I’ve been wanting to make a traditional dark fruit cake, the type you have at Christmas, for a very long time. The rich fruit soaked in alcohol, coupled with the sickly sweet marzipan and fondant icing, is the perfect festival cake. But, I’ve always been a bit daunted due to the amount of prep time required…and I usually can’t get my act together in time before Christmas anyway. And yes, I know Christmas is still a long way away, but my daughter is having her baptism in April, so it’s as good an excuse as any to make it now!
This recipe is a slight variation of Nigella Lawson’s from her 2011 Nigella Christmas book. I’ve increased the variety of fruit as I’m not a big fan of currants (Nigella includes 300g of currants instead of the dates, figs and apricots that I’ve included) but as long as you keep the same volumes, you can add whatever dried fruit you like. The ingredient volumes below are for a 23cm/9 inch round tin or 20cm/8 inch square tin, though the final mixture was so great, I ended up with a 20cm square cake and a 15cm square cake.
700g/1lbs 8.7oz raisins
100g/3.5oz dried figs
100g/3.5oz dried apricots
100g/3.5oz pitted dates
100g/3.5oz glacé cherries
150g/5.3oz chopped pecans or walnuts
400ml/13.5 fl oz brandy or bourbon
300g/10.6oz unsalted butter
180g/6.3oz dark brown sugar
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp black treacle or molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g/10.6oz plain flour
150g/5.3oz ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Place all the dried fruit in a large bowl (cut up the larger fruit into raisin sized pieces) and pour over the brandy or bourbon.
Soak the fruit for a couple of days in a large bowl covered in cling wrap until all the alcohol is absorbed. Mix the fruit around a couple of times a day to ensure all the fruit is nicely plumped. “Oh my God, it may not look great but it smells divine…I could easily eat this slightly warmed with some vanilla ice cream…sorry I digress.”
The night before you bake the cake, take the butter and eggs out of the fridge so they are at room temperature when you use them.
On the day, preheat your oven to 150C/300F. Cream the butter and sugar together and add in the lemon zest. Add the eggs one at a time, then the black treacle and vanilla extract.
Sift the dry ingredients and mix with the soaked fruits and creamed mixture, then fold through the chopped pecans. Now we’re ready to prepare the tin.
According to Nigella, getting the tin well lined is key to keeping this cake moist. Double line your tin with baking paper and ensure you have the baking paper 10cm higher than the cake tin. You can also wrap the outside of the tin and tie with twine to extra insulate the cake while cooking.
The recipe I have says to bake the cake in the oven for approximately 2hrs 45mins through to 3hrs 15 mins for the 20cm square tin, but mine was ready after only 1 hr 45 mins. My 15cm tin was ready after 1 hour. Every oven is different I guess, so your cake could take less or more time. To check insert a skewer. If it comes out cleanish it’s done.
Once the cake is ready, brush with some more alcohol and immediately double wrap the cake in the tin with aluminium foil to trap in the heat and steam…again keeping the cake moist. Once it is completely cold remove the cake from the tin and double wrap in aluminium again. Store the cake in a sealed container for 6 weeks or more to mature. You can keep brushing the cake with alcohol if you want it really boozy. You can also freeze the cake to use when you want to.
Phew I made it! It looks ok, but it bloody better taste good! I have to decorate it in April…so I’ll leave that for another post.