Following on with our preparations for Christmas, now is the time to get the Christmas cake ready. If, that is, you want a traditional one. For those of you that want a fast cake I’ll share a really great recipe nearer to the time.
This recipe for a mature Christmas cake comes from the most extraordinary tea rooms in England, Bettys Tea Rooms started in Harrogate in North Yorkshire over one hundred years ago and now have six foodie shrines spread around Yorkshire, all still run by the descendants of the original Swiss founder.
As a child, we would go to Bettys for my mother’s birthday and I will always remember pressing my nose to the window, staring at the unbelievable array of breads and cakes. The choice of traditional breads with names that I could barely pronounce was staggering and the perfection of the cakes, tarts and sweet treats completely inspirational. Now usually our memories play tricks on us, but Bettys is different, we took the kids there last year and it was like I was transported back to my own childhood only this time it was all four of us with our noses pressed to the window.
This Christmas cake recipe is theirs and frankly is hard to beat, to see the glistening glace fruits crowding the top hark back to an older time when families would save all year to be able to buy the spices and fruits that we take for granted today.
For the cake
250g butter, at room temperature
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g plain white flour
75g ground almonds
pinch of salt
250g golden sultanas
125g glace pineapple, finely chopped
75g crystallized ginger, finely chopped
185g whole mixed peel (lemon, orange and citron) finely chopped
50g angelica, finely chopped
125g chopped walnuts
grated zest and juice of one lemon
250g naturally coloured glace cherries
For the decoration
3-4 tablespoons apricot jam
3-4 tablespoons water
glace fruits (orange and lemon slices, pineapple, apricots, figs, cherries, angelica)
- line the bottom and sides of a 20cm cake tin with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 140°C (gas mark 1)
- Place the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Beat until pale and creamy.
- Add the eggs, one by one, mixing well.
- Combine the flour, almonds and salt together and add to the mixture gradually.
- Next add the sultanas, pineapple, ginger, peel, angelica, walnuts, sherry and lemon juice and zest. Mix well, then gently stir in the cherries so that they remain whole.
- Transfer the cake mixture to the cake tin, flattening the surface with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 3 hours. The cake will be ready when it is golden brown on top and firm to the touch, but don’t be afraid to give it a little longer if it doesn’t appear to be ready. To check, pierce the centre with a thin skewer – it should come out clean.
- When cool enough to handle, remove from the cake tin and leave on a cooling rack until completely cold. Wrap in tin foil and place in an airtight container to mature until needed. This should be placed in a cool dark corner of your pantry.
- The day before you need it, decorate it. Depending on how boozy you like your Christmas cake you can add 50ml of brandy (or spirit of your choosing) to the top of the cake and allow to soak in before the decoration begins.
- To decorate, place the apricot jam and water in a small pan over a low heat. Stir well until you have a thick glaze. Brush the top of the cake with a generous quantity of the apricot mixture, then lay the glace fruits on top in a design of your choice. Allow to cool, then brush the top of the fruits with a little more apricot glaze.
Traditionally in Yorkshire this would be served with Wensleydale cheese, which seems a little odd but has to be tried to be believed. Going the full hog why not match it all to a glass of Dark Spice Liqueur from 8th Tribe, our glorious Bay of Plenty distille