Christmas cake

It`s that time of year again - time to start making your Christmas cake. This is my favourite recipe.  I created it a few years ago. It`s an unusual Christmas cake because you separate the eggs and stir in the whisked egg whites at the end which gives it a surprisingly light texture.  

If possible, try to soak your dried fruit for at least a week. You can soak it for a month or two!  I use organic dried fruit which tends to be a little drier and therefore absorbs more alcohol.

Don`t be discouraged by the length of this recipe, it`s actually very easy to make and requires little work other than feeding the cooked cake with lots of rum and Calvados.  

The recipe is in my book National Trust Simply Baking, along with some other Christmas recipes including mince pies, spiced yule bread and a whisky luncheon cake. Keen cooks should make their mincemeat now.
Serves about 12
170g currants
170g sultanas
170g raisins
130g stoned prunes, roughly chopped
65g chopped mixed candied peel
100g glace cherries
300ml dark rum, plus extra for feeding the cake
about 95ml Calvados
255g plain flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
170g unsalted butter, softened
170g dark muscovado sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
5 medium eggs, separated
100ml black treacle
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
finely grated zest of 1 small orange
To ice the cake:
700g white marzipan
icing sugar for dusting
4 tablespoons redcurrant jelly, warmed
900g ready-to-roll fondant icing

1  In a large bowl, mix together the currants, sultanas, raisins, prunes, mixed peel and cherries.  Tip into a plastic container that has a lid and mix in 300ml rum.  Seal and leave for a minimum of 2 days or for as long as you wish.  Mix regularly to ensure that all the fruit absorbs the alcohol.

2  Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1/2/130C.  Lightly grease a 24-cm diameter round cake tin.  Then, using the base of your tin as a template, cut 3 circles of greaseproof paper.  Place on in the bottom of the tin.  Measure the depth of the tin, allow an extra 3cm in depth and cut a ribbon of greaseproof paper long enough to fit around the inside of the tin.  Make a 1cm deep fold lengthwise down one side and snip into this every 1cm or so.  Press the paper around the side of the tin so that the snipped surface lies flat on the bottom.  Now place the second disc of paper over the first and lightly oil both the lined bottom and sides of the tin.  Set aside.

3  Strain the fruit and measure any remaining sticky rum juice.  Add enough Calvados to make up 140ml and set aside.  

4  Sift the flour, mix in the bicarbonate of soda and set aside.  Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Gradually beat in the spices, Angostura bitters and egg yolks, followed by the treacle, grated citrus zest and lemon juice.  Mix in half the flour, half the fruit and half the rum-Calvados mixture, then add the remaining fruit, followed by the rest of the flour and the rum and Calvados.

5  Quickly whisk the egg whites until stiff.  Fold into the cake mixture and immediately transfer to the lined cake tin, making sure that there is a slight dip in the middle of the cake.  Place in the oven and bake for 3 1/2 hours.  After the first 40 minutes, lightly cover the top of the cake with the last paper disc.  As all ovens vary slightly in temperature, check to see if the cake is done after the first 2 1/2 hours by inserting a skewer into it.  If it comes out clean, the cake is done.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in its tin.

6  Only remove the cake from the tin when it is completely cold.  Peel away the paper before placing on a large clean sheet of foil.  Take a fine skewer and puncture the top of the cake.  Using a spoon, drizzle in about 3 tablespoons rum.  Wrap the cake tightly in the foil and store in an airtight tin.  Continue to feed the cake with rum every day or so until you are satisfied that it is sufficiently rich and alcoholic.

7  To apply the marzipan, turn the cake upside down on a work surface so that its flat bottom becomes the top.  Divide the marzipan into 2 equal portions.  Divide one of these in half again and shape into two sausages each about half the circumference of the cake.  Roll each of these out on a clean surface sprinkled with icing sugar until they are as wide as the cake is high.  Now brush the sides of the cake thoroughly with the warmed redcurrant jelly.  

8  Carefully apply the rolled marzipan to the sides of the cake, patting and trimming as necessary.  Knead the remaining marzipan into a ball and roll out into a disc large enough to cover the top of the cake.  Brush the top of the cake with redcurrant jelly and gently fit the marzipan over the top of the cake.  Leave for a minimum of 3 hours to dry out before icing the cake.

9  To ice the cake, lightly knead the icing until soft and malleable.  Shape it into a large ball and place on a work surface dusted with icing sugar.  Shape the ball into a disc and roll it out until you have a large disc about 5 mm thick and 38-43 cm in diameter.  Roll the icing by rotating it like the hands of a clock - 5 minutes between every roll of the pin.  This should be enough to cover the top and sides of the cake liberally.  Brush the marzipan surface with just-boiled water so that it is sticky, then partially roll the icing over the rolling pin and lift it on to the cake.  Gently smooth the icing over the top and sides of the cake, smoothing out any pleats as you do so.  Trim the bottom of the cake and decorate as you please.  

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