How many fruit cakes have your tried in your lifetime? Well, this is the best one that I have ever tasted – and, importantly, it is very easy to make. In fact, it’s my lovely neighbour Belinda Jeffery’s recipe, and she calls it ‘Last Minute Christmas Cake’.
It has now become the families’ go to recipe for a deliciously moist cake for the festive season, but I make it all through the year, especially in the winter, as everyone loves it – one of those comfort food cakes for a cup of tea on a cold day. And boy has it been cold – the coldest June in 21 years and us sub-tropical species just aren’t made for it! Time to get baking and get those delicious spicy fruit cake smells wafting through the house.
300g unsalted butter
400g soft brown sugar
1.5 kg dried fruit – currants, raisins, sultanas, dates, prunes, sun-dried apricots.
NOTE: Make sure that 1 1/4 cups of the mixed fruit are raisins. Also, the better the quality – the better the cake, so I use preservative free organic fruit – believe me, it makes a difference.
2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2 cup brandy (or dark rum/port/muscat)
NOTE: Don’t be afraid that adding alcohol to this cake will make it unsuitable for children – it evaporates in the cooking process. It is just there to add flavour and preserve the cake so it lasts longer – if your are lucky!
1 1/2 cups water
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups plain wholemeal flour
200g whole peeled almonds and pecans for decorating
Good pinch salt
1. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients.
2. Add the sugar until it dissolves and becomes slushy.
3. Tip in all the dried fruit, bicarbonate of soda, brandy and water.
4. Increase the heat to high and stir until all the sugar is dissolved and simmer for 4 minutes. BEWARE – the bicarb makes it froth up.
5. Cover and leave overnight or for at least six hours. You want all the fruit to plump up and be really juicy – this makes the cake deliciously moist.
6. Preheat oven to 150oC.
7. Butter and line your cake tins. If making just one large one, you need a 25 cm round tin. The round one above is 23cm and the loaf tin 20cm.
8. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and beaten eggs to the fruit and stir well.
9. Add the flour and stir well, leaving it to sit for a few minutes before you scrape into the prepared cake tins. (This is where the grandchildren come in for wish-making and spoon licking!).
10. Tap the full tins lightly on the bench to help raise any large air bubbles and level out the mix.
11. Decorate with almonds/pecans and bake for approx. 2 hours until skewer comes out clean. This will depend on the size of the tins you have used. They may take a little more or a little less time.
12. Leave the cake to cool completely in its tin, on a wire rack, before you take it out.
13. Will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for a couple of months.
JUNE 2016: I was prompted to make a couple of these this week to give to my son Nick. He is an arborist with a tree lopping business and has been working away from home on contract in the New England Tablelands. Every day he organises a bought cake for his workers for morning tea and says that trying to find something reasonably healthy gets a bit monotonous – the choice being limited to carrot cakes and banana breads. It has been extremely cold out there with frost and snow and I can imagine how hungry they get?