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Bay Decorated Christmas Cake
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This moist and fruity cake can be made now so that it matures, and is ready for the marzipan and icing the week before Christmas. Feed with brandy, rum or orange liqueur to give it a rich, festive flavour and even moister texture. The suggested bay leaf and cranberry decoration is easy to create and really effective. Decorate just 1-2 days before serving so the decorations stay in good condition. Once decorated, store the cake in a cool, dry place, loosely covered, until ready to serve.
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 of brown paper. Wrapping the tin in brown paper stops the edges of the cake from drying out before the centre is cooked and helps to keep it moist. Covering the top with a piece of folded baking parchment will also stop it overbrowning before the centre is cooked.
To feed the cake, every 2-3 weeks prick the surface with a fine skewer and spoon over 2 tablespoons of Waitrose Brandy. Do not overfeed or the cake will become soggy and pudding-like.
The alcohol in which the fruit is soaked evaporates during cooking, but if you would prefer not to use any alcohol, soak the fruit in an extra 100ml freshly squeezed orange juice instead.
If a dome forms on the cake during cooking, slice off the top just before covering with marzipan, to create a flat surface.
The cake can be covered with royal icing instead of ready-to-roll. Beat 4 medium egg whites in a large bowl, the gradually beat in 900g icing sugar until the icing is thick and smooth and forms soft peaks when the spoon is lifted from the bowl. If the icing is too soft, add a little extra icing sugar; if too firm, add a few drops of water. Spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake, swirling it in an even layer with a palette knife. (This icing contains uncooked egg so it is not suitable for elderly people, young children, pregnant women or those whose immune systems are weak.)
Make sure the bay leaves on the cake are kept away from the nightlights and never leave burning candles or nightlights unattended. Take care not to allow the nightlights to burn too long at a time, as they will melt the icing if they become too hot.
Scales and measuring jug
2 large and 3-4 small bowls
Grater and juicer
23cm round cake tin
Baking parchment and foil
Brown paper or newspaper
Flat plate or platter
Small sharp knife
This recipe was first published in October 2003.