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How to make Christmas cake

The Guardian logo The Guardian 07/11/2018 Felicity Cloake

Christmas is coming, ready or not, so you may as well embrace the most wonderful time of the year and get baking. This deliciously squidgy, zesty recipe will convince all but the most diehard fruitcake denier. Like many of us, it only improves with age and the judicious application of small amounts of strong liquor.

Prep 45 min + soaking and maturing

Cook 90-110 minServes 10-12

250g currants

250g sultanas

100g dried figs, roughly chopped

100g glace cherries, cut in half

100g mixed peel

125ml whisky, plus extra to feed (or cold black tea or fruit juice)

125g butter, softened

125g muscovado sugar

4 eggs, beaten

130g plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

50g ground almonds

Salt

Grated zest of 1 lemon

50g whole almonds, roughly chopped

25g crystallised ginger, chopped (optional)

To ice (optional)

5 tbsp smooth jam (apricot is the classic choice)

450g marzipan

Icing sugar, to dust

450g ready-to-roll icing

Christmas cake and slice with holly, bauble decorations and winter greenery over oak background. © marilyna Christmas cake and slice with holly, bauble decorations and winter greenery over oak background.

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1 Mix and match

A note about ingredients: those listed are my preferred mix of dried fruit and nuts, but fruitcake is a very personal thing, so feel free to substitute your own blend –sour cherries or cranberries instead of glace fruit; chopped dates or apricots instead of figs; a simple bag of supermarket mixed fruit – so long as you keep the total weight the same.

2 The trick to a moist cake

Many people claim they don’t like fruitcake because it’s dry. Avoid this by soaking the dried fruit and peel in either whisky (or cold tea or fruit juice, if you’d prefer to keep your cake teetotal). Cover and leave to steep for six to 12 hours – I usually do this the night before I’m planning to bake.

3 Be protective

Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin with two layers of baking paper: this may seem unnecessarily fiddly, but it will prevent the outer layers from burning – very handy when you’re baking with dried fruit, which has a tendency to catch and become very bitter where it sticks out from the sides of the cake.

4 Get creaming

Heat the oven to 160C/325F/gas 2½. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and cream together until very light and fluffy; I’d recommend using electric beaters for at least five minutes until it has significantly increased in volume. Gradually add the eggs, beating well between each addition so the mix doesn’t curdle.

5 Add the spices

Sift the flour into another large bowl, then whisk in the baking powder, spice, ground almonds and a pinch of salt. If you’re not a fan of mixed spice, or don’t have it to hand, you can substitute vanilla extract or other sweet spices, though bear in mind that the likes of nutmeg and cardamom are very strong, so go easy with them.

6 Mix together

Fold these dry ingredients into the butter and sugar mixture, along with the soaked fruits and any remaining soaking liquid, lemon zest, chopped almonds (again, use other nuts or leave them out if you prefer) and ginger, if using. You can leave it out if you like, but it does give the cake a lovely burst of heat.

7 The bake

Gently tip into the prepared tin and smooth the surface, then excavate a small dip in the middle to prevent a doming effect as the cake rises in the oven. Bake for about an hour, then cover with foil and bake for half an hour more, checking with a skewer every 10 minutes: it’s done when the skewer comes out a little sticky, but not claggy with mixture.

8 Add more booze

Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then use a skewer to poke holes all over the top and pour over a little more whisky, tea or juice. Leave this to soak in, then tightly wrap the cake, still in its greaseproof paper, in foil and leave to mature. Feed it with more booze (or tea or juice) every week or so (or when you remember), until you’re ready to ice nearer the big day.

9 To finish

Heat the jam with a splash of water until bubbling. Spread on top of the cake. Roll out the marzipan on a surface dusted with icing sugar, until large enough to cover the cake. Lift it over the cake, gently smooth down and trim the edges. Leave to dry for a couple of days, then brush with whisky (or cooled boiled water). Repeat the process with the ready-to-roll icing.

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