Spiced Christmas cake
This is a good last-minute Christmas cake as it doesn’t need time to mature. Fragrant, spiced and with a light golden crumb. The natural decoration looks incredibly impressive too.
For the cake
- 125g/4½oz raisins
- 125g/4½oz sultanas
- 100g/3½oz currants
- 200g/7oz glacé cherries, halved
- 100g/3½oz pre-soaked apricots, chopped
- 100g/3½oz dried pineapple, chopped
- 100g/3½oz candied peel, finely chopped
- 100g/3½oz cashew nuts, roughly chopped
- 1 lime, zest only
- 1 lemon, zest only
- ½ orange, zest only
- 100ml/3½fl oz white port or white rum
- 225g/8oz butter
- 225g/8oz golden caster sugar
- 175g/6oz plain flour
- 50g/1¾oz ground almonds
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp ground mace or grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- pinch salt
- 4 free-range eggs
- ½ orange, juice only
- 1 tbsp rosewater or orange blossom water
For the decorations
- 900g/2lb marzipan
- 2 tbsp apricot jam
- 1 orange, preferably with a few leaves
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 2 free-range egg whites
- 3-4 longish sprigs rosemary (5-6cm/2-2½ in lengths)
- few citrus leaves
- 100g/3½oz caster sugar
- few crystalised rose petals
- cinnamon sticks
- star anise
- edible gold spray or edible gold dust
Put all the fruit into a large bowl, along with the cashew nuts and citrus zest. Pour over the white port (or rum). Leave to stand overnight, or at least for a few hours.
When you are ready to make the cake, line a deep 20cm/8in round tin or a 18cm/7in square tin with baking parchment. Tie a double layer of baking parchment around the outside of the tin, making sure it is at least 10cm/4cm higher than the top of the tin. Preheat the oven to 170C/150C Fan/Gas 3.
Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until very pale, aerated and fluffy.
Put the flour, ground almonds, cinnamon, cardamom, mace (or nutmeg), allspice and cloves in a separate bowl together with a pinch of salt, and mix lightly to get rid of any lumps.
Add the eggs to the butter and sugar, one at a time and sprinkle over a tablespoon of the dry ingredients. Mix in, then repeat with the remaining eggs, finally adding the rest of the flour and stirring thoroughly.
Add the reserved soaked fruit and the rosewater or orange blossom water. Mix thoroughly again. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth over with a palette knife.
Bake in the oven for an hour, then turn the temperature down to 150C/130C Fan/Gas 2, then bake for a further two hours. To check the cake is done, insert a skewer into the centre – it should come out clean when the cake is done. Leave to cool in the tin for around 10 minutes, then put on a cooling rack.
When completely cool, decorate the cake.
If the cake isn’t completely flat, trim the top, then turn it upside down. Roll out the marzipan to around 1cm/½in thick and cut so it that it will sit on the cake. Put the marzipan on a baking tray and put under the grill for a minute or two, until toasted in places. Alternatively use a blow torch once the marzipan is on the cake. Melt the apricot jam and spread on the cake. Transfer the grilled marzipan to the cake.
For the decorations, slice the orange into 2mm/1/16 in slices and pat away excess moisture with kitchen paper. Preheat the oven to 150C/130C Fan/Gas 2 and line the baking tray with baking parchment or non-stick lining.
Sprinkle the orange slices with the icing sugar. Put in the oven for around an hour to an hour and a half, checking regularly after around 50 minutes, until the oranges have dried out a little and started to brown. Leave cool completely.
For the leaves and rosemary sprigs, lightly whisk the egg whites in a bowl. Immerse the rosemary in the egg white, then remove and shake off the excess. Pour the caster sugar over a plate, then lay the rosemary sprigs in it. Spoon the caster sugar over the top, then shake off again, gently this time, to remove any excess. Lay on a tray. Brush the leaves with the egg white and again, drop onto the caster sugar and cover completely, shake off the caster sugar. Leave to dry for around an hour.
Lightly spray the spices with edible gold spray or dust with edible gold dust (this way you can still use them afterwards). Arrange the leaves, spices, orange slices and rose petals over the top of the cake, in a wreath. Leave the sides of the cake bare, or cover with a ribbon.