For more than 50 years, every year since Grandma was married, she has made a Christmas Cake, baking it at least a year ahead. Traditionally the cake batter is beaten by hand, and everyone in the house, even Grandpa, would stir once or twice to bring luck to the coming year. As the seasons go by, she and the grandchildren baste the cake with sherry and Cognac so the dried fruits mellow and the cake gets dark and rich. The recipe is simple but somehow each year the cake is slightly different, lighter or darker, risen taller or not, just like the events to come until the next Christmas season.
Makes a 10 inch/25 cm cake to serve 12-16
3 cups/330 g flour
3 cups/450 g raisins
3 cups/550 g dried currants
½ cup/125 g chopped, candied orange peel
½ cup/125 g chopped, candied citron peel
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¾ cup/330 g butter
1 ½ cups/330 g sugar
6 eggs, at room temperature
½ cup/75g slivered almonds
3 tablespoons Cognac
6-8 tablespoons sweet sherry or Madeira (for basting)
10-inch/25-cm cake pan with removable base: cheesecloth
1. Heat the oven to 150˚C/300˚F and set the shelf low down. Butter the pan, line the base and sides with a double layer of parchment paper and butter the paper. Mix a few teaspoons of flour with the raisins, currants and candied peel in a bowl and toss until the fruits are well coated so they do not cling together when mixed with batter. Sift the remaining flour with the salt, nutmeg and allspice.
2. Cream the butter by hand or with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat in the sugar and continue beating until soft and light, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating thoroughly after each addition. Using your hand or a metal spoon, stir in the flour in two or three batches, then stir in the dried fruit and almonds. Finally, stir in the Cognac.
3. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Tap the pan on the counter top to knock out any air bubbles. Smooth the top, leaving the center slightly hollow so the cake rises to be flat rather than peaked after baking. Bake in the oven, rotating the pan once or twice, until the cake is browned and starts to pull from the sides of the pan, 1¾ -2¼ hours. A metal skewer inserted in the center should come out clean, not sticky. If the cake browns too much during cooking, cover the top loosely with foil.
4. Leave the cake to cool in the pan. then unmold it after an hour or two and peel off the paper. Baste the top with 2-3 tablespoons of sherry, wrap the cake in cheesecloth soaked in sherry and store in an airtight container for at least a month, and up to a year if you can, the longer the better. Baste the cake with sherry, Port wine, or Cognac from time to time and the flavor will immeasurably improve.