This is a step by step guide to making a rich Christmas Fruit cake. Do read the Steps as well as the tips given just below the history of Christmas Cakes here, before you move to the recipe. This will help you plan for soaking fruits as well as for baking the cake.
After posting my guide on how to soak fruits for a Christmas Cake I have followed up with this recipe for baking the rich Christmas fruit cake. Last year I had soaked the fruits in the 3rd week of November, and by the first week week of December it was time to bake the cake, giving a little time for the cake to mature. This year I will try to soak the fruits earlier, in September or October.
This recipe is for a rich Christmas Fruit cake, though it tastes so good, I might just make it several times a year. No more buying dry plum cakes from the local bakery! If you are going to try this recipe, the first thing you have to remember is that you either soak the dry fruits ahead of time (here’s the link to my recipe for soaking the fruits) or at least start the preparation for making the cake a day before you plan to bake it – check in Step 1 below.
The quantities here are for one rich Christmas Fruit cake though I have actually made 3 small cakes – 2 with fruits soaked in rum and one little round one with fruits soaked in orange juice, for my little granddaughter Natasha. I made the batter for the cake and then separated a small quantity for Natasha’s orange flavoured cake.
For a little bit of Fruit cake history – Wikipedia says that some of the earliest known recipes from ancient Rome had pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins all mixed into barley mash! Later on, in what are called the Middle Ages, honey, preserved fruit and spices were added. The recipes varied from one country or region to another, down the ages depending on availability of ingredients locally as well as local customs, church regulations not permitting the use of butter during fasts, etc.
Wikipedia goes on to say that Pope Innocent VIII (1432–1492) finally granted the use of butter, in a written permission known as the ‘Butter Letter’ or Butterbrief in 1490, giving permission to Saxony to use milk and butter in the North German Stollen fruit cakes. It was only in the 16th Century, that the awareness (and availability of sugar from the Colonies) that high concentrations of sugar could preserve fruits) created candied fruit, thus making fruit cakes more affordable and popular.
Now lets go on to our rich Christmas Fruit cake!
There are some preparations to be made before you can actually get to baking the cake, if you want to bring out the best flavours and rich moist softness of the cake without having it brown and burn on one side and remain sticky on the other.
Step 1: Preparing the Dry Fruits : I have given the steps for soaking the fruits well ahead of the baking, in my recipe on this blog, as well as my thoughts on what fruits to select, quantities, etc. Please refer the same for the mix and quantities of dry fruits for the cake. Link to the recipe on this blog: How to Soak Fruits for a Christmas Cake
This recipe is for a traditional rich Christmas Fruit cake, but if you have not soaked the fruits ahead of time, there is a short short cut which you could try – the intense flavour of well soaked dry fruits would not be there, but you would get a nice Christmas fruit cake anyway.
How to bake the rich Christmas Fruit cake without soaking the fruits:
The day before you are going to bake the cake, set the soaking liquid in a saucepan on the stove on low flame. Add the dried fruits and bring the mixture gently to a simmer, keeping the heat low so that the liquid does not boil away. Turn the fruits with the liquid into a bowl, stir it well, and once it cools, cover and keep in a dark cool place. For quantities of fruit and soaking liquid, check my recipe on this blog for soaking fruits for the Christmas Cake.
Soaking liquid: You could soak the dry fruits in alcohol (brandy, rum, cognac, etc) or in unsweetened fruit juice. For Natasha’s little cake I used freshly squeezed orange juice. A combination of orange and cranberry juice or apple juice would be good too. Black tea such as a Darjeeling tea, pre-soaked in cup of very hot water, could make an effective non alcoholic substitute. The dry fruits and nuts are the hero in this cake, The flour, butter and eggs are put to use to hold the fruits together and shape the cake.
Step 2: Preparing the Baking Tin : The recipe below is for an 8″ square tin, or a 9″ round one, or you could bake the cake in smaller tins or a round bundt tin. The Christmas cake is to be baked on low heat for a long time, so that it cooks evenly without burning. It is important to line the baking tin with parchment paper or grease proof paper.
I did not have brown parchment paper so I used the white one, but I have heard that brown parchment is of more use in keeping the cake sides and bottom from browning too fast or burning.
Grease the tin all around and use 2-3 layers of the parchment paper, lining the bottom and all sides of the tin, with an inch or two of paper protruding from the top of the tin on all sides. Some bakers suggest wrapping the outside of the cake tin too, with brown paper and tying it in place, so help ensure the cake does not overcook.
Step 3: Preparing the ingredients:
Check the list of ingredients below for the rich Christmas Fruit cake and ensure you have brought them all, specially the eggs and butter, to room temperature. You may even need to keep the butter out overnight for it to come up to room temperature, depending on the climate.
Measure all the ingredients and keep them ready. Mix the spices in the proportion given in the ingredients below.
Grind the almonds in a processor (unless you are using processed almond flour). Measure the flour and then sieve it along with the baking powder so that the baking powder gets dispersed into the flour. Chop the walnuts into small pieces.
Step 4: Bake the cake: When you are ready to go, set the oven to preheat at 160 deg C (320 F). Prepare the batter as per instructions in the recipe below. As the cake bakes, the liquid in the fruits oozes out and givens the Christmas Cake its moist, soft texture.
This is a crumbly cake but if you bake it correctly you can slice it cleanly. Using alcohol to soak the fruits for the cake is of course optional. The alcohol in the cake evaporates during the baking, however it leaves its flavour behind. As there would still be some residue in the cake, it would not be advisable for expectant mothers or children.
Some tips you may find useful in making the rich Christmas Fruit cake:
Molasses or Syrup: I have used dark molasses in the cake. You could substitute with treacle which is traditionally used in Christmas cakes, and if you don’t have either, use maple syrup or dark honey. The flavour would differ for each of these.
Nuts – I readily had available walnuts and almonds, and the almonds make a nice flour when ground which adds to the texture of the cake. Pecan nuts or hazelnuts or a combination of nuts could be substituted for the walnuts, in the same proportion as in the ingredients list below.
Zest: I have put both orange and lemon zest in the ingredients, to give the cake a lovely citrusy flavour. Whether you use only lemon or both is your option to choose.
Be gentle with the Batter Don’t mix or beat the batter more than required for the ingredients to just combine, as the cake would become heavy. Gently fold in the ingredients.
BakingTemperature and Time: Oven temperatures vary, so you need to keep checking your cake after an hour and a half. When a small skewer inserted comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs, your cake is done. I started my oven at 160 C and after an hour when I saw that the top looked set, I brought the temperature down to 150 C. It took about 2 hours and 15 minutes for my cake to get done.
Storage: I have given the steps for storing the cake after baking, in the instructions below. Do not wrap the cake directly with foil as the alcohol or juice could react with the foil. Wrap in clingfilm and then in foil.The cake is not be refrigerated as it could harden and the sugar in it crystallize. The alcohol in the cake acts as a preservative.
I have not decorated the top of the rich Christmas Fruit cake, as it looks good as it is. I may do so before Christmas, though – a simple decoration of sliced almonds and sliced candied cherries, maybe. Next year I may cover the cake with icing in Christmassy theme.