Fruit cake for weddings and Christmas

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • For

    10-12

    people

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Bruno and I were married in our favourite village in southern England. It was a traditional affair in the old Town Hall. The town crier announced our marriage in front of the Town Hall with his voice like a clock and his hand bell ringing for the villagers and all who had gathered. After the wedding ceremony he guided us to the pub for our wedding toast, via a path that was hidden between the cobblestone streets.

After the toast we left for our honeymoon in Cornwall and on the way back home we picked up our wedding cake in the seaside town of Brighton. The cake was, according to British wedding tradition, a rich fruit cake, the very best I had ever tasted. Baker Becky Colletti made the cake three months in advance and fed it cognac every few weeks. The ripened fruit cake was then covered with a layer of marzipan and finished with white fondant icing. When we crossed the border, we were picked out by border control because of the large box in the back seat. The man asked us, after the explosives check, whether there was perhaps a fruit cake in the box, to which I replied that we were transporting our wedding cake. If this had been the French border control, we might have had to leave our wedding cake behind. Fortunately, the British know their cake!

When I wrote this book, I wanted to share a fruit cake recipe that was special, so I asked my friends for their family recipes. They were all tasty, but none were like my wedding cake. Maybe it was the special moment that made the cake taste extra sweet, but probably it was because it is the very best recipe that exists. I would never be able to match it.

I decided to ask Becky for her recipe. She had followed my adventures over all the years since my wedding and agreed with pleasure. She told me that the cake was a family recipe and that her father was a master baker who swore to mix the batter by hand to keep the fruit intact. She also gave me expert instructions on how to protect the cake from the heat during the long baking process. I think this is one of the reasons why I love this cake – it is dense and juicy, and not dry and hard as a brick like many other Christmas cakes.

The Christmas cake is a fruit cake that is usually just a little more richly filled. The Dundee cake is closely related to this cake and is often eaten as a lighter version of a Christmas cake. Early Christmas cakes or fruit cakes were called Plum cakes, just as the Christmas pudding was first called Plum pudding. Plum refers to the raisins and currants, and not to plums or prunes. The tradition of eating this cake at Christmas stems from the Twelfth cake that was eaten on the twelfth night after Christmas or the day of Revelation. This custom has moved to Christmas because the British haven’t celebrated 12 days of Christmas for many years.

So hereby I pass on the recipe for my wedding cake – which we now enjoy every year for Christmas – to you. Hopefully it will also be your Christmas cake, or maybe even your typical British wedding cake some day.

This cake, when stored properly, will keep for months. It won’t even go mouldy for over a century, as we know from a commemorative boxed piece of Queen Victoria’s wedding cake that was recently sold at auction. It would be a nice choice for wedding favours even if you aren’t a member of the royal family. I kept a piece of my wedding cake for many years until it finally got lost when we moved house last year.

Ingredients

For the soaked fruit

  • 790 g (1 lb 12 oz) sultanas
  • 285 g (10 oz) raisins
  • 225 g (8 oz) currants
  • 115 g (4 oz) glacé cherries, cut into quarters
  • 115 g (4 oz) candied citrus peel
  • zest of 1 lemon, grated
  • zest of 1 orange, grated
  • 175 ml ( fl oz) cognac

For the cake

  • 340 g (11¾ oz) butter, at room temperature
  • 340 g (11¾ oz) light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp natural almond extract
  • seeds of 1 vanilla bean or tsp natural vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs
  • 400 g (14 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 85 g (3 oz) almond meal
  • tsp mixed spice
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3 tbsp orange marmalade
  • cognac, to feed the cake
  • butter, for greasing

Method

For a deep round 22-23 cm (8½-9 inch) springform tin. If you only have a round tin with a regular height, or want to bake a smaller cake you can halve the recipe. Check the cake after 3 hours to see if it is done.

When it comes to fruit cake, it is very important to wrap the tin so that the sides of the cake don’t burn or dry out during baking. Grease the tin and cover the base and side with a double layer of baking paper. Fold a piece of brown paper in half, then wrap it around the outside of the tin and secure with kitchen string. Fold a square of brown paper to sit the cake on in the oven, and fold another square to put on top of the tin during baking. Remove this sheet of paper about 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Preparing the tin in this way will ensure your cake cooks evenly. Some people also use newspaper to tie around the tin.

The day before you begin baking, soak all of the fruit and the citrus zest in the cognac. It needs to soak for at least 12 hours.

Preheat your oven to 130°C (250°F).

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until light and creamy, then mix in the almond extract and vanilla seeds or extract. Add the eggs, one at a time, and make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one. Add a teaspoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from separating. Stir in the remaining flour, the almond meal and spices, mixing well.

Add the marmalade to the soaked fruit and cognac, then gradually add the fruit mixture to the cake batter while gently stirring it with your hand or a spatula.

Spoon the batter into the tin and bake for about 3½-4 hours. Allow the cake to cool in the tin. When the cake has cooled down, pierce it all over with a thin skewer and feed it by spooning over 4 tablespoons of cognac. Wrap the cake in baking paper and then in plastic wrap and foil, and store in an airtight container.

You can feed the cake with cognac every few weeks. Becky likes to make the cake three months in advance, but you can also make it just a month ahead. You can, of course, immediately enjoy the cake as it is.