Perhaps it’s a little early to be singing ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ but it’s definitely time to start planning our Christmas fruitcakes! As I explained to my very surprised Catalan climbing friends in January, it’s actually normal in Britain to store this cake 2 or 3 months before eating, feeding it with rum at intervals so it matures in the alcohol. They munched appreciatively on the cake and exclaimed ‘I could never keep a cake for 3 months!’. Course you can sweetie (I have a plan), so I’m sharing the recipe for my go-to traditional Christmas fruitcake I’ve been making for years with light muscovado sugar, cranberries, golden berries, lemon and orange peel, lemon and orange zest, glacé cherries, almonds or other yummy dried fruit and nuts of your choosing. I’ve taken to adding non-traditional chopped candied stem ginger to add heat and flavour but that’s optional. The dark rum can also be left out if you soak your cake in orange juice instead, though a non-alcohol fruitcake keeps less than a week. I do like a layer of marzipan. Yum. I’ll also outline steps for the optional layer of icing. Oops, better give you the recipe so you can start making this cake in time for Christmas! 🙂
My cake’s adapted from an iced fruitcake recipe in the Great British Bake Off How to Bake book. I’ve halved quantities to fit a 20cm/8in tin and added lemon and orange citric notes, extra cinammon and ginger heat. Instead of brandy or whisky I use rum to soak my dried fruit 24 hours to 6 days before baking the cake, rendering them juicy and alcoholic. Of course longer pre-soaking generally means you can start eating your fruitcake earlier! Woohoo! 🙂
Note: when you cover the dried fruit in plastic film don’t seal the bowl but just cover loosely.
If you prefer your own mix of dried fruit and quantities here’s the black and white illustration for you to print, adapt and colour. If you’d like more of a ginger kick then double the quantity of stem ginger and omit the blueberries or something else.
Timings: tin preparation, 10 minutes; cake preparation, 20 minutes; baking, 2 to 2 and a half hours (maybe 3 hours in a ‘nice’ even-temperatured oven); waiting for the cake to mature, 1 to 3 months. Optional marzipan and fondant layers, a few days before eating.
- Preheat your oven to 150°C/300°F (static, non-convection oven) or 130°C/265°F (fan-assisted)
- Soften the butter at room temperature and have your eggs at room temperature
- Prepare your 20cm/8inch round baking tin so the dried fruit don’t burn when baking.
Cut 2 rounds for the base and double a rectangle for the sides, with a fringe 2cm/almost 1inch high with diagonal cuts at 1cm/1/3inch intervals. Place the double sides then the 2 round bases. The baking paper should be 5cm/2 inches higher than the tin.
Place newspaper sheets on a baking tray under the tin. Then fold several sheets to make 6 or more layers around your cake tin. Hold in place with metal paper clips. The newspaper should also be 5cm/2 inches higher than the tin.
Note: I recently used a 20cm diametre semi-sphere mould from de buyer to make a Christmas pudding-shaped cake, with the same quantities as below. I couldn’t wrap newspaper or baking paper around or in it so just buttered and floured the mould and put it on a baking tray lined with newspaper. It came out perfectly. It took 3 hours to bake in my nice new oven. Just to let you know, if you’re interested in this option.
- 50g (a full third of a cup plus 5 almonds) blanched almonds
- 125g/three-quarters of a cup and 2 tablespoons plain/all-purpose flour (or cake flour)
- 125g/half a cup unsalted butter, softened
- 125g/three-quarters of a cup and half a tablespoon light (or dark) brown muscovado sugar
- 2 large free-range eggs, beaten (115-120g)
- 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
- half a teaspoon ground cinammon
- half a teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
- 25g/3 tablespoons ground almonds
- grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
- 2 and a half tablespoons rum, brandy or whisky; then 2 and a half – 4 tablespoons to soak the cake (total: 5 – 6 and a half tbsp); then 4 or more tablespoons of rum over the next month or two, to taste
Please follow the illustrated recipe from top left and around clockwise in number order. The black and white versions are in my colouring pages section.
