Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cake expectations – or a tale of two cakes*

I have never made a Christmas cake before, or for that matter baked a proper fruit cake. This is partly because fruit cake isn’t my favourite and partly because I go to my mum for Christmas and my dad for New Year – mum is an excellent cook who makes a brilliant cake. Dad once won a prize for Best Fruit Cake Baked By A Gentleman in the village show (he likes fruit cake) he also married a professional chef second time round and his youngest daughter has been well trained in baking matters – they always have good cake too, making another has seemed like cake overkill.

However making your own Christmas Cake feels like a rite of passage that a person should go through (if so inclined) before they’re 40 (a dreadful sounding anniversary that’s now only a couple of years away) so I think this will be the year. Actually I also though last year would be the year when I cut out a Dan Lepard recipe from The Guardian - but I still have the clipping and I want to make the cake more than ever. Truthfully I’ve never been that much of a Lepard fan but that’s just changed, Verity told me I must get ‘Short and Sweet’ but I momentarily thought I had enough cook books and should save money for dull things like bills and bus fares (it may be that I was wrong).

What my tatty clipping didn’t make clear was how long the cake could keep or if it needed to be made long in advance so I asked Verity via twitter what she thought (she is after all a seasoned fruit cake baker) she suggested I tweet Dan himself which I was about to do when I found he’d already sent me an answer. I was deeply impressed; I mean how many people would be that efficient and helpful? I’m now filled to the brim with goodwill and ‘Short and Sweet’ has gone on my wish list. It’s not even that I’m thinking ‘aha here’s someone who can be bothered with questions whenever I have a cake query’ (although that’s a temptation albeit one I’ll quash) but that this man cares enough about his work to clarify a point gives me tremendous confidence in him. Incidentally the cake will keep well wrapped up in a cool place and can be fed with hard liquor if desired.

Cake number two is a Two Fat Ladies Chocolate Whisky Cake. It was a Jennifer Paterson contribution and is the first thing I’ve cooked out of a book I see was a birthday present in 1997. Every book has its day. This cake calls for 3oz of sultanas soaked overnight in 4 tablespoons of whisky, 6oz of plain chocolate melted with 4oz of butter and put aside to cool whilst 3 eggs are separated, the yolks to be whipped with 4oz light soft brown sugar and the whites to be whipped separately and set aside. Meanwhile a grated orange rind, the whisky and sultanas, the cooled chocolate mixture, and 2½oz of chopped walnuts can be folded into the yolk mixture followed by ¼ of a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, and 2oz self raising flour. Finally gently fold in the egg whites and pour the whole lot into a prepared 20cm cake tin. Pop it in an oven at 180°C/gas 4 for an hour or until a skewer comes out clean then leave in the tin for a further 15 mins before turning out. JP suggested a buttercream and whisky icing to top with but I didn’t bother this time.

I wish I’d taken a picture before we ate it, but didn’t so you’ll have to imagine how good this cake looked (actually my tin was a bit big so it looked a bit flat, but tasted great). I have lots of similar recipes but they all cook in about half the time – it seems these days we like our cakes a good bit fudgier – but this way is excellent, rich but surprisingly light in texture. I also really like the addition of fruit nuts and flavourings; they worked fantastically well together making this cake feel like something really special.

*Because it’s a while since I’ve had a pun never mind two really terrible puns in a blog title and I’ve missed them.


  1. I love that there was a Best Fruit Cake Baked By A Gentleman prize category. I spent the day baking five Christmas cakes (3 different recipes) and have seen a few other Christmas cake-related posts go up today as well - clearly, the season is upon us!

  2. My daughter Helen called me over the weekend to tell me that she was making her first ever Christmas cake and it was in the oven and the smell was wonderful. After I gave up cooking for a living (5 Christmas cakes and 250 Christmas puddings nearly did for me one year) I have seldom made a Christmas cake but the spirit moves me this year. I blame Paul Hollywood! But I am going to make a Delia Smith recipe which is a golden Christmas cake with candied angelica, pineapple etc which I think I prefer to a richer fruit cake.

    I will post in due course and let you know how I get on

  3. LOVE the pun. Wasn't Dan Lepard ind - you didn't tell me what the answer was - I'm glad you've included the link to the recipe. I'm wondering about trying that chocolate whisky cake, although I don't have any whisky in the house - I wonder if my Dad would spare me a measure or two?! Really hope you get hte Dan Lepard book x

  4. I was debating whether to make a chocolate cake to take to work for my birthday next week - but reading this I think it might need to be fruit cake, soaked in something divine will be delicious I think.

    Last year my Christmas cake was a weetabix diet type cake - which was all eaten by everyone else and the shop bought cake was left untouched.

  5. Captive Reader - dad's quite proud of that title, swears he baked the cake himself and that there were other competitors (although he also holds that he was probably the only 'gentlemen' - village shows can get dirty)

    Elaine, I like the sound of that cake as well, but my heart belongs to the Dan Lepard cake now - at least until I've made it anyway.

    Verity, the chocolate cake was lovely, I think you could probably use tea to soak the sultanas in because really they just need to be plump and juicy. Any other alcohol would be fine too. The answer re fruit cake was yes it'll keep. Getting very excited about decorating possibilities.

    Jo - happy baking. I just like cake, I'm not very fussy about what sort. My personal christmas tradition is candied oranges dipped in chocolate but I want to try my hand at a traditional cake even if it's just once.