Rachel Allen's Christmas cake recipe

Rachel Allen's Christmas cake recipe

Christmas cake is a classic for a reason: the strong fruit flavours go so well with the almond paste and sweet white icing.

The cake also keeps for months, so you can serve the slices whenever people drop by during the Christmas holidays. This recipe is a play on the classic, with the slightly spicy addition of crystallised ginger.  

There are three icing paths you can take, too. The first, outlined in the main recipe, is to cook the cake again once it has been covered in almond paste – toasting the paste really accentuates the almond flavour and my mother-in-law, Darina, has been doing it like this for years.

The second option is to ice over the almond paste with royal icing. Made from whisked egg whites and sugar, this icing will dry to a crisp shell, and can be ‘peaked’ to resemble snow.

The third option is to use fondant icing, also known as sugar paste, which is rolled out and laid over the almond paste and can be made perfectly smooth. Choose whichever option you prefer.

Ingredients

1. For the fruit
  • 225 g sultanas
  • 225 g raisins
  • 125 g chopped mixed peel
  • 125 g stoned dates, chopped
  • 50 g currants
  • 50 g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
  • 125 ml brandy or Irish whiskey
  • 7.9 oz sultanas
  • 7.9 oz raisins
  • 4.4 oz chopped mixed peel
  • 4.4 oz stoned dates, chopped
  • 1.8 oz currants
  • 1.8 oz crystallised ginger, finely chopped
  • 4.4 fl oz brandy or Irish whiskey
  • 7.9 oz sultanas
  • 7.9 oz raisins
  • 4.4 oz chopped mixed peel
  • 4.4 oz stoned dates, chopped
  • 1.8 oz currants
  • 1.8 oz crystallised ginger, finely chopped
  • 0.5 cup brandy or Irish whiskey
2. For the cake
  • 275 g butter, softened
  • 275 g soft light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 75 g ground almonds
  • 275 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 9.7 oz butter, softened
  • 9.7 oz soft light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 2.6 oz ground almonds
  • 9.7 oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 9.7 oz butter, softened
  • 9.7 oz soft light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 2.6 oz ground almonds
  • 9.7 oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
3. For the almond paste
  • 450 g ground almonds
  • 450 g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp brandy or Irish whiskey
  • 2 drops of almond extract or essence
  • 1 cup icing sugar, for dusting
  • 15.9 oz ground almonds
  • 15.9 oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp brandy or Irish whiskey
  • 2 drops of almond extract or essence
  • 1 cup icing sugar, for dusting
  • 15.9 oz ground almonds
  • 15.9 oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp brandy or Irish whiskey
  • 2 drops of almond extract or essence
  • 1 cup icing sugar, for dusting
4. To brush on the cake
  • 1 small egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 small egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 small egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 egg yolks
5. For royal icing
  • 4 egg whites
  • 675 g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp 1/3 glycerine
  • 4 egg whites
  • 23.8 oz icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp 1/3 glycerine
  • 4 egg whites
  • 23.8 oz icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp 1/3 glycerine
6. For fondant icing
  • 1 1/2 egg whites, whisked
  • 100 g liquid glucose
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 600 g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 1/2 egg whites, whisked
  • 3.5 oz liquid glucose
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 21.2 oz icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 1/2 egg whites, whisked
  • 3.5 oz liquid glucose
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 21.2 oz icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting

Details

  • Cuisine: English
  • Recipe Type: Cake
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Preparation Time: 30 mins
  • Cooking Time: 210 mins
  • Serves: 20

