It’s a somewhat inclement Sunday morning approaching the end of October, the lawn which just a few short weeks ago was dead and brown is now lush and green but under an inch of water so only fit for planting a paddy field. Given rain has stopped play this means one thing in Slocombe Towers: the making of the 2022 Christmas cake. Note: this is the only time the “C” word can be uttered this side of mid-December and you won’t hear it mentioned again in this article.
Our recipe is a tried and tested version that’s been handed down over the generations (OK, the last couple of years) and may raise an eyebrow amongst the Bake Off purists but what it may lack in technique is more than made up for by the amount of alcohol both it and its baker receives giving it a wonderful flavour and if this cake could drive it would easily fail a breathalyser test.
The first thing to understand is that when making such a creation it’s a marathon and not a sprint so the baker is going to need appropriate amounts of hydration over the coming hours. So with SWMBO out of action following a recent operation, your humble scribe seized the opportunity to maximise the brownie points on offer by taking charge in the kitchen – what could possibly go wrong?
The first thing to do is pour yourself a drink and then turn the oven on (not filth!). My choice of libation is Hook Norton’s 173 coffee stout, imaginatively named due to its strength of 7.3% and a pleasant coffee flavour. After a couple of bottles any ingredient infractions are easily overlooked but the Quality Control inspector who was ever-present and watching over my attempt may have other views. The proof of the pudding and all that guff.
Ingredients: dry mix
- 450g plain flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 500g sultanas
- 500g raisins
- 200g glacé cherries, washed and halved
- 200g mixed peel
- Zest of an orange
- Currants (reduce weight of sultanas and raisins accordingly to still keep 1000g of fruit)
Ingredients: wet mix
- 300g salted butter, softened
- 300g soft brown sugar
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons ground almonds
- 2 tablespoons black treacle
- 4 tablespoons brandy
We need to talk about brandy: don’t skimp here and use that ancient bottle of cheap 1* Metaxa drain cleaner that only sees the light of day when it’s given to those over-staying guests you want to get shot of. We prefer Courvoisier in our cakes as it imparts a wonderful flavour and is a nod to the tipple of choice for SWMBO’s mum, a top baker in her time.
With the oven coming up to 110℃ (be prepared for the mother of all electric bills, you may need to sell a kidney/child to fund this long-haul cake bake but at least you know it’s annoying the net zero sky-shouters) start by using a little melted butter to grease a 30cm square cake tin of the sort that has a loose bottom. Line the walls and base of the tin with greaseproof paper.
Then it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get stuck in by putting the flour, salt and spices in a large bowl:
Then add the fruit and stir thoroughly to make sure all of it is coated with flour so it doesn’t sink during cooking.
The next step is to get your tool out as we are talking powerrrrrrr…… In another bowl, place the butter and sugar and use an electric mixer to combine the two into a light and fluffy mixture then beat in the eggs a little at a time adding some of the ground almonds with each addition.
The result should look something like this:
When mixed well, add the treacle, optional orange rind and lastly the brandy:
Before this very last step it’s vital to test the brandy and I recommend at least a double measure – you don’t want to spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar after all?
Nobody will ever know if you’ve had to put back into the bowl any mixture that was flung onto a wall or ceiling and the dog that was so patiently sat waiting for this very moment has done an excellent job of licking the floor clean. Got away with that one SWMBO!
Now it’s time to demonstrate your physical prowess by gently combining the contents of the two bowls into an even bigger one so stiffen the sinews and summon the blood to mix everything well, but gently continuing until you can’t see any unmixed flour. Drink beer.
Spoon the combined mixture into the prepared tin and then prove your plastering abilities by levelling the top. Double points are on offer here if a laser spirit level is used to verify a flat and uniform surface.
Place the tin onto a lowish shelf in the oven, set a timer for 3 hours then sit back and enjoy another bottle of Hooky.
At this juncture I must add I suffered a life-threatening injury to my left thumb, the cut being at least 5mm long which bled profusely for some 10 seconds caused by opening a pack of opiate painkillers for SWMBO. How one must suffer for one’s craft so flowers, tea lights, teddies and donations in used Bongo Bongo Bank notes via SB please.
After a couple of hours the house will be full of the aroma of the cooking cake which is your cue to have one more drink before donning the Marigolds to conquer the north face of the washing-up mountain you made as part of this masterpiece.
The ringing timer alarm will hopefully stir you from your well-deserved power nap and proving there’s no rest for the wicked you must then prick the middle of the cake with a cocktail stick to see if it’s cooked or not. Typically in our oven it needs another 15 minutes or so but each oven will vary. We’ve never baked this cake in our fan oven but if you’re going down this route 3 hours may be enough, it’s not an exact science which doesn’t lend itself to my sense of OCD so the cocktail stick becomes your friend and weathervane of a successful bake.
Once cooked remove it from the oven and allow your baby to cool whilst still in the tin and also resist the urge to cut off a piece “just to test it”. When it’s down to room temperature (this will take at least 7-8 hours) it will feel dry to the touch, remove the cake from the tin (including the base but keep the greaseproof wrapping) and place it on an appropriately sized cake board; the final act is to give yourself and your creation another brandy – a stiff one for you and 3 tablespoons for it poured into some holes made with that testing stick.
You’ll need to cover the cake with tin foil and keep it in an airtight container during the maturation process, basically remember to reprick it and give it another 3 tablespoons of brandy once a week until mid-December.
And that’s all there is to it, part 2 of the article will cover the marzipan and icing process so go forth and bake!
Text & images © SWMBO & Humbug Slocombe 2022