It’s not too late to bake a Christ­mas cake

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

When it comes to Christ­mas, I’m a plan­ner; but if you haven’t started your cake yet, don’t de­spair. There’s still time, so here’s a recipe for you. All you need at this late stage is to feed your mix­ture reg­u­larly over the next three weeks with a bit of al­co­hol. Some peo­ple pre­fer brandy – I’m a co­gnac man.

I do like to give my Christ­mas cake a bit of a lift by adding tan­ger­ines or man­darin or­anges – and their zest. That, for me, is the au­then­tic taste and smell of Christ­mas. This recipe might seem a bit over­whelm­ing, so ad­just it to what you like. The key thing is plenty of fruit.

The part of mak­ing a Christ­mas cake I re­ally en­joy is the dec­o­rat­ing. One favourite de­sign of mine is to use the cake as a base. Imag­ine it is the mattress of a bed. To add taste and flavour, you can spread that base with some jam – apri­cot is tra­di­tional, but choose what­ever va­ri­ety you like. Then place on top of the mattress a marzi­pan layer, which be­comes the bed’s un­der­sheet. Next, out of su­gar paste, make some small cones. Th­ese are the mice heads. Add ears and paint on their whiskers and noses, then lay them at one edge of the un­der­sheet and cover their base with a du­vet made of su­gar paste.

One year, I painted the du­vet in patterned squares, put a layer of choco­late around the cake’s edges and scored it to look like floor boards, then scat­tered it with presents and slip­pers, again made out of su­gar paste. It wasn’t quick to make, I’ll ad­mit. Over a week, I must have spent a cou­ple of hours a day on it, but it was such good fun. I kept be­ing tempted to add one more de­tail – build a fire­place with choco­late sticks as logs, for ex­am­ple – but had to re­mind my­self of my Great Bri­tish Bake Off rule about style get­ting the bet­ter of sub­stance.

Some peo­ple, of course, com­plain that Christ­mas cake just sits around un­eaten for weeks with no tak­ers. As a flour­less al­ter­na­tive, why not con­sider a Sacher­torte – a dense choco­late cake – then fill it in the cen­tre with crushed rasp­ber­ries. Take care with the choco­late and cream mix­ture of the ganache; you’re af­ter a high­shine glaze. When you cut into it, the com­bi­na­tion of the choco­late and rasp­ber­ries hid­den by the ganache is so de­li­cious I guar­an­tee it won’t sit around for more than a few days. And if by chance it does, I’ve kept one in the fridge for up to seven days.

I tend to start my mince pies on about De­cem­ber 15. Re­mem­ber, it’s the pas­try that’s im­por­tant, Makes at least 16 slices Prepa­ra­tion: 1 hour, plus pre-soak­ing fruit Bake 3–3.5 hours This is a clas­sic, richly fruited Christ­mas cake — de­li­ciously moist and sub­stan­tial. It tastes won­der­ful just as it is, but of course the ad­di­tion of marzi­pan and snowy white ic­ing make it much more fes­tive and spec­tac­u­lar. You can ei­ther make your own marzi­pan, or use a goodqual­ity bought one. The same goes for the ic­ing. 450g sul­tanas 225g raisins 225g dried apri­cots, chopped 115g prunes, chopped 55g glacé pineap­ple 225g glacé cher­ries, chopped 225g chopped can­died peel 115g blanched al­monds, toasted and very roughly chopped Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange 70ml brandy 225g un­salted but­ter, soft­ened 200g light mus­co­v­ado su­gar 5 large eggs 280g plain flour To fin­ish 2 tbsp apri­cot jam 500g ready-made marzi­pan Ic­ing su­gar for dust­ing 500g ready-to-roll royal ic­ing

Com­bine all the dried and glacé fruit, can­died peel and al­monds in a large bowl. Add the orange zest and juice, and the brandy. Mix well, cover and leave for sev­eral hours or overnight.

Heat your oven to 150C. Line the base and sides of a 20cm round deep cake tin with a dou­ble thick­ness of bak­ing parch­ment, cut­ting it so that it stands a good 5cm proud of the top of the tin.

In a very large mix­ing bowl, beat the but­ter and su­gar to­gether for sev­eral min­utes un­til pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a lit­tle of the flour with each to pre­vent the mix­ture from split­ting. Stir in the fruit mix­ture. Sift the re­main­ing flour over the mix­ture and fold in, us­ing a large metal spoon. Spoon the mix­ture into the pre­pared cake tin and then level the sur­face.

