This cake had a good yarn, presentation and tastiness too. It was definitely one of my favourite baking moments this year.
Two people who were coming to Christmas lunch had
got married eloped recently, in a ceremony with only 5 people present (including the celebrant). We were invited to ‘casual drinks’ that evening, which turned out to be their ‘wedding’ drinks. With this in mind, I wanted to give them a ‘wedding cake’ at Christmas lunch – which they were happy to have.
This gave me permission to put highly unorthodox cake decorations on the Christmas cake. Other than the fact that I used a red and white colour scheme, it wasn’t Christmassy at all.
The cake had a raised circle of white icing in the middle, which was covered in white holographic glitter and edged with silver cachous (balls). In this circle, I used red-coloured white chocolate to write the characters ‘double happiness’, which is commonly used at Chinese weddings. And outside the circle, I drew abstract-ish patterns vaguely based on traditional Chinese graphics, also using red-coloured white chocolate.
I didn’t get a very elegant, smooth surface on the calligraphy-icing, but I did manage to reproduce some of the characteristics of calligraphy brush strokes. If I do this again, I may use a pattern rather than writing freestyle, as a pattern would ensure the characters were aligned and perfectly proportioned.
Still, it was a fun, light hearted way to celebrate (again) with the recently eloped couple.
And the cake?
The cake was almost a traditional dark-fruit Christmas cake. I’m always tweaking recipes and find the answer to ‘I wonder what will happen if…’ This time was no exception. I took the BBC recipe, and made minor changes based on other christmas cake recipes, particularly a Sri Lankan Christmas cake I saw in the Feast magazine. The most significant adding a lot more spices (including, dare I say it, a soupçon of ground fruity pink peppercorns), and using roasted cashews instead of almonds. I *may* have also increased the amount of brandy used to moisten the cake.
The cake was covered in a marzipan layer with apricot jam, followed by a white icing layer with sugar syrup, according to tradition.
The resulting cake was very dense, moist, and a heady mix of dried fruit, spices, and dark alcohol. The knife moved slowly, deliberately, when cutting through the layers of white icing, marzipan, and cake. The cashews were a surprising stand out, as they retained their sweet-buttery nuttiness, but had become much softer, adding an interesting textual highlight to every second bite.
Mr Gander thought it was my best attempt at Christmas cakes so far (yay!). Almost everyone came back for seconds, and someone said it’s better than the cakes made by the ladies at her church. I think that was high praise, and I did a little inner victory dance.
Here’s the christmas cake recipe, with my minor tweaks in brackets. As with the Delia Smith recipe, I found the cake needed less time in the oven than the recipe said. So please check the cake regularly (smell it, if necessary give it a gentle prod) and don’t just forget about it.
Almost traditional ‘double happiness’ christmas cake
(adapted from BBC good food. As BBC says, this cake pulls out all the stops.)
For the cake
225g/8oz plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 small pinch of freshly ground pink peppercorns (pink peppercorns I get from our Fijian grocer have a delicate fruity flavor. If no pink peppercorns are available, maybe don’t use other types of peppercorns)
200g/7oz dark brown or muscovado sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp marmalade or apricot jam
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
4 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
800g/13/4 lb mixed dried fruits (I used a mixture of sultanas, currants, raisins, dried apricots and a tiny bit of finely chopped dried figs, ginger and prunes)
100g/3½oz chopped mixed peel
150g/5oz glacé cherries, whole
100g/3½oz roasted cashews, chopped
1/4 cup of strong black tea
1-2 tbsp apricot jam, warmed
400g white or fondant icing
White chocolate coloured with red colouring (oil based liquid colouring or powder), or one of those nifty write-on icing pens in red.
1. On the previous evening, macerate dried fruits and peel in lots of brandy and a little bit of hot strong tea, at least overnight.
2. To make the cake, heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas2. Grease a 20cm/8inch round or an 18cm/7inch square cake tin and double line the bottom and sides with baking parchment.
3. Sieve the flour, salt, spices into a bowl. Cream the butter and the sugar in a large mixing bowl and then mix in the sugar, treacle, marmalade and vanilla essence until light and fluffy.
4. Mix the eggs a little at a time into the mixture adding a tablespoon of flour mixture with the last amount. (it doesn’t matter if the mixture curdles, it should come together again when you add flour)
5. Fold in the remaining flour mixture until well mixed and then mix in the dried fruit, mixed peel, glace cherries and the cashews.
6. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and make a slight hollow in the centre.
7. Bake in the oven for 1.5 (or 2) hours, until the kitchen fills with the smell of ripe dark fruit cake, and then test with a skewer. If not ready bake for up to another hour testing every 20 minutes until the skewer comes out clean. (note the original recipe says to bake the cake for 3 hours, but I found 2 hours was about right)
8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes.
9. Make many holes in the cake with a skewer and pour over lots of brandy. Let the brandy soak into the cake, for at least half an hour. Pour over a bit more brandy from time to time, if you like.
11. When it looks like the cake has soaked up all the brandy, turn the cake out and if necessary let it cool. Store the cake wrapped in foil and in an airtight tin or plastic container, holes side up.
12. OPTIONAL: spoon over a few tablespoons of brandy every week until you are ready to ice and decorate your cake.
13. To decorate the cake, place the cake on a foil board, chopping board or cake plate. Dust your hands and the work surface with a little icing sugar and knead the marzipan until soft.
14. Roll out half the marzipan to fit the top of the cake and roll out the rest in strips to fit around the sides of the cake. Brush the cake all over with the warmed apricot jam and then place the marzipan over the cake.
15. Cover the cake with a clean tea towel and then leave in a cool place for at least one day.
16. Knead white icing or fondant icing until soft. Brush the marzipan with some sugar syrup. Roll out icing and place over cake. Decorate by drawing with red chocolate (or with real Christmas ornaments).