David Hall, of Masterchef fame, was quite shocked when I admitted to him yesterday that I had never made a Christmas cake. Chocolate logs, chocolate truffle cakes decorated with chocolate holly leaves yes, but never a traditional fruit cake with icing and marzipan. We are not a household of fruit cake lovers but I have decided that this year is going to be the one where I attempt to convert everyone. I have scoured all my cook books for Christmas cake recipes trying to decide which one to make but ended up devising my own recipe. I am a huge fan of amaretto and so I wanted to use this in my cake. I soaked my fruits for 48 hours in the ameretto and they were juicy and plump when the time came to make the cake. We also really all love nuts so in an effort to make the cake appealing to non fruit cake lovers, I made it very nutty adding pistachios and cashews, together with the more traditional hazlenuts, almonds and brazil nuts.
So here is my first Christmas cake attempt. I cannot yet vouch for how it tastes as it is sealed in a tin and will be fed with more amaretto for the next month until Christmas, but if smell is anything to go by, it is going to be pretty tasty!
1 kilo mixed fruit (you can buy fruit ready mixed in bags in the supermarket or choose any combination you want from sultanas, currants, raisins, dried apricots, mixed peel, dried pinapple - David Hall has made his with dried figs and prunes)
1 large tub glace cherries, chopped in halves
100ml amaretto (or brandy if you are feeling more traditional)
225g/8oz butter, softened
170g/60z muscovado sugar
50g/2oz caster sugar
4 large eggs
170g/6oz plain flour, sifted
50g/2oz self raising flour, sifted
200g/7oz unsalted mixed nuts, roughly chopped
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
a good grate of nutmeg
zest of two lemons
1 tbsp treacle
Soak the mixed fruit and cherries in the amaretto overnight, or longer if you have time, stirring occasionally. Cream the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy and then beat in the eggs on at a time. You need to get as much air into the cake at this stage as the majority of the flour is plain and will not rise. Gently fold in the flours and spices followed by the treacle and zest. Fold the fruits into the cake mixture (you will need a large bowl for this). There will be much more fruit than cake batter so it is important to make sure it is well mixed. Grease and line the base and sides of a 10inch round spring form pan. Pour in the cake batter and bake for 4 hours at Gas Mark 2/150C/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for 30 minutes, then transfer to the cooling oven, covering the cake lightly with foil towards the end of it starts to brown too much. Once the cake has cooled, wrap it in greaseproof paper and cling film and store in a sealed tin. Open it once a week, prick the surface with a darning needle or a fork and pour over a spoon of Amaretto.
Reaching the final of Masterchef 2007 was a rollercoaster of emotion, with huge highs and lows, but I loved every minute and learnt a huge amount. I owe a great deal to John and Gregg who had faith in my ability when I did not believe in myself. Since competing on the programme my life has changed considerably. I now write cookery columns for two magazines, give cookery demonstrations and am just working on my 13th cook book - unlucky number for some but not for me!!! I love all forms of country cooking, using seasonal and locally sourced produce. This blog is to enable me to share with you a few of my recipes and baking ideas. Enjoy Hannah xxxx