Last week we unwrapped and cut open a Christmas cake, dark like mahogany, tall as a hat block, one we had tucked away on an upper shelf in a tin since last November, unsure whether a summer of neglect had made a hash of it.
For the first six or eight months, each week, we had dutifully peeled back parchment paper, flipped and moistened the cake with a tablespoon or two of brandy – a recipe we adapted from Jane Grigson’s English Food – a chore we abandoned around mid-July.
It was perfect.
With three months until the end of the year, it’s just now time to bake more for Christmas – in our case, a half dozen to send as gifts, and one or two to keep for company. If you have extras, like us, with a bit of brushing, they’ll keep well until Easter or the following Christmas.
Our particular version is for the purist, somewhat akin to a German stollen, but with a crumb that is lighter, cakier, and a 3 ½ hour slow bake that darkens the flavor, bittersweet, fragrant of spice and brandy.
The result is neither stodgy nor over-sweet.
In its most traditional form, you might finish it with a glaze of warmed apricot jam, rolled marzipan and royal icing, and the result would be tasty enough, if served at a formal gathering, and in tiny slivers.
Frankly, I’d rather have it plainly, and then perhaps a second, larger slice with a bit of cheese, stilton or cheddar as they might in the north of England.
Maybe for a bit of fun this year, we’ll swap out pecans for almonds in one cake and douse it instead in bourbon, brush another in a peaty Islay Scotch whisky and Angostura bitters, and a third with dark rum.
For this particular cake, we had homemade candied fruit on hand. But there are easy solutions for cherries in a pinch, you can buy better varieties of citrus and citron online, and the familiar store bought variety is really just fine.
A slighter taller 8-inch pan like this one works particularly well.
English Christmas Cake
- 1 ½ lb. assorted dried currants and raisins
- 4 oz. candied orange, lemon and citron, chopped
- 4 oz. candied cherries
- 4 oz. whole roasted almonds
- 10 oz. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. dried ginger
- 1 tsp. grated nutmeg
- zest of one lemon
- 8 oz. salted butter, softened
- 8 oz. dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tbs. molasses
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbs. warmed milk
- Preheat your oven to 275 F.
- Butter a eight inch cake pan and line with parchment paper and pour the mixture in, hollowing the top a little to compensate for it rising in the oven.
- Combine the currants and raisins, candied fruit and almonds in a large bowl. Sprinkle with flour, spices and zest, mix to coat and separate.
- In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar. Mix in vanilla and molasses. Beat in four eggs, one at a time.
- Gently incorporate into the fruit and flour mixture.
- Mix baking soda into the warm milk. Stir in.
- Adjust the consistency by mixing in enough brandy (about a 1/4 cup) to have a thick batter.
- Cover with a lid of parchment and bake for 3 1/2 hours.
- Cool in its pan overnight
- Remove from pan, wrap in waxed paper and cover tightly in a metal cake tin.
- Once a week, brush the top with a tablespoon or two of brandy, and flip, for a minimum of two months.