Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Marguerite Patten's Rich Christmas Cake

A famous Christmas cake

You can make this cake several weeks before Christmas, but it is still delicious if made at the last minute.

Makes a 23cm round cake or 20cm square cake

350g plain flour (no raising agent)

1 tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste

1 tsp mixed spice, or to taste

115g mixed candied peel, chopped

900g mixed dried fruit (preferably 450g currants, 225g sultanas, 225g seedless raisins)

50-115g blanched almonds, chopped

115g glace cherries, chopped

4 large eggs, whisked

4 tbsp sherry or brandy or rum or milk

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Finely grated zest of 1 orange (optional)

225g butter

225g sugar, preferably dark moist brown sugar

1 level tbsp black treacle or golden syrup

Prepare the tin carefully. Line the inside bottom with a double layer of brown paper, then cover this with a double thickness of baking parchment. Line the sides of the tin with greased greaseproof paper or baking parchment. Tie a deep double band of brown paper round the outside of the tin.

Sift together the flour and spices. Mix the peel, dried fruits, almonds and cherries (if these are slightly sticky, flour them lightly). Blend the eggs with the sherry, brandy, rum or milk. Cream together the lemon and orange zest with the butter, sugar and treacle or golden syrup until soft. Do not overbeat, as this type of cake does not need as much aerating as light cakes. Gradually blend in the egg mixture and sifted dry ingredients. Stir in all the fruit. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth flat on top, then press the top with slightly damp knuckles, as this helps to keep the cake moist and flat.

Bake in the centre of an oven preheated to 160C (140-150C in a fan oven) for 1...#8747; hours, then lower the heat to 140-150C (120-130C in a fan oven) and cook for approximately 2 hours. Baking times for rich fruit cakes like this vary considerably according to your particular oven, so test it carefully.

To test the cake: first press firmly on top - there should be no impression - then check to see if the cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin. If it has, remove from the oven; listen carefully. A rich fruit cake that is not quite cooked gives a definite humming noise, in which case return it to the oven for a short time and test again. Cool the cake in the baking tin; when completely cold turn it out carefully; wrap in foil and store in an airtight tin.

This cake is given a very moist texture if you prick it once or twice before icing and pour several teaspoons of sherry or brandy or rum into the cake. Use a steel knitting needle or fine skewer, make a number of small holes on top of the cake and spoon the sherry, brandy or rum over this. If wished, turn the cake upside down and do the same again. Wrap the soaked cake tightly in foil and store in a cool, dry place. If you do not wish to moisten the cake during storage, do not worry, for it is still very rich and delicious.


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