Aunty Hilda’s Christmas Cake

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Aunty Hilda was not my real Aunty, she lived two doors down from me. I would stay with her after school and bake cakes until Mum came to collect me. I found this recipe of hers years later on Basildon Bond notepaper.

Serves 14
CAKE: 225g (8oz) butter, chopped, plus extra for greasing * 285g (10oz) dark muscovado sugar * 910g (2lb) luxury minced dried fruit * finely grated rind and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon * 125ml (4 floz) brandy * 115g (4oz) sliced blanched almonds * 4 eggs, lightly beaten * 115g (4oz) ground almonds * 285g (10oz) plain flour * ½ tsp baking powder * 1 tsp mixed spice * 1 tsp ground cinnamon * ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

TOPPING: 455g (1lb) white marzipan * 25-28cm/10-11 inch cakeboard * apricot jam * 2 egg whites * 455g (1lb) icing sugar * 2 tbsp liquid glucose * decoration – ribbon, balls

Grease and line a large cake tin with greaseproof paper, with an overlap higher than the tin of 5cm/1½ inches. Put the butter, sugar, dried fruit, citrus rinds and juices and the brandy in a large pan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring until the butter has melted. Reduce the heat and let it bubble gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then leave to cool for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2. Toast the almonds in a dry frying-pan until evenly browned. Stir the eggs into the cooled cake mixture and add the sliced and ground almonds, mixing well. Put a sieve over the pan and sift in the flour, baking powder and spices. Stir gently, but thoroughly, until no trace of flour left. Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly. Dip a large metal spoon in boiling water, then smooth over the mixture to level out. Bake for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to 140°C/275°F/Gas 1 and bake for 2-2½ hours until dark brown and firm to touch. (Cover the top with foil if it starts to darken too much).

Keep checking to see if the cake is cooked by inserting a fine skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, then it is cooked. If not return to the oven for a further 15 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the tin. Peel the greaseproof paper off and leave on a wire rack to cool. Wrap in double-thickness greaseproof paper, then foil and put into a tin. Store in a cool, dry place. Take out every week, pierce with a skewer and spoon 2 tablespoons of brandy over the holes.

When you are ready to finish the cake, roll out the marzipan on a board dusted with icing sugar. Press out a circle by using the cake tin as a ‘cutter’. Brush the top of the cake with the jam. Mix in a drop of hot water if the jam is not runny enough. Lay the marzipan on top of the cake. Beat the egg whites lightly, then gradually sift in the icing sugar. Whisk until smooth and glossy. Beat in the glucose, then add in some additional icing sugar enough to form stiff peaks (to the stiffness you like). Spoon the icing on top of the cake, then swirl it using a flat-bladed knife. ‘Peak’ it as desired and decorate how you wish.

Aunty Hilda’s Christmas Cake

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