Many will tell you that how much preparation you put in dictates how moist, succulent, rich and memorable your Christmas cake will be. The ideal time to start this masterpiece is three months before the big event. But, not everyone has the patience or time to put aside for the task in hand. Don’t worry if your Christmas Cake isn’t going to win over the judges of The Great British Bake Off. Using soaked fruit and carrying out the rest of the recipe steps will still secure you a stellar sweet treat for December. This easy fruit cake recipe will give you a bake to be proud of.
The traditional Christmas cake maker will soak their fruit prior to September and continue to soak, turn and seal throughout the month. The bake will take place about five weeks prior to Christmas (the last week of November). Once baked the cake will be matured with alcohol once a week until a week before you might want to decorate it. In our house the traditional cake always came with marzipan and icing on top. Others like them plain, decorated with more nuts and fruit, or lightly dusted with icing sugar.
The second option is to soak your fruits five weeks before Christmas (last week of November) and bake the cake a week before Christmas (Third week of December). This approach means you just feed the cake with alcohol the once. This would also be ideal for non-alcoholic versions when fruit juices are used.
The third and easiest option is to soak your fruits overnight and then bake the cake the next day. You can do this anything up to three months before Christmas. The further away you do it the more you will have to feed it with alcohol to keep it moist.
Whichever method you choose, one thing should be clear - you must soak your fruits.
How you tend to the all-important preparation is relatively straightforward and comes down to memory rather than skill level. You need to stir your soaked fruits every two days, as a minimum, to stop the top layer of fruit from getting dry.
Gather the fruits and nuts your recipe requires. Cut them into bite-size pieces so you have even distribution of flavour and texture throughout the cake. Put them in a glass container and pour your choice of alcohol over them (brandy, sherry, rum), making sure you cover the fruits fully. Stir the mixture well and then seal the container - this must be airtight. Place the container in a dry area away from sunlight, perhaps a pantry or kitchen cupboard.
Stir the mixture and re-seal every day, or every other day, until you are ready to bake. To allow for maximum absorption a top tip would be to cut raisins and currents in half, cherries and other fruits into quarters. Top up the alcohol as needed with ¼ cup.
Once all of your hard work is done you will want to make sure the cake is preserved well until you want to eat it. Once it is cooled you need to put it into an airtight container. Before you do that you will need to wrap it in either greaseproof paper, cling film or foil. You cannot really over seal the cake so use a combination of what keeps it airtight best.
As you feed the cake weekly you will need to unwrap and then reseal it. Personally, I wrap mine in greaseproof paper and then put two layers of foil around it before placing it in an airtight tin.
Feeding is done by poking holes in the cake with a thin skewer to help the alcohol reach all areas. You will need one to two tablespoons of booze to add to the cake each week. Keep an eye on the texture of the cake. If it feels damp or leaves a residue on your finger then you can probably avoid feeding it that week. It is a delicate balance as you don't want a soggy bottom but you equally do not want it drying out. Assess as you go.
Take a 23cm round or a 20cm square deep cake tin, grease and line. This is ready for the mixture once prepared.
Preheat the oven to 160⁰/150°fan/gas mark 3.
Put your soaked fruit into a mixing bowl with the almonds, cherries, peel, and zest. Mix them together thoroughly.
Take the butter and sugar and beat them together until they appear pale and fluffy. Ensure a smooth mixture by beating out any lumps in the sugar. Then add the eggs one by one. Beat each one into the mixture thoroughly. Finally, beat in the treacle.
Sift the flour and mixed spice into a bowl separately and then fold into the butter, sugar and egg mixture. Folding the flour in will keep the mixture light and fluffy.
Add the soaked fruit, almonds, cherries, peel and zest and mix everything really well.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tin and gently level the top. Create a slight dip in the middle.
You will bake it for 1 hour at the preheat temperature then reduce the oven temperature to 140°C/130°C fan/gas mark 1 and cook for a further 1-2 hours. You will know when the cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Feed that cake once a week until you are ready to decorate it, or eat it!