How to make the perfect Christmas Cake

Serves 16-20

It’s not Christmas without a festive slice of deliciously rich Christmas cake, and with Sue’s step-by-step recipe, you’ll be able to make your best one yet.
A great friend of Lakeland (she writes lots of our recipes), Sue believes that it’s so important to have well-written recipes that are easy to follow and give great results – without any hassle – just like this one.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 350g currants
  • 350g sultanas
  • 350g raisins
  • 75g dried apricots, chopped
  • 200g glacé cherries, halved
  • 100ml dark rum or brandy
  • 150g butter
  • 150g dark muscovado sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 75g ground almonds
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 200g plain flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 3 tbsp dark rum or brandy

To decorate

  • 3 tbsp apricot jam
  • 750g golden marzipan
  • 1kg red fondant icing
  • 200g white fondant icing
  • 1-2 tbsp vodka
  • Edible glitter, for sprinkling
  • Ribbon, to tie around the cake

Instructions

  1. Put the currants, sultanas, raisins, apricots and glacé cherries into a large mixing bowl. Cover with boiling water and leave for 2-3 minutes. Drain thoroughly through a colander. Tip the fruit back into the bowl and add the rum or brandy, stirring well. Cover and leave in a cool place for up to 2 days, though at least overnight. This plumps up the fruit and makes the cake deliciously moist.
  2. Preheat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°C/Gas Mark 2. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin with double-thickness baking paper. In a very large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using a wooden spoon or hand-held electric mixer. Gradually add the beaten eggs, beating well between each addition. Stir in the almonds, lemon zest, orange zest and orange juice.
  3. Sift the flour, salt and ground mixed spice into the mixing bowl, folding them through with a large metal spoon. Do not beat the mixture at this stage. Add the soaked dried fruit mixture and stir it in thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, levelling the surface. Remember that the mixture will not rise.
  4. Bake for 2 hours in the centre of the oven. Test that the cake is cooked by inserting a fine skewer into the centre – it should come out clean. If not, cook for a little longer. Stand the cake on a wire rack and leave it to cool in the tin. When completely cold, spoon 3 tbsp dark rum or brandy over the surface and let it soak in. Wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.
  5. About 1 week before Christmas, decorate the cake. Brush the top and sides with warm, sieved apricot jam. Roll out half the marzipan on a surface dusted with icing sugar into a long strip, trimming to the depth of the cake. Press into place around the sides. Roll out the remaining marzipan for the top of the cake, trimming to fit. Leave overnight before icing.
  6. Knead the red fondant icing for a moment or two to form a ball. Roll out into a very large circle on a work surface dusted lightly with icing sugar. Carefully lift over the cake, draping it down the sides. Use your hands to mould it around the top and sides of the cake, then trim off the excess around the base.
  7. Dust the work surface, rolling pin and cutters with icing sugar. Roll out the white fondant icing to a depth of about 0.5cm. Cut out snowflakes, using the plunger to create the embossing and release the shapes. Brush a little vodka over the base of each snowflake and position on the cake. Brush the snowflake edges with vodka and sprinkle with edible glitter. Tie ribbon around the cake to finish.

Top utensil
These 3 Snowflake Cutters make decorating easy! Each cutter has a spring mechanism to make cutting, embossing and releasing effortless, and you can use with sugar paste, fondant icing, royal icing and marzipan.

Added extras
Make 2 small cakes and a tray bake of Christmas cake slices – ideal for giving as gifts. Grease and line 2 x 12cm round cake tins and a shallow 20cm square cake tin. Make the cake mixture, reducing the fruit to 250g each of currants, sultanas and raisins. Share half the mixture between the round tins, and spread the rest evenly in the square tin. Bake at 160°C/fan oven 140°C/Gas Mark 3 for 1 hour. When cooled completely, brush the tops with warm apricot jam and decorate:

Fruit & Nut Christmas Gift Cakes
Arrange blanched almonds, glacé cherries and pecan nuts over the round cakes, then brush with a sugar glaze, made by boiling 2tbsp caster sugar with 4tbsp water for 2 minutes.

Christmas Traybake Slices
Cover the square cake with marzipan. Top with royal icing, made by beating 300g icing sugar into 1 lightly beaten egg white until stiff and glossy. Cut into slices and scatter with edible gold sprinkles.

Troubleshooting
Got a query? Let Sue help.

Q What should I do if the surface of the cake is browning too much?
A  When the cake has baked for 1½ hours, take a quick peep at the top. If it looks brown enough, cover with double-thickness brown paper or baking paper.

Q What if I don’t have apricot jam for brushing the surface?
A  No problem, just use clear honey instead.

Q  Why do you suggest vodka for brushing the decorations?
A  The alcohol evaporates quickly – and you don’t get a sticky residue, as you could with water.

Q  How long can I keep the cake?
A  Undecorated, wrap in greaseproof paper and keep in an airtight tin for 3-4 months. Decorated, you can keep it for 4-6 weeks.

Q  I prefer almond paste to marzipan. How do I make it?
A  Mix 300g ground almonds with 300g icing sugar, then add 1 beaten egg white, 1tsp lemon juice and 3-4 drops of yellow food colouring. Mix to a stiff paste and knead until smooth.

5 Golden Rules

  1. Plan to bake the cake a few weeks before Christmas to allow time for it to mature.
  2. Pre-soaking the fruit really makes a difference, so do make time for this.
  3. Successful baking requires accuracy and timing – don’t rely on guesswork.
  4. Make sure you use butter and dark muscovado sugar for the very best flavour.
  5. Make sure your oven is preheated before baking your cake.

 

Recipes and food styling:  Sue Ashworth
Photography:  Jonathan Short