You can buy cakes, but you can't buy time, making these cakes rather special! This is the second time I have made Christmas cakes by my end-of-financial-year rule. The idea is to make them before 30 June so they have time to mature into beautifully rich and moist cakes, ready for eating. I gave one each to my parents and in-laws last year and they loved them.
These cakes fill your kitchen/house with beautiful aromas while baking. It's a great thing to do in the middle of an Australian winter. If you're making these as gifts, it'll also free up your November/December to enjoy the sunshine.
Here are the ones I made this year on 17 June 2012:
I adapted my recipe from the Rich Fruit Cake recipe in Country Women's Association: Cakes, 2009, page 26.
Here's what went into them (for 2 x 20 cm round cakes and 1 x 25 cm square cake):
- 1 kg sultanas
- 710 g currants (they were all I had left in the cupboard)
- 500 g raisins
- 500 g crystallised ginger, chopped
- 200 g mixed peel
- 300 g walnuts
- 540 g glace cherries (I like random measures!)
- ~4 tsp mixed spice
- ~1 tsp salt
- ~4 tsp ground cinnamon (I roasted 4 cassia sticks in the warming oven and enlisted help of hubby to grind with mortar and pestle)
- ~4 tsp grated nutmeg
- To soak fruit in: ~1 cup dry sherry (original recipe asks for sweet sherry but I only had dry McWilliam's Royal Reserve dry sherry) + "happy" glug of brandy (as much/little as you'd like. I used St Agnes 3 Star brandy)
- 600 g butter (original recipe would have required 1 kg but I found this was too much from last year's results)
- dollop of molasses (I have a knack for not measuring! There was plenty of sugar from the fruit in this so I decided to cut out the sugar altogether and instead at a touch of molasses for flavour/colour)
- 2 dozen eggs
- 1 kg plain flour
- 200 self raising flour
(given the large quantities in this recipe, you may have to do this in 2 mixing bowls and add each quantity of ingredients in halves)
- On the day/night before baking, get the biggest mixing bowl you have (if not a clean bucket!) and soak the fruit in sherry/brandy. I only managed to fit the currants, raisins, glace cherries and mixed peel into my bowl, so these got soaked in sherry and brandy. Next time, I would get a bigger container so I could soak all my fruit.
- On the day of baking, add walnuts to the mixed fruit.
- In a separate bowl, melt the butter, and then add the spices, salt and molasses. Mix.
- Into a separate bowl, crack the eggs and whisk/beat to combine. Tip eggs into butter mixture and mix until even.
- Pour egg/butter mixture over fruit/nuts.
- Weigh out flours. Add to wet ingredients. Mix until combined. Add extra brandy/sherry/water if mixture looks too dry.
- Spoon into baking tins. Tap tins on benchtop/floor to ensure the cake batter settles. You don't want gaps.
- Bake at 140 degrees C (if you have a fan-forced oven) / 150 deg C (if not) for 2 hours. Although I didn't do this, I would have covered my cakes with foil for at least the first hour of baking to prevent the cakes from drying. After a post-baking chat with the master baker (aka my English mother in-law who's full of baking wisdom), I realised most recipes call for fruit cakes to be baked with foil to seal in the goodness. Traps for young players!!
I won't be using the loose-base tin again. I found that the butter seeped out the bottom while baking. That could have been a reason why my square cake (baked in the loose-base tin) was a little dry. I can't check the round cakes - they're gifts! Fingers crossed they're not as dry.
When the cakes cooled, I poured brandy over the top and wrapped them. They're now sitting in a cupboard waiting for the next "drink". They'll get a sip every now and again til they're wrapped up as gifts.
The fruit and nut mixture (not all of it is in this bowl):
The round cakes:
The square cake (you can see where the butter seeped out at the base - I won't be using a loose-base tin next time. They're good for tarts, not so good for heavy fruit cakes):