Well I've been slack on the Christmas cooking this year. Organisation, Planning and I have parted ways and I am now on catch up duty. Although in reality apathy may win. As long as I cook one or two baked goods I can delude myself into believing that I have done my Christmas duty. So a cake and some shortbread may be about it for this year.
Once upon a time I was very good. I would soak the fruit for my Christmas cake for a month prior to cooking. I would make multiple cakes to give to family. I would decorate and feed each cake with religious devotion. Now I'd rather spend that extra time ensconced on my couch with an episode or two of trash TV. I think that's what they call maturing.
20yrs later I still use the same recipe, only my timeline has shortened considerably. The good old Grand Marnier Fruit Cake from Best Recipes from The Weekly (1991). Is there a household in Australia that doesn't own a copy of a Woman's Weekly Cookbook? They must be few and far between. This rich cake has served my family well. Whilst I often change the fruit content, using simply what I have on hand in the pantry, the essence is the same each year. And in those 20 years I haven't had a single failure.
(Even found a picture of my very first Christmas Cake)
The recipe does suggest soaking your fruit for 10 days, but I have soaked it as little as overnight (or two nights this year) and it is still moist and rich. In fact the longer it sits after cooking the richer it becomes. The only difference is perhaps in colour. The longer the fruit soak the darker the cake seems to turn out. The smell and sound of Grand Marnier as it hits the hot cakes is divine, and really it's not Christmas until the house is infused with that rich, heady scent.
The last few years I have made multiple tiny cakes, which I wrap and store in the freezer to be defrosted throughout the year. Whilst I love the look of the bigger cakes, they can be harder to store.
The fruit mix can suit your taste and budget. It works out at roughly 2kg of dried fruit. I have made it using everything from the recipe below to dried mangoes, peaches and pears. Somehow the addition of the Grand Marnier makes it all work.
10 days soaking
3-31/2 hrs cooking for one large cake
45-50mins for 6 small cakes
(My little tins and bell tin, which also makes a fantastic alien head cake for kids)
Deep cake tin (20-23cm round cake tin)
250gm mixed peel
125gm glace apricots (or dried apricots)
125gm glace pineapple
125gm dried cranberries
60gm blanched slivered almonds
60gm walnut pieces
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
½ cup Grand Marnier
½ cup castor sugar
½ cup orange juice
½ cup brown sugar
2 cups plain flour
- Chop larger fruit (eg dates) into the size of the sultanas.
- Place all fruit, zest, and nuts in a large bowl.
- Spread castor sugar evenly over the bottom of a heavy based pan. Cook on medium heat until sugar begins to melt and caramelise.
- Remove from heat and add orange juice. Be very careful as it will spit and bubble.
- Return to the heat and stir until all the toffee pieces have dissolved.
- Do not boil or you will lose too much liquid.
- Remove from heat and add Grand Marnier. Allow to cool.
- Add cooled Grand Marnier liquid to the fruit and mix thoroughly.
- Place mixture in a large sealable jar or container.
- Mix fruit mixture well for each of the next 10 days.
Day 11 (or day 3 if slack like me)
- Preheat oven to 150C
- Cream butter and brown sugar until soft and well combined.
- Add eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is well combined before adding the next. If mixture doesn't combine don't fret. When mixed with the flour and fruit mix, it will come together. It makes little difference to the final product.
- And the fun begins. Use your hands to ensure a thorough mix. Pour butter, sugar and egg mix into the fruit and mix well with your hands.
- Once evenly combined add the sifted flour.
- Line a deep 20x23cm round cake tin with 3 thicknesses of baking paper. Ensure that paper comes about 5 cm above the rim of the tin.
- Spread mixture evenly into tin.
- Bake for 3-31/2hrs.
- Remove cake from oven. Put some shallow holes in the top of the cake with a skewer.
- Pour 2-3tablespoons of Grand Marnier over hot cake. It seems a lot but the cake will soak it up. Do not stand over cake as fumes will make your eyes water.
- Cover cakes with aluminium foil and leave to cool.
- When cool remove from tin and discard foil. Leave the baking paper on the cake.
- Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool dark place or the freezer.
This cake will keep for a year.