After much prevaricating, my Christmas preparations are finally underway. I’ve yet to buy any presents or make any decorations, but I’ve finally made the cake, with help from the Small Girl and the Boy Wonder. We have a tradition in our house that the Christmas cake must be stirred by all parties in the house – and they have to make a wish while they do it. I’m not sure the Small Girl understood the wishing concept, but she really loved stirring!
|Teddy got to try the mixture too – he’s having a liedown to cope with the sugar|
|What are they wishing for?|
This cake is intrinsically linked with celebration. My mother and I made it together one Boxing Day for our wedding cake, giggling like teenagers; my dear friend and mentor Denise kindly emailed me the recipe when we were living in the UK for our first Christmas abroad and earlier this year I made a vast version for Ann and Steve’s wedding cake. The recipe originally came from Peta Mathias, a chef and bonne vivante par excellence. Peta, with her lust for life and flaming red hair, is always described as “irrepressible” and that’s exactly the same way I’d describe this cake. It’s full of bold flavours and not for the faint-hearted. Make this and you’ll never look at a traditional fruit cake in the same way again. When it’s being a wedding cake it needs a coating of chocolate ganache, but at Christmas I think it’s best plain (even if it looks a little bare). Tumble a few decorations on top if you want it to look more festive.
Peta Mathias’ Aunt Edna’s Fig and Chocolate Fruitcake
This is Peta’s recipe, with a few tweaks here and there. She uses all figs – I use a mixture of figs and prunes; she adds slivered almonds, I leave them out because I used to make this for nut-allergic Sophie and discovered that they don’t actually add anything. I use orange zest instead of lemon and have reduced the amount of chocolate a tiny bit because you can have too much of a good thing.
400g dried figs, cut in quarters
300g prunes, cut in quarters
brandy and orange juice for soaking fruit
300g brown sugar
1Tbsp black treacle
grated zest of two oranges
5 large eggs
2Tbsp brandy or rum
2tsp baking powder
1tsp mixed spice
1tsp ground cinnamon
600g dark chocolate smashed into little bits
Soak the fruit in a bowl, covered in a mixture of brandy and orange juice for 24 hours (I’ve left it for up to 48 hours with no ill-effects).
When you want to make the cake, preheat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 24cm cake tin. Don’t worry about the brown paper treatment – lining the tin with baking paper is enough.
Cream the butter, sugar and treacle, then add the lemon rind. Whisk the eggs and brandy or rum together and stir into the butter mixture. Stir in the sieved dry ingredients. Drain the prepared fruit (save the extra liquid for a little cook’s tipple when the cake is done!) and stir that into the mixture, then mix in the chocolate.
Pour into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 90 minutes, then turn it down to 150C and cook for at least another 60-90 minutes. Test by plunging a skewer into the middle in the usual fashion. Keep an eye on it – it may be done sooner. Cover the top with a piece of baking paper or foil if it looks to be getting too dark.
Let it cool completely in the tin, then turn out and wrap in greaseproof paper and store somewhere cool and dark until the big day. You can feed it with more booze if you like.