Mam’s Christmas Cake
Christmas cake day was always a big day in our house. When it rolled around I knew that the main event wasn’t too far off. Mam would say, ‘I suppose I had better make a start on these cakes then.’ It always sounded like such a chore for her and it probably was, given that she baked for others too. The most monotonous task was always left to my sister and me: removing the teeny tiny stalks from the dried fruit. Every single solitary currant, raisin and sultana had to be inspected and de-stalked. We didn’t have the luxury of ‘prepared’ fruit back then, or if we did it was deemed too expensive when you had captive assistants to do the work for you. I’m pretty sure tasking two children with such a job was in breach of some human right, but sure we sat quietly, cramped around the table and did it while Mam busied herself lining tins, measuring and weighing. I loved bedtime on the nights that the cakes were baked. Their wonderful aroma inevitably invaded every inch of the house, and my bunk bed did not escape. I still love that smell when I climb into my bed now, having spent the day in the kitchen baking up a little bit of Christmas magic. This recipe makes two cakes. By all means feel free to halve the ingredients if you just want to make one cake, but sure when you are going to the effort of baking you may as well make two and surprise someone with a lovely home-made gift.
Ingredients 375g currants 375g raisins 375g sultanas 250g dried apricots, roughly chopped in 1cm pieces 100g dried cranberries 200ml warm (not hot) tea 200ml brandy 425g plain flour 1½ level tsp mixed spice ½ level tsp ground nutmeg 75g ground almonds 150g glacé cherries, quartered 150g mixed peel 115g crystallised/stem ginger, finely chopped Zest of 2 lemons Zest of 1 orange 150g chopped almonds 50g walnuts, roughly chopped 100g hazelnuts, roughly chopped 350g unsalted butter, softened and cubed 350g dark brown sugar 2 tbsp honey 2 tbsp black treacle 7 large eggs, at room temperature 2 tbsp brandy for drizzling Additional brandy to ‘feed’ the cake (optional)