Fruitcake is a bit of a ’marmite-y’ food. You either love it or hate it. Clearly it’s the dried fruit that causes the issue as the recipe for a basic fruitcake is a standard sponge cake but uses brown sugar instead of white and often has no raising agent. The thing about fruitcake that really sets it apart is that it can last for years. Properly stored, you can keep a fruitcake for up to 25 years and still eat it without having to worry about food poisoning. This is probably because of the copious amounts of brandy in which this cake is soaked. A good fruitcake will be regularly ‘fed’ brandy for a month or so before it is stored and left to mature until it is needed.
Christmas cake is distinguished from normal fruitcake by the time of year at which it is eaten. The recipe is the same…. it’s just eaten in late December rather than at any other time. Whilst the darkness of the cake can come from using light and dark brown sugar, a properly deep brown colour is achieved by adding black treacle. Treacle is the bitumen (tar) of the sugar world. It is what is left over at the end of the refining process when the corn syrup, standard sugar and other lightly coloured products have been removed. It is full of ‘impurities’ which would ruin normal sugar syrup but are really only the minerals in the sugar beet or sugarcane, things like iron, magnesium, calcium etc. These minerals are so concentrated in black treacle that some brands have even been used as a health supplement.
The alcohol added to the fruitcake gives it a very moist crumb and an intense flavour without making it too boozy. This is because while the cake is maturing, all the liquid diffuses evenly throughout it whilst the alcohol evaporates leaving only its flavour behind. The hardiness of fruitcakes is what makes them so perfect for weddings. Cakes can be cut and pieces posted out to friends and family without the worry that all that will arrive will be a mushy mess.
The cake is very rich so you will get a lot of servings out of it – you cannot eat much at any one time. I hope you enjoy the recipe (and the cake in about two months time).
200g glace cherries, rinsed and roughly chopped
100g mixed peel
10oz brown sugar
1 tbsp black treacle
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¾ tsp mixed spice
Zest of 1 orange
Tip the sultanas, currants, raisins, peel and cherries into a large bowl.
Pour over the brandy, stir, cover tightly and leave to stand for 24 hours.
Turn the oven to gas mark 1.
Line an eight-inch square tin or a nine inch round tin with a double thickness of baking parchment.
Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Do not skimp on this stage. It should take at least five minutes.
Beat in the treacle.
Beat the eggs lightly to combine.
Add the egg a tablespoon at a time beating after each addition to prevent curdling. If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour.
Once the egg has all been incorporated, add the flour and spices and lightly beat until just combined.
Drain the dried fruit and reserve the brandy for later (it will be used to feed the fruitcake).
Add the fruit to the cake mix and use a wooden spoon to combine by hand. This prevents the fruit from being pulverised.
Tip into the tin and spread out evenly.
If you are using metal tins, tie a strip of baking parchment around the outside of the cake so that it comes up to at least double the height of the tin. Also cut out a circle/square of parchment which will fit over the top of the cake – this will stop it from browning.
Bake for four hours.
Remove the parchment covering the top and bake for another 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (it may be a little wet but not mushy). If the cake begins to brown too much, place the parchment back over the top.
Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool.
Once it is cold, prick it all over and spoon two tablespoons of the brandy over the cake. Leave for an hour to absorb and then wrap the cake tightly in baking parchment and then foil.
Leave the cake to mature for at least two weeks (although preferably a month) feeding the cake brandy twice each week.
After the cake has matured, you can serve it as it is or decorate it with marzipan and royal icing to make a proper Christmas/wedding/decorative cake.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake, be sure to check out the recipe for my beautiful chocolate raspberry layer cake.
Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a winter warmer to keep you going strong into the new year.