This Christmas cake is my mother’s recipe and I’ve made it every year for the better part of my life. Glacé fruits can be tricky (and expensive) to buy in the UK. I use a small producer called Country Products. In the absence of whole glacé fruits, decorate with a mix of dried apricots, figs, nuts and glacé cherries, then paint with a glaze of shimmering apricot jam for a simpler, rustic-looking cake.
FOR THE CAKE
100g glacé cherries, halved
100g mixed peel
250g salted butter, plus extra for the tin
250g dark muscovado sugar 2 tbsp black treacle
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground nutmeg
250g self-raising flour
a large pinch of fine sea salt
FOR THE DECORATION
100g apricot jam
1 tbsp water
selection of glacé fruits and nuts, such as glacé pears, plums, orange slices, cherries, pecans and walnuts
1. Put the glacé cherries, peel, currants, raisins and sultanas in a large bowl, pour over the brandy, cover and leave to steep for 24-48 hours. The longer you leave the fruit, the more flavour and moisture it will give to the cake.
2. When you are ready to make the Christmas cake, preheat the oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1. Butter and double-line a 23cm round cake tin, then cut a circle of greaseproof paper the same size as the base of the tin and set aside.
3. Beat together the butter and sugar until they become paler and fluffy, then add the treacle and beat until smooth. Crack each egg at a time into a small bowl, beat lightly with a fork, then add to the mixture, little by little, and beat until well combined. Now sift in the spices, flour and salt and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined. Finally, add the fruit and any remaining soaking liquid and mix well together.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and gently even out the top with the back of the spoon. Cover with the circle of greaseproof paper and set it on the bottom shelf of the oven to bake for 41⁄2 hours. The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to cool in its tin. You can make the cake up to this point months in advance if you like, and store wrapped in foil.
5. To decorate the cake, roll the marzipan out into a sheet roughly as thick as a £1 coin. Cut out a circle of marzipan the same diameter as the cake.
6. Spoon the jam into a small saucepan, add the measured water and set over a medium heat until it begins to bubble lightly. Use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the cake, then carefully lay the circle of marzipan over. Brush the glaze over the marzipan and, while it is still tacky, stick on glacé fruits and nuts, arranging them as you like. I usually do this in concentric circles, with nuts on the outside and a collection of cherries, whole orange slices and a couple of tiny sugared pears and a plum half or so at the centre. Finally, use what is left of the apricot jam to glaze the nuts and fruits, to give them a lovely shine. The Christmas cake will keep happily like this for 2-3 weeks.
Reach for the Skye – and save
Our recipes are from A Table for Friends with additional recipes from A Table in Venice by Skye McAlpine, both Bloomsbury, £26. To order copies for £22.88 each, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Promotional price valid until 20 December. Free UK delivery on orders over £15.