By popular demand, I am noding the recipe for the cake I made to express my love and good wishes to wertperch and grundoon. May it sweeten their connubial path.
I had never made a fruit cake before, and am almost entirely indebted for this recipe to St. Delia.
I have made certain changes to the ingredients, but the method is essentially the same.
For a very well written, clear and demystifying recipe for a traditional English fruit cake,
Warning: This cake is not for the lily-livered amongst us amateur culinariacs. I am a reasonably experienced and confident cook, but it still took me most of a day of very careful work to get it exactly right. The success of the cake was down not to skill, but to the fact that I observed every dinkiest rule of cake baking like a rabid obsessive compulsive. Take Heed.
Ingredients: (for a 20cm to 24cm round cake)
- 225gr plain flour
- 225gr soft brown sugar
- 225gr softened unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs
- .5 teaspoon fine salt
For this size cake you will need 900gr dried fruit altogether. Traditionally the lion share of this is made up of dead grapes of all varieties (currants, raisins and sultanas), with a small admixture of glace cherries and mixed candied peel. Having something of an aversion to things that, properly preserved instead of left to wither pathetically, would have been alcohol, I used the following mix of fruit; I dare say one could use whatever came to hand or mind in whatever proportions, so long as one didn't change the basic overall ratio of cake to fruit:
- 250gr currants
- 150gr dried apricots
- 150gr dried figs
- 150gr dates
- 100gr candied peel
- 100gr glace charries (organic ones, not the glow-in-the-dark stuff)
The recipe also calls for 50gr of chopped almonds. For allergy sufferers, this could easily be substituted by an extra 50gr of the tougher dried fruits (e.g. dates), dessicated coconut flakes, chocolate chips or even - and this is an interesting thought - by chopped candied ginger.
Spice-wise, the traditional recipe calls only for nutmeg and mixed spice. I decided to be more daring and bunged in:
- Half a nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1 teaspoon powdered cinammon
- The same of ginger
- .5 of a teaspoon freshly ground allspice
- 1 level tablespoon black treacle
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Zest of 1 orange
- The night before the day after, wash, dry and chop all your dried fruit. Cherries are best cut in half, but everything else should be in pieces about the same size as a currant (this will improve the consistency of the cake). Mix it all well in a bowl, then cover with brandy. (OK, so you're only supposed to use 3 tablespoons, but I used half a bottle. Bear with me here, because all that boozy goodness is not going to go to waste!). Cover and set aside overnight, in the fridge if the room temperature is warmish.
- On the morning of the great enterprise, begin by preparing the baking pan. There are detailed instructions on Delia's website, with picutres, but to summarise, you'll need to line the bottom and sides of the pan with a double layer of baking paper, to come up above the sides of the pan to about double the height. Then wrap a layer of brown paper around the pan for extra protection and tie with non-plastic string. Another double circle of baking parchment, with a small hole cut in the middle, will serve as a lid of sorts. Set this aside, then turn on the oven to preheat at it lowest temperature - .5 or .25 of a gas mark if your oven has that setting. All this is designed to ensure that the cake, while cooking through, will do so at the lowest possible speed. Because of the relatively small amount of flour (for such a heavy cake), if you bake it too quickly it will eat like a raisin biscuit. Not nice. So all the above waffle is potentially more important than anything else you do.
- Continue your good works by carefully measuring out all the ingredients into little bowls and setting them in a row, like on a cookery show. Beat the eggs with a hand wisk in a measuring jug or milk jug. Sift the flour, salt and spices very well (I did it twice), giving them a good old airing for maximum lightness in the batter. Drain the fruit by tipping into a sieve over a small bowl and reserve the liquor that drips off; there won't be more than .5 of a cup.
- In a large and preferably heavy mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until fluffy. The longer you do this, the better, so have patience, but watch the mixture all the time. I think all in all I took a good 6-7 minutes to do this, on the fastest setting on my hand-held mixer.
- Now start adding the egg, tiny bit by tiny bit (this is where the milk jug thing becomes clear - much easier to pour with control). Do not add any more before all the previous egg has been fully incorporated. If you find that bits are running up the sides of the bowl and the mixture is not even, stop the mixer, take a spatula and scrape all the mixture towards the centre of the bowl, giving it one gentle fold or so. Again, the longer you allow for this, the fluffier the mixture will be, the lighter and yummier the cake. So do persevere. When all the egg's been fully and smoothly incorporated, there's more good news: you're done with the mixer - it's all elbow grease from now on.
- Raise the oven temperature to Gas 1 or 140C.
