Weekdays are working days, and they have a routine.

My mornings are hindered because I am a proper night person: brain synapses don’t work until sometime around midday and a lot of coffee. It is in the afternoon that I start to write. I am currently working on another DCI Catchpole thriller.

I may carry on into the evening until I sit down to write a letter to my beautiful fiancée, Sasha, who lives in Kiev. We write long letters to each other every day. Although we can’t sit down after work to talk about our day, we can do it in written words. Over the years we have been together I have worked out I have written over three full distance novels and I have received the same from her. It doesn’t diminish my desire to work on my own books but if anything helps me.

The weekends are far less structured and this weekend the focus is finally but, only for a moment, on Christmas. I have noticed that the rest of the world is far ahead of me. The adverts on the television are already there and we haven’t even yet got to Black Friday. I will resist temptations to share all my thoughts on these as it would take far too long but as a quick blast I will say that in my family trees and decorations were always put up on the 24th December, not before. However, there is one Christmas activity that is essential at this time of year – making the cake.

I have used the same recipe now for over five years and I would like to attribute it, but I am sorry I can’t remember if I found it in a book or the internet. If the original owner sees it here, then let me know and I will make an edit.

It is a great recipe: low on flour and high on dried fruit. It is rich in taste and moist, especially if you feed it with sherry each week before icing it on Xmas Eve.

This is never going to be a recipe blog but there are some Christmas gifts that need to be shared and this one. I hope you enjoy it every bit as much as I do.

The Very Best Ever Christmas Cake Recipe 

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  Small cake Medium cake Large cake
Sultanas 350g 700g 1kg
Raisins 110g 225g 350g
Currants 50g 110g 175g
glacé cherries 50g 110g 175g
Mixed peel 50g 110g 175g
Brandy or sweet sherry 200ml 400ml 600ml
Butter 150g 225g 350g
dark brown sugar 90g 195g 300g
Orange zest, grated 1 teaspoon 2 teaspoons 3 teaspoons
lemon zest, grated 1 teaspoon 2 teaspoons 3 teaspoons
large eggs 2 4 6
Marmalade 1 tablespoon 2 tablespoons 3 tablespoons
almond essence ½ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1½ teaspoons
plain flour 250g 350g 525g
Mixed spice ½ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1½ teaspoons
ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1½ teaspoons
Nutmeg ¼ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon
tin: round 18cm 23cm 25.5cm
or square 15cm 20cm 23cm
Temperature 150C/gas mark 2 150C/gas mark 2 150C/gas mark 2,
(reduce to 140C/gas mark 1 after 1 hour)
cooking time 1¾ – 2¼ hours 2¾ – 3¼ hours 3¾ – 4¼ hours
Yield approx. 12 slices approx. 16 slices approx. 20 slices

Making the Cake

Place all the dried fruit in a saucepan, and add the alcohol. Bring to the boil, then take it off the heat, covering once cooled, and let it steep overnight, covered, and make sure you take your eggs and butter out of the fridge so that they will be at room temperature.

The next day, preheat your oven to 150C / gas mark 2, and prepare your tin, (see below). Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the grated lemon zest.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the almond extract.

Sift the dry ingredients together, then mix the soaked fruit alternately with the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, combining thoroughly.

Put the cake mix into the prepared tin and bake in the oven, following the table opposite, or until a cake-tester or skewer inserted into the cake comes out cleanish.

When the cake is cooked, brush with a couple of extra tablespoons of bourbon or brandy or other liqueur of your choice. Wrap immediately in its tin – using a double-thickness of tin foil – as this will trap the heat and form steam, which in turn will keep the cake soft on top.

When it’s completely cold, remove the cake from the tin and rewrap in foil, storing, preferably in an airtight tin or Tupperware, for at least 3 weeks to improve the flavour. And see the Make Ahead tip, too.

Preparing your tin

To prepare your tin, line the sides and bottom of a deep, round, loose-bottomed cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment. The paper should come up a good 10cm higher than the sides of the tin; think of a lining that’s about twice as deep as the tin. Cut out 2 circles of paper, and 2 very long rectangles that will fit along the sides of the tin and rise up above it like a top hat. Before you put the 2 rectangular pieces in the tin, fold one long side of each piece in towards the centre by about 2cm, as if turning up a hem, then take some scissors and snip into this hem, at approx. 2cm intervals, as if making a rough frill.

Grease the tin, lay one paper circle on the bottom and get one of your long pieces and fit it down one side, with the frilly edge along the bottom, then press down that edge so it sits flat on the circle and holds it in place. Press the paper well into the sides, and repeat with the second rectangular piece. Now place the second circle on top of the 2 pressed down frilly edges, to help hold the pieces around the edge in place.

If you’re making a big cake, it’s worth wrapping the outside of the tin with a double layer of brown paper (also coming up about 10cm above the rim of the tin) but I don’t bother if I’m making a normal-sized one (20cm–23cm).  (I made the 23cm cake and I did use brown paper but on the inside of the tin and then parchment paper in side that.

Make ahead tip

Make the cake up to 6 weeks ahead and wrap in a double layer of greaseproof paper and then a double layer of foil. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. (You could add a bit more bourbon or brandy over this storage time to feed the cake and keep moist.)

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