24 days to go! Welcome to day 1 of my Crave Christmas Countdown!
Christmas is all about indulging in the richest of foods. Christmas Cake usually takes centre stage, meaning it should be the richest of the lot. Far too often I’ve begrudgingly consumed dry, mildly flavoured fruitcakes, but Christmas is a time for more than just simplicity. This is my dark, sticky Christmas cake recipe that is perfect for frosty days and long nights. The fruits are jammy and plump with a real depth of flavour, thanks to being soaked and heated in treacle and brandy.
I use a mix of dates, prunes and cherries as well as classic raisins to ensure every mouthful is moist. My secret to avoiding the curse of the dry sponge is to remove the cake from the oven when it is still very slightly damp in the centre. It continues cooking even after being removed from the oven and will be perfectly done once it has cooled to room temperature.
Decorating Christmas Cakes can become a real faff. Sometimes I love getting creative and making a fun, detailed design, but often I just want simplicity. This cake is decorated simply with a blanket of white royal icing, and the deeply warming sponge underneath is what does the talking.
Find the recipe below or pick up a physical copy in Waitrose Weekend over the next few days!
Dark Christmas cake with royal icing
FOR THE CAKE
100g soft prunes, chopped
100g pitted dates, chopped
50g glacé cherries
50g mixed peel
100g black treacle
100ml brandy, plus extra to feed
3 tsp mixed spice
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
200g butter, at room temperature
200g dark brown soft sugar
3 large Free Range eggs
75g ground almonds
75g blanched whole almonds, chopped
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
FOR THE ROYAL ICING
3 large Free Range egg whites
700g icing sugar, sieved plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp glycerine
2 tbsp lemon juice
FOR THE CAKE COVERING
3 tbsp apricot jam, sieved
750g white or golden marzipan
Gold or silver lustre spray or Waitrose Christmas Edible Gold or Silver Stars
1. The night before, place the dried fruits into a large pan with the treacle, brandy, mixed spice, orange juice and zest. Stir, then gently cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring all the time until the fruit has plumped and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to soak overnight.
2. When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 150°C, gas mark 2. Grease and line a 20cm deep, round loose-bottomed cake tin with baking parchment. Wrap the outside of the tin in aluminium foil with the shiny side facing out (this will reflect heat away from the outside of the cake making sure the sides don’t burn) and secure with string.
3. Beat together the butter and sugar in your biggest mixing bowl until smooth, then stir in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the ground and chopped almonds, plain flour and baking powder. Pour in the soaked dried fruits, using a spatula to make sure any sticky juices don’t get left in the pan, then stir together until well mixed.
4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in the centre of the oven for 2¼-2½ hours. When the cake is ready, it will be risen and firm but still slightly damp in the centre.
5. Cool completely in the tin, then use a skewer to pierce small holes across the top. Feed with 1-2 tbsp of brandy, then remove from the tin and wrap in fresh baking parchment, then foil. The cake will now keep for 2-3 months in a cool dark place. Feed with brandy about once every fortnight.
1. To make the royal icing for your fruit cake, pour the egg whites into a bowl and whisk using a handheld electric whisk until they look frothy, then add the sieved icing sugar a tablespoon at a time. Whisk well after each addition until all the sugar has been used. Add the glycerine and lemon juice, then whisk for a few minutes more until the icing is thick and holds stiff peaks.
2. Heat the sieved apricot jam in a small pan. Place the Christmas cake face down onto a large chopping board. Brush all over with a thin layer of jam, then roll out the marzipan on a surface dusted with icing sugar so it is large enough to completely cover the cake. Drape the rolled marzipan over the top of the cake and use your hands to press it to the shape of the outside. Trim off any excess and don’t worry if it’s not perfect as it will be covered by icing.
3. Spoon the royal icing onto the top of the marzipan-covered cake and use a palette knife to spread it over the whole surface, swirling it to create a choppy appearance. Sprinkle with a few edible gold or silver stars or a dusting of lustre spray, if liked, and leave to harden completely (around 2-3 days) before enjoying. The iced cake will keep for up to 2 weeks.
This is a recipe I designed and developed for Waitrose Weekend.