I've "discovered" Christmas cake only after moving to Ireland those many years ago. In Poland you would find a lot of different cakes baked for Christmas, but none could be called "the ultimate Polish Christmas cake", as it will hugely depend on the region of Poland, family traditions etc. In Ireland, and UK, this is way simpler - Christmas cake is only one, and when you mention it everyone will know what you're on about.
I wanted to finally start our own little family tradition, once the girls are old enough to participate in it (5 and almost 4 years old), so this year was very first one that a traditional Christmas cake was baked. Well, almost traditional... The "normal" version would be "fed" with alcohol over few weeks leading to Christmas, but with two little people at home that wasn't an option for me. I was on a look out for a recipe that would give me the same texture, lots of fruit, will keep long, have that same depth of flavour but without the alcohol in it. At some stage I thought it was impossible! But... There it was Mary Berry's "Christmas Collection" cookbook, and inside I've found a recipe for American light Christmas cake. No alcohol in it! I've changed the recipe ever so slightly, but the result was even better than I was expecting!
The cake is moist and full of delicious fruit. When you cut through, it looks like the most beautiful stained glass! There's just enough amount of the fruit and nuts, so you can fell different textures, but everything comes together and the whole cake is well balanced. I don't miss the taste of whiskey/brandy at all!
It is very, very important to drain and dry the pineapple well. If it is wet, the cake may become mouldy. If you would like to decorate this cake with almond paste and royal icing, do not decorate with almonds and cherries before baking. Icing and almond paste aren't very popular in my house, so almonds and glace cherries had to do. I'm pleasantly surprised how pretty the cake looks like, with so simple decorations :) Another proof that sometimes less is more!
Ideally, this cake should be made 1 month ahead and kept in the larder, covered with foil. This freezes well for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature for 12 hours.
How to make it...
- 200 g glace cherries
- 150 g mixed peel (original recipe calls for 350 g glace cherries only, but I wanted to add mixed peel so had to cut on some other ingredient)
- 1 × 200 g can pineapple pieces in natural juice
- 350 g no-soak dried apricots
- 100 g whole blanched almonds, chopped finely (used almond flakes)
- grated rind of 2 lemons
- 350 g sultanas
- 250 g self-raising flour
- 250 g caster sugar
- 250 g butter, softened
- 75 g ground almonds
- 5 eggs
whole blanched almonds and glacé cherries, halved
Preheat the oven to 160 ºC/Fan 140 ºC. Grease a 23 cm (9 in) deep round cake tin, and line the base and sides with a double layer of greased grease proof paper.
Cut each cherry into quarters, rinse and drain well. Drain and roughly chop the pineapple, then dry both the cherries and pineapple very thoroughly on absorbent kitchen paper. Snip the apricots into raisin-sized pieces. Place the prepared fruit and nuts in a large mixing bowl with the grated lemon rind and sultanas and gently mix.
In a stand mixer beat the butter and sugar till pale. Add eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed, follow with flour. Take the bowl out of the mixer stand and add all the mixed fruit, fold in. Turn the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Level the surface and decorate the top with blanched whole almonds and halved glacé cherries.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 2¼ hours until golden brown. Insert a skewer to test – if it comes out clean, the cake is cooked. It may be necessary after 1 hour to cover it loosely in foil to prevent it getting too brown. Leave to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes, then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack. You can glaze the cake if liked. Mix the sifted icing sugar with enough water to give a thin icing, and drizzle over the top of the cake.
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