11 March, 2008

Irish Whiskey Christmas Cake

If you've never made a Christmas cake before, this one is dead easy, and you won't be disappointed. I now prefer the much thinner layer of marzipan and icing, and the flavour of the Irish whiskey in the icing, as well as the cake, is brilliant. The instructions here are for four small cakes or one large cake. If you want to keep the cake for any length of time, let the marzipan dry out (covered with a clean tea cloth) for a week before icing.

Makes four 4 inch (10 cm) square cakes or an 8 inch (20 cm) square cake.
I brought bake one of these cakes with me from Ireland and I will never forget how divine it was. I recommend using a good quality whiskey otherwise it will taste quite crappy no matter how drunk the fruits are.


For the pre-soaking:

10 fl oz (275 ml) Irish whiskey
1½ teaspoons Angostura bitters
4 oz (110 g) stoned no-soak prunes
2 oz (50 g) glacé cherries
2 oz (50 g) unblanched almonds
4 oz (110 g) mixed candied peel
1 lb (450 g) raisins
8 oz (225 g) currants
½ rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ level teaspoon ground cloves
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 level tablespoon molasses sugar
grated zest 1 orange
grated zest 1 lemon
½ level teaspoon salt

For the cake:

1 tablespoon Irish whiskey
9 oz (250 g) self-raising flour, sifted
9 oz (250 g) demerara sugar
9 oz (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
5 large eggs at room temperature
1 heaped tablespoon apricot jam

For the icing:

2½ tablespoons Irish whiskey
1lb 2 oz (500 g) marzipan (in a block)
1 lb 4 oz (570 g) unrefined golden icing sugar, plus a little extra for rolling
1 large egg white
1 dessertspoon molasses syrup or black treacle

You will also need an 8 inch (20 cm) square cake tin, greased, the base and sides lined with a double thickness of silicone paper (parchment) to sit 4 inches (10 cm) deep, plus four lengths of ribbon 4 ft (1.2 m) long, 1½ inches (4 cm) wide for four cakes, or one length 6½ ft (2 m) long, 1½ inches (4 cm) wide, for one large cake.

One week before you intend to bake the cake, measure out the whiskey, bitters and 3 tablespoons of water into a large saucepan, then roughly chop the prunes, cherries and almonds and finely dice the mixed candied peel. Add these, along with the rest of the pre-soaking ingredients, to the pan, ticking them as you go to make sure nothing gets left out. Now stir and bring the mixture up to simmering point, then, keeping the heat low, simmer very gently, without a lid, for 15 minutes. After that, allow everything to cool completely, then pour the mixture into a large jar with a lid or an airtight plastic container and leave it in the fridge for seven days, giving it a little shake from time to time.

When you're ready to bake the cake, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1, 275°F (140°C). (For important information about cooking at gas mark 1, click here)

All you need to do is measure out the flour, sugar and butter into a very large bowl, then add the eggs and either whisk or beat with a wooden spoon until everything is evenly blended. Now gradually fold in the fruit mixture until it is evenly distributed. Then spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, levelling the surface with the back of the spoon. Bake in the centre of the oven for 3 hours without opening the door, then cover the cake with a double thickness of greaseproof paper and continue to bake it for a further 30 minutes or until the centre feels springy when lightly touched.

Cool the cake for 45 minutes in the tin, then remove it to a wire rack to finish cooling. When it's completely cold, wrap it in a double layer of greaseproof paper, then foil, and store it in an airtight container.

When you are ready to finish the cake, if you are making the four small cakes take a sharp knife and cut the cake into quarters so you end up with four 4 inch (10 cm) square cakes. Then melt the jam with the whiskey in a small saucepan and stir it a few times until all the lumps have dissolved. Now, using a brush, coat the surface of each cake quite generously with it. Take the marzipan and cut off a quarter of the block, then, on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar, roll the piece into an 8 inch (20 cm) square. Now, with a sharp knife, cut the square into quarters so you end up with four 4 inch (10 cm) square pieces. Gently take each square and place one on top of each cake, lightly pressing the marzipan down. Next, cut the remaining piece of marzipan in half and roll each half into a strip measuring 6 x 16 inches (15 x 40 cm), then cut each strip in half lengthways so you are left with four strips: one for the sides of each cake. Press each strip lightly around the edges of each cake and pinch to seal at the join with the top piece of marzipan.

To make the 8 inch (20 cm) cake, just leave the cake whole. Melt the jam and whiskey as above and use a brush to coat the surface of the cake. Take the marzipan and cut off a quarter of the block, then roll this piece out to an 8 inch (20 cm) square and place this on the top of the cake. Cut the remaining piece of marzipan in half and roll each half into a strip measuring 3 x 16 inches (7.5 x 40 cm), then use these strips to cover the sides of the cake.

For the icing, sieve the icing sugar, then place the egg white and molasses (or black treacle) in a large bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, whisk together thoroughly. Now, with the whisk running, add a tablespoon of icing sugar at a time and keep adding it until the mixture thickens. As it begins to crumble, add a tablespoon of the Irish whiskey to combine the mixture, then carry on adding more icing sugar until it becomes thick. Add another tablespoon of whiskey, then the rest of the icing sugar and whiskey, and keep whisking until everything is blended together.

If you are making the 4 smaller cakes divide the icing into four. Using a palette knife smooth icing over the top and down the sides of your cake or cakes, dipping the knife into a small saucepan of simmering water to make it easier to spread. To finish, dip the knife in the simmering water once more and make swirls with the knife over the surface, then leave the iced cake or cakes to dry overnight. Wrap each cake in greaseproof paper, then in foil, and keep in an airtight container.

When you're ready to finish the cakes, carefully place a length of ribbon around each one, tying the ends in a bow.