooth and mould round the cake. Trim away any excess.
Wrap in clean greaseproof paper and store in a cool dry place.
Nicer to eat than Royal or ready-rolled fondant icing: this is perfect for a traditional snow scene with wildly out of scale ‘family heirloom’ decorations.
Speaking of heirloom decorations, did you notice mine, above? They used to belong to my parents although I think I might have bought new trees myself years ago.
It’s really tricky to get the traditional wire and bristle trees now, incidentally, they all seem to be plastic. They were sprinkled thickly with snow but they’ve been washed quite a few times and it’s all dropped off!
Lego mini-figures also make great Christmas cake decorations: last year we had one with five fearsome yetis and a Father Christmas! I think we actually have 7 yetis now and 3 or 4 Father Christmases.
225g (8oz) sieved icing sugar
- 3 tablespoons sieved lemon juice
Stir the lemon juice into the icing sugar. Spread over the almond paste.
Allow to set slightly then rough up the surface with the back of a spoon to simulate drifts of snow.