Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Christmas Cake - a variation on a traditional Irish theme

It's the end of November and time to bake the Christmas Cake - in fact it is a bit late and all self-respecting "housewives" have been stressing for weeks already about the Christmas preparations. Not this one - I haven't even made the cake yet nor have I all the ingredients to hand - but that will soon be resolved once I put my mind to it and blitz Lidl or my local supermarket - I don't scrimp on quality for this once-in-a-year cake but I don't equate quality with expensive and I hate feeling I've been ripped off - so I have no problem sourcing quality fruit and nuts at the discount German stores as well as the bargains on offer in the Irish multiples competing with them.

So in the true spirit of all good TV cooks - from the how-to-cheat-at-cooking Delia (who has spent Christmas at Sandy Lane resort in the Caribbean according to some stressed out wannabe-perfect-Christmas-cook on the radio this week who felt this was treachery!) to the uber-sensuous Nigella and Ballymaloe mother-and-daughter-in-law duo Darina and Rachel Allen - here's one I made earlier!

The photos you see here are from the cake I made last Christmas and I have no qualms of conscience putting them up here for you to enjoy as it gives those of you who may wish to try the cake plenty of time to brace yourself for a bakeathon -the preparation and baking will take you over a day including the soaking of the fruit in whatever spirit of Christmas you fancy, be it whisky or whiskey (it's all Uisce Beatha or Water of Life!) brandy, rum or Cointreau.

Be warned - it's not for the faint-hearted, as it is not alone time-consuming but a bit costly. However, it is well worth it and it can last for a year or more! A similar recipe is used for wedding cakes and the top tier is traditionally kept for the Christening of the first child!

You need the following items:

10-inch/26cm round cake tin, preferably Springform (Loose-bottomed!)
Grease the tin, and line with 3 layers of greaseproof paper or baking parchment and wrap brown paper round the outside tied with string - this stops the cake from burning at the edges.
(Tip: Cut circles to fit bottom of tin, then frill the side liners at the edges to keep them neatly tucked under the circles. This is clearly seen in the photo below.
(Imperial with nearest Metric equivale
12oz/350gm raisins
12oz/350gm sultanas
12 oz/350gm currants
6oz/175gm chopped mixed peel
60z/175gm washed halved glacé cherries
3oz/75gm dried apricots - chop and soak in water
6oz/175gm chopped or flaked almonds and/or chopped pecans
Juice and rind of 1 large orange/2 small ones
8 tablespoons/120 ml Cointreau/Whiskey/Brandy/Rum (pick one!)

Mix all the above and soak in the spirits and orange juice for at least 24 hours - covering the bowl in clingfilm.

Other Ingredients:

12 oz/350gm brown sugar
12 oz/350 gm butter - softened at room temp.
6 eggs - free-range preferably
1lb/450gm plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp mixed spice
6oz/175gm ground almonds
NEXT DAY: Preheat oven to 170 degrees Centigrade/325 degrees Fahrenheit/ Gas Mark 3.


1. Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer or wooden spoon if you feel like some exercise!
2. Add beaten eggs gradually, still beating mixture.
3. Sieve all dry ingredients (except ground almonds) and add to mix while still beating at slow speed
4. Add soaked fruit mix and stir well with wooden spoon, until thoroughly mixed up.
5. Put dollops of cake mix into prepared tins and smooth surface with your (clean!) fingers dipped in cold water.
6. Bake in preheated oven. After half an hour reduce temp. to 150 degrees C./300 degrees F./Gas Mark 2. Bake for 3 and a half hours or until centre of cake top is firm and a metal skewer/knitting needle stuck into centre of cake comes out clean and dry.
7. Leave cake in tin until completely cool - a day or two.
8. Remove from tin, wrap in several layers of greaseproof paper, tinfoil and clingfilm, and store in a cool dry dark space - ideally for a few weeks.
9 For added flavour and potency, unwrap weekly, pierce base of cake with knitting needle a number of times and pour a capful or preferred spirits - Cointreau, whiskey, rum, brandy, whatever you fancy - over the base. Rewrap and store until ready to Ice.
(you can buy ready-made marzipan or better still make your own)


8oz/225gm icing sugar
8oz/225gm caster sugar
1lb/450gm ground almonds
2 eggs
1 tsp almond essence
1 tablespoon sherry (optional)


Mix all dry ingredients together and add beaten eggs and essence/sherry to make a firm paste.

Knead well on caster sugared worktop to prevent sticking.

Roll out and cover cake - use warmed apricot jam or marmalade to stick almond icing to cake.

Tip: Roll out large enough to cover cake in one go, having placed cake on its final resting place - a nicely foil-covered cakeboard or a large plate.

ROYAL ICING (The real icing on the cake!)


2lbs Icing sugar
4 egg whites
2-3 tsps lemon juice


Whisk egg whites and mix in half icing sugar, beat till glossy. Add remaining icing sugar and beat well. Add lemon juice and beat again.

Cover cake with icing as you fancy - can be smoothed over with knife in hot water or roughly slathered on and peaked with knife edge - looks great either way!

See the photo at the top of the post for the finished look - cheesy Santa figure acceptable or a more sophisticated sprig of holly or some calligraphic lettering if you prefer - anything goes and kitsch is definitely de rigueur at this time of year.

