There are some things you should know about this cake.
Firstly, it comes from a recipe book my mum got not long after she was married (I'm guessing about 1970). It predates me by lots of - ok, a few - years, and has been made faithfully by our family every year since then. Sure, we've had odd flirtations with other cakes, by way of Nigella's Chocolate Fruit Cake and Delia's Creole Cake, but this is the cake that we return to, time after time. On this point too, you should know that we adore Christmas Cake, with its fruit and spices, and are therefore self-appointed connoisseurs. Bear that in mind when you consider our loyalty to this cake.
You should know that it is never, ever dry, which seems to be the biggest crime that fruit cake is often accused of. Instead - and I am not discounting the effect of lots of alcohol in this matter - it is rich and moist (gah I hate that word but sometimes it is the only option), buttery and juicy.
You should know that last Christmas, when I made some to sell, a happy customer returned in January specifically to tell me it was (and I quote) the best cake he'd ever eaten.
But mostly, I want you to know that, bar the teensiest of substitutions (I can't abide glace cherries, and used to leave a neat gleaming pile on the edge of my plate - seriously, does anyone eat them? - so use dried cranberries instead), this IS Christmas. The mixing of it, Christmas tunes sparkling away as the soundtrack, the fruits steeping in alcohol beforehand, the gradual transformation into the mixture so familiar to me from my youth, the smell of it as it bakes and cools, the look of it. It is the joy of Christmas in one neat package, and that is why I continue to recreate it, year after year. Truly, nothing is better than the comfort of Christmas traditions.
The earlier you can make this, the better.
Christmas Fruit Cake
From the Stork Cookbook, circa 1970
NB: Because of the date and provenance (UK), all weights are in pounds and ounces. I have given the weight in metric also, but if you have the option, the original will likely give the better results.
For a 9 inch round cake or 8 inch square. Since moving to New Zealand I have become the proud owner of a wooden cakebox, which gives amazing results, but any heavy cake tin will do. Grease and line it inside, and wrap the outside with brown paper secured with string or a paperclip - this will protect the edges of the cake during the long, slow cooking.
13oz (370g) currants
9oz (250g) sultanas
5oz (140g) raisins
3.5oz (100g) dried cranberries
3.5oz (100g) flaked almonds
3.5oz (100g) mixed cut peel
1 grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons sherry (ideally Pedro Ximenez)
9oz (250g) plain flour
1.25 teaspoons mixed spice
0.5 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2.5oz (70g) ground almonds
8oz (230g) unsalted butter, softened
8oz (230g) soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
At least a day, and I don't mind if you give it two days, before you start, soak the dried fruit, flaked almonds and lemon zest in the brandy and sherry, stirring every so often. The fruit will absorb the alcohol and go plump and juicy.
When you want to make the cake, preheat the oven to 140c/290f/gas mark 1
Sieve the flour, nutmeg and mixed spice. Add the ground almonds.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the treacle.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each in thoroughly and adding a little of the flour mixture with every egg.
Add the remaining flour mixture with the prepared fruits. Stir gently but thoroughly until well mixed.
Put in the prepared tin (or box) and smooth the top with the back of a wet spoon.
Bake in the pre-heated oven until very firm, a minimum of 3 hours (it took 4 hours in my oven). If it isn't done after 3 hours, check back at regular intervals.
When it is baked and a cake tester comes out clean, remove from the oven. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, remove the paper and cool on a wire tray.
When completely cold, wrap in double greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.
Every week, feed the cake by pricking the top all over with a skewer then gently pouring a tablespoon of brandy over so it seeps into the holes.
I will be decorating the cake a week before Christmas and posting up instructions with pictures.