Christmas cake 2015

IMG_20151122_181718[1]There are hundreds of different recipes out there, but having tried Nigella’s last year I think this is just about the easiest both in terms of shopping for ingredients and in baking it.  This is my take on it. Quantities below are for one small 18cm round or 15cm square cake.  If you double up the mixture this will make a 23cm round or 20cm square cake but will take much longer to cook.  Soak the fruit in any type of aromatic spirit (I used a mixture of Scotch and brandy as that’s what I had available!), or use bourbon if you want to go the full Domestic Goddess route. Make sure your butter and eggs are at room temperature before you start mixing – take them out of the fridge the night before. Nigella suggests adding a teaspoon of almond extract but I don’t think it’s necessary, especially if the cake is going to be covered in marzipan before icing. This is quite an easy cake to put together, but you do need to bear in mind that you need to start preparing the ingredients a good 24 hours before you’re ready to bake it.

  • 350g raisins
  • 150g currants
  • 50g glace cherries, cut in half
  • 75g chopped walnuts
  • 200ml whisky, brandy or bourbon
  • 150g butter
  • 90g dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • half teaspoon cinnamon
  • quarter teaspoon ground cloves
  • quarter teaspoon ground ginger

Put the raisins, currants and cherries in a small saucepan and pour over the spirit of your choice.  Bring the mixture to the boil then remoove it from the heat, give it a good stir, then cover it and leave it overnight.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C or gas mark 2.  Line your cake tin with a double thickness of greaseproof or baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream them together until the sugar granules have disappeared. Then mix in the grated lemon zest. Now add an egg and beat it in well.  Add a spoonful of flour, mix that, then add another egg and beat well.  Now add in the black treacle.  A good tip to get treacle out of the tin is to heat up the spoon over a gas flame fora few seconds, or dunk it in a cup of boiling water, before putting your spoon in the tin.  The heat will help the treacle slide off the spoon more easily.

Mix the flour, spices and ground almonds together in a separate bowl (you really don’t need to sieve flour these days, unless you’re still buying it from a grocer’s shop where they scoop out your flour from a big sack on the floor….).  Add a big spoonful of flour mix followed by a big spoonful of the soaked dried fruit and mix well. Continue like this until all the flour and all the fruit is incorporated.  Then add the chopped walnuts and give the mixture one last stir to distribute the nuts evenly through it.

Put the mixture into your cake tin.  A silicone spatula is a great tool for getting the last scrapings out of the mixing bowl.  Level off the  mixture in the tin as much as you can, then put it in the oven. A small 18cm round cake will take anything between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours to cook, depending on your oven.  A larger 23cm round cake will take about 3 hours, give or take 20 minutes either side. The easiest way to test if your cake is done is to stick a thin metal skewer right into the middle, leave it there for a few seconds, then pull it out. If the skewer has some sticky cake mixture on it, the cake’s not done yet.  If it comes out and looks clean, the cake is baked all the way through.  Take it out of the oven and brush the top with a tablespoonful of brandy or whisky, turn it out of the tin and wrap it up in a double layer of foil (you can keep the baking paper on it at this point).  The next day, take off all the baking paper and rewrap it in fresh baking paper, then put it in an airtight container.

At this point, your cake is ready for feeding.  Every so often,  unrwap your cake,  prod it all over with a skewer and brush over a couple of tablespoons of whisky or brandy, then wrap it up again .

A small cake will need one pack of marzipan to cover it – anything bigger may require two. You should put the marzipan on the cake a few days before you want to put the icing on.  Use a tablespoon of apricot jam, heated up and sieved, to brush over the cake before you put the rolled out marzipan on – it will help to stick the marzipan onto the cake.  Icing?  I cheat and use ready-rolled fondant!

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Bob’s fruity brown sauce

Digital CameraMy brother-in-law asked for some of this sauce for his birthday so I’ve renamed it in his honour.  I’ve made several versions of this in the past few years and have a “bung it in” attitude to the spices and dried fruits, which has led to some interesting variations in colour and heat.  This latest batch is a bit pink, and a tad more heavy on the chili than previously, because you can never guess how hot a chili is until it’s in there… This makes the equivalent of about 4 x1lb jamjars.

