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Step by Step - Christmas Cake to Bake and Decorate
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For a rich, moist fruit cake, make it in plenty of time as it improves with keeping. This recipe is best made 2-3 months before Christmas, then fed regularly with brandy every 2-3 weeks. Begin the day before you're going to bake the cake by soaking the dried fruit in brandy and orange juice. Leave overnight to ensure that it is plump and moist when mixed into the cake. Marzipan and ice the cake up to 2 weeks in advance. Keep it in an airtight container, or loosely wrapped in foil, ready to decorate a couple of days before Christmas.
Makes: 23cm round cake
To prepare a 23cm round cake tin, line the base and sides with a double thickness of baking parchment, cut so it comes 5cm above the edge of the tin. Fold a double band of brown paper around the outside of the tin and secure with kitchen string. Stand the tin on several sheets of newspaper or brown paper. Wrapping the outside of the cake tin with brown paper helps to keep the cake moist, as it stops the edges drying out before the centre is cooked. Likewise, covering the top with a piece of folded parchment paper will stop the top becoming too brown before the centre is cooked.
If a dome forms on the cake during cooking, slice off the top, just before marzipaning and decorating, to make a flat surface.
To feed the cake every 2-3 weeks, prick the surface with a fine skewer and spoon over 2 tbsp Waitrose Brandy. Do not overfeed or it will become soggy and pudding-like.
The alcohol that the fruit is soaked in evaporates during cooking. If you would prefer not to use any alcohol, soak the fruit overnight in an extra 100ml freshly squeezed orange juice instead of brandy.
This dish contains semi-cooked egg and therefore is not suitable for the young, pregnant women, elderly people, or those whose immune system is weak.
Candlelit cake: cover the cake with marzipan, then 750g white Regal Ice using the same method as for the marzipan. Arrange a circle of white night lights on top. Dust sprigs of rosemary and bay leaves with icing sugar and tuck around the night lights. Take care when using candles, they should never be left unattended or placed where they can be knocked over.
Fruit and nut cake: cover the cake with marzipan. Melt 4 tbsp apricot jam with 1 tbsp brandy and press through a sieve. Use to secure the contents of a 250g bag Waitrose Exotic Fruit and Nut Mix around the top edge of the cake, along with a handful of fresh cranberries. Drizzle any remaining glaze over the fruit and nuts. Tie a red ribbon around the side.
This recipe was first published in October 2002.