Sunday, December 16, 2007

Queen Ann Christmas Cake

A couple of years back I had the pleasure to work with a lady named Anne, who was as passionate about baking and kitchen craft as I am. But that wasn't the first thing that stood out about Anne - it was her incredible sense of style.

Anne had grown up in a family that worked in the "rag trade". At the same time, she also had acquired a love of the fashions from the 1950s Hollywood golden years. Flattering bodices, A-line skirts - the kind of glamour personified by the like of Grace Kelly, Ginger Rogers and Audrey Hepburn. In much the same way that I spent my lunch times scouring stores for kitchen equipment, Anne spent hers scouring boutique fabric stores for unique prints and imported pieces of cloth.

Anne would take these treasures to her dress maker, along with a video or dvd of a movie she'd seen something in, and ask the dressmaker to replicate it for her. Keep in mind, Anne did not have the figure of any of these screen goddesses - and that was irrelevant. Where the 20-somethings in the office were choosing slimming cuts to accentuate theĆ­r already painfully thin frames, Anne embraced flounce. She went for layers. She made sure her voluptuous curves were always clearly outlined - and she looked more of a lady for it.

So you can imagine my horror the day Anne turned up to the office with one of her best outfits (and one of my favourites from her wardrobe) smeared with mud. I asked her what happened, and a flood of tears burst forth as she announced she'd on the street and fallen over! It was absolutely heart breaking to see Anne so humiliated, the way we always are when the pot-holed streets of Sydney conspire to make fools of us. But the indignity was made all the worse by the evidence clearly spattered on her coat, and of course, the inevitable torn tights.

Anne left our project not long after that, but not before she imparted her best ever recipe for fruit cake. I made it for my remaining colleagues the following Christmas, and have forever more dubbed it Queen Anne Christmas Cake, because it is as regal as Anne.

250g each of currants, sultanas and raisins
90g each of dates and pitted prunes
60g each of mixed peel and glace cherries (although I love the cherries so always add more)
60g each of dried apricots and figs
60g blanched almonds
2 tblps each of rum, brandy and sherry
5 eggs
250 g butter
250 g brown sugar
300g plain flour
1tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon and mixed spice
1 tblsp plum jam
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp parisienne browning essence
2 tblsp golden syrup
1 tsp glycerine
1 tblsp lemon essence

1. Put all the fruit into a large bowl, making sure you cut any large pieces into quarters (like dates, figs and apricots). Add the rum, brandy and sherry and mix to throughly wet the fruit. Leave to soak for as long as you can - a week at the minimum, but a month is best if you can!

2. On the day that you bake, prepare your tin by double lining the bottom and sides with thick baking paper. The paper should peak an inch and a half above the top of the tin. Then wrap the exterior of the tin with a double layer of newspaper. This is to stop the cake from burning.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 120 degrees celcius.

4. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.

4. In a separate dish, combine plum jam, vanilla, parisienne essence, golden syrup, glycerine and lemon essence. Mix until combined.

5. Add the jam mixture and the flour to butter mixture. Mix slowly on a low speed to gently combine. Add spices and mix until combined. Do not over mix! Don't eat this mix either, as it's extremely rich!

6. Pour the cake batter over the dried fruit mix and combine it with clean hands. This is much easier than using a spoon, since fruit cake mix is extremely heavy. Once the fruit and batter is combined, pour into the tin, being careful not to flatten the paper lining. Place the cake tin on a cookie tray double lined with newspaper to stop the bottom burning. Fruit cake is notoriously easy to burn!

7. Bake on a low shelf in the oven for 3 to 3 and a half hours. Do not over cook! When you begin to smell the cake, it's close to being cooked. Lightly touch the top - if it's dry, the cake is done. Pierce it was a fine skewer if your not totally sure - the skewer should come out clean.

8. Allow cake to cool in the tin. When you remove it from the tin, leave at least one layer of baking paper on the cake. Wrap it in aluminium foil, then again in Glad Wrap, then store in an airtight container, prefferably in a dark cupboard - it's light that makes the cake go stale. Try to bake this cake about six weeks before you need it so it has time to mature. The older fruit cake is, the better it tastes!
This recipe works really well as cupcakes. I'd recommend the Texas muffin size - as the people you give these fruity cakes too will want more, it's so delicious. Cupcake-sized fruit cake only needs about an hour to cook. And it's less likely to burn - still watch it carefully though. And use your best judgement.


Anonymous said...

Hi Petrina,

If I am to make this as cupcakes, do I still have to bake it 6 weeks in advance? Never made fruitcake before and the recipe seems bit daunting. Any tips would be appreciated.



Petrina said...

There are two key secrets to great fruit cake:
1. Soak the fruit in the alcohol for as long as you can.
2. Let the cake mature for as long as you can.
So yes, even if you make this recipe into cupcake size, they need six weeks to mature to get the best flavour. But you can eat them the day after they're baked if you just can't wait!


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