I’ve discovered it’s better to bake the cake just a little longer so it becomes firmer and stores better. So even if an inserted skewer comes out clean after 1 and a half hours, try leaving it longer for the 2 or 2 and a half hours so you get a darker cake that doesn’t crumble so much. This one was actually a bit too light and I prefer the Christmas cakes I’ve baked longer.
When your fruitcake’s baked, remove the newspaper and let the cake cool completely in the tin. Then remove the tin and baking paper. Make holes with a skewer all around the cake, on the top then the bottom. Pour 1 or 2 tablespoons of rum first over the bottom then another 1 or 2 over the top of the cake. Leave it out on a plate to soak in the rum. Storing
Wrap well in a few layers of baking paper then a final layer or two of aluminium foil. Then you can place in a metal tin, but not plastic airtight tupperware, which can make it sweat. Store in a cool, dry place. Every week or 2 weeks pour a tablespoon or two of rum first over the base then the top then wrap it up again. Wait at least 1 to 3 months before eating! Aha…
Coping with the wait – strategy
If you think you’ll have trouble waiting 1 to 3 months, you can immediately make cake number two for Christmas and so start ‘testing’ (yes, eating) your first cake – with a few slices every week as part of your ‘scientific experiment’. You could bake two or three extra cakes. Hmmm, I think this is what mum does every year. You can see I’ve already started soaking more fruit for Christmas cake no.2.
I felt I should show you a slice of cake number one so at great personal sacrifice (lol) I cut into it early, on Day 3. And ate some. Um… I’ll show you more of the slice next time but I can confirm it’s already delicious. Nom nom. Miam miam. It’s back in its package now and I’ll open it up in a week to feed the cake with rum.
The marzipan layer
- A few tablespoons of apricot jam
- 350g-400g marzipan (almond paste), shop-bought or made with my homemade marzipan recipe
Cake number 2 (or 3) will stay intact (hopefully) and get covered with a layer of marzipan. Like this slice from last year’s cake.
Instructions for covering a fruitcake with marzipan are on my Sant Jordi festival cake post. Some seasonal marzipan decorations like holly would be nice too.
I’m not a big fan of fondant but some people are and it’s pretty, so here are the instructions. After covering the cake with a marzipan layer you let it firm up in a cool dry place for 1 to 2 days, with the cake very loosely covered. Then brush the marzipan very lightly with rum. Roll out the ready-to-roll fondant icing (about 500-600g) in the same way as the marzipan and cover the cake, smoothing the icing with your hands. Then trim. If you’re using shaped cutters like my star ones, make the imprints while the icing ‘s still soft.
Store your iced cake in baking paper, in a large covered container (not an airtight plastic one) in a cool dry place. Once covered in marzipan or iced it keeps up to a month.
It’s that time of the year – any time! Have some climbing cake
It’s possible this traditional British Christmas cake has a slight French touch, ie. loads of alcohol! Tee hee. But I imagine all around the world there are folk happily slugging good quantities of alcohol into their cake while singing early Christmas songs. Natascha at Natascha’s Palace has some interesting fruitcake info and plans for a lovely Christmas cake challenge if you’d like to check it out!
But it’s not just for Christmas and I usually eat this fruitcake or my quick rum and orange fruitcake-cake anglais (a guest-post recipe at Dookes’ blog) when I’m out rock climbing. It’s a wonderful energy cake and such a favourite with my climbing friends, who often request it. So really it’s my climbing cake and Christmas at the rock all year round! 🙂
Perhaps you’d like to come over and test a slice with me?
I won’t wish you a happy Christmas yet sweet reader, because that would just be silly. 🙂 But I’ll wish you good cheer all year around and especially now as we start wrapping up warm and the days get shorter. It’s a lovely time to be at the oven preparing food so happy baking and eating! 🙂 x