I make my Christmas cake and puddings in November at the latest, so they have at least a month to mature. As they both include similar ingredients I make them on the same day, so I can weigh out the fruit and nuts into two big bowls, one for each recipe, which saves time.
I have been making these old family recipes since I was at school. While the original versions came from my paternal grandmother, both have evolved over the years with slight modifications. For example, I now use melted butter in the puddings instead of the traditional suet, but you can use suet if you prefer. In the British tradition, I used to cover the cake in marzipan and ice it with royal icing to look like snow, the way my mother did. But most of my family don’t like marzipan and we’re all trying to cut down on sugar, so nowadays I don’t bother and I think it’s even nicer “au naturel“.
250g butter at room temperature
250g brown sugar
6 large eggs
300g plain flour
2 Tbs black treacle
125g glacé cherries
125g slivered almonds
125g mixed peel
1 orange (zest and juice)
3 Tbs Brandy or dark Rum
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
75g ground almonds
200g whole almonds (blanched) or hazelnuts, shelled, roasted and
skins rubbed off, for the top
Soak fruit and nuts in brandy overnight, or if you’re in a hurry, for at least an hour. Line a 25cm round or square cake tin with a double layer of baking paper. Place the tin on a baking sheet on which you have placed 4 thicknesses of newspaper. Wrap a band of newspaper of the same thickness around the outside of the tin, using a stapler to join the ends. Preheat oven to 150°C. If you have the option to use your oven in conventional mode, without the fan, the results will be better. If you have to use the fan the cake will cook more quickly than without.
Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a large mixing bowl. A Kenwood mixmaster or Kitchen Aid makes easy work of this. Beat in eggs, one at a time. If mixture curdles, add 1-2 Tbs of the flour before the next egg. Gradually fold in sieved flour, fruit and remaining ingredients. You may need to switch to a larger bowl in order to add everything.
When thoroughly mixed, spoon into tin and smooth the top. Cover the surface evenly with whole blanched almonds or hazelnuts, pressing them in a bit with your hand. Bake for 3 to 3½ hours on the middle shelf of the oven. Test with a toothpick after 3 hours. If the top gets too brown before the middle is ready, place some foil loosely over the top of the cake. This will stop the nuts from burning. When it’s ready the top of the cake will have an even colour, feel firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean. If the nuts on top of the cake start to brown too quickly, before the cake is ready, cover it loosely with foil.
Cool thoroughly then store in an airtight tin in a cool, dark place. If liked, halfway through storage time pierce all over the top with a skewer and sprinkle with a little extra brandy which will soak in.
Keeps for several months in a tin. If you live in a warm humid climate you should probably keep it in the fridge.
To serve, tie a wide red ribbon around the outside of the cake and decorate the top with some holly leaves and berries – real or plastic!
200g dried figs (remove stalks)
60g mixed peel (optional)
60g almonds, blanched or unblanched (or substitute other nuts)
60g glacé cherries (or dried apricots)
2 apples, unpeeled and cored
125g plain flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves
200g brown sugar
400g brown breadcrumbs
4 Tbs Brandy or dark Rum
2 Tbs black treacle
250g melted butter
¾ cup beer
1 tsp bicarb of soda
Weigh out all the fruit and nuts into a large bowl. Make the breadcrumbs in the food processor. Use the food processor to grate or finely chop the apples. Cut orange into four, remove any seeds then process till finely chopped and pulpy. Chop figs, almonds and apricots (if using) in the food processor.
Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Place mixture in two buttered pudding bowls or one larger bowl. Mixture should come about level with the top of the bowls – as it cooks it will rise slightly but not much. Cover with buttered baking paper, butter side down and tie with string. Steam for about 5 hours, or until puddings are evenly dark brown all over the top. I use a very large saucepan, place a metal trivet in the bottom to lift the pudding off the bottom, then place one pudding, then an upturned plate on top of that, then the second pudding, then the lid. If you don’t have a pan large enough to do this (needs to be high enough to put the lid on) you will have to use two pans, or make half the recipe and just one pudding. You need to have enough water in the pan to come about a quarter to half the way up the bottom pudding and keep it simmering. Be careful to keep topping up the water, so it doesn’t boil dry. (I speak from experience!)
When cold store in a cool, dark cupboard or in warmer climates, in the fridge. To serve, steam again for 2-3 hours. Tip the pudding out onto a serving dish. Heat some brandy then set it alight and pour over and bring to the table while still burning. (Not easy, it usually goes out!) Serve the pudding with cream or brandy butter.
Makes one 2kg or two 1kg puddings.
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
2-3 Tbs Brandy
In a small bowl with a wooden spoon, beat butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in vanilla and brandy. Pile into a small dish and sprinkle with grated nutmeg. Chill well and serve with Christmas pudding or Sago Plum Pudding.