Every year since I started this blog it's been on my mind to post a Christmas cake recipe but, best laid plans and all of that, some years I just didn't get around to making a cake, other years the cake got made but planning for a blog post was off and somehow posting a Christmas cake recipe in the middle of January just didn't make sense.
This year, with family coming (from near and far) to stay over the Christmas holidays, it's an even bet that my hostessing skills will be called into serious question if I don't produce said cake. Serendipitously, it's our monthly Pot Luck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, and I felt sure that at least one of our IHCC chefs would have a Christmas cake recipe I could try. I was pretty certain that if I looked hard enough Nigella Lawson, Donna Hay, Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver and our current chef, Diana Henry, would probably all offer something suitable.
As it turned out, the first place I searched was Donna Hay's website, and on finding her Christmas cake recipe, I needed look no further. Because we celebrate Christmas here in New Zealand in the height of summer, I decided to give my cake more of a tropical vibe than the traditional, rich, dark cake. I used Donna's recipe as a basic template for quantities of eggs, butter, sugar, flour, etc, but I replaced most of the fruit with more tropically inspired dried fruit. In keeping with my tropical theme I soaked the fruit in ginger beer instead of sherry, and replaced almonds with macadamia nuts. I also added some rose water, orange flower water, and almond extract to the soaking liquid, as well as adding some ground ginger and nutmeg in with the spices.
I'd love to show you a slice of this cake and tell you how it tastes, but what you see in the picture is the cake straight out of the oven. It has several hours of cooling in the tin ahead of it, before it could be sliced, and anyway, you know that it's bad luck to cut the cake before Christmas. Of course, there's always a few spoonfuls of the mixture that don't make it into the cake tin, and if what I tasted out of the bowl is anything to go by we are in for a wonderful cake.
I think this cake will be delightful as it is, without any further adornment, but if you like to go the whole marzipan and royal icing route that would be great too. Personally, I'm thinking that Christmas Eve this cake will get a liberal blanket of a white chocolate, ginger and cream cheese frosting - what do you think?
Tropical Fruit Christmas Cake Recipe
Inspired by this recipe from Donna Hay
1.1 kg (2-1/2 lb) mixed dried fruit
(I used a combination of jumbo raisins, cherries, mixed peel, apricots, pineapple, figs, prunes and rock melon)
100g (3-1/2 oz) macadamia nuts
300 ml (1-1/4 cups) ginger beer
2 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1 tablespoon almond extract
300g (10-1/2 oz) butter, room temperature
220g (7-3/4 oz) soft brown sugar
2x vanilla beans
375g (13 oz) plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ground ginger, mixed spice & nutmeg
1/4 cup ginger beer, extra
Place all the mixed fruit and nuts into a large bowl, cutting larger pieces of fruit as you go - I cut everything into pieces about the size of the cherries. Pour the first measure of ginger beer over the fruit, along with the rose water, orange flower water and almond extract. Mix everything together well, cover bowl with a clean tea towel, and place in a cool, dark place to soak for 24 hours. Give it a stir occasionally if you think of it.
Preheat oven to 140 degrees C (275 degrees F). Grease a 20cm (8 inch) square cake tin, and line with two layers of non-stick baking paper, greasing each layer of paper as you go.
Place butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise down the middle and scrape out the seeds, adding the seeds to the butter and brown sugar. Set the machine running, and beat the mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, until light and creamy. Add the eggs to the mixture, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift together flour, baking soda and spices. Add to the soaked fruit, and stir well to ensure that all the fruit is well coated with the flour. Lastly add the butter and sugar mixture, and stir until everything is well combined.
Spoon the mixture into the tin (reserving a couple of good spoonfuls for the cook), smooth the top, and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 2 hours 25 minutes to 2 hours 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean - I'd suggest you start testing after 2 hours 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven, and brush the top of the cake liberally with the extra ginger beer while still warm. Allow to cool in the tin completely before removing and wrapping well in plastic wrap to store. Should keep for at least four weeks.
If you would like to get to know Donna Hay a little better, or any of our other IHCC chefs, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...