Grandma’s Christmas Cake

My childhood is filled with memories of my Super Gran. Every thursday was “Grandma Day” and she would pick me up from school in her old red car, always bringing me a little treat. In the evening we would have her crumbly homemade baked bread, and she would cook something traditional, like steak and kidney pie.

Some recipes are timeless, and this, for me, is the taste of a sweet Christmas. When I was a child I remember the sight of this huge cake in the kitchen – jam-packed full of dried fruits, covered with a thick layer of marzipan and crunchy icing. It was so big that it would often last until New Year. It should be made at least a month before Christmas to allow all of the flavour to mature, and then every week, if you wish, you can drizzle a little of your chosen alcohol all over it.

One of the things for me about cooking at Christmas is doing all the extra things that you don´t usually do. So this year, as I couldn´t find candied peel in the Greek Supermarket, I just made it. This recipe has all the weights and measures in the old imperial system, so I’ve also converted to metric 🙂

Oh, and one more thing that I discovered after making it this year – when you are mixing, you are supposed to make a wish. I didn´t so I guess there are 2 options: make another, or make a wish when it’s cut on Christmas Day!

Cake Mixture Ingredients
6                          eggs
10ozs / 280g  butter
1lb / 450g        flour
12ozs / 340g  brown sugar
1lb / 450g        sultanas
1lb / 450g        currants
4ozs / 115g      raisins
2ozs / 60g       glace cherries
6ozs / 175g      candied peel
4ozs / 115g      chopped almonds
2tbs                   dark treacle / molasses
½ tsp                mixed spice
1 glass                brandy / rum / other tipple (optional) + 1-2tbs to soak into cake later

Tin: 9” x 3¼” Half-quantity: 8” x 3” (this makes very good sized cake)

Method
Line the cake tin with 2 layers of baking paper paper. Snip round base papers to make the circle shape. The paper around the sides of the tin should come well above the top of tin (use melted butter to grease the paper).

To make the candied peel: remove the peel from 3 oranges and 2 Lemons. With a teaspoon scrape away as much of the white pith as you can, and chop the peel into small pieces. Put the chopped peel in a pot, cover with water and bring to the boil, then leave to simmer for 15 minutes to soften the peel. Then add 500ml water and 200g sugar. Leave to simmer and reduce on a low heat for approx 45 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced and become syrupy.

While the candied peel is cooking, prepare the rest of the cake mix…

Beat the butter and sugar to a cream.
Add each egg separately, and beat until mixture is stiff and uniform.
Stir in flour, chopped almonds, fruit, spice, treacle and brandy (I actually used a cherry liqueur).
Transfer to tin. Cover cake with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Traditionally, brown paper was tied with string around the outside of the tin, although Grandma did it without this.

Cooking Instructions
Bake for 1 hour at 170°C (155°C fan oven) then 2 hours at 140°C (125-130°C fan oven).
If half quantity used: bake for 3¾ hours at GM1/140°C.

Check the cake every so often to make sure that it is not overcooked as all ovens are different. Poke a wooden skewer into the cake – if it comes out clean, the cake is ready. Then leave to cool on a wire rack for 1 hour before wrapping in baking paper, aluminium foil and placing into an airtight contatiner (like an empty biscuit tin):

Keep cake for 2-3 weeks, then cover with marzipan about ½ “ thick. Once or twice during this period, prick the underside of the cake with cocktail stick and pour over approx 1tbs brandy / rum / chosen tipple!

I haven’t made the marzipan and Icing but I have been reliably informed that Delia Smith has a good marzipan recipe. However if anyone has a suggestion please let me know 🙂

When the marzipan is set ( it takes about a week) cover the cake with royal icing and decorate with suitably Christmasy things!

Tips:

– The cake is fine if made over shorter period (ie a week before Christmas).

– The reason marzipan has to set before icing is to avoid discolouration of the icing. This can be avoided by doing spiky, rough royal icing, which is easier to do and looks just as good as smooth.

– look for recipes for almond paste (marzipan) and royal icing – Delia does good, easy to follow recipes, as well as explaining the whole process

I would love to hear of any other suggestions and recipe ideas, and if anyone uses this wonderful recipe, let me know how it turns out, and don’t forget to make a wish!


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