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Your essential guide to making a Christmas cake - from marzipan and fruit to baking and booze

Always wanted to make your own Christmas cake? Don't be nervous. Take heed of these important things and you'll be a festive fruitcake pro.

by: Julie Donald | 10 Dec 2018
 
festive baking

Poor old fruitcake has the worst reputation.  I have long suspected that fruitcake is a generational divider. Old people seem to love it, and young people seem to hate it, this is a wild generalisation of course.  It has been with dawning horror that I have found myself REALLY liking fruitcake.  Isn’t it funny how age sneaks up on you?

Boiled fruit cake

Boiling the fruit will help to keep your cake moist. Some recipes will have you use your brandy at this stage to make the fruit nice and boozy. I personally prefer a recipe that only uses brandy as a drizzle at the end, but this is just a matter of preference.  

Baking 

Another pitfall in the avoiding-dry-fruitcake battle is that the cake needs to bake for a long time to bake all the way through. So, to reduce the drying effect and to get a more even bake, wrap the outside of the cake tin with layers of wet newspaper tied around the tin with string.  If the cake starts to get really dark on the top, cover the top with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.

Dusting the fruit

Top tip: If your cherries (or other fruits) tend to sink to the bottom of the tin, dust them in flour before mixing them into the cake batter.

Maturing

To preserve a boiled fruit cake (for years even) you need to douse it with brandy every few weeks after you have baked it. Wrap the cake in some wax wrap and a layer of foil and find a cool place to store it. After a couple of months, the cakes will be super moist and there might even be a dark syrup that comes out the bottom. Then you know it is ready!

Alcohol-free cakes

If you don’t need to preserve your cake (for years) and you want to eat it straight away or you prefer an alcohol-free version, then a lighter style might be for you. Have a look at the Light Fruit Cake recipe below.   

Marzipan and sugar paste

The traditional covering for a fruitcake is a layer of marzipan covered with a layer of royal icing or sugar paste. Most of the “marzipans” you can buy pre-made aren’t made with real almonds but with the bitter almond essence. If this puts you off, leave it off and make an alternative topping. If you are using marzipan, use a light brushing of apricot jam to stick the marzipan to the cake and spritz of water to stick on your rolled fondant (also known as sugar paste). Royal icing as a covering is rather dated, not least because it hardens into something akin to cement (the application is pretty similar too).  

Alternative toppings

Arrange almonds and cherries on the top of the cake and finish off with a light sugar glaze (100g icing sugar mixed with a little water).  Or make a nut brittle with pecans, smash it up and load it onto the top of the cake with chunks of chocolate and cranberries and finish off with a few flecks of gold leaf for a super festive topping. 

TRY: 

Light and fruity Christmas cake

Deluxe boiled Christmas cake


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