You may think I’m jumping the gun just a bit on this one, but actually, if you’re interested in learning how to make your own Christmas cake, now is the perfect time to start thinking about it. My favourite Christmas cake is a bit dark, very boozy and simply topped with homemade marzipan and a rich layer of whiskey buttercream icing.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s a fact that Christmas cake gets better with age. Wrapped in whiskey, brandy or spiced rum-soaked muslin and then wrapped in a double layer of cling film and tin foil, my Christmas cake gets made in late-September or early-October before a long rest in the back of my fridge.
I admit: I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas cake. But my husband is. I have been making this cake for almost as long as I’ve known my husband. The recipe hasn’t changed much over the years, except for the types of fruit. In Canada, candied pineapple would feature in the cake.This is the first of a two-part series. First, we’ll make the Christmas cake and wrap it up. In six weeks; we’ll make our marzipan and a whiskey buttercream to decorate.
The finished cake is medium-dark and aromatic. \ Janine Kennedy
Janine’s Christmas cake
8.5 cups (a full tea mug) of mixed fruit (mixed candied peel, currants, sultanas, raisins, glace cherries, dried cranberries)
1.5 cups of chopped walnuts
3/4 cup of Irish whiskey
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp mixed spice (I use ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice and nutmeg but you don't need to use all of these)
1 tsp sea salt
100g softened butter
250g dark brown sugar
60g strawberry jam (or any kind; just not marmalade)
60ml black treacle
Cling film, foil, muslin cloth
200ml Irish whiskey
1 tbsp good-quality vanilla1 24 hours before you bake the cake, place all of the fruit and chopped walnuts in a large mixing bowl. Pour over the whiskey and allow to soak for 24 hours, stirring occasionally to ensure the fruit is evenly soaked.2 Preheat the oven to 150°C. Line a large springform pan with parchment (just on the bottom; not the sides) and spray the entire pan with baking spray. Set aside.3 In a mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Add half of this mixture to the soaked fruit and fold to incorporate. Set aside.4 In another bowl, cream the softened butter with the sugar. Add the jam and treacle and mix well. Add the five eggs one at the time, mixing well after each addition. When the eggs are incorporated, add the remaining half of the sifted dry ingredients and mix to combine.5 Add the batter to the soaked fruit mixture and gently fold. At this stage, I usually put on some disposable gloves and mix the cake with my hands – this ensures everything is mixed thoroughly but not overmixed. 6 Add the batter to the prepared tin – fill it to nearly the top. It will rise slightly while baking. If there is any leftover batter, add it to a smaller tin or even a muffin tin for mini cakes. 7 Take a roasting tray and fill it halfway with boiled water. Place the tray in the bottom of the preheated oven to create a steamy environment for the cake. 8 Place the cake tin in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for one hour, then place some foil over the top of the cake and continue baking for an additional 30-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean (the more batter you have in the tin; the longer the baking process will take). 9 Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan.10 Take the muslin cloth and place it in a bowl. Add the 200ml Irish whiskey and soak the cloth for five-10 minutes. Lay the soaked cloth on to a clean work surface. Remove the cake from the tin and peel off the parchment on the bottom.11 Place the cake in the centre of the soaked muslin and wrap the cloth carefully around the cake; ensuring it is entirely covered. Then, wrap the muslin-covered cake tightly in cling flim. Finally, wrap the cling film, muslin-wrapped cake in tin foil (to ensure it isn't exposed to any light). 12 Place the tightly wrapped cake in the fridge or in a cold room for four to six weeks.