Monday, December 19, 2011

Heirloom Week: English Christmas Cake

The Brits are passionate about their Christmas cake, a almost-white, almost-fruitcake concoction heavily frosted with thick icing. Miss Read, one of my favorite 'cosy' authors, is forever having her heroines add frosting holly and robins on top! (Maybe yours truly, being a Coloradoan, should add frosting magpies, instead.)

Serve your cake at Christmas tea, along with a good English Breakfast or Prince of Wales cuppa, and you'll be in with the best of 'em. (Maybe even listen to the Queen's annual address, while you sip and crunch.)

This version is adapted from Tasha Tudor's TAKE JOY, a wonderful compendium of recipes, stories and crafts that celebrate the holiday season. Tasha had a thing about candied fruits, and LOVED her butter intake. I'm not fond of greasy pools spreading over the baking pan, so adapted that. Add a cup of candied fruit to this recipe if you're a fruitcake-lover. 

CHRISTMAS CAKE (Colorado style)
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 eggs (no, I'm not making this up)
1 cup chopped almonds, pecans, filberts (your choice)
4 tablespoons orange juice (I also grate a bit of the orange rind in)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 cups flour (make this 5 heaping cups if you're cooking at high altitude)
1 cup 'craisins' (dried cranberries -- or substitute raisins, if you like them)
1 cup halved maraschino cherries

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing as you go, then the other ingredients -- stop before the flour. (It's easiest with two people, but one can manage just fine.) Stir in the flour, a cup at a time, then add craisins and cherries. Mixture will be very thick.
Line your pans with foil -- I can generally get a 10" springform pan, plus 3 or 4 little patty pans out of this, but you might prefer two round cake pans or an angel cake-type pan (the kind with a funnel in the middle). You'll get approx. two round cake pans, or a round (or loaf) pan plus the angel food cake pan. Now 'glop' the mixture into the pans, smoothing on top when they're done. (About half-full)

Bake at 275 degrees for approx. an hour -- my 10" springform took 1 1/2 hours because it was so thick. Cake is done when it's firm in the middle...test by gently pushing against it, or using a toothpick poked in. (Clean means it's done.) Let cool in pans, then fold foil over and store in a cold place for at least a week. (Tasha does it for months, but I have had these spoil when held that long.) Frost with confectioner's sugar, or serve as-is with tea. (The Brits like to add a layer of almond paste on top, then frost it.)
Makes one good-sized cake for you and your dinner companions -- plus a cake for a friend. Intensely rich and memorable.

One sad year, I made a double batch of Christmas cake. It turned out beautifully. I put all of the cakes in a heavy box 'safely' on the back deck. They were -- for about a week. The night before Christmas, they all disappeared...with only a few delectable crumbs left. So if you're stashing your cake, make sure it's protected!


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