Baking a Christmas Cake is a tradition that marks the start of Christmas for me. When I was growing up we always had a Christmas cake every year. They were covered in hard royal icing that was very hard to cut through and very hard to eat! There was a selection of decorations that came out each year, a santa falling down a chimney, some small trees and a group of carol singers standing under a lamppost. I think that my Mum still has them and uses them!
As we got older things changed and we stopped having that hard icing on the cakes and because my parents don't really like icing the cake was just topped with marzipan and the decorations - much as you might top a simnel cake at Easter.
When I lived in America I discovered that people didn't make Christmas Cakes as I knew them. Often fruit cakes were made and exchanged and there were often jokes about cakes being passed from one person to another to another and never eaten. It seemed that fruit cake wasn't popular where I lived!
I didn't bake Christmas Cakes then because it didn't seem the thing to do.
Once hubby and I married though I started making our own Christmas Cakes and have done ever since. This past weekend saw the baking of the 2015 Christmas Cake and here it is. Baked, but naked as yet! I will share more of the decorating with you later on in December.
It occurred to me though that some of you might like to try baking your own cake, but not be quite sure where to begin, so as I was baking I took some photos to share with you some of the hints and tips and things that I have found out over the years of cake baking - as you will see below, even after many years I discovered myself that there is always something new to learn!
So, where to begin? Well first of all you need a good recipe. I always use the Christmas Cake recipe from Delia Smith's Christmas. This book was first published over 25 years ago and it is still sold now. You can find the cake recipe that I use here.
I do make some small tweaks though and have changed things over the years as well. In the recipe Delia says to use whole peel. Well for years I could never find such a thing and bought the little tubs of ready chopped peel. Last year though I discovered this peel which is pretty whole and allows you to chop it yourself. (I buy this at Sainsbury's in the baking aisle).
I also double the quantity specified in the recipe to 100g from 50g. Chopping it yourself allows you to cut it into pieces that suit your taste buds and you really do get more flavour from it.
I also double the amount of glace cherries to 100g and I buy the whole, undyed cherries and chop them myself. Something new for this year is using this Alaskan Ulu Knife which we received as a gift. At first I thought it would be useless, but it is fantastic for chopping herbs and cutting up cherries and candied peel! Of course you can use a normal knife. I recommend a large one.
My next tip is to soak all of the fruit, including the peel and cherries for two or three days. It allows you to give it a good stir up every 12 hours or so and get everything well mixed. I don't like the amount of currants that the recipe specifies, so I reduce them by 200g and increase the sultanas by 200g. I think that it is tastier and moister too!
To soak I use a mix of Whiskey and Brandy. I add three tablespoons of each rather than the 3 tablespoons of Brandy that the recipe specifies.
Cover your bowl - or batter jug in my case! - with clingfilm and remember to stir it every now and then as you walk past. It smells wonderful!
My other tips relate to the preparation of your baking tin. I use a loose bottomed tin because that is what I have, but you don't need a tin like this. Draw round the bottom of the tin onto a sheet of baking parchment - not greaseproof paper - and cut it out just inside the line. Cut out another circle of baking parchment and a third from brown parcel paper.
When you have your circles, take one parchment circle and the brown paper circle, fold them in half, half again and half again so that you end up with a wedge shape like this.
The cut off the tip so that you have a whole which is about the size of a 50 pence piece - or a quarter in the USA. You need to do this with both circles. You will have two circles with holes in and one without.
Then cut a double thickness strip of baking parchment to go inside your tin. I find it easiest to cut a long strip and fold it in half. Then I fold about an inch in from the fold and cut about every half inch up to the fold to create what looks like a fringe. Then you need to make a strip of brown paper that is about twice as tall as your baking tin and goes round the outside of your tin. This needs to be double thickness as well. The last thing to do is to cut a double thickness square of brown paper to go under your tin.
The first thing to do is to wrap the outside of the tin in the paper and tie the paper around with a length of string. It doesn't matter if it is coloured - it is only on the outside, so no Bridget Jones blue string soup moments here! - just make sure that it will not melt! Do not use your stylecraft acrylic yarn for this. You could also use a metal paperclip top and bottom to hold the ring of paper together. Now, this is my what I learned this year. Put the brown paper on the outside of the tin first. I used to do it last and it was so difficult to manoeuvre when the tin is full of cake mix. Do it first and it is much easier! See. Still learning!
You then move on to the inside of the tin. Brush the sides of the tin with melted butter and then put your strip of baking parchment into the tin with the fringe at the bottom. Press the fringe to the bottom of the tin so that it looks like this and make sure that the paper is well pressed to the side of the tin as well. Then butter the bottom of the tin and press in your circle of parchment that doesn't have a hole in it. You want the circle on top of the fringe.
Once your tin is prepared mix your cake batter. Another change from the recipe for me is to add double the spice that the recipe calls for.
The put the mixture into the tin. Press it down well to make sure that there are no air pockets. To ensure that your cake has a level top - which will become the bottom later on and you all know how important a flat bottom is! - make a dip in the middle of the cake about 1 and a half to 2 inches across and about an inch deep. This will ensure that the cake rises evenly.
Then top with the circle of baking parchment and the circle of brown paper that have holes in them.
Stand the whole thing on a baking tray with the extra brown paper under the cake tin.
Why all this business with the paper you are thinking? Well, it is to help insulate the cake. You are baking it at a low temperature for a long time, but the paper keeps it more even. I know that modern ovens are a lot more reliable, but it definitely helps and after all, Christmas Cake is all about t
I find that this cake bakes best if you don't use the fan oven setting. Our previous oven was a fan only oven and it bakes much better in this oven where you don't have to use the fan setting I find. Odd I know, but true!
How do you know when the cake is ready? Well, after about three hours I take it out and remove the papers with the circles from the top. Return the cake to the oven for another hour and then you can start testing. You know that the cake is done when you insert a skewer and it comes out clean like the one above. You will know if it isn't clean! If it isn't done, return to the oven for 15 minutes and test again and repeat as needed. Depending on your oven it might be done first time or need a little bit longer, but don't worry about it!
I leave the cake in the tin wrapped up for about 30 minutes once it comes out of the oven. Then I remove the wrappings and turn the cake out onto the cooling rack. You can see that the top of my cake is flat, but I turn the cake out upside down and then it helps to even it out and keep it that way! Plus it will be too hot to turn over again at this point and I don't have another cooling rack to turn it with.
When it has cooled - which will take a few hours - you can store it. You have a couple of options. you can wrap it in a double thickness of greaseproof paper and then another layer of double thick foil, then either tie some string round to keep prying eyes and fingers out or put it into a tin. Or if you have a very snug fitting tin, line it with greaseproof and pop the cake in.
You want to make the cake now to give it time to mature and so that you can feed it. Oh yes, you need to feed your cake! I do mine at least twice, once on each side. You do this two weeks after baking. Poke holes over one side with a cocktail stick and them pour a couple of spoons of brandy on to the cake and it will go down the holes. Wrap it up again and repeat on the other side two weeks later. Don't feed it less than a week or 10 days before Christmas otherwise the marzipan and icing might turn brown from the alcohol. Again a lesson learned over the years!
That is it! It really is an easy thing to do. Christmas Cake made this way is also very tasty indeed! I promise! Much nicer than shop cakes and much nicer than the dried out dusty examples that you sometimes get. When we get nearer to Christmas I will take you through the marzipan and icing of the cake.
Oh, and as previously stated, it helps if you play Christmas music while baking this cake!
I am linking with Cooking and Crafting with J & J to share this post with you. Thank you for hosting ladies!