As we kick our Christmas preparations into gear, we thought it was the right time to bring you this fabulous festive recipe from our man in the kitchen.
Simon Brown, our cook's essentials expert, says ''October is the perfect time to make your Christmas cake so that it has time to mature and develop a rich, delicious flavour before the big day.''
Here's Simon's delicious recipe that you can prepare in advance and so help to avoid the stress of baking it during the busy festive period…
Traditional dark Christmas cake
400g (14oz) currants
200g (7oz) raisins
200g (7oz) sultanas
50g (2oz) glacé cherries – rinsed, dried and quartered
3tbsp brandy, plus extra for ‘feeding’ if desired
225g (8oz) dark muscovado sugar
225 g (8oz) butter
4 large eggs, beaten
225g (8oz) plain flour, sieved
½ tsp ground mixed spice
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
50g (2oz) mixed candied peel, roughly chopped
50g (2oz) whole unblanched almonds, roughly chopped
½ tbsp black treacle
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1. In a large bowl, mix together the fruit and brandy, cover and leave in a cool place overnight to soak.
2. Line a 20 cm (8") round or 17.5 cm (7") square cake tin with greaseproof paper and grease well. Tie a double layer of brown paper around the tin.
3. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy (a table mixer is good for this to save your wrists!). Now add the beaten eggs one by one, beating well after each addition.
4. Next, gently fold in the sieved flour and the spices and then fold in the soaked fruit and any remaining liquid from the bowl, plus the peel, nuts, treacle and orange and lemon zests. Carefully spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, level the surface, then gently form a shallow hollow in the centre of the cake so that it can rise but still have a fairly flat top for icing. Loosely cover the tin with greaseproof paper.
5. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 140C/275F/Gas mark 1 for 4½ to 5 hours until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
6. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about half an hour then transfer it to a wire rack and leave until completely cold. Now wrap the cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper, place in a Lock & Lock or airtight container and store in a cool, dark place until ready to decorate.
7. If you wish, you can ‘feed’ the cake on a weekly basis by unwrapping it and piercing holes in the surface with a skewer then spooning over a couple of tablespoons of brandy which soaks in and adds to the richness.