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Fig, sherry and almond christmas cake
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Packed with festive flavours, this is straightforward to make, bake and decorate. Have a few sheets of old newspaper and string handy.
500g essential mixed fruit
270g soft large smyrna figs or other soft dried figs, stems discarded, roughly chopped
200g glacé cherries, halved
1 large orange, zest and juice (about 75ml)
125ml rich sweet cream sherry
225g salted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
225g light muscovado sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
150g plain flour, sifted
100g ground almonds
2 tsp ground mixed spice
100g toasted flaked almonds
FEEDING THE CAKE (after baking, then repeat weekly)
1 tbsp rich sweet cream sherry
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp apricot jam or marmalade
500g white marzipan
2 tbsp icing sugar (ideally royal icing sugar), sifted, plus extra for dusting
4g pack gold lustre spray
about 350g white fondant icing
1. At least 24 hours (up to 3 days) before baking, put the mixed fruit, figs and cherries into a medium pan with the orange zest, juice and sherry. Bring to a simmer, stir, then set aside covered with a well-fitting lid. Stir now and again over the 24 hours.
2. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 160˚C, gas mark 3. Grease a 20cm round, deep cake tin with butter, then double-line the base and sides with baking parchment. Fold 2 sheets of newspaper lengthways, to about the same depth as the tin, then overlap them around the tin and secure with string (this stops the cake from cooking too quickly).
3. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and, using electric beaters, beat until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until completely incorporated before adding the next; add 2 tbsp flour with the last egg. Tip in the remaining flour, ground almonds, spice and a pinch of salt, then fold into the mixture with a large metal spoon or spatula. Fold in the toasted almonds and soaked fruit. Spoon into the prepared tin and level the top. Make a saucer-sized dimple in the middle of the cake with the back of a spoon.
4. Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes then turn the oven temperature down to 140˚C, gas mark 1 and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes- 1 hour 45 minutes, until the cake is evenly risen, dark golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Put the tin on a cooling rack, until just warm. Poke plenty of holes in the top, using a cocktail stick. Mix together the sherry and orange juice for feeding, then brush over the cake. Once cold, remove the cake from the tin, wrap in clean baking parchment then a layer of foil. Keep in a cool place, until ready to decorate (up to 4 weeks). Unwrap and brush with more sherry and juice weekly, until a few days before Christmas. Or you can decorate the cake straight away.
5. To decorate, unwrap the cake and place it on a board or plate. In a small pan, warm the apricot jam or marmalade with 1 tsp water, then sieve out any lumps. Brush it across the top of the cake (it acts like a glue). Knead the marzipan using a little icing sugar until soft. Shape into a round, then roll evenly to a 20cm circle using the cake tin base as a guide. Lift it carefully onto the cake and smooth out with your palms until it fits flush to the top. Tap out about ½ tsp from the gold lustre spray tube and rub it into the marzipan with your fingers until the surface is smooth and shimmery.
6. Have a sheet of baking parchment ready. Dust your hands with icing sugar, then pinch pieces of the white fondant and roll into balls of differing sizes (the largest about the size of a small walnut). Put on the baking parchment and spritz all over with gold lustre. Leave to firm up a little. Meanwhile, beat the icing sugar with ¾-1 tsp water (about ½ tsp if using royal icing sugar) until smooth and thick.
7. Stick a wreath of fondant balls on top of the marzipan, using dots of the icing as glue. Re-spritz the balls (they will still be a paler gold than the marzipan). Tie a ribbon around the base of the cake, and add candles, if you like. Leave to set for a few hours or ideally overnight, before cutting
This recipe first appeared in Waitrose & Partners Food, November 2019 issue. Download the Waitrose & Partners Food app for the full issue
Typical values per serving:
This recipe was first published in October 2019.