One of the questions I am often asked at this time of year is why I persist in making a Christmas cake when commercial ones are so good and so readily available.
The answer must lie in my attitude to keeping culinary traditions alive despite overwhelming competition from a market awash with literally everything one could possibly desire for the festive season. It is truly mind-boggling and the choice is infinite.
My argument, if you can class it as such, is that by relegating baking entirely to the commercial sector, skills take only a generation to be lost, and role-modelling along with them.
At first glance the recipe for any Christmas cake can appear daunting.
The list of ingredients is, or can be, long and confusing. But it pays to remember that any fruit cake is simply dried fruit mixed with a spicy cake batter. Once the fruit is weighed and the ingredients for the batter are measured, most of the work is done.
Solid fruit cakes are usually baked at a low temperature for a few hours. Use the correct-sized baking tin and allow the cake to cool in it before removing; this can take a few hours. You don't have to ice the cake but if this is your choice there are lots of commercial icings available to save you time.
The imprints on my cake were made with rolling pins I bought online. It was an easy process and the pins were delivered within days.
Amazing, really. I'm unsure if the pins are available in New Zealand but I looked high and low before I opted to buy overseas. Made from resin, they are very heavy and easy to clean; wall brackets are optional.
1 cup chopped eating prunes
125g softened butter
cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
cup hot water
cup plum jam
2 tsp instant coffee powder
1 cup flour
cup self-raising flour
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
tsp ground nutmeg
250g glace cherries
1 cup mixed peel
grated zest of one orange
2 cups slivered almonds
Method: Put the sultanas, raisin, currants and prunes in a bowl. Pour over the sherry and brandy, stir and cover.
Leave for at least four hours.
Line a 23cm tin with two layers of baking paper.
Beat the butter and sugar to a cream.
Add the eggs one by one, beating briefly between each addition.
Put this mixture in a large mixing bowl.
Combine the water, jam and coffee then add to the batter.
Sift together the flour, cocoa and spices and stir into batter in three lots. Add the cherries, peel, zest and nuts.
Drain the soaked fruit and add to mixture. Spoon into tin and bake at 160 degrees Celsius for two hours.
Check centre with a skewer, then continue baking until skewer comes out clean. Depending on your oven, this could take a further 45 minutes.
Cool in tin and store in an airtight tin.
The Southland Times