Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Baking a Christmas Cake

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
tradition!

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.

Happy Baking!

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!

Amy

51 comments:

  1. Lots of great information here Amy. I usually make a Christmas cake from much the same recipe, and like you I play around with the quantities of the fruit ingredients, just making it add up to the same weight. Two things I have not seen before - the extra paper on the outside of the tin is new to me, and also the little centre hole in the top of the cake. I will try that one this year. Happy baking!!

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  2. I've always made a Christmas cake but I don't like marzipan and icing, so mine will be naked. This year I've tried Mary Berry's recipe for a change - I hope that, come Christmas, it will taste as good as it looks.

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  3. I've never made a Christmas cake, none of us like it here but my mum and dad always had one with almonds on the top and they ate it with a slice of Wensleydale cheese, I think it's a Yorkshire thing.

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  4. Every year I always think I'm going to bake my own Christmas cake, but it never happens. I loath marzipan, so I never really like the thought of baking a nice fruit cake then covering it in that disgusting stuff! I end up just buying one every year and then picking off the marzipan!

    Maybe this year I should make the effort! xxxx

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  5. My Aunty used to be the one for making Christmas cakes It is something I think we would like to try though not sure about Delia, How about Mrs Beaton

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    1. Got your reply, it was a bit Tongue in cheek. I bought Mrs Beaton for my wife years ago but I don't think it's ever been used. We have a few books to look though not just that one though I thing the one we had of Deila's has gone.

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  6. Poor old Delia - we all use her recipe and we all muck about with it! I definitely put more alcohol in than she specifies, and I leave out the peel as my better half dislikes it. More fruit and cherries than she says, to make up for the lack of peel - and I leave some cherries whole. I will try adding more spice next year - that is a very good idea. And I guess she is not 'poor old Delia' - she is laughing all the way to the bank bless her!

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  7. My eldest has expressed a desire to make a Christmas cake this year - we normally have a stollen - so I'll be pointing her in the direction of your blog for all the handy tips! Have a good week. xx

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  8. Oh, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without a cake, though I have to make two these days to meet all the dietary needs. I do the tin lining and wrapping but haven't tried topping the mixture with parchment before baking. I usually cover the part-way cooked cake to prevent over browning, just like my dad used to do. (His other tip was to spread the Christmas cake making over two days - weighing, tin lining, fruit soaking one day, mixing and baking the next.) Your cake looks so delicious, I could just help myself to a big slice.

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  9. Wow! Your Christmas cake is so beautiful! I made a big disastrous "fruit cake" one year and it was really awful because we don't know how to make a perfect work of art here in America. I wish I could pop by and have a bite of that cake in a few weeks. What a pro you are!

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  10. I line my tin much as you have demonstrated, but I don't add any alcohol once the cake has been baked as I dislike the raw alcohol taste, but if you like it then go for it. I have been using the same recipe since around about 1968 when there was a part-work on sale, i.e. a magazine which came out every week and built up to fill a box file, The Cordon Bleu Cookery Course. As a fairly young bride (married 1964) I used to buy this but it then began to get a bit expensive, buying it every week, so I stopped that and bought cookery books instead. But I kept the one with the Christmas cake recipe, along with the almond paste and icing recipes and I've used them every year since (bar 1985 when we moved house and 2004 when I was gold I had cancer - Christmas then seemed something of an irrelevance.) The cake, when baked, looks like yours and it's always delicious and very easy to make.
    Margaret P

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  11. Thank you so much for this tutorial, Amy! Now I need to contemplate whether or not it would work with gluten-free flour.

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    1. Hi Kristie - I think you could use gluten-free flour in this recipe as it's plain (all purpose) flour. Sam x

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  12. Hi Amy, thank you so much for such a wonderful Christmas cake tutorial. I am excited to go and buy the ingredients needed and try to bake one. A couple of years ago we bought one like you described from our local British grocery store. It was pretty but the taste was not that great. I'm excited to see how you decorate this beautiful cake. Many thanks , Pat xx

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  13. I do remember the Christmas 'fruit' cakes of my childhood that came in a lovely tin and sat in the stairwell to the attic until the big day. I don't remember liking it much as I much prefer chocolate 'something' even as a child. I will buy a small loaf some years with a marzipan frosting on it for guests but it takes a while to get it gone! Fruit cake is a Maritime Canada tradition in many homes....just not mine! lol You have given some great tips on baking a Christmas cake and I'm sure it will be delicious and enjoyed by you and your guests. Have a lovely day. xx Pam

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  14. My Mother made fruit cake at Christmas, but it was never a favorite with me. You see them for sale in all the stores so I guess they're popular.

