Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Perfect Fruit Cake

I am sorry to scare you, but did you know it is only 16 weeks until Christmas? I kid you not! While that still gives you plenty of time for shopping, it does not give you plenty of time for good cake.

Today I am going to share with you my award-winning Christmas cake recipe that everyone loves.
I have made this cake so many times I know the recipe by heart, but the first dozen or so times I made it, I experimented with how I soaked my fruit. I am pretty sure I have come up with the best method, but before we get into the recipe, let’s talk about the things you need to know.

SUGAR: The sort of sugar you use in your fruit cake will have a huge impact on your end result. White sugar results in a sickly sweet finish and can start to crystallise in the cake as it ages. For this

cake, the darker the better and so I use muscovado sugar and treacle – the intensity of flavour as it ages is wonderful. If muscovado is a little too dark for you, please use Chelsea brown sugar – it has a finer texture than some others on the market.

FRUIT: Rather than buy packets of pre-mixed dried fruit, I always mix my own, and I do the same with the candied peel. The cake is a fruit cake; it is the predominant flavour, so you have to like the fruit you use. Places like Bin Inn have plenty of options for dried fruit and candied peel, so make your own mix to suit your tastes. A mix of colours and textures adds so much to your eating pleasure.

DRY INGREDIENTS: As we have talked about many times in this column, your flour for cakes should be standard or plain flour. Low gluten protein makes a tender cake. This particular recipe works really well with gluten-free flours. If you don’t have the equipment to grind your own almonds, use the best ones you can afford and check the dates on the package. Fresh is best so stay away from product that is close to expiry.

FEEDING THE CAKE:  A good fruitcake needs love and attention while it sits and matures. You have gone to a lot of effort and expense to make this cake and so finishing it off properly is what it deserves. A fruitcake matures much the same way as wine does. Over time the tannins in the fruit skins are released and the flavours meld together to form a mouthful of fruit perfection. I like to feed my cake with drambuie, but you can use any spirit, or liqueur that you like the taste of. My friend Jody Langdon used Cherry bourbon last year and reports that it was delicious.

Once your cake has cooled, wrap it in some unbleached, clean muslin that has been soaked in a little of the alcohol of your choice. Wrap the glad wrap around the wrapped fruitcake sealing it completely. Put the packaged fruitcake in an airtight plastic container store it in a cool dark cupboard. For best results, a good fruitcake needs to be ripened for at least four to six weeks prior to serving. During this stage, regularly brush your chosen alcohol over the surface of the cake. Do not apply more alcohol than the fruitcake can absorb, if it begins to pool around the bottom of the fruitcake invert the cake and wait until the excess soaks in before applying any more.

If the cloth wrapping becomes dry, soak it in liquor before rewrapping the cake. The fruitcake will continue to ripen and improve for several months. The ingredients as well as the temperature and humidity will affect the condition of the fruitcake. The fruitcake should remain moist at all times, take care that it does not dry out during the curing process. Use a pastry brush to brush more alcohol on the surface of the fruitcake every 2-3 days. Rewrap the cake and repeat the process for four to six weeks to ripen the fruitcake. After that time, the cake can be frozen until serving time.

Kia makona, Mawera Karetai x

•             600g dried fruit - sultanas, currants, raisins and chopped dates
•             200ml ginger ale and 200mls cold, dark tea
•             225g plain flour
•             150g butter, slightly softened
•             150g dark Muscovado sugar
•             4 medium-sized eggs
•             1 tbsp dark treacle
•             100ml Drambuie (or your choice of alcoholic beverage) and extra for feeding the cake.
•             ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
•             2 tsp lemon juice
•             1 tsp baking powder
•             110g ground almonds
•             225g candied peel, chopped (I always make my own mix at Bin Inn)

•             The day before place the dried fruits in a large bowl, add the Gingerale and tea, and stir well. Cover and leave overnight.
•             Preheat the oven to 170C
•             Line an 22cm round cake tin with several layers of good quality baking paper.
•             Place the butter and sugar into a large baking bowl. Using an electric hand whisk or fork, cream the butter into the sugar until light, smooth and creamy.
•             Beat one egg into the creamed butter, then beat in a quarter of the flour. Repeat until all the eggs and flour are used up.
•             Add the treacle, alcohol of choice, nutmeg and lemon juice to the cake mixture and stir gently using a spoon or spatula. Finally, stir in the baking powder.
•             Drain the dried fruits and add the ground almonds, glace cherries and mixed peel. Stir well then add to the cake mixture stirring gently until all the fruits are incorporated into the mixture. Stir gently so as not to 'flatten' the cake mixture.
•             Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and gently level the surface. Cook in the preheated oven for 2 - 2½ hours or until dark, golden brown.

I have finished my cake off with macadamias, apricots, pecans, almonds and chocolate coated dried plums, all liberally coated in warm apricot jam.

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