English Christmas Cake (boiled fruit-cake)
Making your own Christmas cake gives you not only a better and more unique cake, but enables you to control the quality of your ingredients, avoiding preservatives, and other additives.
This cake is best made at least 3 days before serving, and can be made 2-3 weeks in advance, or longer if you store it in a well-sealed container.
The base recipe contains eggs and butter, but can be made gluten-free, dairy-free and even egg-free or vegan.
The beauty of the boiled fruit-cake is that you CAN just throw it all in the saucepan and make the cake in one day, but I do prefer to pre-soak the fruit and make my own dried peel, and for this you will make the cake over a few days, but its all part of the lovely fragrant tradition of baking your own Christmas cake.
250g unsalted butter (or ghee or coconut oil)
1 cup (185g) soft brown sugar (eg. Moskavado)
1kg mixed organic dried fruit (eg. raisins, currents, apricot, fig, cranberries, sour cherries)
Rind of 1 organic orange and 1 organic lemon (or ~1 dl bought mixed dried peel)*
1 cup (250ml) sweet sherry or port (or more if you like)
½ tsp sodium bicarbonate
2.5 cups (310g) flour (or gluten-free flour mix eg. tapioca, teff, buckwheat, amaranth)
1.5tsp baking powder
2 tbsp mixed spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice/kryddpeppar, coriander)
4 eggs lightly beaten (4 tsp psyllium husk + 12 tbsp (180ml) water mixed to form a gel)
½ cup blanched almonds for decorating (optional)
*If you would like to make your own mixed dried peel, see procedure below. A quick alternative is to simply zest an orange and a lemon, adding this into the dried fruit mix.
Ingredients mixed dried peel
1 organic orange (rind)
1 organic lemon (rind)
~2 tbsp sugar
Method mixed dried peel
Slice away the skin from the orange and lemon, and remove most of the pith (spongy white layer) with a knife. It’s fine to have some, but you don’t want the full thickness of it. Slice into small pieces (approx. 0.5cm x 0.5cm) and boil up in a saucepan of water for ~5min. Discard the water and boil up again in minimal volume of water, and add the sugar. Simmer on low heat with the lid on until it starts to appear semi-transparent (20min), then remove the lid to allow the water to evaporate. When most of the water has evaporated. Allow to cool slightly and transfer the peel to a baking tray on a sheet of baking paper, and dry in the oven on low heat until semi-dry (still chewy, like bought peel).
Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Day 1 (soaking the dried fruit) Optional.
1) Put dried fruit and rind in a large blow with the sweet sherry/port (or other similar liquor you like to soak your fruit in). Stir to mix and seal. Either use a container with lid or a bowl with a plate on top.
2) Mix occasionally, eg. 2x per day. Leave soaking for 2-5 days, until you are ready to bake your cake!. You can add more sherry if you like, it just needs to be mostly soaked up by the dried fruit.
Note: you don’t HAVE to pre-soak the dried fruit, you can just add it all to the saucepan on the day but I do think its better pre-soaking.
Day 3 or later (baking the cake)
1) Preheat oven to 180oC and line a 22cm cake tin (regular cake tin) with baking paper.
2) Put butter, sugar, mixed fruit, sherry (if not already soaked into the fruit) and 1 cup (185ml) water in a saucepan. Heat over low heat until butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10mins. Remove from heat, stir in the sodium bicarbonate and cool.
3) Sift or just combine the flours and spice into a large bowl and make a well. Add the egg to the fruit, mix well and pour into the well and mix thoroughly.
4) Pour into the tin and smooth the surface. You can decorate surface with blanched almonds. Cover the outside in foil.
5) Bake for 1-1.25h, or until the skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake (if using GF flour or psyllium husk, baking time may be longer). You may need to remove the foil for the last few mins of baking if it remains too moist on top.
6) Leave in the tin for at least an hour before turning out. Once cooled wrap in aluminium foil or transfer to an airtight container (or both). The flavour improves after standing for 3 days.
Note: Can be kept for up to two months.
Notes, variations and tips:
The quickest and easiest variant is to make it all in one day. This is in fact how it was done in the original recipe from the 70s I adapted this recipe from. Simply zest the rind of an organic orange and lemon into the fruit mix (or buy mixed peel), and omit the pre-soaking of the fruit in the sherry, just combining it all in the saucepan. The heat speeds up the ‘soaking’ process anyway.
You can also add chopped almonds to the dried fruit mix if you like.
To blanch almonds yourself, simply soak approx. 1-2 min in freshly boiled water (until skins are loosening), then tip off the hot water, add cool water and pop the almonds out of their skins with your fingers.
Choose organic dried fruits if possible, without sulfates or other preservatives.
If you replace butter with coconut oil, this may affect the flavour slightly but it will still be great.
Cakes made with gluten-free flours are denser (less fluffy) than cakes made with wheat-flour, and may require a little more baking time.
Using psyllium husk instead of egg may also require longer baking,
Vegan alternative to eggs:
1 tsp psyllum husk powder or psyllium husk + 3 tbsp (45ml) water = 1 egg
For the recipe use 4 tsp psyllium husk + 180ml water. Mix in a cup or bowl to form a gel approx. 10min before use.