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This pathetic looking thing is my recipe notebook that I started when I was at school, taking my A-level in Home Economics:

Well-used

Well-used – the cover is long-gone

and this is the page with my favourite Christmas Cake recipe on it:

Messy cook!

Messy cook!

Now, I am certain that you are very proud of the rich fruit cakes that oyu make yourself but I have to tell you that this recipe makes the best cake ever and I shall brook no argument on that score. It is well-tested. At one time I was commissioned to make cakes for the gentry of Co Durham and this is the recipe that I used – you can maybe spot the costings (made in the 70’s) – it would be nice if the cake could still be made for six quid! They came back again and again for this cake and it furnished many a shooting party lodge for lunch in the Grouse Season. A cake made from this recipe went once to Poland in the Diplomatic Bag (best not to ask about that!)

The cake has been a reliable staple of mine for the biggest part of my life, though I have not made one for several years now as we no longer “do” Christmas and our waistlines frankly do not need the calories anyway.

So, why now? Well, it is great picnic food for our outing at the end of May and it will also serve as a festive cake for an certain landmark birthday which is encroaching all too rapidly.  Too rapidly, in fact, to get this cake properly matured – which is why I rushed to bake it today despite being short of the all-important glacé cherries!

The cake has a 10 ounce (yes, the recipe is that old) butter and brown sugar base. I would normally use dark Muscavado but I only had light brown at hand today.

Creamed butter and sugar

Creamed butter and sugar

My recipe then adds a little black treacle. Today I was in experimental mode

wpid1039-BL_13_00015.jpgand tried using this date syrup:

Date syrup added to the creamed mixture

Date syrup added to the creamed mixture

Next up – 6 eggs from my busy ladies in the hen hoose:

wpid1031-BL_13_00011.jpgI gave them a bit of a whisk – not much, as this is not meant to be an airy cake. The eggs are beaten into the creamed mixture one-by-one – you can add a spoonful of the flour with each egg if fearful of curdling but so long as everything is at room temperature, all should be fine.

After the eggs, comes the flour, to which I added ground almonds, spice and a little salt,wpid1037-BL_13_00014.jpgadded gradually, alternating with the fruit and the nuts – which had been steeping overnight in a little rum:

wpid1043-BL_13_00017.jpg…and was looking and smelling more than a little more-ish.

Once mixed, the whole lot goes into a well-lined tin

wpid1033-BL_13_00012.jpg

Gloop

Gloop

and gets wrapped in brown paper  and string. Due to lack of planning this phase was fulfilled by hacking up a flour sack and deploying some crochet thread.

Don;t forget to hollow it out

Don’t forget to hollow it out

Slam the tin on the table to remove any air pockets, ensure the mixture reaches the corners, then hollow the centre out to avoid any doming on the top – it should come out as flat as possible.

4 hours in an oven at 300°F is recommended but my oven is way faster than that. I had to cover the top with greaseproof paper (several layers) after only an hour and a half and even then one side of the cake has charred fruit showing. I am a bit miffed. I turned the oven down, turned the cake and when I went back after only 2¾ hours,  my knitting needle came out clean. The cake is now cooling in its tin.

wpid1059-291112-1-of-1.jpgLooks like it suffered an earthquake – but I know somebody who maintains that the sign of a good fruit cake is that it cracks when baked. The jury is out on that one so far as I am concerned.

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