Store the finished cake in a tin or covered in tinfoil once cut to prevent it drying out - and most of all ENJOY with all your family and friends over the Christmas holiday season. Happy Christmas 2009 to everyone and Happy Baking!


Rudee said...

This is incredibly impressive. I fancy I can almost taste it!

Jeannette StG said...

Wow Catherine. That indeed looks like a lot of work!! The inside of the cake looks a little like the American fruit cake, also made for this time of year. Oh my, all the calories, together with the marzipan topping!!

Irene said...

Oh, I can see that this is for very dedicated bakers and way too complicated for me. I'd probably get it wrong somewhere along the line and it would turn out horrible. But yours looks beautiful and I would love to have a bite. The icing looks quite nice as well. This is a tradition in the US too, but not here in the Netherlands. We have other kinds of traditional foods, which I'm sure your husband can tell you about. Ask him if he knows what "kniepertjes" are.

Stephanie V said...

This was definitely nostalgic. My mother used to make this cake every year for Christmas. It was delicious. Nobody (except me) likes the fruit cake part so we just have to settle for marzipan treats.
Excellent recipe and step-by-step. Thanks

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, I am sure the cake tastes as good as it looks. I have not even started anything yet in the line of baking. Our water only came back on last night and that only for domestic use .It will be another few days before it is cleared for drinking.I see from yur previous posts that waterford suffered flooding also.

Ann said...

My cake and pudding are made in the back of the cupboard all wrapped in parchment and foil. Won't be icing until Christmas week! Looking at your photo's makes the wait more difficult. I love Christmas cake and my children just don't think Christmas dinner is Christmas dinner without the flaming of the pudding.

Catherine said...

Thanks for all the comments and compliments! Much appreciated and I will be inspired by them to do this year's cake very soon!

JEANNETTE - I think it is the same type of rich cake recipe as the American one but maybe they don't do the icing on the cake with the marzipan in the middle like we have. I do think it goes with Christmas and it isn't the same without it - my mother used to send one to Africa nearly every year - I had to ice it myself. But it was worth it!

Catherine said...

RUDEE- it looks impressive but once all the shopping is done it is really very simple! The preparation is the big thing, and the waiting to finish it off - the marzipan and the royal icing add another few days onto it all. Like knitting - easy peasy when you know how!

Catherine said...

IRENE - you could if you really tried to but it is a bit of a commitment! So you really must want to have your cake and eat it too!
I haven't asked Jan what Kniepertjes are - I did ask Jany (Dutch daughter-in-law-in-waiting) and she didn't know. So I will try later.
Have been too busy to comment on your blog but will revisit soon!

Catherine said...

STEPHANIE - so you have a similar cake in Canada or was that elesewhere? I have sons who pick off the icing (royal) and leave the marzipan and then the cake gets eaten by another son. I like the cake in small quantities as it is so rich, a little is quite enough!
Hope you enjoy the nostalgia enough to give it a try!

Catherine said...

ANN - you are very organised if you have the cake already made - I am still nowhere near making mine and it will possibly happen in the coming week though there is a lot on right now with work and swine flu clinics and industrial unrest and pay talks breaking down and the budget next wednesday and family on the move all over the place. So Christmas Cake is taking a bit of a back seat at the moment!
Nice to see the traditions of home staying with you across the seas - I found it great in Africa and Asia to have Christmas traditions in the heat. Miss that now with all the flooding...
Enjoy Vegas! Talk again...

Catherine said...

PEGGY - hope you get over the flooding - I am going to Cork in the morning with the family and hope there won't be more floods as the forecast is for flooding at high tide in the morning and evening. We weren't badly affected at all except I had to divert round the mountains to go to work - up the Knockmealdowns and then round by Mount Melleray to Cappoquin. So I really think we are lucky in Lismore not to have flooding in the town being high above the Castle. That is built on a clifftop so there is never high water in Lismore. Not sure where you are in relation to that dam at Iniscarra but it sounds pretty scary that they opened it to prevent it bursting and flooding even more than it did with controlled release.
Christmas cake isn't that important then!

talesfromagarden said...

hi catherine,
your cake looks divine, i am almost tempted to bake it! I used to make 5 cakes at christmas once upon a time, some to give away and now i have given up on it mostly because i am the only one who would eat it and eat it and end up with the pounds on my body!My husband would just be happy if i gave him a block of marzipan and stuck a santa in it and said heres your christmas cake!
I have baked your maderia cakes with great success(i have the weight to prove it)and i will try the bakewell cakes coming up to christmas.
I love the aroma of christmas cake baking so i maybe just tempted to bake just one!
I love your step by step photos very important !

Anonymous said...

Hi Catherine, I just tried it .. and it came out pretty good... but with 300 degree, I was able to bake it in about 2 hours. I have yet to taste it though :)

Unknown said...

Catherine--this cake looks WONDERFUL, and with such a beautiful, fluffy looking icing. I do love to bake, especially for Christmas, and would try this only because if I messed it up I probably wouldn't care, having sampled as much of the spirits as the fruit was soaked in:) However, our oven is BROKEN (can you believe it; at Christmas?), and I am unable to bake anything. I have resorted to dipping most anything I can find into chocolate melted in the microwave and calling it a cookie. Merry Christmas to you, and happy eating that cake! (and thanks for visiting my blog)

Val said...

That looks and sounds wonderful Catherine.