Bake in the mid­dle of the oven for 3 hours, then check by in­sert­ing a skewer into the cen­tre — if it comes out clean, the cake is cooked. If not, give the cake a fur­ther 15–30 min­utes.

Leave the cake to cool be­fore re­mov­ing it from the tin.

When your cake is com­pletely cooled — and ide­ally af­ter a cou­ple of days — you can marzi­pan and ice it. Warmthe apri­cot jam gen­tly in a saucepan with a splash of wa­ter to thin it down, sieve, then brush all over the cake.

Roll out 300g of the marzi­pan to a large cir­cle about4mmthick. Us­ing the cake tin as a guide, cut a round of marzi­pan to fit the top of the cake and po­si­tion it. Roll out the other 200g marzi­pan with the trim­mings and cut 2 long strips to fit around the side of the cake.

Po­si­tion th­ese, then smooth the marzi­pan and mould the edges to­gether.

If you are us­ing ready-toroll ic­ing, roll it out on a sur­face lightly dusted with ic­ing su­gar to a thick­ness of about 5mm. Lift it over the marzi­pan, smooth down and trim off the ex­cess at the base.

If you are us­ing home­made royal ic­ing, smooth it over the cake with a pal­ette knife. You can leave it smooth or swirl it into peaks with the back of a spoon or your pal­ette knife, as you choose. Leave for the ic­ing to set.

Wrap a rib­bon around the side of your Christ­mas cake and fin­ish as you wish with fes­tive dec­o­ra­tions. not the mince­meat. You can buy de­cent mince­meat ready made, but you have to get the pas­try right. It needs to be very short, sweet crust pas­try. Work it so it just comes to­gether, but no more: it is all too easy to over­work it.

Please don’t use one of those shal­low bak­ing trays with moulds that only leave room for a drib­ble of mince­meat. Try a York­shire pud­ding tray in­stead with good, deep pock­ets, so you can fit in a spoon­ful and a half of mince­meat be­fore you reach three-quar­ters full.

When they are cooked, take the mince pies out of the oven and, just as they are go­ing from hot to warm, serve them with a bit of cream. You should be able to drop your fork onto it and feel it fall through the pas­try. No soggy bot­toms, please. It’s one of the best Christ­mas tastes.

If you feel buy­ing your mince­meat is cheat­ing, you can salve your con­science by spruc­ing it up. That’s what I do. Add a lit­tle bit of good co­gnac. Then take a tart ap­ple, cut it into small squares and fold it through the mince­meat. Next add the zest of a man­darin orange or tan­ger­ine. Then take its flesh, chop it up and fold that into the mix­ture. The fruit and booze will lend a dis­tinc­tive tang.

Ev­ery home and fam­ily will have its food tra­di­tions at Christ­mas. Some you con­tinue, some you re­fine, oth­ers you dis­card. I don’t re­mem­ber us mak­ing a Christ­mas cake when we were chil­dren. My dad worked in a bak­ery, so he’d just bring one home. But one legacy of my up­bring­ing is al­ways to stick up for cus­tard as against brandy but­ter or brandy sauce when it comes to what goes best with the Christ­mas pud­ding. Cus­tard keeps it beau­ti­fully moist.

And – even though I know this will hor­rify the food­ies – I of­ten make my cus­tard from tinned pow­der. That was the way my nan made it, af­ter all, and we loved it. My brother Lee (now also a baker) liked it so much he’d just have the cus­tard, not the pud­ding. Not that nan’s meth­ods should al­ways be the last word. She used to wrap up her six­pences in tin foil and put them in her Christ­mas pud­ding. You cer­tainly knew when you bit into it. Your head would ex­plode.

But by and large, I’m one who likes to stick to the way I’ve al­ways done things at Christ­mas. I’m a bit of a stick­ler with Christ­mas crack­ers, too. I like a de­cent one, with a nice present, but the makeor-break fac­tor for me is the noise it makes. The louder the bang the bet­ter, and my mar­ket re­search sug­gests this is not con­nected to how much it costs.

And talk of tra­di­tions makes me re­mem­ber the day my mum told me that I’d turned 18, and was too old for a stock­ing. “You must jok­ing,” I replied.

Paul Hol­ly­wood and Mary Berry will be pre­sent­ing a Christ­mas mas­ter­class on BBC Two on De­cem­ber 17 at 8PM

Peak prac­tice: you can still have a crack at Paul’s Christ­mas cake recipe

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