Wow, what a fabulous summer we’re having this year, I hope that you’re enjoying it as much as I am. I just love the long warm days which remind me so much of when we really did have a summer every year!
I know the heat has presented many challenges with baking and decorating and it’s lovely to read in Q & A how our online community is helping one another out with suggestions for combating the multitude of problems associated with humidity. Despite the problems, I hope summer has also been a relaxing time for you all. So, while we’re sweltering in all this tropical heat I’d like to fast forward a few months to thoughts of winter and Christmas! I won’t apologise for mentioning Christmas which seems an age away at the moment, we all know just how quickly it descends on us and I like to start making preparations for my Christmas cakes sooner rather than later.
At Christmas my dear old mum used to make a friendship cake, this involved her seven neighbours bringing equal amounts of fruit to be soaked in whatever alcohol they had. The fruit would get steeped in a great big bowl and everyone would throw in a small amount of their favourite tipple. Different spices would also be added to this cauldron then tasted for flavour, from early summer until September the fruit would be stirred weekly until it gradually started to break down, releasing the most amazing aroma.
In September, the week after the long school summer holidays, the cake was baked in one large tin, cooled and covered in alcohol drenched muslin then, wrapped in several layers of baking paper and foil ready for storage in a tin. Every fortnight or so the muslin would be soaked in alcohol to feed the cake. Two weeks before Christmas it would be decorated with Royal icing and left to settle. On Christmas day it was cut for all to enjoy, a beautifully fruity, moist and very drunken cake.
This year I’m quite late baking my Christmas cakes which normally get started in spring, so long soaking my fruit will help me catch up with the maturing process. In September the cakes will be baked, fed and stored for ripening in soaked muslin, parchment paper, cling film and foil. Avoid using airtight plastic containers for storing as they can cause fruit cakes to sweat and become slimey, it’s happened to me and I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience it. Better to use a box or a tin.
I’ve used 2.5k jumble of different fruits and 200ml of alcohol, a mix of fine brandy, cointreau and Amaretto de Sarrano. Traditional spices have been used although I use less than most recipes ask as I grind whole spices which are much stronger than the ready made shop bought. In the photos are the fruits which I’ve used, they include soft dates, cranberries, figs, pears, a mix of large currants, sultana and raisins plus glaze cherries, tropical mix and stem ginger, prunes and apricots. You can use any fruits and nuts (I don’t add nuts) you like as long as the weight is the same as your own favourite recipe. My mix also contains black treacle, stem ginger syrup and ginger preserve which can be replaced with thick cut marmalade. If you’d like to long soak your fruit you’ll need an airtight container in which to soak, some muslin squares for soak wrapping, a cool dark place to store and a will power of galvanised steel to resist the temptation of eating it all before September!
Thanks for reading,
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