Unless Delia’s Christmas cake blows all competition out of the water, I’m likely to use this as my ‘base’ Christmas cake recipe for the gift boxes. I’ve already received a request to bring it to a picnic next weekend, and we are taking this cake to a friend in Perth in a few weeks’ time.
The mention of hot toddy always makes me think of this scene from the Wind in the Willows:
It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field-mice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, `Now then, one, two, three!’ and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time. […]
The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the label on one of the beer-bottles. `I perceive this to be Old Burton,’ he remarked approvingly. `Sensible Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.’ It did not take long to prepare the brew and thrust the tin heater well into the red heart of the fire; and soon every field-mouse was sipping and coughing and choking (for a little mulled ale goes a long way) and wiping his eyes and laughing and forgetting he had ever been cold in all his life.
The taste of the Hot Toddy Fruitcake certainly evokes a similar sense of ye olde England, full of the ghost of happy Christmases past. It has that combination of flavours which shouts ‘English Christmas cake’, in the way that the Wind in the Willows is unmistakably a fable told by an English gentleman.
The cake is dense and dark as a result of 3 hours of baking. There is just enough flour in the batter to hold the dried fruit and peel together, and it loved soaking up the tea and whisky ‘toddy’ and remaining so, so moist. The combination of dense, moist and sticky-sweet made for an intense mouthful. Even on a mild spring afternoon, a little went a long way. But that didn’t stop us from nibbling on thin slices of the cake with cups of organic black tea for the rest of the afternoon.
On the first couple of days, the sharper flavours citrus peel still stood out from the sweet, sticky fruit, and mixed spices added a sharper note to the dark, so-intense cake. After a few days, these flavours began to mesh together and take off a little of each other’s sharp edges.
Work colleagues who ate the cake began reminiscing about their mother’s secret Christmas cake recipe, how they used to pick out the citrus peels and sultanas from each cake slice, and then, childhood memories of eating liquid Christmas pudding batter.
I think this meansif you like dark fruit cake, you will like this cake. Even if you don’t usually like dark fruit cake, this cake may still convince you to give it another go.
The fruit and peel’s initial rehydrating goes a long way to keep the cake moist, so don’t hold back on tea-and-whisky mixture when soaking the dried fruit and peels. I would err on the side of too much rather than too little liquid. Stirring the dried fruit half way through also helps to ensure they all have a chance to soak up the tannin and alcohol-rich syrup (see, tannin, this cake must be good for you).
The cake uses no rising agent (such as baking powder), so it is important to really beat the egg and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. Adding the beaten eggs slowly (Delia Smith recommends one tablespoon at a time) ensured the butter and sugar mixture did not curdle, and instead will become shiny – almost like adding eggs to choux pastry. After that, it will be easy to fold in the various wet and dry ingredients until the batter has a uniform consistency and the dried fruit is evenly distributed.
Pour the ‘hot toddy’ feed over the cake as soon as it is out of the oven – a hot cake absorbs the syrup more easily and evenly, which also helps to keep the cake moist throughout.
(Note, I halved the ingredients and baked the cake in my loaf pan. I cut cooking time by at least 40 minutes, and probably could have cut cooking times by another 5 minutes.)
This cake is designed to be ‘matured’ over a few weeks, and should be fed with the tea, sugar and whisky ‘toddy’ once a week. By the end of this regime, the cake will probably be boozy enough to make me lightheaded at first bite. Which makes it a perfect accompaniment to after-dinner drinks at Christmas time.
PS, when I worried about the cake becoming less good (read: mouldy) over a month of ‘feeding’, a friend’s father said ‘that only happens if you don’t add enough alcohol.’
Stage 2: Hot toddy fruitcake
Available at bbcgoodfood.com
For the cake
200 ml hot, strong black tea (use any type)
3 tbsp whisky
3 tbsp good-quality orange marmalade
700 g mixed dried fruits
100 g mixed peel
100 g glacé cherries
225 g butter
225 g golden caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
225 g plain flour
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
finely grated zest 1 lemon
For feeding the cake
2 tsp caster sugar
50 ml hot black tea
1 tbsp whisky
Mix the hot tea, whisky and marmalade in a large bowl until the marmalade melts. Stir in all of the dried fruit, peel and cherries, then cover and leave to soak overnight.
Next day, heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3 and grease and double-line a 20cm round, deep cake tin with non-stick baking paper. Using electric beaters, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition, then fold in the flour and spices, followed by the lemon zest and soaked fruit. Add any liquid that hasn’t been absorbed by the fruit, too. Spoon into the prepared tin, level the top, then bake for 1½ hrs. Turn the oven down to 140C/fan 120C/gas 1 and bake for another 1½ hrs or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack in the tin.
While the cake is still warm, use the skewer to pepper the cake with holes, poking it all the way down. Dissolve the sugar in the tea, add the whisky or orange juice, then spoon over the surface. If you’re making the cake ahead of time, feed it with a fresh swig of hot toddy every week, but take care not to make the cake soggy. Can be kept for a month well-wrapped in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. If short on time, the cake can be made the same day that you decorate it.
Note: substitute orange juice for whisky.