Sleigh bells have been ringing and I have been duly listening more or less against my will, since mid July, it somehow seems. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Christmasophile (or a festivophile?) but all good things more appropriately come to those who are willing to wait. Until at least mid December. I think I decided Christmas could Start Happening Now when I woke up for the first time at 7.30am to a still navy dark morning. Normally it might be a December frost that would spin it, but the temperature rose, the summer did overtime, my garlic harvests spoiled, and I can still pop to the shops without having to wear my big Man Coat. Indeed, it would be difficult to fully embrace the festive mood when I spent a deal of my desk time neurotically considering impending climate disasters.
So gastronomically, I had to pull out the big guns and bake a Festive Fruit Cake. To some people Christmas starts being when that hyper-capitalist-sugary-caffeine-pop advert premiers, for some it is when they get their first winsome little Christmas card from Aunt Mable. For me, it is the first time I cook something discernibly festive, often packed with dried fruits, cinnamon, nutmeg and mud dark sugar. This Festive Fruit Cake would work as your Christmas Cake, if you wanted to add a bit of brandy, cherries and candid peels into the mix, leave it a few weeks to intensify in flavour before clothing in marzipan, icing and trinkets. However this basic fruit cake for me is a precursor, to be eaten whilst snuggled up in front of the yuletide telebox with a mug of hot milk. How twee. Be sure to raid your local German supermarket retailer for cheaper ingredients, where available.
- 125 grams dried figs (or prunes if you want the cake richer).
- 500 grams of a mix between raisins, sultanas or currents.
- 300g of dark muscovado sugar.
- a small cup of lukewarm black tea.
- 5 eggs.
- 350 grams of plain flour.
- 250 grams of unsalted butter.
- 1 tsp of bicarb.
- 1 tsp cinnamon.
- 1/2 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg.
- A baking parchment lined 20cm tin.
First roughly chop your dried figs and put them into a mixing bowl with the other dried fruits. Pour over your lukewarm, black tea until it just covers the fruit. Now leave for at least one hour, or overnight if your a planner-aheader. The fruit will incorporate the tea and return somewhat to their pre-dried, oozy jubilance. When you are ready, pre-heat the oven to about 180c.
Now take your butter (at room temp) and squelch together with your muscovado sugar until it is all creamed up. Then put in an egg and mix it in fully, before repeating this process with the other 4 eggs. Now, in a larger bowl, mix your flour with the spices and the bicarb before adding your fruit and butter/sugar/ egg mixture. Fold, before pouring in to the tin.
Cook for 40-45 minutes in the 180c oven before checking, then lowering to 160/150c and cooking for another 40-45. The fruit cake can then be lifted out of the tin using the parchment and rested on a any cake shape plate/object. Some cooks prefer to bake the fruit cake until it is really firm but I like it still have a slight touch of squidgy moistness.
Once cooled sufficiently, serve nakedly (the cake, not you) or with a bit of cream. Oh and a cup of hot milk, or indeed a glass of warm brandy. Enjoy!