Stir-up Sunday is an informal term in Anglican Churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas traditions, traditionally families would gather together in the kitchen to mix and steam the Christmas pudding on Stir-up Sunday, however we have adopted along with many others as the time to make our Christmas cake.
The making of the Christmas cake has always been an event when Solii and I were growing up, our mum is an amazing cook and has taught us such a lot over the years, she is our go to for advice in the kitchen.
As kids we would hang out with mum when it was time to make the Christmas cake and other Christmas goodies, I think I have fonder memories of this time than actual Christmas day. The smell of spices and Christmas baking is why I think Solii and I have a slight addiction to anything with cinnamon in it, for Solii it’s a cinnamon bun and for me it is a cinnamon and raisin bagel, but I definitely would not pass up a cinnamon bun if there was one going.
The one thing Solii, mum and I do disagree on is whether to ice the cake or not, Solii and Mum like leaving the cake with just a marzipan layer, nice and simple, but for some reason I like a challenge. I have great ideas of royal icing my Christmas cake, it’s not so much that I like the icing to eat but I think it adds a bit of drama. Also when you live in the Scotland, the white icing on a Christmas Cake may be the closest thing to snow you will see on Christmas day. However, as I am sure you are all aware Christmas comes round quicker and quicker each year so it has to be said on most occasions I forgo the icing and go for simple marzipan.
Since being married, gosh going on nearly 14 years, Christmas cake has also become a important part of my married life, Jonathan (my wonderful husband, he has to be to put up with a lot) loves, I mean loves Christmas cake, he eats big wedges of it and if I am not careful I don’t get a look in, so I have to put strict controls in place or it will be gone before my birthday on the 28th Dec.
The Making of the Christmas cake
So less chat and lets get on with making the Christmas cake. The recipe I have used since getting married is Nigella Lawson’s “Time-Honoured Christmas Cake” which can be found in her book “FEAST Food That Celebrates Life”, what a great title for a cook book.
Now when I say use Nigella’s recipe I think a better description would be I follow it rather loosely. This is what Solii and I do when we cook or bake, we find a recipe and then we tweak it.
Zoë’s Tweaked Christmas Cake Recipe
Size – 23cm Round / 20cm Square
Oven Temperature – 150°C
Cooking Time – 2½ to 3 ½ hours
Sultanas 275g Nigella (700g)
Raisins 700g Nigella (225g)
(l love Waitrose’s Vine Fruit Mix, they tend to stock it seasonally so I have to stock up for the summer months, I have been known to threaten to have a tantrum when its not been stock, ask Mum)
Currents 0g Nigella (50g)
(I am not a fan of currents)
Glacé Cherries 110g
Mixed Peel 110g
(This is an addition to Nigella’s recipe, mum’s cake would always have almonds in it, and they keep saying they are good for you!)
(I use Muscatel a fortified wine, which brings back happy memories visiting our grandfather in northern Spain, also it is very good for tickly coughs and tastes great.)
Brown Sugar 195g
Orange Zest 1 teaspoon
Lemon Zest 1 teaspoon
(Its best to use organic un-waxed orange & lemons)
Large Eggs 2
Marmalade 2 tablespoons
Almond Essence 1 teaspoon
Plain Flour 350g
Mixed Spice 1 teaspoon
Ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon
Grated Nutmeg ¼ teaspoon
Salt a pinch if using unsalted butter
Apricot Jam or Marmalade 200g
Ready to Roll Icing 1kg
- Place all the dried fruit into a large bowl, and add the brandy, sherry or in my case Muscatel. Cover it and let it soak overnight; I usually leave it for 2 nights.
- Preheat your oven to 150° Wrap the outside of your tin with double thickness of brown paper, tying it with cooks string, then line the inside of the tin with baking parchment, both need to come up a good 10cm above the rim of the tin.
- Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together then beat in the orange and lemon zest. Then add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the marmalade and almond essence into the mixture, ensure well combined.
- Sift the dry ingredients together, then mix the fruit mixture alternately with the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, combining thoroughly
(this is when you get that wonderful Christmassy smell, the spices combining with the zest of the lemon and orange)
- Transfer the cake mixture carefully into the prepared tin and bake following the time given, or until a cake tester (a cocktail stick) comes out clean.
- When the cake is cooked, brush with a couple of tablespoons of your chosen booze, then wrap the cake immediately still in its tin with a double layer of tin foil, this traps the heat and forms a lovely boozy Christmas steam, which will keep the cake soft on top.
Another trick to stop your cake top drying out is to apply a very thin layer of water to the top of the cake before it goes into the oven, just wet your fingers or use a pastry brush, this creates a little bit of steam while cooking. This is a trick I picked up from mum via her Cordon Bleu cookbook, which we worked out she has had longer than I have been on this earth.
There is a funny story about this technique, back in the day when I was in secondary school I chose to study Home Economics, which may have not been the best use of my time as mum had already taught me to cook and sew to a pretty high standard. In 4th year it was an annual tradition that the 4th year Home Economics class would bake Christmas cakes for all the old peoples homes in Grantown on Spey. So following the schools recipe I put my mixture into the prepared tin and I began to add the thin film of water onto the top of mixture, as I had always done, this is when I got absolutely screamed at by my teacher (they don’t make teachers like they used too) however I was quick witted enough to know that the Home Economics department had the full Cordon Blue cookery school book set so I went across and selected said book “Party Cooking” and showed her the technique, cant remember if I got an apology but I think I had earned a bit of respect that day. I am not often right about things especially married to Jonathan who is an encyclopaedia, so when I am, boy do I milk it.
- Once the cake is totally cold remove it from the tin and rewrap the cake tightly with greaseproof paper then foil storing in an airtight container in a cool spot. They say up to 3 weeks but I have left it much longer and I am still here.
- Prior to the marzipan and icing your cake you can feed your Christmas cake, this means giving it some more booze! To do this unwrap the cake pierce it on the top and bottom with a skewer and gently spoon you’re chosen booze onto the cake, once absorbed rewrap the cake and store in its airtight container. This can be done once a week for a couple of weeks if you like your Christmas cake really rich.
Decorating your cake
- Heat the marmalade or apricot jam in a pan and when hot and runny strain into a bowl to remove the rind or chunks of fruit.
- With a pastry brush, paint all over the cake to make a tacky surface.
- Dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan and drape over the cake. Press against the cake and cut off the excess with a sharp knife.
- Dust the work surface again with icing sugar, beat the icing block a few times with your rolling pin (gets some anger out), then dust the top with icing sugar and roll out.
- Cover the cake again cutting off the excess, once happy transfer to a cake stand or cake board
- If you want to use royal icing there are loads of recipes online its quite simple to make. You can create a nice flat surface by slowly building up the layers of icing, allowing it to set hard between each layer or you can do the peaked method, which involves putting the icing on the cake and spreading it out and use the back of a soon to gently pull up on the icing to create the peaks.
I will be doing a follow up post on how to decorated the cakes, we like our Christmas cake to be rich and boozy so I will need to give the a feed or two over the next couple of weeks, so keep an eye out.
Zoë & Solii