Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Cake

In England at Christmas time, there is a Christmas cake in every house and one in every bakery window, and they all have the most wonderful snow scenes on top. Many of the little figures that Gerry's mom puts on her Christmas cake are things that she has saved from her childhood (little children riding on tiny sleds, a miniature cottage, some little plastic deer). The cake itself is really no different than a conventional American fruitcake, sweetened up by the layer of marzipan, then covered entirely by snowy Royal icing.

Gerry and Sam made ours this year, creating a Santa's Wonderland on top, with little deer, snowy trees, and a set of miniature Santas, each playing a different musical instrument -- they were the charms out of our Christmas crackers one year.

If you're too full for a piece of cake on Christmas Day -- as is often the case after the Figgy Pudding and the Mince Pies -- you can save it 'til the next day, and it will make a pefect Boxing Day dessert. This year, we're saving ours for New Year's Eve. It will also keep until the 6th of January, when it becomes known as Twelfth Night Cake. Or wait for Mardi Gras and call it King's Cake!

1 cup butter (8 oz)
1 cup soft brown sugar (8 oz)
4 eggs
2 tsp Allspice
grated rind of a lemon
grated rind of an orange
2 Tbsp sherry

3½ cups all purpose white or whole meal flour
¾ tsp salt
5¼ tsp baking powder

½ cup glace cherries (4 oz)
1 cup chopped pecans or English walnuts (4 oz)
2 cups regular raisins (3/4 lb)
2 cups golden raisins (3/4 lb)

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl (8-cup size or larger) until pale and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon of the flour with each egg. Beat in the allspice, orange and lemon rinds. Fold in the remaining flour (plus salt and baking powder) along with the cherries, nuts, and raisins, and stir in the sherry to give a smooth dropping consistency.

Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 8-inch round cake tin or medium sized spring-form pan with 2½ inch sides, lined with brown paper and rubbed with butter. Level the top of the cake with a smooth spatula. Bake for 2 - 3 hours at 300 F until golden brown and firm to touch. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out. Ice with Royal Icing.

Another option is to make the cake a week or two in advance, soak it with sherry or whiskey, store in an air - tight container, checking every few days to re-saturate. Making the icing and decorating the top can be a fun family activity for Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day, or New Year's Eve.

First, spread a thin layer of any brand of apricot jam on the top and around the sides of the fruit cake. Second, roll out some ready made marzipan (approx. two 7 oz. Tubes) into a circle the size of the top of the cake and into a strip the height of the cake (I have to do this part in two or three sections). Third, stick the marzipan onto the cake, using the apricot jam as "glue."

In the food processor, beat 6 cups powdered sugar (1 1/2 lbs)
3 egg whites
3/4 tsp lemon juice
2 drop of glycerine or mineral oil.

Now, spread the frosting on top of the marzipan, using a smooth, rounded butter knife to create the effect of snow drifts, paths, etc. Finally, when the frosting is nearly set (not too long -- maybe 30 minutes), decorate with your favorite Christmas miniatures to create a snow scene of your own design. It’s also nice to stick a row of plastic holly or little red poinsettias around the sides. This cake keeps very well without being covered, so you can admire your work for several days! Then, slowly but surely cut around the decorations until nothing is left but a few crumbs!

Merry Christmas! Happy Boxing Day!

Sam Explains How It's Done, New Year's Day 2000

An Expert From Way Back, Christmas 1995

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