I’ve always thought the most precious gift you can give to others (and yourself for that matter) is time. The holidays get me doing time consuming things just ’cause its the holidays, and I feel like I’m treating myself when I take time out to do them. Making Christmas cakes has to be the best example of putting an exhorbitant amount of time into something that I never do at any other time of the year. Here’s how it goes:
First, I panic as I wonder where I put the little black book of recipes - because I can’t remember the recipe, I only make it once a year. Then I gather up some of the equipment and ingredients. I can’t gather them all at once, there’s too many:
You can’t have too much rum in this recipe, so long as you don’t put too much in all at once; so I dump all the dried fruits into a mixing bowl and toss them in a couple of tablespoons of spiced rum. (Hint: if you have some dried fruit that is really dry, you could do this night before & cover with plastic wrap). The ingredients are listed at the bottom, but this is just a guide: my original recipe doesn’t have dates in it, but I didn’t have enough raisins one year, so I used what I had rather than go back to the store. I think it is important that regular raisins form the largest proportion of the mix, and that you vary the size and colour of the fruits if possible.
I gather up decorative tins – this year I bought six for a dollar each at a local supermarket. I line the tins with two layers of parchment paper (wax paper is OK too).
Next chop up the candied fruit peel. I had a box of good quality peel my Mum sent me from England. I have no idea where she gets it from, but it smells of citrus fruit. I make my own for this recipe sometimes – just boil a cup of water with 2 cups of sugar and simmer strips of orange and lemon peel (no pith) for about 20 minutes. I let them stand in the syrup until cold then drain on a rack and sprinkle with a little more sugar then keep in a jar until ready to use.
Now chop the crystalized ginger – I snap up lots of this stuff around Thanksgiving because it can be difficult to find any other time of the year. I have to have enough of this ginger for cookies and banana spice loaf year-round.
In go the halved glace cherries and the slivered almonds. The cherries are the only fruit that is an unnatural colour – bright red. Please, no green cherries in my Christmas cake!!! Stir in four tablespoons of the cake flour.
Dump the rest of the cake flour in another bowl along with the salt, nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon. Usually you would sift the dry ingredients for a cake mix together, but I just stir them around with a whisk – they get more evenly mixed that way, and this isn’t a light cake so why bother with sifting? I do go to the trouble of grating nutmeg – if you think you do not like the taste, I’d suggest that you only use freshly grated, and do not taste it! Its mean’t to be blended with other stuff, not eaten alone.
Now get yet another mixing bowl – if you’re OK with beating sugar & butter together by hand, do this step in the biggest bowl you can find. I’m too much of a wuss for that, so the butter & sugar go into the standing mixer bowl. Beat them until fluffy and the colour changes to a paler shade of brown. Next mix in half of the beaten eggs. Once those are incorporated, mix in the remaining eggs and the treacle or molasses. My mixture often looks a bit messed up at this stage – don’t worry about it as everything will look better as you stir the flour in. I turn out the butter mix to my super-sized mixing bowl, then fold in the flour mix.
Now start adding the fruit mix. Stir until the flour on the fruit cannot be seen anymore, and continue adding the fruit until it is all incorporated and there is no visible flour in the mix. Now stir in five tablespoons of spiced rum.
Couple things you should notice with the mix – it doesn’t seem like there is enough batter for the fruit. Don’t worry about it, the cake expands when baking, and this is going to be a rich, moist, spicy fruit cake.
You don’t want your cakes to dry out, so take some brown paper (grocery sacks or parcel wrapping paper works fine) and wrap two layers around each tin. I tie mine with string but I think I’ve used masking tape to secure in the past. Stand the tins on baking trays lined with two layers of paper.
Bake for one hour at 300 F, and another hour at 275 F. Poke the center of a cake with a skewer – if it comes out clean, the cakes are done. Now on the timing of this – sometimes I bake for another hour, if I bake one big cake, it could be for another 3 hours. There’s a certain “cooked cake” smell when they’re done, check with the skewer, rather than the clock to decide if its time to take them out of the oven.
Cakes should be cooled in the tins for a couple of hours, and then on a rack for 8-12 hours. I rinse the cake tins and line with Press n’ Seal while the cakes cool. Then I pop the cakes back in the tins upside-down.
Grab that skewer, and poke a bunch of holes in the cake – not close enough together to break the cake up, but make sure there’s plenty near the outside edge since that is most likely to dry out. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of rum over the bottom of each cake, maybe 6 tablespoons if you made one big cake.
I’ve never been tempted to drink rum – but the aroma of the cake and spiced rum is soo good, I’m tempted to eat some now! However I know that these babies will taste better if stored for at least a month, and will still be improving 6 months from now. So wrap up the cakes (it doesn’t have to be tight, but there should be any holes in the wrapper) and pop on the tin lids. Add another tablespoon of rum per cake after two more weeks, then flip the cakes right side up. I’ll mail four of these cakes to relatives that look forward to my cake every year, and keep two to enjoy at home.
2 ½ lb raisins or 1 ½ lb raisins + 1 lb sultanas (golden raisins)
1 lb currants or 8 oz currants + 8 oz chopped dates
6 oz chopped candied peel
4 oz halved glace cherries
4 tblsp chopped ginger
6 oz slivered almonds
1 lb cake or plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
12 oz unsalted butter
14 oz dark brown sugar
8 lightly beaten eggs
1 tblsp treacle or dark molasses