By Nohreen Sloan, Spa Sweethearts WI Committee Member and food blogger at http://www.mrssloanqueenofscones.wordpress.com
Christmas has to be my favourite time of year. It’s not because of all of the presents (although that does help) but because it gives me an excuse to make. I get my Christmas craft on well in advance of December, making anything and everything from decorations, gifts, baked goods and pretty much anything else I can add glitter or tinsel to!
There’s a tremendous sense of gratification that comes from making, whether it’s for yourself or someone else, even more so when the item is edible! There are two food items that I think everyone should make at Christmas time; mince pies and fruit cake. Keep reading to find out my top tips and tricks on how to get a perfect bake this Christmas.
My secrets for the perfect mince pie
Whilst mince pies can be quite easily done with pre-rolled pastry and jarred mincemeat, making a fruit cake from scratch can be a little more daunting. Here a a few tricks that will help you to get it just right:
– Tie a thick layer of newspaper around the outside of your cake tin. Put another thick layer of newspaper on a baking tray, and place the cake tin on top. This will prevent the edges of the cake from the heat of the oven and cooking too quickly.
– An electric whisk will make the process of creaming the fat and sugar easier, but using a wooden spoon will do the same job-it just takes a little longer. You can check if your mixture has been creamed enough by placing a little blob of mixture into a bowl of cold water. If the mixture floats, it has been sufficiently creamed (the process of creaming adds air to the mixture).
– Eggs at room temperature are best to use, as they will be less likely to curdle the mixture. However, if it looks as though it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour.
– Make sure that your cake mixture is level when putting it in the cake tin. Make indentations all over the surface of the cake mixture – this will prevent the cake from rising in the middle, and give a nice flat top instead.
– Before placing in the oven, fold a large piece of greaseproof paper (larger than the top of the cake tin), fold in half and cut a small circle out of the middle (about 2cm diameter). Placing this sheet carefully over the top of the cake tin will prevent the top of the cake from cooking too quickly, also helping to retain the moisture of the cake.
Amaretto and Orange Christmas Cake, with Cranberries and Cherries
The recipe below is for a 9″(23cm) cake tin
Ingredients (stage one):
225g dried cranberries
200g candied peel
200g dried apricots
100g glace cherries
75g sour cherries
zest and juice of 2 oranges
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
Method (stage one):
Wash, dry and quarter the glace cherries. Chop the apricots and sour cherries to the same size. Place all the dried fruit, amaretto, zest and juice into a pan. Bring to the boil, stir, cover and simmer for 5 mins. Pour into a bowl, cover and leave overnight.
Ingredients (stage two):
soaked fruit mixture (above)
275g dark muscovado sugar
275g soft margarine
5 medium eggs – beaten
275g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
50g ground almonds
150g chopped almonds
1 tbsp black treacle
METHOD stage two
Preheat your oven to 140c/120c(fan)/gas 1.
Grease and line a 9″ cake tin (see above)
Cream the fat and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the beaten eggs little by little, beating in well each time.
Fold in the sifted flour, salt, spices, soaked fruit mixture, chopped and ground almonds, treacle and marmalade until combined.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, levelling then indenting on the top.
Place your large piece of greaseproof paper with the hole over the top of the tin.
Bake on a low shelf for about 4-5 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Mine took about 5 and a half hours, but I checked at regular intervals after 4 hours of cooking.
Take the cake out of the oven and let it cool before removing from the tin. Carefully remove the lining paper and wrap up in some clean greaseproof paper, and then foil. Store in this way until you are ready to decorate.
If you wish to make the cake a little more boozy, insert a skewer into the base of the cake several times, and drizzle over (or brush with a pastry brush) a tablespoonful of your chosen liqueur once a week prior to decorating.