Today I introduced these babies to their first taste of hard liquor. Well, their first direct taste. These are my Christmas cakes, and I made them last Friday, so they were ready to be baptised today with a bit of Tesco Value Brandy.
The Idiot Boy and I holidayed in Corfu this summer and I picked up a couple of ingredients that I immediately ear-marked for my festive cakes. Corfu has made a bit of a thing of producing kumquat-related products. The main one of these is a bright orange and unpleasantly sickly liqueur, but the glace kumquats are gorgeous; richly fragrant and as tangy as they are sweet. I also bought some spiced, dried figs. The ones I brought home weren’t quite as delicious as the ones I sampled out there. and were much drier, so I soaked them in ouzo for a month to soften them up (and get rid of the ouzo).
10 oz sultanas, 10 oz raisins, 8 oz currants, 8 oz dried spiced figs, 8 oz preserved black cherries, 6 oz glace kumquats, 6 oz dark muscovado sugar, 6 oz white sugar, 12 oz salted butter, 8 oz plain flour, 6 oz SR flour, 4 oz ground almonds, 5 large eggs, zest of a lemon, zest of four tangerines, 1/2 tsp of almond essence, one heaped dsp of cinnamon, 1/2 a nutmeg grated, 1/2 tsp of ground cloves, 1/2 tsp of baking powder.
I soaked the sultanas, raisins and currants in sherry overnight. The black cherries from Kent – bought back in August when the lovely Twickenham greengrocer had a glut and let me have four large punnets of beautifully ripe ones for six quid – were bottled in red wine and star anise (and are also know as ‘the dangerously experimental jam that went horribly wrong’).
I roughly chopped the figs and kumquats and put them in a bowl with the sherry-soaked fruits, the cherries and the citrus zest. Then I stood sniffing the bowl for quite some time because it smell so powerfully full of boozy, fruity goodness.
I creamed the sugar and butter in the usual fashion. Lack of storage space and stinginess mean I never buy demerara or soft brown sugar unless its really cheap, I just tend to blend muscovado and white to get the flavour and colour I want. Then I gently beat in the eggs and almond essence and the plain flour. I use plain at this point because it takes a long time to mix the other ingredients in thoroughly so I fear the active ingredient may stop working. Then I mixed the SR flour in with the fruit. This should – and did – prevent the fruit from sinking. I chucked in the rest of the ingredients and blended it as quickly and thoroughly as I could.
It might seem like I have added a lot of spice, but I wanted a richly flavoured cake and traditional amounts derive from the period when such spices were hugely expensive luxury items to be used sparingly. One could probably afford to roll oneself in cinnamon now, if one had the inclination.
When I want to make rich cakes full of comparatively expensive or unusual ingredients I never make them very large. This dates back to some unfortunate experiences when I was a novice cook, and large fruit cakes always seemed to catch and the dry at the edges by the time they cooked properly in the middle, or have the fruit sink sadly to the bottom. Smaller cakes (or rings like the one above) always remain moist, and use much less energy. Nowadays I tend to make gifts of most of them, so only the ring shaped one is mine. Small ones are easier to handle, store and despatch, too. The amount above made a 26cm ring, 4 12cm tins and 2 lb loaf tin cut in half to make two squares. the little round ones were done after 20 minutes at 180 degrees, the ring after 35 and the loaf at just after 50. None of them were in long enough to carbonise any of the fruit at the edges. They smell lovely.