This is a terrific cake that offers lots of choices of ingredients for you to “customise” it without losing any “traditional tastes and values”. The two eponymous elements – cherry and almond – work wonderfully well together, but their prominence can be reduced if preferred. The long list of ingredients may seem a little daunting, but there’s nothing listed that’s not readily available, so don’t be put off, it’s for Christmas after all.
Size: Will make a 20cm/8” square cake about 6cm – 8cm tall, depending how it’s finished and decorated.
Level: Not difficult, but will need thoughtful planning and good preparation.
Baking vessel: A 20cm/8” square tin with high sides and, if possible, a loose bottom.
1kg Fruit and nuts
- 700g/1lb 8oz dried fruit – Select from: Raisins/currants/sultanas/ mixed fruit/chopped apricots/chopped prunes/chopped dates etcetera
- 125g/4.5oz glace cherries
- 125g/4.5oz flaked almonds
- 25g/1oz crystallised ginger (Leave out if you don’t like ginger. Double the peel.)
- 25g/1oz mixed peel (As above)
200ml/7fl oz – 250ml/9fl oz of liquid to macerate the fruit
- at least 50ml/1.75fl oz cherry brandy
- at least 50ml/1.75fl oz Amaretti
- make up the rest from rum, brandy, port, sherry or whisky
- Or, you could just use hot tea, if non-alcoholic is required
For the cake itself
- 225g/8oz self-raising flour
- 75g/2.5oz ground almonds
- 6 – 7 tsp spices (see below)
- 5 medium eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 250g/9oz butter, softened
- 250g/9oz demerara sugar or soft light brown
Choice of Spices*
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon*
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg*
- 1 tsp ground cloves*
- 1 tsp ground all spice*
- 1 tsp ground ginger*
- ½ tsp salt
*These are “Christmassy” spices. I’d recommend at least 6 or 7 tsp overall. Use them all if you want, but take care not to overdo the stronger ones such as nutmeg and ginger.
1. Macerate the fruit, ideally at least a week before baking. Put it all in a bowl then warm the alcohol before pouring on and mixing in. Once cooled, place in a sealed box in the fridge until needed. (Doing this reduces the need to “feed” your cake, but you still can.)
2. Butter and double line the tin. Also fasten a strip of paper round the outside *. Turn the oven on to reach 160C / fan 140C / 325F / Gas 3. *Rather than tie paper around my tin I fasten it with mini-magnets which work really well. (see pictures below) I also use “bake even” bands, which I now rate quite highly, having been sceptical initially.
3. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, ground almonds and all the selected spices plus the salt. Beat the eggs in a separate small bowl and add in the extracts. Set both bowls aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat the butter until it’s soft, add in the sugar and beat some more to cream. Add the eggs and extract mixture slowly + 1 tsp of the flour mixture with each addition. Fold in the rest of the flour mixture. Stir the fruit mixture and gently mix it all together.
5. Spoon the cake batter into the prepared tin and level it. Tap the tin firmly on your work surface a couple of times to settle the mixture, then bake for around 3hours. Check after 2 hours then cover the top for the final hour. Use a skewer to test whether or not the cake is done. It should come out clean.
6. Leave in the tin for 30 – 40 minutes then carefully turn it out onto a wire rack to cool fully. Wrap in greaseproof paper and store for up to a month before decorating. If you decide to “feed” the cake, simply pour and brush over your chosen alcohol.
There are many options for decorating Christmas cakes. I’ll explain how I decorated the one shown here. It’s quite traditional in that it has a fondant outer layer with a marzipan layer underneath. The “scene” may not be quite so traditional.
7. When ready to decorate, brush the cake with warmed apricot jam. Roll out about 500g, possibly less, of shop-bought marzipan. There are two choices then. One is to cut pieces for the sides and top and lift them into place on the sticky jam. The other, possibly easier, method is to roll out a piece large enough to drape fully over the cake and cover the sides.
8. When you drape over the marzipan, smooth it from the middle outwards. At the corners, lift and drape the loose pieces then smooth them to the cake. Once the marzipan is in position, leave the cake for a few days to allow it to harden a little. (If you’re unsure about this stage have a look on You Tube as there are tons of good tutorials.)
How you decorate the cake is up to you, but I’ll talk you through what I did this year as shown in the accompanying photos. Here’s a guide to what you’ll need. I didn’t measure these, so you will need to use your judgement on this, sorry.
- White fondant – at least 500g, more if you intend dyeing some
- Other fondants – a small amount of blue, purple, green, brown & yellow
- Food dyes, if using
- Clear alcohol
9. For the sky I used mainly black fondant with a mixture of blues and purple with purple and blue fondant twisted in then rolled. For a more colourful sky, use less black and more colours. I used plain white for the snowy foreground. Both were “stuck” onto the marzipan using warmed apricot jam.
10. To create the trees, I actually dyed white fondant green and brown, but both colours can be purchased. I used a small triangular cutter to make the basic tree shape then added a few cuts to make them more “tree-like”. By putting them over the sky/foreground join, I was able to hide any slight imperfections there. To stick fondant onto fondant I used a clear alcohol.
11. Next, I added a few star shaped sprinkles and a yellow fondant moon, each one brushed lightly with the alcohol “glue”. (N.B. Being colourless, this dries without leaving any unsightly marks.)
12. I wanted to put Happy Christmas on the cake, but didn’t trust my lettering or piping skills to risk writing directly onto the cake. The answer was to create a separate fondant “banner” and write on that. This was a good, safe method. Roll out the fondant and cut a length longer than needed. Write or pipe on it then trim the ends. This way you have no worries about centring the words.
13. A little dusting of icing sugar over the trees gives a lovely snowy effect. Oh, yes – a ribbon round the cake looks good and can hide any little “issues” there.
If you want a few other ideas for cakes at Christmas here are a few pictures and links where relevant:
Whatever cake you make – or not – and however you decorate it – or not – I hope you have a wonderful, happy, safe and enjoyable Christmas.
Late addition on Boxing Day: I chose to decorate another very similar cake in a different way for “home consumption” this year. The first thing to point out is that, as always, good preparation is massively important. As this is a glazed fruit and nut creation, I thought it worthwhile to lay out the fruit on a piece of baking parchment the same size and shape as the cake, then simply transfer them to the glazed cake.
Another tip is to buy a jar of apricot glaze rather than jam, as you won’t need to sieve it.
And absolutely finally (I promise) a Christmas comment from me. I hope you don’t mind. People say Christmas is all about….. then there are so many lovely endings to this statement ….. family ….. food ….. gifts ….. festivities ….. fun. All these are great, but I never want to lose sight of what I see as the greatness of Christmas. For me, it’s about Jesus Christ coming to earth to be my Lord and saviour, so …… Thank God for Christmas.