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  15. My mother used to make a fruit cake every year but, as you said, it wasn't very popular. I have never heard of a Christmas cake but am really impressed with that process. The tradition that seems to have evolved here in the USA ( at least in my area) is to make a birthday cake for Jesus. It is just a regular cake of your choosing and however you wish to decorate. Your cake is so special though...I bet it tastes amazing.

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  16. I was looking through my Delia Smith Christmas book on Sunday looking for starters for Christmas. I don't use Delia's Christmas cake recipe but one I got on a cookery course many years ago. I start by making a traditional cake according to the recipe. Then I bake another one but using dried fruits like pineapple, mango and even strawberries. I love them both! I worry until I get them baked as I would hate to have no cake for Christmas. I've made my Christmas puddings today so can't wait to see them when they're finished.

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  17. Oh a labor of love to be sure! Though it is unlikely that I will ever bake this cake, I would love to have a wee piece and a cup of tea with you over marzipan directions. This was a lovely read.

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  18. I just bought the fruit to make my cake... And several others too. I don't like candied peel so replace it with dried apricots... Or sometimes dried papaya. Not sure I could take Christmas music this early in the year though... It gets annoying enough all through December!

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  19. It's getting very Christmassy I can almost smell your cake from here! I don't usually make a Christmas cake, as I'm not overly fond of dried fruit, but I do like to try a smallslice of someone elses. I think doubling the cherries is a great idea. You've given us some very useful ideas. x

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  20. My mum was British as was my dad . I so miss me mums Christmas cake she made from scratch like this we always had a standing joke with it as the door stop or the brick with the hard Royal icing but we all loved it . Looks wonderful . Thanks for sharing , have a good day !

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  21. Mum put both raisins and sultanas in it as well .

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  22. That's a lovely looking cake, Amy! We're not huge traditional Christmas cake fans so I tend to make our usual fruit cake (leaving the cherries whole as we like generous slices of cherry with our cake!) and don't add any alcohol. It's a bit of a haphazard affair timing-wise - with not needing to leave it for the alcohol to mature, I've even been known to make the cake on Christmas Eve and the decorating has been a Christmas Day family event. I'm not quite sure what Delia would make of that! :-) xx

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  23. Hi Amy,

    We haven't had a cake at Christmas for a couple of years which has worked out lucky as one or the other of us has been ill and Christmas has had to be cancelled! But I do love a homemade Christmas cake.

    My favourite part of a Christmas Cake is the marzipan! Nice to see how you made your cake. I have a vegan Christmas Cake recipe I've made a few times, and your tips will be a great help when I get round to making it, especially the paper on top with a hole in the middle - I don't remember doing it that way!

    Shop cakes are always a bit too dry I find.

    Barbara xx

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  24. Your cake looks wonderful, I used to use that recipe for many years too! I always used to make a Christmas cake but in recent years I have stopped doing it as it was only my son and I who ate it! Your images make me want to make one again! Sarah x

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  25. It's been a few years since I made a Christmas cake as Douglas is the only one who likes it and he gets tired of eating it in the end. Maybe I should ask him if he wants me to make him one this year! I'd better ask soon, methinks!

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  26. WOW, that looks good. My Hubby and I love all kinds of christmas cakes. I have seen different versions of them.

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  27. Your Chistmas cake looks quite delicious! You are right, here in America we don't do Christmas Cake and fruit cake is the norm. However, fruit cake is also a big joke. Not very many people like it, you either do or you don't, hence the joke of passing it back and forth from one year to the next. I may be tempted to try your recipe though. Thanks very much!

