Yes that time of year is here again when I make the Christmas Cake from a recipe handed down from my Gr Grandmother.
This is a very rich cake – but then Granny Hopcraft was a farmer’s wife in Deddington, Oxon in the late 1800s so the Mrs Beaton style of ‘take nine eggs’ was the way it was done! Having nobody left to pass this recipe on to – feel free to share it around! Before I start a few notes for modern tastes:
Flour – Plain or wholemeal is acceptable. I use spelt but GF flour also works well – just remember to add 1 1/2tsps of Xantham gum.
Butter – you can use vegetarian options. IMHO they tend not to have quite the same texture and taste but the end result is still good.
Treacle – If you substitute this with honey you will get a lighter colour taste. You can use golden syrup but this makes it too sweet. Any syrup such as pomegranate or maple can also be used.
Sugar – dark brown moist is best for flavour but light brown moist or white caster will work but granulated and/or demerara not so much.
Brandy – At least I week before baking put all of the dried fruit in a large screw top jar and add brandy. Turn the jar daily until brandy is absorbed (add more brandy if required) I have stated 1 glass – but I often end up using far more. I suppose it depends on your tastes. Remember that most of the alcohol will be lost in baking, just leaving the flavour behind.
Fruit – you can use any kind of dried fruits within reason. I use golden sultanas and flame raisins plus dried apricots and dried cranberries. I NEVER use currants. Many people claim not to like dried fruit but I have a theory this is down to the evil that is the dried currant! They are gritty and their bitterness often dominates the flavour. Many commercial baked goods use a lot of currants because they are cheap! I also buy the largest and fattest raisins I can find because they absorb the brandy more readily.
Spices – I use far more than this recipe states – but that is just me! Some people prefer to reduce the amounts. It all comes down to taste. Likewise the amount of vanilla you use can be adjusted as required.
Nuts – I often leave them out so that a family member can partake but I do think they add to the flavour as a whole.
Granny Hopcraft’s Cake. (To be made in the first week of November)
1 lb butter
1 1/2 pound flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 half teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 half teaspoon ground ginger
1 lb dark brown sugar
3 lb dried fruit (sultanas, raisins – plus others as preferred eg dried apricots, cranberries dates, figs)
4 oz cut peel (finely chopped)
4 oz glace cherries (halved)
4 oz blanched almonds (roughly chopped – optional)
2 tablespoons black treacle or honey
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 (very) large glass of brandy
Cream sugar and butter thoroughly until lighter in colour.
Add small amounts of eggs (beaten) and flour/spice mix alternately to avoid curdling.
Stir in the vanilla, honey and lemon juice
Add the dried fruit (and nuts if used)
Add a little milk (or brandy!) if needed to make a stiff dropping consistency.
Line a large cake tin with greased paper and put in mix. (I make 1 large xmas and 1 small birthday cake as Pete’s birthday is in early December)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 1 or 2, and place the cake in the centre of the oven. Bake for until a skewer test comes out clean – which will be several hours!
When cooked leave in the tin until cooled.
Remove the paper.
Prick the top and sprinkle with brandy, wrap the cake in grease-proof paper and store in a tin until mid December.
In December – unwrap the cake, trim if required to get a smooth shape and remove any burned bits (it happens).
Melt apricot jam and brush onto the cake. Roll out and cut marzipan to shape to cover all of the cake. (or just the top if preferred).
When the marzipan is dry decorate with royal icing.