Yes that time of year is here again when I make the Christmas Cake from a recipe handed down from my Gr Grandmother.
This is a very rich cake – but then Granny Hopcraft was a farmer’s wife in Deddington, Oxon in the late 1800s so the Mrs Beaton style of ‘take nine eggs’ was the way it was done! Having nobody left to pass this recipe on to – feel free to share it around for personal use! (Commercial use give me a shout 🙂 ) Before I start a few notes for modern tastes:
- Flour – Plain or wholemeal is acceptable. I use spelt. GF flour also works well – just remember to add 1.5tsps of Xantham gum and a little more milk (or brandy) in the raw mix.
Butter – you can use vegetarian options. IMHO they tend not to have quite the same texture and taste but the end result is still good.
Treacle – If you substitute this with honey you will get a lighter colour and taste. You can also use golden syrup but this makes it rather too sweet for me, without the flavour. Any syrup such as pomegranate or maple can also be used provided they have a similar viscosity.
Sugar – dark brown moist is best for flavour. Light brown moist or white caster will work but granulated and/or demerara not so much.
Brandy – At least I week before baking put all of the dried fruit in a large screw top jar and add brandy. Turn the jar daily until brandy is absorbed (add more brandy if required) I have stated 1 glass – but I often end up using far more. I suppose it depends on your tastes. Remember that most of the alcohol will be lost in baking, just leaving the flavour behind. Whisky (or whiskey) can be used instead of brandy. I once tried dark rum – which was good but a little overpowering for some people.
Fruit – you can use any kind of dried fruits within reason. I use golden sultanas and flame raisins plus dried (chopped) apricots and dried cranberries. A mix will add different colours and textures, but I NEVER use dried currants. Many people claim not to like dried fruit – and I have a theory this may be down to the evil that is the dried currant! They are gritty and their bitterness often dominates the flavour. Many commercial baked goods use a lot of currants because they are cheap! I buy the largest and fattest raisins I can find because they absorb the brandy more readily.
Spices – I use more than this recipe states – but that is just me! Some people prefer to reduce the amounts. It all comes down to taste. Likewise the amount of vanilla you use can be adjusted as required.
Nuts – I often leave them out so that a family member with allergies can partake but I do think almonds add to the flavour as a whole.
Granny Hopcraft’s Cake. (To be made in the first week of November because this cake needs to mature for approx 6 weeks for the best flavour.)
1 lb butter
1.5 lbs flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 half teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 half teaspoon ground ginger
1 lb dark brown sugar
3 lb dried fruit (sultanas, raisins – plus others as preferred eg dried apricots, cranberries dates, figs)
4 oz cut peel (finely chopped)
4 oz glace cherries (halved)
4 oz blanched almonds (roughly chopped – optional)
2 tablespoons black treacle or honey
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 (very) large glass of brandy (to soak fruit)
Add a little milk (or brandy!) if needed to make a stiff dropping consistency.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 2-3, and place the cake in the centre of the oven. Bake until a skewer test comes out clean – which will be several hours! (I hate to be vague but having used various cookers to make this cake over the years, from an Aga to fan assisted electric, I can tell you that they all have varied on timing. The only real way to tell if its cooked is the skewer test.)
In early December – unwrap the cake, trim if required to get a smooth shape (and to remove any burned bits – it happens).
Melt apricot jam and brush onto the cake. Roll out and cut marzipan to shape to cover all of the cake. (or just the top if preferred).
When the marzipan is dry decorate with royal icing. (Or else cheat and use a ready made roll-out version – the choice is yours.)
Just realised that this is the 44th time I have made this cake – and whatever adjustments I’ve made over the years it has never let me down!