Step-by-step

  1. First prepare the fruit for the cake. Place the dried fruit, mixed peel and crystallised ginger in a bowl, pour over the brandy or whiskey and allow to soak for at least 2 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 150C (300F), Gas mark 2. Line a 23cm diameter cake tin with baking parchment and wrap a collar of brown paper or a double layer of baking parchment around the outside to prevent the cake from drying out as it bakes.
  3. Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time and beating well between each addition.
  4. Stir in the orange zest and ground almonds, then sift in the flour and mixed spice and fold in gently. Fold in the soaked dried fruit, together with any brandy or whiskey left in the bowl, and transfer the mixture to the prepared cake tin.
  5. Bake in the oven for 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cover the cake, still in the tin, with foil and allow to cool. Once the cake has cooled, carefully tip it out of the tin and wrap in foil until you are ready to cover it with almond paste. (The cake will keep like this for a couple of months.)
  6. For the almond paste: preheat the oven to 220C (425F), Gas mark 7. First mix the ground almonds and sugar together in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the egg, add the brandy or whiskey and the almond essence or extract, then add to the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need to add all the egg mixture.) Sprinkle a work surface with icing sugar, turn the almond paste out of the bowl and gently knead until smooth.
  7. Remove the foil and baking parchment from the cake. Take about half of the almond paste and place it on a work surface dusted with icing sugar. Roll out until it's slightly bigger than the cake itself and about 1cm (1/2 in) thick. Brush the top of the cake with the lightly beaten egg white and turn it upside down onto the almond paste. Cut around the edge of the cake, then carefully turn the cake the right side up with the lid of almond paste attached to the top. (Alternatively, you could cut the almond paste out using the cake tin as a template, and place it on top of the cake.)
  8. Next measure the circumference of the cake with a piece of string. Roll out one long strip of almond paste (or two shorter strips joined together) the same length as the string, and trim both short edges to the same height as the cake. Brush the cake and the almond paste lightly with the egg white and press the strip against the sides of the cake, but without overlapping or there will be a bulge. Trim away any overlapping pieces of almond paste, then use a straight sided tumbler to even the edges and smooth the join, and rub the cake well with your hand to ensure a nice flat surface. (If you would like to ice the cake at this stage, omit the next two steps and follow the recipe for making and applying either royal icing or fondant icing.)
  9. Now carefully place the cake on a large, greased baking sheet. Roll out the remainder of the almond paste to about 5mm (1/4 in) thick and cut out shapes in the paste such as Santa Claus, using sugar paste cutters, if you like. Brush the whole surface of the egg with the beaten egg yolks and stick the shapes on top and around the sides, if you wish. Brush these with egg yolks as well.
  10. Bake the cake for 10-20 minutes (not too near the top of the oven or it may burn) until it is golden and toasted. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then carefully - using a palette knife or metal fish knife to ease it off the baking sheet - transfer to a serving plate or cake board.
  11. It can be nice to tie a ribbon round the finished cake (whichever icing option you choose), then decorate the top with a sprig of holly leaves - either fresh or fondant - or whatever festive decorations you like, such as some adorable fondant penguins.
  12. For royal icing: place the egg whites and icing sugar in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Using either a hand held electric beater or the food mixer, whisk for several minutes or until the icing stands up in stiff peaks, then whisk in the glycerine just for a second or two to combine.
  13. Use a palette knife to spread the icing all over the cake, covering the almond paste, then use the flat of the palette knife to gently lift up the icing in small peaks all over for a `snow scene' effect.
  14. For fondant icing: in a bowl, mix together the egg white, glucose and vanilla extract. Place the icing sugar in a separate bowl or an electric food mixer and gradually add the egg white mixture, beating continuously until all the ingredients come together.
  15. Place the icing on a spotlessly clean worktop that has been generously dusted with icing sugar and knead it for a minute or two until it is completely smooth on the surface.
  16. Dust your worktop again with icing sugar and roll out the icing into a round about 30cm (12in) in diameter. Make sure that the worktop doesn't get sticky by regularly lifting up the icing with a palette knife or metal fish slice and dusting the work surface beneath it with icing sugar to stop the icing sticking to it.
  17. Brush the almond paste with boiling hot water so that the fondant icing will stick to it, then carefully lift the round of icing and place over the cake. Press and smooth the icing all over the cake with your hands. Use a straight sided tumbler to roll all over the cake, then, with a sharp knife, trim away any excess from the `skirt'. Keep rolling over the cake with the tumbler for a very smooth and neat finish. If making a square cake, press something flat like a hardback book against each side to neaten and flatten the sides.

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