Rather than follow my Grandma’s Christmas cake recipe (which, let’s face it, was probably derived from Mrs. Beeton’s cook book), I thought I’d try making a Christmas cake using the traditional ingredients and add my own spin. Maybe my cake will be passed down through the Butterworth generations as “Grandpa’s Christmas cake”….. who knows!
I didn’t want to faff around with different jars/bags of various dried fruits, so I chose to buy 1kg of “Luxury” mixed dry fruits I sourced from Amazon. The “Bake with me” brand are gluten free, have no artificial colours or flavouring and are also suitable for vegetarians / vegans. Their Christmas Fruit mix consists of sultanas, currants, glacé cherries, candied citrus peel and golden sultanas. I decided to add additional glacé cherries to my cake – as a child, I was always disappointed if I didn’t get half a cherry in my slice of cake!
Alcohol is used to help preserve your cake and it also draws out the aroma from the fruits. For my Axe Edge Christmas cake I strayed from the traditional brandy, sherry, whisky, rum or red vermouth and decided to use Amaretto. Why? You may ask. Well, I won’t be adding almond nuts or marzipan to my cake, but I do like the almond flavour in my cake so Amaretto seems the perfect compromise. For an alcohol free version, I’d suggest fruit juice as a replacement (e.g. grape juice to compliment the fruit), just bear in mind your cake won’t have the shelf life of a cake fed with alcohol.
The night before
1kg of mixed dried fruits
Additional glacé cherries (to taste)
Additional dried prunes (to taste) – I added 100g
1 orange, finely grated zest and juice
Combine the mixed fruit, additional glacé cherries, additional prunes with the orange zest and juice in a large bowl. Add the Amaretto and mix well. Cover with cling film and leave overnight in a cool place.
On the day
Bring your oven to 150°C / 300°F (follow your oven’s instructions if using fan assist) /Gas mark 2.
I used the baking oven of our Aga which is warmer than above but I put the cake in the cool spot.
Line the base and the 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.
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
200g light muscovado sugar
1tbsp of black treacle
1 ½ tsp of ground mixed spice
Dash of Madagascar vanilla
5 large eggs
285g plain flour
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together for several minutes until thoroughly mixed. The mixture should be light brown.
One at a time, beat in the eggs, sifting a little of the flour with each. This will prevent the mixture from breaking.
Stir in the fruit from the night before and add the treacle, mixed spice and vanilla. Sift the remaining flour into the bowl and mix thoroughly.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the surface.
Into the oven
Bake in the middle of the oven for 2 hours, then check by inserting a skewer into the centre – if it comes out clean, the cake is cooked. If not, give it a further 15-30 minutes.
For the Aga, I used the coolest part of the baking oven.
After 2 hours I placed tin foil on the top of the cake to prevent it from burning.
Leave the cake to cool before removing it from the tin.
Feeding the cake and storage
Once the cake is cooled you can begin the feeding process, i.e. plying it with alcohol, not eating it!
You don’t want to swamp the cake with alcohol. Feed your Christmas cake once it has cooled in its tin and then feed weekly after with 1-2 tablespoons per feed. To allow the alcohol to reach deep into the cake use a wooden skewer to poke holes in the top and brush the alcohol on top.
To keep your Christmas cake nice and moist, wrap the cake in a double layer of baking parchment and then wrap tightly in foil. The fruit in the cake can react with the metals in the foil.
I baked the Axe Edge Christmas cake on 5th October, ready to share with our guests who are staying in our holiday cottages over the Christmas period!
Written by Ian Butterworth