Ah, the Christmas cake, or “fruitcake” as it is fondly (and not so fondly) known. In the UK, they call it “rich” fruitcake, though the reason escapes me a bit–I think it’s because there is more dried fruit in it than in a “regular” fruitcake.
Now in the States, we abhor the fruitcake. We love to hate it, don’t we? I’ve never tried an American fruitcake and I don’t believe I ever will–all those green and red and orange candied fruits look, well, pretty gross. This is one thing British fruitcake has going for it–none of that scary stuff. But I have to say, it’s scary in its own right. My husband made the Christmas cake this year, a bit late (he waited until November when ideally it would’ve been done in early- to mid-June).
Here’s what the batter looked like pre-baking:
The blue paper is wrapped around the outer edge of the pan to keep it from burning. In Simon’s family, it’s traditional to use this particular blue paper (it’s actually a bag from the pharmacist saved year-after-year for the purpose, don’t ask me why). The paper is tied on with a string, also saved from year-to-year, and the batter must be stirred by the children of the family so they can make a wish and for good luck. (Perhaps they wish for a good excuse to not eat the Christmas cake.)
After all that, the cake is baked for a good four or five hours (the thing is enormous) and then set aside to cool and be iced with marzipan and tucked away for Christmas Day. I’ll post a photo of the end result here in a bit.
So what goes in a Christmas cake, exactly? Here’s a recipe that would have been used in large manor houses round about 1845:
- 2 lb. mixed fruit (dried)
- generous 1.5 lb. flour and butter
- scant 1/2 lb. peel (lemon and orange)
- 10 eggs
- 1/2 lb. treacle
Cream the butter and whisk the eggs. Add flour and eggs to the butter and mix well until a stiff batter is formed. Add in the fruit and treacle. Mix the cake by hand (it will burn out a modern electric mixer). Turn it into a well-greased 9-inch tin and bake in a moderate oven (140 degrees Celsius/280 Fahrenheit) for about 5-6 hours. Wrap the tin in several layers of paper to stop the edges of the cake from burning.
Anyone want to give it a try and let me know how it turns out? We bought rolls of prepared marzipan to lay over the finished cake; for a view of what a finished product might look like, check here (ours looks nothing like these).
For a really large cake, the recipe recommends 10 lbs. of fruit, 8 lbs. of flour, 8 lbs. of butter, 2 lbs. of candied peel, about 50 eggs, and a little treacle. (If you make that one, do let me know. And send pictures.)