As soon as I could hold a wooden spoon in my hand, my baking days began with my Nan.
The highlight of our baking calendar was the Christmas cake, partly because of the comforting scent of warm spices and brandy filling the air and partly because we loved to go to town decorating the cake with snowy royal icing and kitsch Christmas trinkets.
If you'd like to read more about my baking days with my Nan, I've written a nostalgic post about them here.
Makes two 20cm cakes
1361g (3lbs) dried fruit
127g (4.5oz) glace cherries
85g (3oz) flaked almonds
170g (6oz) candied peel (omit if your dried fruit contains mixed peel or if you don’t like it)
340g (12oz) plain flour
340g (12oz) softened butter
340g (12oz) muscavado sugar
125m (⅛ pint) brandy*
1½ tablespoons black treacle
1 teaspoon each of mixed spice, cinnamon and nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Grated zest and juice of an orange and a lemon
A few drops of vanilla and almond extract
*Cointreau, coffee liqueur and sherry are also lovely alternatives
Prepare the tins
Lightly grease the bases of the tins. Line the bases and sides of each tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper, making sure that the paper is higher than the sides of the tin.
Insulate the outside of the tin by wrapping another double layer of greaseproof paper around the tin, securing it with string.
Make your cakes
The night before you want to bake, add the dried fruit, cherries and peel to a bowl. Pour over the brandy, stir to combine, cover and leave overnight to steep.
The next day, add the almonds and 4 tablespoons of flour. Mix well until all the fruit is lightly dusted in flour. Set aside.
Sift the rest of the flour and spices into a separate bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together until soft and creamy. Pour in half of the beaten eggs, the vanilla and almond extract and stir well until blended.
Pour in the treacle and the remainder of the beaten eggs, stirring until the batter becomes an even brown colour.
Gradually add in the spiced flour mixture, folding it all together. When everything’s mixed together add the zest and juice of the orange and lemon, a little at a time, stirring well and then the dried fruit, a few handfuls at a time.
It’s traditional to make a wish as you stir and is a lovely thing to do with others.
Bake your cakes
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees centigrade
Carefully spoon the mixture into the tins, smoothing down and pressing lightly with the back of a spoon in the centre to create a small dip, this will help to prevent the cake surface from forming a peak.
Place in the oven just below the centre, bake for an hour then turn the oven temperature down to 150 degrees centigrade and bake for another hour, checking the cakes at this stage with a skewer or knitting needle to see if the cakes are cooked through.
The skewer should come out clean, with a few crumbs sticking to it.
Baking time approx 2hrs - 2.5hrs
If the cakes are browning before the centre is cooked, cover with foil to protect the top and return to the oven for another 15 mins and then check again.
Try not to overbake!
Once ready, leave in the tins to cool for 2 hours. Turn out and remove baking papers and leave to completely cool before rewrapping in baking paper and foil. Store in a cool, dry place for a few weeks before decorating, to mature.
Feed your cake
Pierce the cake with a skewer and drizzle with brandy periodically, rewrapping with fresh paper and foil.
Decorate your cake
Brush the cake sparingly with apricot jam and transfer to a cake board. Cover with a thin layer of marzipan and ice using fondant or royal icing. Decorate as you wish.