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  28. I'm just fascinated by this tradition. So cool - and the fact that you keep "feeding it" sounds so yummy! When an Aunt of mine was married at Christmas time many years passed - they had a layered rum cake with a Mr. & Mrs. Claus on instead of a bride and groom. I remember even as a kid liking the spicy alcohol taste of the cake. ;)

    My Uncle lived in a Alaska for many years and when I was young he sent my Dad a similar knife and it was our pizza cutter for the rest of the time I lived with my parents! Lol

    Thanks for sharing - just loved this!! So interesting and yummy. xoxo

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  29. I turned on Christmas music as soon as you mentioned it lol

    Fruit cakes in the states are scary, but this might be something I'd try. We'll see ;)

    xo,
    rue

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  30. Amy you will be surprised but I have never made Christmas cake! But after reading your post with instructions I am going to have a go. Your cake looks fab.
    Rosezeeta.

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  31. This looks amazing Amy! A true labor of love and what a wonderful tradition. Thank you for sharing!

    blessings,
    Jill

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  32. We always made Christmas cake at home too, my job being the chopper of fruits and nuts. I've made a different recipe myself (uses a jar of mincemeat) many times but my hubby doesn't eat it so I give most away.
    Your cake looks delicious Amy.

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  33. Wow Amy,
    What a beautiful cake! What a process to make it too. Thanks for sharing this tutorial and tips. I bet it will taste delicious!
    Enjoy the rest of the week.
    Julie

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  34. What a lovely and informative post, Amy.. I would love to make a Christmas Cake this year and your how to is great.. Thanks... xo

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  35. Looks like a LOT of Love goes into this . . (and, i bet it's worth it.)

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  36. Amy look really amazing and beautiful :))
    Still I dont make any for Christmas !!
    Hugss!
    xoxo

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  37. Delia's christmas cake is the recipe I follow (loosely) too. I have a bowl of dried fruit that's been soaking up lots of brandy on the kitchen side ready to make into cake later on. Yippee. X

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  38. I use the same recipe book and adjust to meet our tastes, we are not fans of peel. It certainly looks good. Looking forward to seeing how you decorate yours.

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  39. Oh Amy this is so funny, I use this recipe too and tweak it to death. I add much more alcohol too ha! X

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    1. Hi Lisa, I am interested to know how you tweak this recipe? I am keen to try it now but some clues about ways to make it better are always welcome.

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  40. Oh Amy! You are wonderful to show all of the steps to baking a Christmas cake. My family used to buy ready-made cakes but these days they are full of additives so I leave them behind. You are tempting me to want a Christmas cake again and giving me the idea that I might be able to make one myself!
    I love your tweaks of extra spice and peel. My children would love the tweak of fewer raisins and more sultanas! Will any sort of brown paper do? Do you use an electric or gas oven? I fear that any paper in a gas oven would catch fire. My gas oven is not fan forced though, so do you think I could get away without extra insulation from brown paper? So many questions - you have enthused me! :-)

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  41. I love Delias Christmas book as well. My cake recipe follows her method but my ingredients were written down by my husbands great, great grandmother. I agree with your longer soaking of fruit and extra alcohol. Your cake should be delicious. B X

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  42. I used to make Christmas cake for my mother-in-law every year. She never liked the bought kind but liked the ones made from scratch. My husband is diabetic so I don't make it anymore. Sad, but true.

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  43. Wow! This is a big job! I've never made Christmas Cake - Grandma used to do it, then my mom took over. She claims she is too busy this year, so I hope to get my hands on the recipe. I love it with a good rum sauce and custard.

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  44. Amy, I can almost smell your wonderful cake and I'm pleased to see you are using St Delia's recipe.
    To my shame I have never made a Christmas cake! You are so organized writing your cards in mid November...I'm still making mine! x

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  45. your cake wrapping looks like a thing of beauty, my cakes always look like the cat tried to do the brown paper wrapping.
    I never use currants, I always just add more raisins and sultanas. I put apricots in once. the husband was very unhappy about them..........

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  46. When I was little we always had hard icing and the same little pottery figures too! I used to eat the icing from the bottom of them, in the end though I think I was just eating the pottery! Excellent tips, I'm going to pass them on to my cake baking friend, x

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  47. Wow this cake looks so good. Thanks Amy for joining and sharing the process and tips to make this with us at Cooking and Crafting with J&J.
    Enjoy the week.
    Julie

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  48. This looks really pretty and sounds delicious!

    Thanks for joining Cooking and Crafting with J & J!

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