  • 500g fresh rhubarb (I’ve also used tinned rhubarb occasionally – in which case drain it well, and cut down a bit on the demerara sugar)
  • 250g red onions
  • 1 long red chili, deseeded
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 200g cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 20g (about 2cm) fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 heaped teaspons ground ginger
  • 1 dessertspoon paprika
  • 75g sultanas
  • 50g dried cherries or dried cranberries or dried dates
  • 200ml red wine vinegar
  • 50ml balsamic vinegar
  • 1 dessertspoon salt
  • 500g demerara sugar

Trim and chop the rhubarb finely.  Peel and chop the onions into small dice.  Deseed the chili and chop that finely too, making sure you protect your hands with rubber gloves to avoid any chili juice being inadvertently rubbed in your eye (or worse…). Peel and grate the apple, and do the same with the fresh ginger. The ginger needs to be grated very finely so that it’s a mush because it’s very fibrous, and the texture of the finished sauce won’t be smooth if there are clumps of ginger in there.  Put all of the ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pan and put on to simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Give it a stir occasionally.

The texture of the sauce when it’s cooked will be like runny chutney.  Take off the heat, leave to cool for a bit then put in a food processor (usually in two or three batches) and process until smooth.  Put into warmed sterilised jars or bottles and make sure you use vinegar-proof lids to seal.

The picture shows the latest batch – I think the cranberries and the particularly dark red onions I used have given it a rather nice pink tinge!  The bottles were from an online store which supplies all kinds of empty jars and bottles for home preservers – Wares of Knutsford.  You can visit their shop too – very nice people!

rhubarb jam

2014-04-17 09.51.46I love rhubarb. And the early forced rhubarb that is almost shocking pink is gorgeous, but unless you grow it yourself it’s hugely expensive!  This rhubarb came from the allotment of one of Chris’s colleagues, so it’s nice and young but not completely pink, and perfect for jam.

  • 1kg rhubarb, wiped, trimmed and chopped into 1cm chunks
  • 1kg jam sugar
  • 2 or 3 oranges
  • 75g stem ginger preserved in syrup

This quantity made four 1lb jars.  Put a layer of jam sugar in the bottom of your preserving pan and cover with a layer of rhubarb.  Continue layering the sugar and rhubarb, and finish with a layer of sugar.  Squeeze the juice from the oranges (should be about 100ml but it’s not a problem if there’s a bit more), and tip it over the sugar and rhubarb mixture.  Put the orange peel in the pan as well – you’ll be fishing this out at the end, so don’t bother chopping it up.  Chop the stem ginger pieces very finely and add those to the pan. Cover the pan with a clean teatowel and leave it for a couple of hours, or even overnight, to draw out some of the juice from the rhubarb.  This helps to keep the rhubarb chunks whole when you’re boiling it up.

When it’s been standing for a while, put it onto the hob and bring to the boil gently. Stir it carefully so that you don’t squash all the rhubarb chunks to mush.  When all the sugar as dissolved, turn up the heat to maximum and boil rapidly for about 5 minutes. Test for a set by pouring a bit onto a really cold plate and waiting a minute or so. If you can see the jam wrinkling up when you push your finger through it, then it’s done.  If it’s not, then keep boiling it for another few minutes and test again.  If it’s done, take it off the heat and leave it to settle for five minutes.  Take out the orange peel, then pour the jam into warmed sterilised jars.  We have an almost endless supply of empty jamjars thanks to Julie at the Eccles Cakery, who uses industrial quantities of jam for making cakes and gives us all the empties!

This recipe is based on one from the River Cottage Handbook on preserves, which is incredibly useful for all kinds of jam and chutney recipes.  I did tweak it quite a bit as the recipe called for forced rhubarb and a quick boil for a soft set, and I’ve made too much runny jam in my life to want to make more on purpose. Rhubarb contains very little pectin, so jam sugar is a must for this.