- Now fold in the flour and spice mixture. This is where I went a bit bonkers to be honest with you, because I set a slow, steady and gentle pace that meant it took me almost an hour to get from this stage to the bit where you finally stick the damn thing in the oven. It's tedious work and I have never had the patience for it, but you just have to grit your teeth and go slow. If you break all the precious air bubbles by vigorous stirring, the cake will fall flat like a pancake and will be as dense as dwarf bread. (Note: I realise that you probably think I'm crazy; after all, with a normal cake you don't have to go through this rigmarole. But a normal cake contains things like baking powder or yeast or soda, and does not rely on air alone to raise a bunch of sodden boozy fruit weighing more than twice as much as the batter)
- When all the flour has been incorporated and you have a smooth cake batter, fold in, carefully and by degrees, the fruit, treacle, almonds, grated zest and candied peel. Spoon the mixture into the baking tin, smooth with the back of the spoon, cover with the baking parchment lid and place on the lowest shelf in the oven. Bake for at least 4.5 hours. My cake took well over 5 hours, but from about 4 hours onward I would take it out every twenty minutes or so and test it with a skewer. It's ready when the skewer comes out clean, but don't wait for it to come out dry: if you have a little bit of condensation on it that's good as it means the cake is still moist in the middle.
- After removing the cake from the oven, unwrap all the Blue Peter stuff and leave it to cool in the tin for at least half an hour, then remove from the pan and place on a cooling rack (this is where I went wrong - I transferred it to a plate when it was still too hot, and it stuck to it! I had to do some hasty jigsaw puzzle work where bits of the top got torn off...). When the cake is completely cool, pierce the top with a skewer or knife in about 20 places. Retrieve the precious fruit-and-brandy cordial you reserved earlier and carefully spoon it over the cake, helping it along with the back of the spoon if it seems not to be getting absorbed. I only used about half of what I had - say 5 tablespoons (an interesting idea would be to drop a teaspoon of vanilla essence into that liquid before feeding the cake, but I forgot!).
- Leave the cake to settle for a few minutes, then swaddle it: a couple of layers of baking parchment tied with string, a couple more of cling film or foil, then pop it into a reasonably airtight container (or, if you own a completely hermetic cake tin, just use that). Place in a cool, shady spot in the kitchen or utility room. There is no established protocol as to how often one needs to feed the cake or for how long. In my case, I baked the cake 3 weeks before it was to be eaten, then fed it once on the day and once two weeks later (i.e. one week before it was eaten). I only fed it brandy, but some people like to enrich the flavours by feeding the cake a different type of alcohol each time - whiskey, port, sherry etc. are all options that you could very well work beautifully alone or in combination. When you make the cake a few months in advance, as is traditional, you have more room for experimentation and variety.
Right, so, I'm not really a very artistic person. So I wasn't going to sculpt sugar flowers or pipe complicated patterns onto the cake, that would just have been silly. These days any major supermarket will sell you pre-rolled fondant icing and all sorts of decorations that will help you to effortlessly create a reasonably elegant design. I would also recommend investing a couple of quid in a cardboard and foil cake board which will serve at once as your decorating palette and serving dish.
Before covering a cake with icing, it needs an under-layer of almond paste or marzipan (same thing really). This can also be bought pre-rolled, but that is actually a disadvantage. The marzipan stabilizes the cake, and helps provide a level surface for the icing to cling to. If it is already pre-rolled to a uniform thickness, you're not going to get the control necessary to mask all the small bumps and imperfections that a good cake should by rights possess. So buy the block stuff and treat it like Play Dough, rolling it and molding it around the cake until it is straight, smooth and level. Brush this layer with a little sugar water (or eggwhite for a firmer grip), then lay your pre-rolled icing over it, working from the center outwards to smooth out all the air bubbles (the icing can tear where there's a bubble, so make sure you do that).
You will almost certainly have a join or a couple of folds along the sides of the cake, and it's difficult to impossible to completely smooth them out. That's why there is such a vogue for tying ribbons around Christmas and wedding cakes! So that's what I did, securing the ribbon in place with sewing pins. Then I sprinkled some edible glitter over the top, and that was about as far as my humble aesthetic abilities could carry me.
Decorate the cake the evening before it is to be eaten, it will be fine outside the fridge for up to 24 hours.
Well, that's all from me. This has been as detailed a blow-by-blow of my cake baking experiences
as I could write. It was a challenge and a pleasure to bake this cake, and I sort of did it to prove to myself
I could, so I'm really quite proud to have done well at it. And now, thanks to the wonders of the internet,
you can be proud of me too...