Make the most of cosy weekends in the kitchen and put some time aside now to bake your celebration cake for Christmas. Whether you are a fan of crisp royal icing or simply love to adorn your bake with glace fruits and toasted marzipan, it’s never too early to prepare the centre piece of your festive table.
We share our top tips for both AGA and conventional cooks:
Fruit cakes need long slow cooking, so make sure you double line your tin as well as create a brown paper case to secure on the outside of the tin. This helps to stop the edges from over cooking. It’s a great idea to make a brown paper top at the same time. This can be placed on the top of the cake half way through baking time, if it shows signs of over-browning.
Wash the dried fruit well and then dry with a clean tea towel. Then place it in a bowl and add a generous glug of your favourite tipple. Brandy and whiskey both work well but almond liqueur is definitely our favourite! Soak the fruit well ahead of time, over a couple of days and keep covered in a cool larder.
Ring the changes. Instead of the classic dark cake opt for a ‘white’ Christmas cake. Flavour with coconut liqueur and select dried tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango as well as traditional favourites such as cranberries and pear. Or make a chocolate Christmas cake with cherry brandy or rum soaked raisins and sultanas and omit 50 g of flour to be replaced with cocoa powder. If you don’t have dried fruits in the store cupboard, mincemeat makes a great alternative.
There’s no need to use self-raising flour for your fruit cake. Plain flour is fine as the cake isn’t going to significantly rise. You are looking to achieve a dense, moist texture that is evenly distributed with flavoursome vine fruits.
Gluten free alternatives: opt for a combination of flours. We like to use ground almonds to develop a moist crumb. Teff flour adds flavour and will bind your cake mix. Buckwheat (which is a plant distantly related to rhubarb) partners well with brown sugar as the sweetness highlights floral notes that can sometimes be hidden in this flour. Xanthum gum or physlium husk act as a binder and develop structure within the crumb.
Vegan cakes can be bound together with apple puree or a tablespoon of chia seeds that have been hydrated before mixing.
As there is no raising agent in the mixture, it is possible to make the cake on day one and store in the fridge overnight. Then pre-heat the oven early the following day, allowing you plenty of time to bake your cake. Leave it in the tin until it is completely cold and then remove the baking parchment before wrapping in clean greaseproof paper and store in a tin. Try our festive fruit cake recipe.
Feed your cake regularly with a tablespoon of your favourite liqueur or spirit. To do this, simply turn the cake over so that the base is now the top surface and use a sterilised skewer to make small holes in the surface. Carefully pour a little spirit over the cake and allow this to soak in. Remember to feed every week, but leave seven days before decorating.
If you have an AGA…
Bake your Christmas cake in the simmering oven, depending on the size of the cake, this can take up to eight hours but your finished bake will be extremely moist and tender. Remember to place a grid shelf on the floor of the oven to raise the cake slightly.
Seasoned AGA owners will know that all stoves vary, so these timings are given as a guide. Make sure to check your cake at the beginning of the estimated cooking time and then periodically until the maximum time.
Round Tin Square Tin Baking Time
18 cm 15 cm 4 – 8 hours
20 cm 18 cm 4 – 10 hours
23 cm 20 cm 4 ½ – 11 hours
25 cm 23 cm 4 ½ – 12 hours
28 cm 25 cm 5 – 13 hours
If you are short of time and haven’t soaked your dried fruit a couple of days before, then this can be hurried along by leaving them in a heatproof bowl in the AGA simmering oven for an hour or so. Make sure that the fruit is cool before mixing with the remaining ingredients otherwise the eggs will scramble.
Your cake can be prepared the day before and then slowly baked in the AGA simmering oven all day.
Finally, if you need to make a last minute bake….try our boiled fruit cake but omit the beer for cider to pack a festive punch. Once baked, allow to cool and decorate with a ribbon tied around the edge. Place marzipan fruits, dates, nuts or cherries glazed with a little apricot jam on the top.