NOTE - I have refreshed this Christmas cake post with some new images and additional thoughts and suggestions. The recipe remains unchanged.
So here's the thing.
Christmas cake doesn't necessarily need to mature for weeks to taste gorgeous. Let's just say that one more time - Christmas cake doesn't necessarily need to mature for weeks to taste gorgeous. Is that an appealing thought? Let me share more about this delicious festive treat that is as easy as it's delicious ...
So, what's the backstory with this particular Christmas cake recipe?
Because isn't there always a backstory with a Christmas cake recipe? You may remember that I told you about the catering business I ran before we moved to Dubai. We created all sorts of goodies in our 'at home' kitchen, but our biggest volume of creations by a long, long, long, long way was our Christmas cakes - our 'well fed' Christmas cakes.
It's another of my Nan's recipes and this has to be our most treasured family classic. My Christmas cake journey began when I was a small child learning to bake with my Nan in her kitchen and 40 something years later it's still my favourite Christmas cake.
And it was because it was everyone else's favourite too that I started to make them to sell. I would bake the cakes during the summer months so that there was plenty of time to 'feed' them (the process of piercing the cake with a skewer before drizzling sherry over it) and decorate them to sell in the run up to the festive season. It was hard work ... early mornings spent creaming and mixing, late nights preparing tins and weighing out ingredients for the next day - with much time in between spent organising the storage of the cakes and later decorating and wrapping them for sale. And all of this with the sun shining outside and not a festive bone in my body! It was a military operation, but a rewarding one when we would pile our stall high with our treasures and always go home 'sold out'.
We would have little tasters for potential customers to try, and this proved to be one of the secrets to our success ... So often we would hear the words, "Oh no, I don't do Christmas cake" and yet, after a taste we almost always had a convert.
So what is special about this Christmas cake? What makes it different?
- It's light, both in texture and flavour - no bitter, heavy cake here.
- It is 'well fed' with sherry. Most people use brandy. I think this tastes better.
- This cake does NOT need to mature for weeks to taste gorgeous - 6 days from start to finish is as much time as you need. Although, if you prefer a more leisurely pace, that also works.
- In recognition of the fact that so many people hate either marzipan or icing (or both), my Christmas cake is topped with cherries and walnuts and an apricot glaze. Stylish.
- There's no artistic ability or steady hand required for decorating this cake.
- Even though your cake may not have matured for weeks, it will still keep beautifully for weeks - double wrap it in aluminium foil and pop it in an airtight container.
- And as a bonus, it's also no fuss to make.
And here's the evidence that this Christmas cake is truly a winner -
Let me tell you more ... We had been making our Christmas cakes, with our military operation for a couple of years and then in June 2006 our little bundle of girly joy, Hella was born. New babies and military operations are mutually exclusive, at least for a few weeks anyway, and so things in the world of baking slowed down a touch. But all that time spent feeding and changing nappies clearly gave me too much time to think (or my sleep deprivation was messing with my sanity) and I decided that 2006 was the year to be entering our cake into the Great Taste Awards, the 'Oscars' of the food world and the 'epicurean equivalent of the Booker prize'.
I soon realised that the closing date for entries was only a week away but, undeterred, I decided to give it a go and see if I could throw tradition to the wind and make an award-winning cake with only days to mature, rather than weeks or even months. I had nothing to lose, so I got my skates on.
By the time the cake was ready, there was not enough time left to courier the cake to London before the closing date, so I packed Hella and the cake in the car and we drove down to Earl's Court to deliver it myself. A few hours on the M4 and job done.
I have to say that once delivered, I didn't think about the cake that much until the day that the letter arrived from the Great Taste Awards - yes, people used to post letters in the olden days. And what a blinder - we had won Gold! The top, the best, the pinnacle of their awards. Our last-minute, rapidly 'matured' cake had got the biggest thumbs up from the esteemed judges ... and it doesn't get any better than that.
From then on, we were 'Cake Baking Central'. Our cake was featured in Good Housekeeping magazine and the BBC Good Food magazine and we set up a website and began to do mail-order. The first year of Hella's life was spent with her 'supervising' the baking but she seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.
In fact, for our final Christmas season before we moved to Dubai we baked 2 metric tonnes of Christmas cake in our 'at-home' kitchen. That's quite a lot.
There really is no need for you to make anything like that quantity, but do try at least one cake.
So, how much time do you need to make this Christmas cake?
If you are last minute, you can get this Christmas cake made and decorated in a week. I would suggest that you might plan it out like this -
Day 1 - Bake the cake(s)
Day 2 - 1st feed
Day 3 - 2nd feed
Day 4 - 3rd feed
Day 5 - Allow the cake(s) to rest for 24 hours
Day 6 - Decorate cake(s)
If you've got plenty of time on your hands, you could adopt a more leisurely pace and, say, leave a few days between each feed.
What size Christmas cakes does this recipe make?
The recipe makes three sizes -
- Large - perfect for a family - use a deep 20 x 20cm square tin - uses 1 quantity of the recipe below
- Medium - suits a couple - use a deep 15 x 15cm square tin - uses ½ quantity of the recipe below
- Small - ideal as a gift (popular present for teachers or 'difficult' men) - use a deep 10cm diameter round tin - uses ¼ of the recipe below.
If I were you, I would make the whole quantity of this recipe. You can do 1 large or 2 medium, or 1 medium, 2 small or 4 small. Get the idea? Wrap them in cellophane and you have a stylish, tasty and thoughtful gift.
And don't forget, there's no need to stress out if you are perilously close to Christmas before you start baking your Christmas cake - it will still be perfect. The Great Taste Award Judges said so ...Print