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This year why not bake two Christmas Cakes? One to keep for yourself and one to cut into four smaller cakes to decorate and give as presents. All fruit cakes improve with keeping and this one is best made 2-3 months before Christmas Day. Soaking the fruit first ensures that the cake is beautifully moist.
'Feeding' the cake as it matures ensures that it will be lovely and moist at Christmas time. Every 2-3 weeks, prick the surface with a fine skewer and spoon over 2 tbsp Waitrose Brandy.
Store in a cool dry place, wrapped in a greaseproof paper and then a double thickness of foil.
When rolling out and making your icing decorations, use cornflour to dust the work surface rather than icing sugar. If pleats or folds occur when you are covering the cake, blend them in by rubbing gently in a circular motion with the palm of your hand.
Glazed fruit and nuts
Brush the top of the plain 10cm cake with apricot glaze. Decorate with dried fruits, glacé fruits and nuts. Brush with gently warmed and sieved apricot jam to glaze. Secure a broad ribbon close to the base with a jam or water icing.
Tying a bow
Use 2 metres wired ribbon. Cut two pieces to go across the cake and secure the ends with water icing. For the bow, make two loops, leaving a tail, and bind again. Cover the centre with a band of ribbon and secure with double-sided tape. Trim the tails. Fix the bow with tape in the centre of the crossed ribbons.
Using 75g of white Regalice or 40g each of two different colours, roll out two 45cm lengths. Starting at the centre and working outwards, twist them together to make a rope. Place around the base of the cake and gently press the ends together to secure.
This recipe was first published in January 1999.