Monday, 31 December 2012

The cake is in the oven...

Rich Fruit Cake

Looking at Christmas from the outside as a child, I always wanted to have a tree and make a plum cake! No, this is not a Dickensian story. We were far from that pathos, au contraire, perhaps a shade overfed and overindulged! These two festive trappings were just too symbolic of the good times and the season of happiness.

The first wish was lived albeit vicariously, by starting the tradition of decorating a tree when the girls were young. The second wish had to wait till this year, my 50th, to be fulfilled!

I was looking for a foolproof failsafe recipe, when Umita Venkatraman brought this Delia Smith recipe to my attention.  Having baked this cake for years, Umita patiently handheld me throughout the stages of wonderment, curiosity, panic and the long wait while it baked!

Thank you Umita!

And I had enthusiastic helpers who wanted to make me happy!  My daughters know very well how I love this cake, and so my younger one, who detests raisins and most dry fruit and the aromas of spices, helped me shop for all “her enemies” as she calls them. My eldest, a foodie after me and a master cake maker herself, patiently weighed ingredients and creamed the butter and added the eggs in an excruciatingly slow drip, while I cut out the various papers for the packaging and read the recipe a hundred times.

The three of us working in the kitchen and then impatiently lying in wait of the cake coming out of the oven after 4 ½ hours on a lazy summer day in Melbourne, was one of the highlight of our holidays!

I think for the first time I ever stuck so closely to a recipe, making just four changes- one in substituting some of the currants with dates, then adding golden syrup instead of the black treacle and 6 tablespoons of brandy to the fruit instead of the 3 tablespoon recommended by Delia Smith. Finally, I took a chance and soaked the fruit for four days instead of just overnight.

The result was stunning! Easily the best Chrissy Cake I have ever eaten!

Rich Fruit Cake

This makes an 8 inch round cake
Currants - 1 lb (450 g) (I used only 250g and added 200 g of chopped pitted dates)
Sultanas - 6 oz (175 g)
Raisins - 6 oz (175 g)
Glacé cherries, rinsed and finely chopped - 2 oz (50 g)
Mixed peel, finely chopped - 2 oz (50 g)
Brandy - 3 tablespoons ( I used 6 tablespoons)
Plain flour - 8 oz (225 g)
Salt - ½ level teaspoon
Freshly grated nutmeg - ¼ level teaspoon
Mixed spice - ½ level teaspoon ( used a mixture of cloves and cinnamon)
Almonds, chopped (the skins can be left on) - 2 oz (50 g)
Soft brown sugar - 8 oz (225 g)
Black treacle - 1 level dessertspoon (I used golden syrup)
Unsalted butter - 8 oz (225 g)
Eggs - 4 large
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Grated rind of 1 orange
Approximate Baking Times 4½-4¾ hours

Grease the tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1, 275 F (140 C).

The night before you make the cake, place all the dried fruits and peel in a bowl and mix in the brandy. Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave to soak for at least 12 hours. ( I soaked the fruit and peel for 4 days )

Sieve the flour, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl, and in a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture’s light and fluffy (this, in fact, is the most important part of the cake, so don’t cut any corners). Next, beat up the eggs and – a tablespoon at a time – add them to the creamed mixture, beating thoroughly after each addition. If it looks as if it might start to curdle, you can prevent this happening by adding a little of the flour.

When all the egg has been added, fold in the flour and spices (fold, don’t beat). Now stir in the fruit and peel that has been soaking, the nuts, the treacle and the grated lemon and orange rinds. 

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, and spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon. (If you are not going to ice the cake, at this stage you can arrange some whole blanched almonds over the surface – but do it lightly, or else they disappear for ever into the cake!) 

Tie a band of brown paper around the outside of the tin, and cover the top of the cake with a double square of greaseproof paper (with a hole in the middle approximately the size of a 50p). Bake the cake on the lower shelf of the oven, look at the table above for baking times, and don’t open the door to peek at it until at least 4 hours (3 hours if making the 6 in (15 cm) round cake) have passed. 

When the cake is cold, wrap it well in double greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin. I like to ‘feed’ it at odd intervals with brandy during the storage time. To do this, strip off the lining papers, make a few extra holes in the top with a thin darning needle and pour a few teaspoons of brandy in to soak into the cake. Repeat this at intervals for a week or two.

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