The spice is right
Three essential Christmas bakes
The secret is a generous glug of stout and the addition of prunes and figs ... adding depth and a fudgy sweetness
Claire Ptak’s figgy mulled wine honey cake
Dried figs are plumped with the remains of leftover red wine – so the perfect thing to make on Boxing Day – and steeped in spices, then drenched in honey. The texture and stickiness of this one makes it my favourite.
Makes 1 cake
400g dried figs 165g unsalted butter 75g brandy 300ml red wine Zest of 1 orange, and 25ml freshly squeezed orange juice
250g honey, plus a little extra for drizzling
1 egg 1½ tsp ground cinnamon ¼ tsp ground cloves 200g wholemeal wheat or wholemeal spelt flour 1½ tsp baking powder ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and line a 23cm cake tin with baking parchment.
2 Trim the rough stems off the figs, then chop into 1cm pieces. Cut the butter into small pieces and allow it to soften to room temperature.
3 Put the brandy, wine and dried figs in a heavy-based saucepan and simmer over a medium-low heat to plump the figs. After 15 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and cool for 20 minutes.
4 Add the orange zest and juice, then stir in the butter and honey. Leave for 15 minutes, then whisk in the egg.
5 In a separate bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, cloves, flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Slowly whisk this mixture into the wet ingredients, then transfer everything into the prepared tin, and bake for 45 minutes.
6 Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a plate. To serve, drizzle with a little extra honey and serve warm with yoghurt.
Steffi Knowles-Dellner’s sticky buns
Perfect for Christmas morning, and lazy afternoons thereafter. You could use nuts, such as almonds, in the caramel for some extra crunch, though the contrast of pillowy softness with the simple crunch of sea salt also works a treat.
Makes 16-18 For the dough
150g butter 500ml whole milk 50g fresh yeast 125g caster sugar
2 tsp ground cardamom or 1½ tsp cardamom pods, split open and seeds bashed 1 tsp salt About 800g strong white bread flour 1 egg, beaten
For the filling
125g butter, softened 150g light brown sugar 3 tbsp golden syrup 180ml double cream A pinch of salt 50g almonds, chopped (optional) 3 tsp ground cinnamon 75g caster sugar
1 To make the dough: melt the butter in a pan, pour in the milk and heat until just warm to the touch. Crumble the yeast into your largest bowl with a little of the buttery milk. Stir until the yeast has dissolved, then add the remaining liquid. Add the sugar, cardamom and 1 tsp salt, then about 700g of the flour.
2 Mix into a wet dough, then tip on to a lightly floured surface and knead it together. It will be a bit difficult to handle, but moving it vigorously around or slapping and folding it will have an impact. Add a bit more flour if absolutely necessary. Return to a clean bowl and sprinkle with flour. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warmish place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. It should now be smooth as “a baby’s bottom”, as my mormor used to say, with a fond pat. Knock the dough back a bit while still in the bowl, then tip on to a floured surface. Knead for a few minutes, adding more flour if the dough seems very wet. It is ready when it releases from the surface easily and, if you slash into the dough with a very sharp knife, there are evenly distributed small air bubbles. Cut the dough in half and roll each half out to form a rectangle, roughly 30 x 40cm.
3 Line a large high-sided baking tin with baking parchment.
4 While the dough is rising, melt half the butter in a small saucepan, then add the brown sugar and golden syrup. Simmer over a low-medium heat until the sugar has dissolved then add the cream and bring to the boil for 5 minutes. Add a pinch of sea salt and allow to cool until just warm to the touch, tasting to see if more salt is necessary. Sprinkle the almonds, if using, into the prepared baking tin and pour the caramel sauce over the top, spreading it out evenly.
5 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Knead the dough, then divide in half and roll into 2 rectangles. Spread with the remaining butter, cinnamon and caster sugar. Roll up the rectangles and slice into buns – you should have enough for about 16–18.
6 Arrange these on top of the caramel, about 1cm apart. Cover with a tea towel and let it prove for 30 minutes.
7 Bake the buns for 15–20 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool a little before flipping over. You may find that some of the caramel sticks to the baking parchment, but you should be able to scrape it off and disperse it over the buns. Cool completely on a wire rack set over a baking sheet to catch any dripping caramel, before sprinkling with a little extra sea salt. Pull apart to serve.
Ruby Tandoh’s easy fig and ale Christmas cake
This is a last-minute affair compared with many Christmas cakes – but you should still soak the fruit overnight or at least for a few hours. It is still moist, dark and rich, and made in a fraction of the time it might usually take. The secret is a generous glug of stout and the addition of prunes and figs to the usual cast of dried fruit, adding depth and a fudgy sweetness.
200g prunes, chopped 300g currants
100g glace cherries, chopped 150g dried figs, chopped 175ml stout
For the cake
175g unsalted butter, softened 175g soft light brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tbsp black treacle
Zest of 1 orange
125g dark rye flour
50g plain flour
2 tsp mixed spice
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
75g blanched hazelnuts, finely chopped
1 The day before you make the cake, combine the fruit in a bowl and douse with the stout (a good porter or, at a push, brown ale will suffice, but the mellow, chocolatey depth of stout is best). Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave overnight – or at least for a good few hours – until the fruit has absorbed most of the liquid.
2 The next day, preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2, line a deep, 20cm round cake tin with baking parchment and wrap the outside in a couple of layers of foil to prevent the cake’s edge from drying during the long baking time.
3 Cream the butter and sugar together until completely smooth then, one by one, add the eggs. The mixture is likely to curdle a little at this point, but don’t panic: just add 2 tbsp or so of plain flour to smooth the mix. Stir in the treacle and zest. In a separate bowl, combine the flours, mixed spice, baking powder and salt. Add these dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir until roughly combined.
4 Add the hazelnuts to the batter along with the soaked fruit mixture (including any stout left unabsorbed). Combine thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 3½-4 hours, or until a small knife inserted into the centre of the cake emerges clean. If the top of the cake begins to darken too deeply during the baking time, just cover with foil.
5 Once baked, let the cake cool completely in its tin before decorating. It could take overnight to cool, but it’s crucial to wait until it’s stone cold before slicing. It will continue to firm, set and mellow as it approaches room temperature. Decorate it (or not) however you please.