Best Ever Fruit Cake

My Christmas cake is a real crowd pleaser and can be made up to 3 months in advance to avoid any last minute stress.

For me there’s nothing better at Christmas than good homemade food and cakes; whether that’s freshly prepared fruit and veg or sweet mincemeat made just the way you like it, homemade is the way to go. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a series of Christmas posts with you to help you prepare for the festive season ahead and we’re going to start with the humble Christmas cake.

The best thing about a Christmas fruit cake, and indeed a lot of Christmas cooking, is that it can be made well in advance and will keep perfectly. I started mine a little later than usual this year as you’ll know if you’ve been following me on Snapchat and I’ll say here as I did there – what we lack in time, we make up for in alcohol. A motto that serves me well …

Makes: one 9-inch cake
Prep time: 30 minutes (plus overnight soaking time)
Cooking time: 4 hours

Utensils
One 9 inch loose-bottomed cake tin
Baking parchment
A medium saucepan
Sharp knife
Chopping board
Large bowl
Medium bowl
Fine grater or fruit zester
Wooden spoons
Stand mixer or electric hand whisk

Ingredients – for the fruit
Juice of 2 oranges, separated
1 star anise
10 glace cherries, chopped
3 tbsp light muscovado sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 freshly grated nutmeg
500g dried mixed fruit
75g dried orange cranberries
75g dried cherries
75g dried apricots
Zest one orange
Zest two lemons
Juice 2 lemons
200ml Jameson Irish whiskey (or brandy + extra for feeding)

Ingredients – cake batter
150g unsalted butter, softened
150g light muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs, room temperature
175g self raising flour
2 tsp honey
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice
pinch salt

Method


1. In a medium saucepan heat the juice of one orange with a star anise over a medium heat.

2. Chop up the glace cherries and leave to one side. Take the warmed orange juice off the heat and discard the star anise.

3. In a small bowl combine the muscovado sugar, cinnamon, mixed spice and freshly grated nutmeg. Use the back of a spoon as you would a pestle and mortar to grind together the sugar and spices.

4. Place the mixed dried fruit, cranberries, cherries and apricots into a large bowl and mix together to combine. Pour over the warm orange juice, the juice of the remaining orange and the juice of 2 lemons.

5. Stir in the zest of the orange and 2 lemons and add in the spice and sugar mix. Use a wooden spoon to mix well, everything should smell delicious and festive.

6. Measure out 200ml of Jameson and add to the fruit mixture. Mix again to combine. Cover over with two layers of clingfilm and leave overnight.

7. The following day, uncover your fruit and stir through. Leave uncovered to sit whilst you make the cake batter.

8. Grease and line your cake tin with baking parchment and leave to one side. Pre-heat your oven to 120 degrees fan, 140 degrees normal.

9. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl and with an electric whisk) beat the butter until light and creamy, this should take around 5 minutes and the butter should be almost white in colour. Once the butter is light, tip in the sugar and mix for 3/4 minutes.

10. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat before slowly adding into the butter and sugar mixture. If it looks like it’s going to curdle add in a tablespoon of flour after each addition of egg.

11. Sieve the flour into a small bowl with the spices and pinch of salt. Once combined, use a spatula to fold into the butter, sugar and egg mixture. Once the flour is combined and you have a smooth mixture, add in the fruit and any juice that may be in the bowl. Mix to ensure an even distribution of fruit.

12. Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake for 4 hours at 120 degrees fan. The cake should be a lovely dark golden colour and a skewer should come out clean when inserted.

13. Pour a tablespoon of whiskey over as soon as the cake is out of the oven and then leave to cool entirely in the tin. Once cooled, remove from the tin and wrap in foil and place in an airtight container.

14. If you’re going to feed the cake, pour 1-2 tablespoons of whiskey over every 7-10 days before re-wrapping. Stop feeding the cake 2 weeks prior to decorating it to ensure it isn’t too moist.

We’ll cover covering and decorating the cake in a few weeks time but you can really let your imagination run wild with the decoration.

Glace cherries can be a pain to chop but if you give them a wash first they’re a lot easier to handle.

Dried fruit doesn’t have to be boring, look at those colours – once the juice is soaked in they’ll be bursting with flavour.

And here’s the fruit all rehydrated the next day once the fruit juices and whiskey have been absorbed. Once you take the cling film off the smell of Christmas fills the whole kitchen.

This is what you’re aiming for with the butter; super light and fluffy.

Once you’ve folded the flour in you should be left with a smooth batter that has good dropping consistency.

I’ve found the best way to get an even distribution of fruit is to use a rubber spatula to cut through the mixture.

Try to keep the top of the cake as flat as possible when you smooth out the mixture before baking.

Don’t worry about cracks or gaps, we’ll level off the top before icing and the marzipan and fondant will cover the rest.

Good luck with your Christmas cake and remember, there are no hard and fast rules. Most traditional cake recipes will call for black treacle or chopped nuts but I don’t like them so I’ve evolved my cake into something that I would enjoy and I urge you to do the same.

If you don’t like fruit cake I’ll be sharing a few alternative Christmas celebration cakes over the coming weeks.

Victoria 

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