Grandma’s Christmas Fruit Cake

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I realise that being so close to Christmas this recipe might be a bit late for most readers, at least until next year, but I’ve been so busy with all of my baking that this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write it.

My Grandma, who turns 90 next year, makes six Christmas fruit cakes every year, one for each of her children, and one for her brother. I was lucky to have a morning with her in her snazzy new kitchen a couple of weeks ago. I went to help her make two cakes, and came home with her tried and true recipe and some important tips.

This cake is great in that you can put it in the oven and then get stuck into whatever else you need to do that day- it goes in the oven for 5.5 – 6 hours at 120 and cooks nice and slowly, keeping it dense and juicy.

I had my first solo attempt on the weekend and my cake turned out well- though it cooked a bit more quickly- in 4.5 hours- as my oven dial is obviously a bit inaccurate on the lower end.

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You’ll need

  • 900g mixed fruit (with glace cherries)
  • 2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
  • 30g blanched slivered almonds
  • 220g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 tsp lemon essence
  • 1 tbsp medium or dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp decent quality brandy
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb (baking) soda
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tbsp each of sherry & brandy, for topping

Method 

1. Combine mixed fruit, sherry, brandy and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and leave for 2 hours or overnight.

2. Pre-heat oven to 120ºC and line a deep,20cm wide cake tin with at least two layers. Grandma uses four- white card, brown card, brown paper & baking paper, for the bottom and sides. The expert assures me that this is well worth it “I haven’t had burnt bottom yet!”. Secure with pegs until needed.

3. Uncover soaked fruit and add spices, salt, bicarb soda, and almonds and mix well.

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4. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat once melted, add milk and stir to combine.

5. Add warm mixture to fruit and stir well until all combined and sugar has dissolved- you’ll notice the grainy feeling disappear as you stir.

6. Lightly whisk the eggs and essences, and add to the main bowl and mix well.

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7. Add sifted flour, one cup at a time, and stir very well to combine, making sure you get all of the flour that might be stuck on the bottom or sides.

8. Pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin and drop from 20-30cm height onto bench or hard floor to evenly distribute mixture and get rid of any air bubbles. Top with extra almonds.

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9. Place on the middle shelf in your very slow oven. Cook for 5.5-6 hours, checking if it’s cooked with a metal skewer inserted in the centre of the cake.

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10. Remove from oven and pour over an additional tablespoon of both brandy and sherry, particularly focusing on the edges of the cake- this will make sure it’s lovely and moist all over.

11. Top with baking paper and, still in tin, wrap in a clean dry tea towel. After about half an hour wrap the bundle a couple of layers of newspaper and set aside until cool.

12. Enjoy- and have a happy Christmas!!

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My finished cake- destined for Mum’s table.
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Christmas Jumbles

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This time last year, I was inspired to do some Christmas baking to give to family and friends as a seasonal treat. Gingerbread is fine, but has never been my favourite-I wanted to make something softer and kid friendly.

Honey Jumbles are a sweet memory from my childhood and I knew I had a recipe in my Women’s Weekly book, so I got myself some Christmassy biscuit cutters and food dye and had a crack at a bit of decorating. My first batch needed a bit more spice (thanks trusty family taste testers!), so I added more flavour to the next lot and had a winner.

I made a number of batches and made gift bags to give to family and friends. They were well received by all- the little kids seemed to like them just as much, if not more than the grown ups, I think because the icing balances nicely with the spices. This year I’ve made even more biscuits (up around the 200 mark) and it’s been a big undertaking, but I’ve had heaps of fun decorating and gifting them.

In this recipe I have used two cutter shapes, a Christmas tree and star, but you can cut any shape you like (no need to go and buy specific Christmas ones!), and make your biscuits Christmassy when you ice and decorate. You should get between 30-40 biscuits out of the one batch, depending on the size of the cutter/s you use.

 You’ll need: 

For the biscuits-

  • 60g butter
  • 1/2 cup (110g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (270g) golden syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup (75g) self raising flour
  • 2 1/2 cups (375g) plain flour
  • 1/.2 teaspoon bicarb (baking) soda
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp mixed spice

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For the icing-

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 1/2 cups (240g) icing sugar
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • approx 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • food colourings of your choice (red and green at a minimum)
  • Metallic cachous, food shimmer, sprinkles & whatever takes your fancy to decorate with

Method 

  1.  Combine the butter, dark brown sugar and golden syrup in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until smooth.DSC_0287

2. Add hot mixture to a large bowl and cool for 10 minutes. Add egg to cooled mixture and stir until combined.

3. Add half of the sifted dry ingredients and stir until combined, and repeat.

4. Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, with floured hands, until it loses its stickiness (this usually takes me about 5 minutes of kneading). DSC_0315DSC_0324

5. Wrap dough in cling-wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 180°C and grease & flour two oven trays.

7. Remove chilled dough from the fridge and roll out to about 0.5cm thickness and cut out your shapes, with a lightly floured biscuit, placing onto your trays so they don’t touch (I’ll be honest, to fit them all on, they have to be pretty close, which is why I’m not giving you a distance)

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8. Bake for around 15 minutes, keeping an eye on them and turning or swapping shelves if necessary, and remove when just golden brown and fragrant. Cool on trays for 5-10 minutes and then place on wire racks to cool completely.

9. To make the icing- place egg white in a medium bowl and add sifted icing sugar. Stir until a thick paste forms. Divide mixture between as many bowls as colours you want to decorate with- I usually take enough to mix up two bowls and leave the last third in the main bowl to use as I need. Add colouring gradually and stir until you reach the desired colour, and then add lemon juice and extra icing paste as necessary to make it spreadable.

10. Spread your biscuits with the icing you want to use as the base colour, usually I make my trees green and stars red, but I’ve branched out with purple, blue and yellow this year too 🙂 Allow to dry for about 10 minutes.

11. Using a piping bag or a ziplock bag with a corner cut off, pipe a contrasting colour onto your hard icing base and decorate with whatever you have decided to use.

12. Leave for 20 minutes to make sure the piping and decorations are set and store in an airtight container or package for gifting (I put two stars and a tree in little cellophane bags with curled ribbon and give them out, they look pretty cute). Biscuits will keep for about 2 weeks. DSC_0033DSC_0036DSC_0035

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I hope you’ll have a go at these if you have some time in the next few days leading up to Christmas. If not, the recipe is easy to adapt (just use different cutters!) to make some treats to have around the house over the holiday period.

Happy Christmas!

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