Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cake for later

Hi! So much for blogging more often, huh? Life lately is kicking my butt. But we're doing fine and everyone is looking forward to the holidays. It's good and cold outside now - way colder than it even should be for this time of year! - which makes me very happy. We even had a dusting of snow yesterday. So exciting! It melted by noon, but it was pretty while it lasted. Right now, I'm planning my Thanksgiving menu for next week. We may decorate for Christmas over the holiday weekend, or we may wait until the following week. We haven't decided yet, but I do have a new Christmas tree topper, a simple update that was a long time coming. Goodbye, tired old paper angel.

In the spirit of just beginning to prepare for Christmas, I baked a traditional Christmas cake with fruit and nuts a couple of weeks ago. This seems like an antiquated thing to a lot of people, but it's something I really wanted to get right. When I was a kid, we often ate store-bought fruitcakes with one set of grandparents, who would have them with coffee. I liked them well enough, my favorite part being the green- and red-dyed candied cherries that I would pick out and eat first, before consuming the rest of my slice of cake. I know there are lots of jokes about fruitcake and how much everyone hates it, but I like the idea of making your own in the weeks before Christmas and feeding it with liquor periodically. I like routines and schedules, they're my thing. And I like making a food that needs to develop over time as opposed to being eaten right away. It feels like a real creation then.

This was not my first Christmas cake. I'd made them in the past, but it had been about five years since my last attempt. They never turned out well. They were overbaked - almost burnt - and they usually tasted far too rich and boozy to us. I didn't want to make those mistakes again, so I spent some time browsing recipes that were new to me, finally coming across one that gave me a few things I was looking for: lower alcohol amounts, more real fruit (though I did want to keep just a little of the candied fruit, because it's pretty and festive, so I'd just make them part of the total fruit amount), better instructions for baking, and slightly healthier ingredients overall. I found all of this in a vegan recipe, of all places. I'm not vegan, and neither is anyone else in my house, but the recipe gave me what I was looking for, so why not. Vegan (almost) Christmas cake for us.

The recipe comes from BBC Goodfood, with modifications. For example, I didn't use coconut oil, I used canola oil. I did this because we're not crazy about the flavor of coconut oil in baking. I didn't use chia seeds (to make a "chia egg") either; I used two egg whites instead. I've also added conversions to US measurements, because I'm a little challenged that way and I thought someone else might find it helpful. My measurements are in parentheses.

BBC Goodfood Vegan (Almost) Christmas Cake
adapted from the original recipe


1 kg (about 2lb, 3oz) dried fruit (raisins, sultanas (golden raisins), currants, cherries, cranberries, prunes or figs; I used currants, regular and gold raisins, cherries, cranberries and a few ounces of rinsed, chopped candied cherries, adding the candied cherries after step one below)
zest and juice of one orange
zest and juice of one lemon
150ml (5oz) rum, plus extra for feeding
250g (8oz) coconut (canola) oil
200g (7oz) light brown sugar
4 tbsp chia seeds (I replaced with two egg whites)
175g (6oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
100g (3.5oz) ground almonds
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice is a good substitute)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
100g (3.5oz) flaked (slivered) almonds
1 tsp vanilla extract


1. Put the dried fruit, zests and juice, rum, oil and sugar into a large pan set over medium heat. Give it a good mix, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Tip the mixture into a large bowl and leave to cool for 30 minutes.

2. Heat oven to 150C/130C/fan/gas 2 (I heated my oven to 300F). Line a deep 20cm cake tin (I used my basic springform pan, the deepest round pan I own) with a double layer of baking parchment (I did this by cutting three strips of parchment about five inches wide each, spreading and layering them over each other to cover the whole inner area of the pan), then wrap a double layer of newspaper around the outside, tying it with a string to secure. Mix the chia seeds with 150ml water. Leave to sit for 5 minutes until gel-like and thick (I didn't do this; I just added two egg whites to the mixture in the next step).

3. Add the remaining ingredients to the fruit mixture, along with the chia-seed mix (or egg), and stir well, making sure there are no pockets of flour. Tip into prepared tin, leveling the top with a spoon, and bake in the center of the oven for 2 hours.

4. Remove the cake from the oven, poke holes all over with a skewer and pour over 2 tbsp of rum. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.

