With a little over two weeks until Christmas, is it too late to make a Christmas Cake? "Not at all!" enthuses Darina Allen while she shares her signature recipe for the most delicious, moist and decadent cake to enjoy this festive season!
This makes a moist cake that keeps very well. It can be made months ahead, or if you are frenetically busy it will still be delish even if made just a few days before Christmas – believe me, I know! This cake, now a classic, was originally published in 1989 in the first edition of A Simply Delicious Christmas and it’s still my favourite rich Christmas cake.
I have a passion for almond icing, so I ice the cake with almond icing and decorate it with heart shapes made from the almond paste. Then I brush it with beaten egg yolk and toast it in the oven – simply delicious!
It is important to note that this recipe is based on using a conventional oven. If you are using a fan oven, check your oven handbook – ovens vary, but as a general guideline we recommend reducing the oven temperature by 20°C/70°F. It can help to put a dish of water in a fan oven while the cake is baking to keep it from drying out.
- Darina Allen -
110g (4oz) real glacé cherries 50g (2oz) whole almonds
350g (12oz) best-quality sultanas 350g (12oz) best-quality currants 350g (12oz) best-quality raisins
110g (4oz) homemade candied peel
(page 327) 50g (2oz) ground almonds
rind of 1 organic unwaxed lemon rind of 1 organic unwaxed orange 70ml (21/2fl oz) Irish whiskey
225g (8oz) butter, softened 225g (8oz) pale soft brown sugar or
golden caster sugar
6 eggs, preferably free-range
and organic 275g (10oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice 1 large or 2 small Bramley’s Seedling
cooking apples, grated
450g (1lb) golden caster sugar 450g (1lb) ground almonds
2 small eggs, preferably free-range
and organic 2 tablespoons Irish whiskey
a drop of pure almond extract (be careful, it’s very intense)
icing sugar, for dusting the worktop 1 egg white, lightly beaten,
1 x 450g (1lb) packet fondant
Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9in) round or a 20.5cm (8in) square tin with a double thickness of silicone paper. Tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin. Have a double sheet of brown or silicone paper ready to lay on top of the tin during cooking.
Wash the cherries and dry them gently. Cut in halves or quarters, as desired. Blanch the whole almonds in boiling water for 1–2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix together the dried fruit and peel, chopped almonds, ground almonds and grated lemon and orange rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Cream the butter until very soft, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the flour and the mixed spice together and stir in gently (don’t beat). Add the grated cooking apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake). You can of course use a mixer if one is available, but the same principle applies.
Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked.
Lay a double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake to protect the surface from the direct heat. Put into the preheated oven and cook for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to 160°C/320°F/gas mark 3. Bake for a further 2 1/2 hours approx., until cooked. Test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. If not, allow a further 10 minutes in the oven. If at that point it’s still not fully cooked, allow 10 minutes more. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave it to cool in the tin overnight.
The next day, remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper, but wrap it in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required. Store in a cool, dry place. The longer the cake is stored, the more mature it becomes.
To make the almond paste, sieve the caster sugar and mix it with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond extract, then add to the sugar and almonds and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all of the egg.) Sprinkle the worktop with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.
To ice the cake, remove the paper from the cake. To make life easier for yourself, put a sheet of greaseproof paper onto the worktop and dust it with some icing sugar. Roll out half of the almond paste on the paper: it should be a little less than 1cm (1/2in) thick. Paint the top of the cake with the lightly beaten egg white or apricot jam and put the cake, sticky side down, onto the almond paste. Give the cake a thump to make sure it sticks and then cut around the edge.
If the cake is a little round shouldered, cut the almond paste a little larger; pull away the extra bits and keep for later to make hearts
or holly leaves. With a palette knife, press the extra almond paste in against the top of the cake to fill any gaps. Then slide a knife underneath the cake, or better still, underneath the paper, and turn the cake right way up. Peel off the greaseproof paper.
Roll out 2 long strips of almond paste and trim an edge to the height of the cake with a palette knife. Paint both the cake and the almond paste lightly with egg white or apricot jam. Press the strip against the sides of the cake. Do not overlap or there will be a bulge with the uneven edge upwards. Trim the excess almond paste with a long-bladed knife and keep for decoration or to make almond biscuits. Use a straight-sided water glass to even the edges and smooth the join. Rub the cake well with your hand to ensure a nice flat surface.
This recipe is taken from A Simply Delicious Christmas, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Darina Allen’s iconic cookbook - now available nationwide and in our Online Shop (20% off RRP - ORDER NOW!)