Take Christmas cakes for example, I wanted to make one myself this year, left it rather late and I still can't decide whose recipe to use.
Eight days ago I made my first move on a Monday and collected together dried fruits from my shopping around world. There were tart cherries bought in Pike Place Market, Seattle (so precious I had not got round to using them for 2 years). Pecans, dates and almonds from Sam's Club in Texas. Juicy currants and raisins from the Co-op in Bungay to add a cosmopolitan mix.
My main recipe sources were Nigella via The Guardian, The River Cafe Cookbook, a treasured gift from Debbie , Bourke Street Bakery and good old Delia - whose much loved recipe has been made for many years in my family.
So I averaged out the weight of fruit these chefs used and added a bit more, because I love those tart cherries, before looking around for some brandy to soak the fruit in. But like Mother Hubbard, my cupboard was bare except for some Pimms No1, left over from summer, and some Sake which we hid in our shipment back from China. Pimms seemed the best option and I glugged in enough No1 to cover the dried fruit. As an insurance, I purchased some brandy the next day and added that too.
How long to soak it? Five weeks, as Bourke Street suggested, was out of the question - Christmas is next week. Overnight seemed the only alternative. Except that I didn't have time to bake on the Tuesday, or the Wednesday and then I flew to Copenhagen on the Thursday. So here I am a week later, back in Suffolk and finally ready to stir into action. I can assure you this is one plumptious, boozy fruity mix.
So if you have left it late like me, you can still have a go. If the mixture that I spooned into the tin is anything to go by, it is A - May - Zing. ( I am writing this blog whilst it gently bakes, so if the results are no good you may never read this).
A few extras I included, as well as the Pimm's, are dark chocolate, fennel seeds, chopped almonds and pecans and lots of dried tart cherries instead of those awful glace ones.
Christmas cake 2011, Ingrid's version
500 g raisins
150g tart cherries
- Add to a saucepan, cover with Pimms No1, fresh orange juice and brandy. Up to you the proportions, but I went heavy on the Pimms. Bring to the boil, switch off the heat and cover the pan and leave. The longer the better, in my case, a week.
- Preheat your oven to 150C/ gas 2 and prepare your baking tins. Grease the tin, and line the base and sides with a double layer of baking parchment. You can tie brown paper round the outside too, which helps the cake to not over brown itself.
4 large fresh free range eggs (mine were from Lisa)
2 lemons - grated lemon zest
- Take the butter and eggs out of the fridge the night before you will mix. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the grated lemon zest of 2 lemons.
2 Tablespoons black treacle or syrup (I forgot to buy treacle)
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add a little plain flour if it starts to curdle like mine did. Then beat in the treacle or syrup and almond extract.
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
250g of almonds chopped finely (or ground almonds)
150g pecans roughly chopped (or walnuts)
150g dark chocolate, 70%, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds, ground roughly (find them in an asian food store)
1 teaspoon almond essence
- Sift the flour and spices together, mix with the ground almonds.
- Mix the soaked fruit & juices into the egg and butter mixture, alternating with the flour/almond/spice mixture.
- Fold in the chopped pecans and chocolate.
- Spoon into the prepared tins, lined with silicone paper and wrapped with brown paper.
- Into the oven for a minimum of 2 hours. Test with a cake tester, it should come out cleanish.
- Timing depends on size of tins and depth of mixture. I used a shallow 20cm square tin and a 15cm round cake tin, because that was what I had. But you could use a deeper 20cm square tin and it would take all the mixture and need an extra 30 - 45mins in the oven.
- Allow the cake to cool in its tin on a cooling rack. Take the cake out when its completely cold and wrap in foil.
- Store the wrapped cake in a tin for as long as you can wait, they recommend 3 weeks but mine will be lucky to last one week. In the interests of culinary science I had to cut into it and taste the small one to share with you dear readers.
- Feeding the cake with extra brandy is possible if you make it well enough in advance but mine rolled out of the tin in a way that just smelt of abundance. So no worries if you don't have time.
Here is the proof of the pudding...
Verdict: scrumptious, bumptious and yumtious. Still warm and not ready to be cut, but the nuts add a richness and the soaked fruit a moistness. Not sure where the chocolate went, but guess it just adds to the richness. I can wholeheartedly recommend you trying this.
Many Thanks to Nigella, Delia, River Cafe and Bourke Street Bakery for their inspiration in this hybrid cake.
Come back for the decorating episode sometime later this week.