So, it’s December and your plans to make a Christmas cake haven’t materialized. Despite my best intentions, I seem to find myself in this position every year, and I don’t think I’m alone.
Fear not, however, because here is my foolproof recipe for a last-minute Christmas cake. It’s adapted from Delia Smith’s last minute mincemeat Christmas cake recipe, and it’s a recipe I have been making for several years now, adapting and, I think, improving the recipe. The only thing I’d recommend doing in advance is soaking the fruit in Brandy overnight.
This is a cake that can be made right up until Christmas. It really doesn’t need time to mature, and manages to strike a balance between a rich, fruity cake, but it is also lighter in texture – not quite the deep, dark and dense cake we often expect at this time of year, and as such, I find it is more widely enjoyed by people who have tried it. Especially those who think they don’t like Christmas cake – they seem to love this one.
It can be decorated traditionally, as I have done in the photo using marzipan and fondant icing. Or, simply brush the top with apricot jam and decorate with some beautiful dried fruit and nuts, which I often do. It is worth mentioning that it keeps better if it’s iced, depending on how far in advance you’re making the cake, and also how quickly you’re likely to get through the cake when it’s first cut.
This is not an especially large cake, made in a 20cm or 8 inch tin. But as with anything, I always think less is more – everyone can have a couple of slices and really enjoy it, rather than end up feeling joylessly obliged to keep eating your cake until March.
Last minute Christmas cake
Makes 1 x 20cm/8” cake which serves 16-20
For overnight soaking:
300g dried fruit – I always use sultanas, not raisins
100g candied peel, chopped – I use homemade – a mixture of half blood orange, half lemon
400g jar excellent quality mincemeat
For the cake:
150g dark brown muscovado sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp mixed spice (ensure it contains cinnamon, not cassia)
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
225g self raising flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder
Start by soaking the fruit overnight. You can get away with around 4 hours soaking, but overnight is best if you possibly can. Place all the ingredients together into a large mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Cover with cling film and leave.
The next day, line your cake tin well using non-stick greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 150C Fan/170C/Gas Mark 3.
Place the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat together well. Add the eggs gradually, beating well after each addition. The mixture will be quite runny at this stage. If you have one, it’s a good idea to use a stand mixer or electric beaters here to ensure the mixture is beaten even more thoroughly than you can manage by hand.
Add the salt, spices, orange and lemon zest and the soaked fruit, including all the liquid. Beat together well. Finally, add the sifted flour and baking powder and fold in gently until evenly combined.
Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and neatly level off. Bake, uncovered for 90 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s cooked. It may need another 15-30 minutes covered to cook through if your oven is a little slow. Covering the cake in foil will stop it from browning too much.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 20-30 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the paper and allow to cool fully before wrapping and storing or decorating.
In theory, this cake can be eaten same day – it needs no maturing or feeding before being ready to enjoy.