Along with being a sucker for the festive season, I’m a complete nut for traditional Christmas cake. I love love love fruit cake, especially when it’s crammed full of a variety of dried fruit that’s been soaked in alcohol (now, there’s a surprise).
Over the years, I’ve made loads of different cakes and usually find myself referring to an old Australian Women’s Weekly insert for inspiration. I noticed yesterday that said insert is from 1986 – would you believe that I was making fruit cakes when I was a toddler? My all time favourite used to be their Irish Fruit Cake.
The cake I make these days is very loosely based on this recipe. While I often soak my fruit for three-four weeks before I use it (just make sure you take it out of the fridge the night before you want to use it as you’ll want the fruit at room temperature), you can whip it up in a couple of days. Soak your fruit one day and prepare the tin, then make it the next. That means, for you fruit cake novices, you can whip one up this weekend. Go on, it’s fun and the effort is worth it – and it’s not really that much effort.
First things first, make sure you prepare your tin well – this will help avoid the cake burning. I tend to do what Mum has always done and her Mum before, in that I use several layers of newspaper first. By this I mean that you line your tin with two-three layers of newspaper – I stick this in the tin with spray oil, whereas Mum uses butter. Then, I put a layer or two of baking paper on top. It’s worth spending the time to do this step properly and ensure the lining fits the tin well. If you happen to have a cake box, the wood is insulating so you just need to use baking paper.
For this cake, I use about a 20cm round or square tin. When it comes to dried fruit, you can make it very easy on yourself by using pre-packaged dried fruit mix. Ideal if you are in a hurry. I tend to use a mix of fruits such as prunes, figs, apricots etc as I love the taste – it takes a little longer, but worth it if you have that extra fifteen minutes.
What you’ll need
400g sultanas or raisins
50g mixed peel
450g dried fruit of your choice – for example figs, prunes, apricots, dates, glace cherries, cranberries etc. Chop them up into small ‘chunks’.
1 grated apple
2 tsp each grated lemon and orange rinds
1 Tbsp lemon juice
50ml orange juice
100g walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped
70g ground almonds
225g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
185g butter, at room temperature
150g brown sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
To make it
In a large mixing bowl (or a fridge safe container if soaking the fruit for more than a day), combine all the dried fruit, apple and rinds and give them a good mix. Combine the brandy and juices and mix through the fruit. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside overnight.
Turn oven to 150C.
Mix the nuts and ground almonds through the fruit. Sift the dry ingredients together (set aside about 4-5 tablespoons of flour) and mix through the fruit so that it is well combined.
Meanwhile cream the butter and sugar together – use an electric hand beater or standing beater if you have one. You don’t need to go overboard with the beating, just till the ingredients are combined, rather than light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs one at a time – they can go a bit curdly here (is that even a word?!) so I often add in a tablespoon or two of flour with each egg.
Using a large spoon (I use a serving spoon), combine the egg mixture into the fruit.
Once completely mixed in, use the spoon to transfer the mixture into the prepared tin – you need to ‘press’ the mixture down as you go. Once all the mixture is in the tin, even it out with the back of the spoon and pop into the oven. The cooking time can vary – it usually cooks in about two and a half hours, but can take as little at two hours or as long as three. So, you do need to keep an eye on it. I cover with foil after about 90 minutes. You’ll be able to smell when the cake is ready and it starts going quite dark on top.
When you take the cake out of the oven, pour some more brandy over the top. It smells divine and makes a lovely sizzling sound. Let the cake completely cool in the tin.
Then turn the cake out, leave the baking paper on. Wrap in more baking paper then a layer of foil and set aside in an airtight container until you’re ready to eat it.
There you have it, not hard, just a little time consuming – but most of that is in the soaking and the cooking. You will have time to rock one out before next Thursday, trust me!
This is also the perfect special birthday or wedding cake recipe (that’s what the two above are being used for). It doubles well if required for a super large tin.
Oh, and PS, if you really love fruit cake but just can’t manage this one this year, have a go at my Cathedral Cake – it’s always a winner and a little quicker to throw together.