Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Filling bowls and breaking scales

Yesterday I made the Christmas cake. A little late, as I was intending to give it at least three weeks to mature, but everything got the best of me, all good intentions had to be put aside, and yesterday it was. It'll still have at least a week to soak up a good sloshing of brandy, and then some time under it's icing coat before we dig in, and hey, at least I managed it in the end.

I very nearly didn't because of mis-reading the recipe, and misunderstanding just quite how large this cake was going to be. I know, I know, it
said "feeds twelve...", but I thought it meant, feeds twelve with ickle slices and chose to ignore the "...somewhat generously" remark that followed. We're lovers of cake, how hard is it going to be to eat a bit of Christmas cake over the festive week? Ahem, perhaps a little harder than I imagined. There's a kilo of dried fruit in there, and half a pound of butter! It should keep though, so we can cunningly re-name it an Easter cake, because yes. it's probably going to last that long!

I adapted the recipe from Nigel Slater - of course! - adding a few of my own little touches, some due to mis-reading the recipe, some because I just think it's madness
not to soak the fruit in port overnight! Nigel asks for 650g of dried fruit, like prunes, figs, glace cherries and candied peel, and then a separate 350g of currents, sultanas etc. I of course missed these separate instructions and dutifully made my 650g up of whatever dried fruit I fancied and had kicking around. In went figs, maraschino cherries (because I find even the dark glace cherries too sweet and plasticy), cranberries, sultanas, currents, peel in many forms. I smugly totted it up to 650g, and sloshed a generous glug of port over it and headed to bed.

It was upon re-reading the recipe the next morning that I discovered the additional 350g! Oops! So I made it up with more of the same. After all Nigel is one in favour of tweaking recipes, and a large variety of fruit is all good in my book.

It was at this point that I should have thought about how large a cake this was going to be, but I happily continued creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs, brandy, orange and lemon, then the dried fruits.

It was at this point, as you can see above, that I began to feel that even my large mixing bowl might not quite be up to the task. Folding new ingredients in was beginning to be a rather diplomatic task, with all efforts concentrated on managing not to mix, but more to keep the mixture in the bowl.

The the magnitude of this cake hit. I tried to add the flour, and so placed the bowl on the scales, and tried to set them to zero so as to just throw the flour and baking power in. Simple, I thought. Oh no, all I got was a rebelious error message! My cake was too heavy, it was over the weight limit!

This cake was going to be in a class of it's own!

So I used the bowl that once contained the dried fruit, and then with some more diplomatic folding, and scooping managed to get the mixture combined and into my carefully double-lined tin.

Two and a half hours later it appeared from the oven looking dark and very pleased with itself. I know it might sound strange, but believe me, this is one smug cake. It knows the indulgent goodness it contains. It is now tucked safely in a cake tin, where it will remain, quitely getting drunk on brandy top-ups, before I ice it next week. Stay tuned for that inevitably hilarious, and very messy episode!

For now, here's the recipe, as I made it:

Uber (smug) Christmas cake - feeds twelve GENEROUSLY!!!

1kg of mixed dried fruit of your choice, soaked overnight with a good slosh of port or bandy over them. (I didn't have them sitting in a bowl of alcohol, I just added enough to plump the fruits up a bit and give them some life after being stored in the cupboard)

250g softened butter
125g light muscovado sugar
125g dark muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
65g ground almonds
100g shelled hazelnuts
3 tbsp brandy (plus more for feeding)
zest and juice of 2 clemantines
zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp baking powder
250g plain flour

Line a 20cm round baking tin, with a removable base (I used springform) with a double layer of lightly buttered or greased parchment paper, making sure it comes at least 5cm above the sides of the tin.

Set the oven to 160C.

In a LARGE bowl, beat the sugars and butter together until light and fluffy and cappuccino-coloured. Add the eggs one at a time, don't worry if it curdles. Then slowly mix in the almonds, hazelnuts, dried fruit, brandy, juice and zests. Stir slowly until combined and then mix in the baking powder and flour, folding them lightly in and trying to keep everything in the bowl! Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Place in the oven for an hour, and then without opening the door turn the oven down to 150 and bake for another hour and a half. Check whether the cake is done - a skewer should come out with a few crumbs, but no raw mix on it. Leave to cool before removing from the tin.

Feed the cake by pouring brandy into it every week until Christmas. Cover tightly and store in a tin until needed.

I am not going to put a layer of marzipan over mine before icing because N doesn't like it, so I shall be just adding my royal icing layer next week. I can't wait!

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