Cracker cakes

JAN BILTON
Last updated 07:10 08/11/2012
Christmas cake
Jan Bilton

Traditional favourites have stood the test of time, but even they can have a modern twist.

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Aunt Daisy was probably our first celebrity foodie. From 1936 until 1963, the "aunt" greeted listeners at 9am every weekday with her boisterous "Good morning everybody" and for 30 minutes regaled listeners with recipes (some her own and others from her followers), home hints and sponsors' products.

Her fame was such that before a 1938 trip by ship to the United States, the Wellington Town Hall was filled to overflowing with fans wishing her well, and en route to Auckland in the train, followers were on the platforms to sing the theme song to her programme Daisy Bell (otherwise known as Bicycle Built for Two).

Several of the Christmas cake recipes from her books are still baked by people I know, especially the Howick Christmas Cake that includes blackcurrant jam. (This recipe is widely available on the web.)

The recipes were generally traditional, but I've always been intrigued by one from Mangatainoka that has prunes and ground almonds sprinkled in the centre, providing a layered effect.

And because I have so many friends on gluten-free diets at present, I have adapted the recipe to suit.

So "cheers" Aunt Daisy, your recipes live on, even if they have been tweaked for today's lifestyle.

Tips for baking a successful cake

Use level metric measures.

When measuring flour, spoon it into the measuring cup and lightly level the top with a spoon. Do not pack it into the cup. The only ingredient one normally packs firmly is brown sugar.

To measure dry ingredients by the spoon, fill the spoon, then level the top with the straight edge of a knife.

If the cake pan is heavyweight and non-stick, then just line it with baking paper before use. If it is lightweight, then line with a layer of thick brown paper and one of baking paper.

Always cook fruit cakes in the middle of the oven at a low temperature, otherwise the sugary fruits tend to burn. If the top appears to be browning too much, place a sheet of brown paper lightly over the cake, resting it on the paper that lines the pan.

When the cake is cooked, remove the pan from the oven and stand it on a chopping board.

Make rich fruit cakes at least three to four weeks before cutting. During resting, the flavours mature and the texture firms.

AUNT DAISY GOES GLUTEN-FREE

Based on her Mangatainoka Christmas Cake, but using gluten-free flour.

2 cups gluten-free flour (I used the Macro brand)

tsp each: Grated nutmeg, baking soda

250g each: Currants, raisins, sultanas

125g candied peel

Finely grated rind 1 lemon

250g each: Butter, brown sugar

4 eggs, beaten to a stiff froth

cup brandy or wine

12 pitted (soft, juicy) prunes

125g ground almonds

1 Tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a 22-23cm round cake pan with baking paper.

Sift the flour, nutmeg and baking soda into a bowl.

Combine the currants, raisins, sultanas, candied peel and lemon rind.

Cream the butter and sugar, until light. Add the eggs, beating in well. Add all the fruit - except the prunes. Lastly, add the flour mixture and brandy or wine. Mix thoroughly.

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Place half the mixture in the prepared pan. Lay the prunes over the top then "strew" with ground almonds and the icing sugar. Top with the remainder of the cake mixture.

Place the cake in the oven and reduce the heat to 150C. Bake for 1 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool, then wrap in foil and store in a cool place for at least 2 weeks before cutting.

THE 200-GRAM CHRISTMAS CAKE

A quick-and-easy festive cake.

200g each: Dried apricots, craisins, currants, mixed peel, glace cherries

cup brandy

3 large eggs

cup lightly packed brown sugar

175g butter, melted

1 cup high-grade flour

1 tsp mixed spice

Preheat the oven to 150C. Line a deep, 20cm-round cake pan with baking paper.

Quarter the apricots then place all the fruit in a bowl with the brandy. Beat the eggs and sugar until light, add the cooled butter and fruit. Mix well. Sift in the flour and mixed spice. Mix gently.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top.

Bake for about 1 hours, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool, then wrap in foil and store in a cool place for at least a couple of weeks before cutting.

TRADITIONAL RICH FRUIT CAKE

400g each: Sultanas, raisins

150g each: Currants, glace cherries, mixed peel

cup brandy or whisky

225g butter

1 cups dark cane sugar, firmly packed

1 tsp each: Grated orange and lemon rinds, vanilla and almond essences

2 Tbsp marmalade

4 eggs, well beaten

2 cups high-grade flour

Pinch salt

1 tsp each: Ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger

Place the fruits in a large bowl. Add the brandy or whisky and mix well. Cover and stand for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Line a deep 20-23cm heavy cake pan with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 150C.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the citrus rinds, essences and marmalade. Beat well.

Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If the mixture starts to curdle, add a little of the flour.

Fold in the mixed fruits alternately with the sifted dry ingredients. Mix well.

Pour into the lined pan. Smooth the top with a wet hand. Bake for about 2 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Start testing after two hours of cooking. Remove from the oven, cool, then wrap in foil to store.

FIRM CHRISTMAS CAKE ICING

Adding Kremelta keeps the icing firm during warm weather.

70g each: Butter, Kremelta

2 cups sifted icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

1-2 Tbsp milk, brandy or orange juice

Slightly soften the butter and Kremelta, then cream together, until smooth.

Beat in the icing sugar, 1 cup at a time, until smooth. Add the vanilla essence and enough liquid to make the icing spreadable.

This makes enough to cover the sides and top of a 20-23cm cake.

Copyright Jan Bilton

- The Marlborough Express

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