Home > Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(11)

Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(11)
Jenny Colgan

Most recipes I tend to tweak and move around to suit what I like, in the hope that my customers will like them too. I’m not fond of anything too fiddly, or overly fancy, and if I’m looking at American recipes I know they’ll probably be too sweet for British people, while French recipes probably won’t be sweet enough. So all of that is fine, but this is different. This is one of those occasions where a recipe has been written that can’t be bettered. Some people may do fancy things with whole oranges or surprises or various bits of malarkey, but this, as it stands, is one of the best, most reliable recipes ever written. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never baked before in your life. You can make a wonderful, wonderful Christmas cake, and it’s by St Delia Smith.

Although Delia isn’t officially a saint quite yet, and fortunately for everyone still alive and well, it will, one day, be a mere formality down at the Vatican. No one has made cooking so clear, and no one is quite as successful. Whilst we all know – naming no names – famous chefs who say their dinner takes half an hour when it takes all afternoon and some crying, or who leave ingredients out altogether because they are too busy tossing their hair, Delia can always be relied upon, and rarely more so than here. Do what she says – exactly what she says, neither more nor less – and a lovely Christmas cake will be yours. Not to mention the smell of your kitchen as you make it. You should do it ideally by the end of November to give it a few weeks to ripen, and if I were to make one change it would be to add a little more brandy, but that is completely up to you.

The Classic Christmas Cake

By Delia Smith

This, with no apologies, is a Christmas cake that has been in print since 1978, has been made and loved by thousands and is, along with the Traditional Christmas Pudding, one of the most popular recipes I’ve produced. It is rich, dark and quite moist, so will not suit those who like a crumblier texture. Recently we took some of these cakes along to book-signing sessions up and down the country and were quite amazed to see so many people take a mouthful and then buy a book!

1lb (450g) currants

603 (175g) sultanas

603 (175g) raisins

203 (50g) glacé cherries, rinsed, dried and finely chopped

203 (50g) mixed candied peel, finely chopped

3 tablespoons brandy, plus extra for ‘feeding’

80z (225g) plain flour

½ level teaspoon salt

¼ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ level teaspoon ground mixed spice

803 (225g) unsalted butter

803 (225g) soft brown sugar

4 large eggs

203 (50g) almonds, chopped (the skins can be left on)

1 level dessertspoon black treacle

grated zest 1 lemon

grated zest 1 orange

403 (110g) whole blanched almonds (only if you don’t intend to ice the cake

You will also need an 8 inch (20cm) round cake tin or a 7 inch (18cm) square tin, greased and lined with silicone paper (baking parchment). Tie a band of brown paper round the outside of the tin for extra protection.

You need to begin this cake the night before you want to bake it. All you do is weigh out the dried fruit and mixed peel, place it in a mixing bowl and mix in the brandy as evenly and thoroughly as possible. Cover the bowl with a clean tea cloth and leave the fruit aside to absorb the brandy for 12 hours.

Next day pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1, 275°F (140°C). Then measure out all the rest of the ingredients, ticking them off to make quite sure they’re all there. The treacle will be easier to measure if you remove the lid and place the tin in a small pan of barely simmering water. Now begin the cake by sifting the flour, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl, lifting the sieve up high to give the flour a good airing. Next, in a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until it’s light, pale and fluffy. Now beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add them to the creamed mixture a tablespoonful at a time; keep the whisk running until all the egg is incorporated. If you add the eggs slowly by degrees like this the mixture won’t curdle. If it does, don’t worry, any cake full of such beautiful things can’t fail to taste good!

When all the egg has been added, fold in the flour and spices, using gentle, folding movements and not beating at all (this is to keep all that precious air in). Now fold in the fruit, peel, chopped nuts and treacle and finally the grated lemon and orange zests. Next, using a large kitchen spoon, transfer the cake mixture into the prepared tin, spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon and, if you don’t intend to ice the cake, lightly drop the whole blanched almonds in circles or squares all over the surface. Finally cover the top of the cake with a double square of silicone paper with a 50p-size hole in the centre (this gives extra protection during the long slow cooking).

Bake the cake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4½–4¾ hours. Sometimes it can take up to 4½–¾ hour longer than this, but in any case don’t look till at least 4 hours have passed. Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, then remove it to a wire rack to finish cooling. When it’s cold, ‘feed’ it – make small holes in the top and base of the cake with a cocktail stick or small skewer, then spoon over a few teaspoons of brandy, wrap it in double silicone paper secured with an elastic band and either wrap again in foil or store in an airtight container. You can now feed it at odd intervals until you need to ice or eat it.

Pearl looked at Issy. ‘You’re doing this on purpose,’ she said.

‘I am not,’ said Issy. ‘It needs time to sit.’

Everyone who had walked through the door had raised their noses and sniffed appreciatively and smiled.

‘You know, you can buy this smell in a scented candle,’ said Caroline. ‘It’s only fifty pounds.’

The others looked at her.

‘Fifty pounds for a candle?’ said Pearl. ‘My church sells them for thirty pence.’

‘Well, they’re for gifts.’

‘People give candles as gifts?’

‘Smart people do,’ said Caroline.

‘Smart people give gifts that say, here, take this, I think your house smells really terrible and you need this stinky candle to make it better?’

‘Hush, you two,’ said Issy, putting on the noisy coffee machine to stop them bickering. She glanced over at the fireplace, where she had hung a small red stocking for Louis. Pearl followed her gaze.

‘Are you smuggling in Christmas decorations?’

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