In my kitchen, November marks the month that I bake a fruit cake for Christmas. I love the fragrant spicy and citrus aromas wafting from the oven as the cake bakes. Utterly delicious.
Making a rich fruit cake about 6 weeks before Christmas allows the spices chance to settle down, mellow and improve before serving up over the festive season.
When it comes to fruit, I usually go with a mixture of dried vine fruits, chopped apricots and glacé cherries. Orange and lemon rind and juice add some zest and zing. I always use dark brown sugar and treacle for richness and colour. I usually vary the spices, one year I did mostly ginger and mixed spice for a classic “gingerbread” flavour, but this time around I’ve used cinnamon and allspice together with a classic mixed spice blend. I had white rum to use up this year, but most often I use the dark version.
Fruit cakes do take a long time to cook, so you need to make sure the outside edges of the cake don’t over-cook. Double-line the sides of the tin inside with baking parchment and then wrap the outside of the tin with a double layer of brown paper and secure with string. I also put a circle of brown paper in the bottom of the tin before adding a couple of circles of baking parchment on top.
It is worth checking the oven temperature manually before you start baking any cake but especially before one that needs long, slow cooking – I always pop an oven thermometer in the oven before preheating to check the temperature is correct. My cooking time of 3 hours will produce a very moist and dense cake, but if you prefer something drier and more crumbly, extend the cooking time by 30 minutes up to 1 hour.
On with the recipe. If you’ve never made a Christmas cake before I understand that the list of ingredients will be completely daunting, but this is a very straightforward recipe, so I hope I can tempt you to have a go.
- 900g mixed dried and glacé fruit such as raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped dried apricots, and cherries
- Finely grated rind and juice 1 small lemon
- Finely grated rind and juice 1 small orange
- 100ml white or dark rum + 2 – 4 tbsp. extra for feeding
- 225g coconut oil
- 150g dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp black treacle
- 40g chia seeds
- 175g gluten-free plain flour blend
- 100g ground almonds
- 1 ½ tsp gluten-free baking powder
- 1 tbsp. ground mixed spice
- 2 tsp ground allspice
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp natural almond extract
- 1 tbsp. natural vanilla extract
- Prepare a deep, 18cm round cake tin by double lining with baking parchment and brown paper – see above. Place on a baking tray.
- Put the fruit in a large saucepan with the citrus rind and juice, rum, coconut oil, sugar and treacle. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until melted, then bring to the boil and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes. Leave to cool for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 150°C, 130°C fan oven, gas 2. Put the chia seeds in a bowl and add 125ml cold water. Stir and leave for 5 minutes to form a thick, gel-like mixture.
- Transfer the fruit mixture to a large bowl and mix in the chia “egg”. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well to make sure that there are no pockets of flour. Transfer to the tin, smooth the top and bake for 3 hours – see notes above for longer cooking.
- Remove from the oven and skewer the top deeply all over. Spoon over 2 tbsp. rum, then leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.
- When the cake is completely cold, remove from the tin and discard all the wrappings. Wrap well in fresh baking parchment or greaseproof paper and then either wrap tightly in foil or store in an air-tight container.
Keep the cake in a cool, dark, dry place for best results. If you want to give the cake a bit more of a kick you can feed it with more rum every 2 weeks. I find one more dose is fine for me. Avoid adding rum in the final few days before serving as it will not have time to mellow out and may spoil the overall flavour of the cake.
To feed, simply unwrap the cake and spoon over another tablespoon of rum. Let it soak in completely before wrapping up again and ontinue storing until you are ready to ice the cake for Christmas. I’ll follow up this post next month with the unveiling of the finished cake.