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Monthly Archives: November 2022

Family Christmas Cake

I’ve posted my family’s Christmas cake recipe several times over the years. It’s a wonderful cake, a recipe passed down from my grandmother over a hundred years ago. It continues to be made with great tradition and enthusiasm 4 generations on by sisters, mothers and daughters!

It’s certainly one of the baking experiences I look forward to every year at Christmas time.

The original cake recipe was for a “12 Pound Christmas Cake”. The recipe probably originated from the 1800s and was the recipe for the bottom tier of a wedding cake.

This version of the cake is very big – and will feed a lot of people! My sister still makes this cake, and I do on occasion. My favourite version of the cake however, is the “half size” cake, which I generally make each year.

It’s the quantities and method for this version I’ve listed below.

I’ve included a number of photos of the cake – same recipe, but made at different Christmas times.

Ingredients

250g butter
250g brown sugar
315g plain flour
375g raisins
375g sultanas
125g glacé cherries
65g glacé peaches
65g glacé pears
125g glacé apricots
65g glacé pineapple
65g crystallised ginger
65g mixed peel (optional)
6 large free range eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond essence
1/2 teaspoon glycerine
Juice of half an orange
Finely grated peel of half an orange
1/4 cup of good brandy/whisky – extra 1/4 cup of brandy/whisky to pour over the hot cake when it comes out of the oven.

Method
Grease a cake tin and line with baking paper or aluminum foil. I use an 18cm or 7″ square tin  or a 18cm or 7″ diameter round tin. You may end up with left over mixture with this size, so you could go up a size. I like a high cake and this cake doesn’t rise so you can fill the smaller tins fairly full.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C then turn back to 135 degrees C.  The principle of cooking a rich fruitcake is to put the cake into a preheated oven and cook very slowly. This size cake does take a long time!
The original recipe says to mix by hand in a large basin. This was lots of fun when we were growing up making the family Christmas cake but now I suggest using an electric mixer.
Cream butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time.

Mix in the sifted flour lightly. Stir in spices, essences, glycerine, fruit juice and brandy/whisky, and finally stir in the fruit the larger varieties of which have previously been cut roughly. There is no need to wash the fruit. If the fruit is wet it tends to sink to the bottom of the cake.

Bake about 1½ to 2 hours or until the top is pale brown and a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake.

It’s a little hard to be more precise than this as the weather, the quality of the flour and individual ovens have a lot to do with cooking time. You can put a piece of foil over the top of the cake during the last hour of cooking if the cake browns too quickly.
When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and pierce all over with a skewer. Pour ½ cup of brandy/whisky over the hot cake and wrap in a towel till cool.
Turn out of the tin onto a board or large flat plate.

Almond Icing (Marzipan Icing)
250g ground almonds
375g icing sugar
1 egg white
Juice of ½ lemon

Mix all the ingredients to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into sections – one large ball for the top of the cake, the rest for the sides of the cake.
Brush the cake with apricot jam which will help the almond paste to stick. Let the cake rest for a day.

Royal Icing
2 egg whites
500g icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Beat eggs lightly, add icing sugar and lemon juice.
Apply to cake with a palette knife. Be generous with this icing, to create a “snowy” effect.
Leave to set for at least a couple of hours.

The cake keeps well – up to a year – although it is at its best when eaten within 3 months. But it never lasts beyond New Year in my house!

A Week in Shetland

October 2022 and I’m back in Shetland, this time to pursue food and history. In 2019 it was all about stunning coastal walks and brilliant wildlife. And Shetland made an impression. My musings on this visit are recorded here.

So with my long suffering but enthusiastic travelling companion in tow, I certainly got to grips in a determined way with the culture and the stories of Shetland food.

A highlight was A Taste of Shetland Food and Drink Festival – blogged recently here. What an amazing experience. A really good way to encounter local produce and producers. I tasted samples of tablet, sponge cake, sourdough, bannocks, oatcake and some gin to wash it all down. Have I left anything out?

Some wonderful restaurants too, in Lerwick where we were based, doing innovative food with local, seasonal food. I think I had seafood wherever I went – Shetland seafood is gorgeous.

Some highlights were beautiful scallops and mussels at No 88 Kitchen and Bar, exquisitely presented dishes at Da Steak Hoose and the best crème brûlée ever at C’est La Vie!

But I need to do a big shout out to the Cake Fridges of Shetland – what a fantastic, quirky idea!

These are fridges literally set up on the roadside where the owner bakes cakes and treats which you buy by putting money in an honesty box. And that’s it! Shetland is such a community minded place that people are honest.

I visited The Cake Fridge in Aith – the original cake fridge, and bought hot coffee and tiffin – a kind of chocolate slice. Very Shetland and quite delicious.

On the island of Unst, seemingly in the middle of nowhere we were delighted to find a cake fridge, this time more accurately a cake dolls’ house! And on a cold and windy day we bought shortbread, more tiffin and tablet to keep us fuelled for exploring this most northerly island.

