Sunday, December 6, 2009

christmas cake

Okay, I admit it even though I’m calling it a Christmas Cake … it's a fruitcake. And yes I have heard all the jokes told about the poor thing and the uses it should have instead of having a prominent place of honor at the end of the Christmas feast. I believe the list goes something like this:

Use as a doorstop
Use as a paper weight
Use as a boat anchor
Use as bricks in fireplace
Build a house with them
Use it to hold up your Christmas tree
Give it to the cat for a scratching post
Put it in the back yard to feed the birds and squirrels
Hold up your car when changing tires
Use as a replacement for a Dura flame log
Replaces free weights when you work out

Well, I am hoping to change all that…especially since I found this recipe in Nigel Slater’s cookbook Kitchen Diaries.  I was so excited to give it a whirl.  My family doesn’t share in my exuberance yet, but once they taste it I’m sure it will win them over. After all Nigel says in his cookbook that he is “extraordinarily fond” of making Christmas cake and looks forward to it for weeks. Apparently there is nothing as lovely as the heavenly fruity cakey aroma coming from the oven. The sweet tart flavor of the Turkish apricots, to the plump black figs, moist and sweet prunes, mouth watering dates, along with the nutty crunch of the hazelnuts; how can we resist? Then if that is not enough the recipe calls for “feeding” the cake with brandy every week until Christmas Day, so that it is moist and delicious. Before serving the cake, it is covered in Marzipan and then if you desire to “gild the lily” top it off with a beautiful snowdrift of frosting made from unrefined powered sugar and egg whites laced with a touch of lemon juice. He said that this recipe is requested from him more than any other recipe. So it seemed like something I should definitely give some consideration too.

Feel free to change up the dried fruit and nut combo as you like. I actually didn’t add the glacé cherries or the currants and substituted dates instead. And for the brandy, I chose to use Belle de Brillet. It is one of France’s classic and great liqueurs, and is the original blend of Brillet Cognac with the essence of pears. The perfectly matured pears are picked at their peak of ripeness, macerated, and then blended with Fine Brillet Cognac. About twenty pounds of pears for each bottle!

So if you dare, give this cake a try. But just between you and me, you might just want to refer to it as “Christmas Cake”.



Christmas Cake
from Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

Butter- ½ lb. plus 2 tbsp
Light brown sugar ½ cup plus 2 tbsp
Dark brown sugar ½ cup plus 2 tbsp
Dried fruits-prunes, apricots, figs, candied peel, glacé cherries (I used dates instead of cherries)
4 ½ cups total
3 large free range eggs
Ground almonds ½ cup
Shelled hazelnuts 2/3 cup
Raisins, currants, cranberries, 2 1/3 cups in total
Brandy- 4 tbsp. plus extra to feed the cake
The zest and juice of an orange
The zest of a lemon
Baking powder ¾ tsp
All purpose flour 2 ½ cups

You will need a deep 8 in. cake pan with a removable base, fully lined with a double layer of lightly buttered baking parchment which should come at least 2 in about the top of the tin

Set the oven to 325°F. Beat the butter and sugars till light and fluffy. Don’t forget to push the mixture down the sides of the bowl from time to time with a spatula

While the butter and sugars are beating to a cappuccino-colored fluff, cut the dried fruits into small pieces, removing the hard stalks from the figs. Add the eggs to the mixture one a time-it will curdle but don’t worry-then slowly mix in the ground almonds, hazelnuts all the dried fruit, the brandy and the citrus zest and juice. Now mix the baking powder and flour together and fold them lightly into the mix. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top gently, and put it in the oven. Leave it for an hour, then, without opening the oven door, turn the heat down to 300°F and continue cooking for one and half hours.

Check whether the cake is done by inserting a skewer into the center. It should come out with just a few crumbs attached but no trace of raw cake mixture. Take the cake out of the oven and leave to cool before removing it from the pan.

Fee the cake by pouring brandy into it every week until Christmas. Pierce the cake with a skewer and drizzle in some brandy. Cover tightly and leave in a cake pan till needed. It will keep for several weeks.

Almond paste
To cover a cake of this size you will need 1 ¾ lbs. marzipan. Brush the cake with apricot jam or marmalade to help the almond paste to stick to it.

The icing on the cake
You can ice the cake if you’d like or not. If so, beat the whites of two eggs very lightly with a fork until bubbles start to appear. Then sift in 5 cups golden unrefined confectioners’ sugar in two lots. While beating in the second lot add two teaspoons of lemon juice. I prefer my cake to sport a rough, snowdrift look rather than to have smooth icing, so I simply spread the icing thickly on to the top and sides of the almond paste covered cake with a spatula, then make snow peaks with the end of a spoon.

serves twelve

1 comment:

  1. It's too bad that fruitcakes have a bad reputation. I've had some very good ones, and this recipe looks stellar. Great job!