5. To store, peel off the baking parchment, then wrap well in cling film. Feed the cake with 1-2 tbsp (I'm going with 1 tbsp) of alcohol every fortnight (two weeks), until it's time to ice it. Don't feed the cake for the final week to give the cake a chance to dry out before icing.

I'm so happy with how this has gone so far. It's dark but not burnt. The smell while it baked was just intoxicating - family members came in from outside to see what I was up to! My cake is now sitting on the buffet in the dining room, inside a plastic pie-taker container. I just gave it its first repeat feeding on Sunday, one tablespoon of light rum. It's the cheapest rum in the world, but we have a lot of it so it's perfect for this job. I haven't decided yet how I will decorate my cake, but I'm considering trying my hand at fondant. That may be an optimistic plan, so I might stick with basic icing, but we'll see how ambitious I'm feeling when the time comes. I think it will be a festive holiday treat either way. Soon, I'll turn my attention to cookie-baking! Tis the season, very nearly.


  1. Jennifer I just love your posts. The attention to detail that you give us is wonderful. I have never, ever tasted fruitcake. Yours sounds absolutely delicious and I wish I lived close enough to have a slice when it’s ready to eat. Thank you for providing the recipe too. Who knows? Someday I may be adventurous enough to try it! Blessings, Betsy

  2. It's looking good. I haven't made a Christmas cake in years; but now I want one! We have a family recipe that was handed down from my Great-Granny, but I've tweaked it a bit (I soak the dried fruit in the alcohol overnight so it plumps up). I might have to make one now!

  3. It looks amazing. You have reminded me that I had a really good vegan recipe I used to use. CJ xx

  4. It looks a good 'un as we say in Shropshire! Jo x

  5. I'm not a fruit cake fan, but I'm impressed with all your work.

  6. I enjoy making Christmas cakes and puddings, Jennifer and I read this post very carefully. It is a really good recipe. It deserves Fondant! I admit I buy fondant, because I love that silky smooth white cover like snow on my cake, where I can put Santa and decorations. There is a recipe which is based on marshmallows which I believe is very good, not that I have tried it. Enjoy your Christmas prep.

  7. This looks lovely, Jennifer. I love how you've added US conversions to the recipe – I often have to do this when editing books and it's not my favourite job :-) One tip for the future, if you're concerned about burning: wrap the cake in a double layer of thick brown paper (which is a bit thicker than newspaper) and fold a piece that fits your tin to gently lay on top of the cake. Cut a 2–3cm hole in the centre of the top piece first to let out steam. This should protect the outsides of the cake from burning. Good luck with the icing – I'd say it deserves fondant or royal icing! Enjoy all your festive preparations. Sam x

  8. Looks wonderful. I made ours last week and like you picked out a recipe that I hadn't used before, rather than the tried and tested. I am not going to bother with the traditional marzipan and royal icing I have topped it with nuts. What a wonderful time of year.

  9. Oh yum, this looks good! I'd happily eat a slice or two or three of your cake. It looks very good as it is. If you don't fancy the icing, you could top it with a few fondant icing decoration, maybe a sprig of a holly tree? I made my own Christmas cake at about the same time as you, it had its first feed on Sunday also :-) I chose Kirsch instead of rum. This is a brandy made from cherries and very popular in Switzerland and we just happened to have a bottle. I used only three tablespoons for the first soaking but it wasn't a hot soaking, just overnight steeping, so maybe less is required? Have lovely week. xx

  10. We were supposed to get a dusting of snow.. we got a lot more plus so much rain..
    I've never tried fruit cake before.. not really a fan of fruit in my cake..
    The holidays have a way of putting blogging on the back burner..


  11. Your cake looks wonderful and very festive for the holidays! I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving next week, and decorating for Christmas the day after. We haven't seen snow yet, but I sure hope we do this winter. I think winter should be cold and snowy. I think I could live in Canada, or maybe Alaska!

  12. You prompted good memories for me. My mom used to make fruitcakes to give as gifts and used rum...or sometimes whiskey, I think, on hers. I was not a fan, but folks that were gifted appreciated the gift! Thanks for posting! xx

  13. Oh yes, this is my kind of Christmas baking! I like how we can tinker with the main recipe to make it how we like it. I never include nuts (I like them, just not in a cake) and I put in absolutely loads of glace cherries because they're my favourite. Isn't it satisfying to bake something then stash it away, knowing it will be improved when you unwrap it? x


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