I’ve always been put off making fruit cakes for Christmas. For one thing, you have to be organised enough to think about making one weeks before Christmas, then you have to think about soaking your fruit in booze the night before you make the cake, then you have to double line a cake tin really well so that the cake doesn’t burn during its 3-4 hour stint in the oven. Then, after staying up late into the evening waiting for your cake to finish baking you have to wait a few weeks to eat it- feeding it weekly with precious booze that you spent a fortune on and would rather be having in a cocktail with this minute rather than giving it to a cake you still have to wait weeks to eat. And then you result in a heavy fruit booze-laced cake, which needs to be decorated with marzipan (yuck) and some sort of royal or fondant icing. This has never appealed to my lack of patience nor to my lack of ability to pre-think let alone pre-plan.
I’m hosting Christmas this year for my family- I say my family but really there will only be four out of seven of us. My sister bailed for a better offer traveling across Asian countries of questionable safety in a Land Rover and my brother decided to head to Nashville to celebrate with his girlfriend’s family. That leaves me with Don, my mum and my dad- all of whom like fruit cake. Which left me thinking that 1/ I really ought to make a Christmas cake this year 2/ I should buy two bottles of Grand Marnier (or beverage of choice)- one for the cake and one for the patient baker. Note to self: fill ice cube trays in the freezer.
I decided on three recipes Not that I was going to make three cakes only I liked elements from each of them- this was going to be a mix-and-match cake, who knew what would result of it. I was living life on the edge, people. One of the recipes had been given to me by an old colleague who had developed it for a magazine- I still have it hand written on a scrap of notepaper from three years ago when I had first thought I ought to make a Christmas cake. The other two came from Nigella- one because it had the word chocolate in the title and one because it used marmalade and that paired with chocolate seemed like a winning combination to me. I decided on the Grand Marnier for my fruit soaker of choice and replaced the glacé cherries with dried apricots and orange zest because it all cried: Terry’s chocolate orange to me- and frankly that appealed more that fruit cake.
Three weeks a lot of patience and a few measures of Grand Marnier later and it was finally time to decorate the bloody thing. This made me quite grumpy. Usually I love to decorate cakes but I did not want to fanny around with marzipan, which I don’t even like and then wait another two days for it to dry- patience out the window, this was time I did not have. I also did not have any icing sugar and if it wasn’t actually 50 degrees below outside, then it certainly felt like it and I was not in the mood to walk the two freezing blocks to the supermarket. I took the leftover nuts and fruit from making the cake, melted the leftover marmalade in a pan with some honey and the last remaining drops of Grand Marnier and used this sticky glaze to bind the fruits and nuts on the cake. I tied a ribbon around the top for all of five minutes- long enough to take a photograph and then finally was able to sample the dried fruit of my laborious labour. It tasted like fruit cake. Only, it was actually quite tasty. It wasn’t dry- amazingly it wasn’t too boozy and there was a definite undertone of chocolate and orange. Just in time for Christmas. I might even think about making it again next year.
Chocolate orange christmas fruit cake
This cake is full of fruit and nuts, but has a delicate chocolate orange flavour bought about by the addition of cocoa powder, Grand Marnier and a marmalade glaze. This is not your traditional fruit cake.You can swap any of the dried fruits for ones of your choosing and apricot jam can replace the marmalade. If you don’t have three weeks to allow it to sit, do not worry!
Diet Facts: It’s Christmas, calories don’t count.
450g/ 3 cups sultanas (golden raisins)
255g/ 1 3/4 cups raisins
175g soft dried apricots, roughly chopped
175g/1 cup pitted prunes, roughly chopped
30g/ scant 1/4 cup mixed peel
55g/ scant 1/2 cup dried cranberries
125ml/ 1/2 cup Grand Marnier
225g/ 8 oz unsalted butter
200g/ 1 cup light brown soft sugar
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp lemon zest
4 large eggs
2 Tbsp marmalade
1 tsp almond extract
320g/ 2 1/3 cup plain flour
4 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
75g/1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp ground almonds (almond meal)
125g/ scant 1 cup brazil nuts, roughly chopped
For the decoration:
3 Tbsp marmalade
1 tbsp runny honey
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier, water or juice from an orange
75g/ 1/2 cup brazil nuts, toasted
75g/1/2 cup almonds (blanched or raw), toasted
125g/ 3/4 cup soft dried apricots
75g/ 1/2 cup pitted prunes
30g/ 1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/ Put all of the fruit in a large bowl, stir in the Grand Marnier and cover. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours.
2/ Once the fruit has soaked. Line a 23cm (5 cm deep) /9 inch (3 inches deep) cake tin as follows. Cut out two circles of greaseproof paper to fit neatly into the base. Cut out 3 strips of greaseproof 5 inches wide and long enough to go around the outside of the cake tin and and a bit more. Butter the tin generously. Place one of the circles into the bottom of the tin and butter it. Take one of the long strips and make a fold 2.5 cm/1 inch the whole way along the long side. Open up and using scissors cut up to the crease at 2.5 cm/ 1 inch intervals all along the strip. Press strip against the side of the cake tin placing the crease into the bottom of the tin so that the flaps you cut sit on top of the circle of greaseproof. Still with me? Good. Place the second circle cut out over the flaps and butter the greaseproof again. Now for the outside. Take the two remaining strips of greaseproof, line up together and wrap around the outside of the tin. Use kitchen twine to secure tightly. If you didn’t follow any of that- go here instead and watch it being done.
3/ Heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter until very soft. Add the sugar and beat together for about 5 minutes until very light and fluffy looking. Add the orange and lemon zest, stir to combine.
4/ Add the eggs, one at a time with the beaters on medium-low speed, beating well between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the marmalade and almond extract.
5/ In a large bowl, sieve together the flour, cocoa powder, ginger, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir through the ground almonds. Gently mix into the bowl of the electric mixer with the beaters on low. Now add all of the fruit and the chopped brazil nuts and stir gently until just combined.
6/ Pour into your prepared cake tin and spread evenly. Tap the tin twice on he counter so that it settles into the tin and then place in the oven. Bake for 3- 3 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean. Turn a quarter of a turn every 30 minutes or so. Once you remove it from the oven, wrap immediately in foil and let cool like this before removing from the tin. This keeps the top of the cake soft. Once cool remove from the tin and again wrap in foil. Store like this until ready to use (ideally 3 weeks) and feed it once a week by poking all over with a skewer and spooning over a couple of tablespoonfuls of Grand Marnier.
7/ To decorate. Place the marmalade, honey and Grand Marnier (water or OJ) in a small sauce pan and stir together over a gentle heat until syrupy. Brush the cake all over the top with the syrup and then scatter over the fruit and nuts. Brush with the remaining glaze and leave open overnight to set. Now you may eat.