Christmas fruit cakes are traditional; they are a tradition worth keeping alive. Though they don’t look dainty or fancy, they are the mark of holiday indulgence – plenty of booze (ie. brandy) and an excess of dried fruits and nuts. Indulgence in its purest form.
It is the ingredients that defines the fruit cake and is what makes it celebratory.
Though I have a love for fruit cakes, I nearly always associate them with Christmas. It is the only time of the year that I would think of making them although it would not be entirely wrong to make and have them on a random day.
This Nigel Slater’s fruit cake recipe produces a moist and flavourful cake. I think it is absolutely important to use dark sugars for they give the cake a good treacle flavour above keeping the cake moist.
I gave my dried fruits a good soaking of brandy instead of using simply dried fruits, even though the latter would work as well. I think it makes them plump and more importantly, allows them to pack a good punch.
Project fruit cake began in the last week of October this year. (YES! That’s almost two months ago!) I started with the soaking of the fruits in brandy, simple syrup, zest and cinnamon. The baking of the cakes were done one month later in late November.
They have been sitting on my kitchen counter for the last couple of weeks getting their feed of brandy once in awhile and now, they are finally ready to be eaten over Christmas. This may well seem too time-consuming (that’s why, it is called project fruit cake); it requires planning more than work since most of the time is spent waiting.
If you ever want to test your patience, this may be the project for you.
It’s a project well worth undertaking.
I’m a huge fan of fruit cakes especially those that are given a good douse of brandy. Unfortunately, you need a large amount of patience (as well as restraint) for them. First you need at least 4 weeks head start. And, you need to restrain yourself from eating them before Christmas arrives. But aside from this, it is a relatively easy recipe. Just take all care not to over-bake these!
227g unsalted butter, softened
110g brown sugar
110g dark muscavado sugar
165g eggs (about 3 eggs)
3 tablespoons brandy plus extra for brushing the cake
Juice and zest of one orange
Zest of one lemon
65g ground almonds
260g all-purpose flour
1 tsp double-acting baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp five spice powder
pinch of nutmeg
100g hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, or almonds, chopped
700g of an assortment of *brandied dried fruits (apricots, figs, cranberries, raisins…)
To decorate: (optional)
wilton colour paste
1. Grease your loaf tins well and line the tin with parchment paper. Allow the parchment paper to extend 2 inches above the loaf tin. Preheat oven to 165 degrees celcius.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth, light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the brandy, juice and zest of the orange, and zest of the lemon.
3. Whisk together all the dry ingredients and fold it into the cake batter, until well-combined.
4. Add in the chopped fruits and nuts and fold through.
5. Pour the cake batter in the loaf tins. Reduce the temperature to Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and, if desired, decorate the top of the cake with blanched almonds. Bake until cake springs back to touch or until a long skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The small loaf cakes will take about 45-50 minutes. Place the spring form pan on a larger baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.
6. Brush the cakes with brandy and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap the cake with two layers of clingwrap and aluminium foil. Store them in a air-tight box.
7. Feeding the cake with brandy: Make holes in the cake using long skewers. Brush about 1 tbsp of brandy over the cake once every two days in the first week. Then once every week for three- four weeks until Christmas for the best results. The amount of brandy you would like in your cake is entirely up to you. This will give you a very moist and flavourful cake.
8. A day before serving: Roll out some ready-made fondant to about 3mm thickness. Cut to size and brush a layer of brandy on the cake before topping it with the fondant. Decorate it anyway you desire.
*Brandied dried fruits (for Christmas fruit cake)
Makes 1 kg dried fruits
2 cinnamon sticks
zest of one orange
about 1kg of dried fruits, chopped (I used apricots, figs, cranberries, golden raisins, sultanas, dates)
1. Make sugar syrup: In a pot, place sugar and water and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat.
2. Add in the brandy. Pour over the dried fruits. Add zest and stir to combine. Add in cinnamon sticks.
3. Leave it in a air tight container in room temperature or in the fridge. Give the dried fruits a good stir everyday for the first week. Then stir once every few days for the next three to four weeks. You will be rewarded with plump fruits boosted with brandy.