History and archeology were also on the agenda. And we struck gold when we met the eloquent and knowledgeable Chris Dyer from Garths Croft on the island of Bressay. Chris is an archeologist, historian and farmer, who is a passionate enthusiast for native and heritage breeds and sustainable farming.

An afternoon spent at Garths Croft was an immersive experience in the workings of a small croft. Readers of this blog may be aware of my love of sheep – and I was fascinated by the sheep that Chris breeds for colour. And I was particularly taken by Dinky, a sheep that had been hand reared from birth by Chris. I admit to being a bit sentimental where sheep are concerned…

Chris also is highly informed on local food and the importance of food miles in agriculture and food production in Shetland. We ate some outstanding local dishes on Chris’ recommendations.

One of those recommendations was the wonderful Speldiburn Cafe which we visited when we were on Bressay. Now here was great Shetland food – soups, bannocks. cakes and tiffin, all home made and all served with a welcoming smile!

We were able to tap into Chris’ other great passion, archeology, when we drove up to Unst, the most northerly point of the UK, driving across two islands via two ferries to reach this historic place. This bleak and windswept island is evocative, thought to be the first point of contact in the North Atlantic of the Vikings, and a treasure trove of archeological sites pertaining to Viking history.

At Haroldswick, a replica Viking Long House, where we had lunch, and a Viking ship the Skidbladner, give visitors some idea of Viking life. The replica ship actually made the voyage from Sweden to Shetland. Apparently bound for the United States in 2000, the ship stopped off in Unst where it remains today. Getting inside the ship gave me a real appreciation of how hard those Viking sea journeys must have been.

I had visited Unst in 2019, staying at Saxa Vord, at the service quarters of an old RAF base. Some of the base facilities are now being developed as part of the planned SaxaVord Spaceport, creating a successful, internationally recognised “new space business”. Today however Saxa Vord is abandoned, and we wandered around the deserted site. Another reminder of the historical strategic importance of the northerly isle – to the Viking invaders and latterly to those seeking to defend the UK on its northerly tip.

I think of all the sites we visited the ruins of Framgord Chapel and graveyard left the greatest impression on me.

Chris brought us to this special place above the beach at Sandwick. The chapel probably dates to the 12th Century. The graveyard was what fascinated me. With sweeping views of the beach, the graveyard is a testament to history and spirituality. Remarkably it’s still in use today, and contemporary headstones lie side by side with early Viking Christian graves.

On a more poignant note there is the burial place and memorial to crew members of a Norwegian ship torpedoed in 1940 during World War 2. The lifeboat was wrecked at Muness in Unst. The wild seas are still the graveyard of latter day northern seafarers.

We saw much more on Unst, and this would only have been the tip of the iceberg. The archeological treasures of Unst are numerous and bear more research.

I would add here that any trip to Shetland to discover its history is enhanced by visiting Shetland Museum in Lerwick – a really interesting and informative collection.

Of course I did and saw a lot more! I just wanted to give a snapshot, the highlights, of a memorable visit to wonderful Shetland. Highly recommended.

Tropical Barmbrack

Barmbrack is a traditional Irish fruit cake. It’s usually associated with Halloween, although I think it can be eaten any time of the year!

It’s a really simple bake, a cross between cake and bread. It has no butter or oil in it. The moist flavour comes from soaking dried fruit in tea. Irish whiskey is also included in the soak for an added kick!

My version is “tropical” because I substituted rum for whiskey, and I added pineapple to the dried fruit. And some cream cheese frosting made it a bit more luxurious.

Ingredients

375g mixed dried fruit

100g tinned pineapple, cut into small pieces

50ml dark rum

250ml cold tea

225g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

125g brown sugar

1/2teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 free range egg

Cream cheese frosting

60g light cream cheese *

30g softened butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon pineapple juice

150g icing sugar

Glacé or tinned pineapple for decoration

Method

Place the mixed dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the rum and cold tea. Leave to soak overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 170 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan forced.

Grease a 20 or 22cm square cake tin and line base with baking paper. Or you could use the more traditional loaf tin – grease and line a 900g loaf tin.

I used a square cake tin for my version as I was able to cut the barmbrack into more pieces.

Mix the flour, baking powder, brown sugar and spices in a large bowl. Break in the egg and mix with a wooden spoon.

Add the tea and rum liquid a tablespoon at a time. You may not need all of it – add enough to make a fairly wet dough. But don’t add so much that you end up with soup!

Stir in the mixed fruit and pineapple until everything is combined. Spoon the batter into the lined tin, and put in the preheated oven.

Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Wrap in cling film and aluminium foil and leave for 1-2 days. The flavour matures over a couple of days.

Unwrap the cake. You could serve as is, with lashings of butter which is traditional, or you could make a cream cheese frosting.

Put the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and pineapple juice in an electric mixer, or even in a food processor. Mix or process until well combined.

Add the icing sugar gradually, beating until all is combined.

Spread the icing liberally over the barmbrack and decorate with pieces of glacé or tinned pineapple.

The barmbrack will keep well for a few days.

*you could use normal cream cheese not the light version – if so, you would need less icing sugar. Just add enough icing sugar to make a smooth icing.

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