Christmas cake

You can make this Christmas cake weeks before or even the day before - the taste will still be traditional and delicious. The recipe for almond paste, which is toasted in the oven for extra flavour, comes from Rachel's mother-in-law, Darina Allen.
By Rachel Allen
Christmas cake
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 12-20
  • Cook Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Effort: easy

Ingredients

  • 225 g sultanas
  • 225 g raisins
  • 110 g mixed candied peel, chopped
  • 75 g dates, stoned and chopped
  • 75 g dried apricots, chopped
  • 50 g currants
  • 25 g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
  • 125 ml brandy or Irish whiskey
  • 275 g butter, softened
  • 275 g light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp orange zest, finely grated
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 275 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

For Darina Allen's almond paste

  • 450 g ground almonds
  • 450 g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp brandy or Irish whiskey
  • couple of drops of almond essence
  • icing sugar, for dusting

To brush on the cake

  • 1 small egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 egg yolks

Method

1. Place the dried fruit and crystallised ginger in a bowl. Pour over the brandy or whiskey and allow to soak for at least 2 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Line a 23cm (9in) diameter cake tin, or 20cm x 20cm (8 x 8in) square cake tin, with greaseproof paper. Wrap a collar of brown paper arond the outside - this helps prevent the cake from drying out.

3. Cream the butter in a large bowl until soft. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the orange zest and ground almond, sift in the flour and spices and fold in gently. Fold in the dried fruit and any brandy or whiskey left in the bowl.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared cake tin. Bake for 2 1/2 - 3 1/4 hours (a round tin will take longer), until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

5. Cover the cake, while still in the tin, with foil and allow to cool. Once cooled, remove the cake from the tin and keep covered in foil until you are ready to cover with almond paste.

6. To make the almond paste, preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Mix the ground almonds and sugar together in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the egg, add the brandy or whiskey and almond essence, then add as much of the mixture to the dry ingredients until you achieve a stiff paste - you may not need all the egg. Turn out the almond paste onto a work surface dusted with icing sugar, and gently knead until smooth.

7. Remove the foil and greaseproof paper from the cake. On a work surface dusted with icing sugar, roll half the almond paste until it is about 1cm (1/2in) thick. Brush the top of the cake with the lightly beaten egg white and turn the cake upside down onto the almond paste. Cut around the edge of the cake, then turn the cake the right way up with the lid of the almond paste attached to the top.

8. Measure the circumference of the cake with a piece of string. Roll out two long strips and almond paste and trim both edges to the height of the cake with a palette knife. Brush the cake and one side of almond paste lightly with the egg white and press the strip carefully against the side of the cake, making sure there is no overlap. Smooth the join by rolling a water glass along the strip, and rub the cake well with your hand to leave a flat, even surface.

9. Carefully place the cake on a large, oiled baking tray. Roll out the rest of the almond paste to around 5mm (1/4in) thick. Use festive cutters (for example, star, heart, holly or Santa) to cut out shapes. Brush the whole surface of the cake with the beaten egg yolks and stick the shapes on top and around the sides. Brush lightly with egg yolk over the top.

10. Bake the cake for 10-20 minutes, until golden and toasted (not too close to the top of the oven or the cake will discolour). Remove from the oven, cool, then transfer to a serving plate.

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