Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Guilty Pleasures


I have to admit, I told a lie in an earlier article. In a vain attempt to look like I was trying to do something about losing some weight, I mentioned that my wife and I had finished off the Christmas cake. I put my hands up and apologise. Why I had to lie I don't know. Actually, I do. It was hiding in the cupboard, the final slab, the piece I wanted to keep for myself for a sacred moment of peace and indulgence. It was pathetic really. Just writing it in a Blog made me feel as though there was actually none left when all along it was going to be devoured some time in January. That night came last night. And it was heaven. I felt no guilt as I chewed and savoured each piece, swallowing it down with (and this is no lie) the last of the Port. It was a like a final goodbye to the work I put in over Christmas in the kitchen. Happy and sad at the same time as I picked every last crumb away from the greaseproof paper. As I said, pathetic.

What isn't pathetic though, and I say this with some assurance, is the quality of the cake that I make. It is a creation I'm proud of, tweaked and messed with over the years. Although I do love traditional Christmas cake, I often find it lacks character, has a tendency to be dry and also seems odd eaten any time outside of Christmas. And considering there always tends to be a fair old slab of cake left over from Christmas, I wanted a cake that could be eaten any time of the year without people saying, 'Why are we eating Christmas cake in March?'.

My cake stays faithful on some levels, such as the hoard of fruit, the spices and the alcohol. Lots of fruit, it was still weeping moisture last night 6 weeks after making it. But where it sways away from tradition is my addition of coffee, almonds and chocolate. I don't know why, but adding all of these elements seems to lift it to another level. Obviously nutty thanks to the almonds (of which I prefer to smash whole dried almonds in a bag to smithereens rather than over-fine ground almonds, adds a lovely texture) and the chocolate not overpowering enough to make it into a fruity chocolate cake. It has a similar effect to chocolate in certain Mexican foods. Something is there in the background but you just don't know what (unless you made it of course) but it tastes so good and you don't care.

So why am I talking about Christmas cake in January? Well, as I said, the cake I make is not a traditional Christmas cake. It is more of a rich fruit cake to be eaten any time of the year or day for that matter, with alcohol or with tea or with coffee. It is not a grown up cake, despite the spice and alcohol, as it maintains stickiness and goo that kids love (my daughter certainly does) as well as that mystery chocolate. So all of the family can eat it. Even granny, with her false teeth out, as it is so soft and moresome. So give it a go. And ensure that, as the cook, you save the last piece in a dark corner of your cupboards for pure private indulgence....

My Xmas Cake

100g each of raisins, currants, sultanas, dried figs and dried prunes (chopped roughly)
1 espresso cup of coffee
A large splash of brandy or whisky
250g butter
Tablespoon of mixed spice
200g dark muscovado sugar
100g honey
Zest and juice of an orange or 2 satsumas or clementines
Tablespoon of cocoa powder
3 large eggs
100g plain flour
100g skinned and blanched almonds bashed to pieces in a bag
Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda

1 - Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM3. Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin.
2 - Melt the butter and sugars in a large pan, adding the fruit, coffee, brandy or whisky, spice and honey. Zest and juice the oranges and add along with the cocoa powder. Stir until dark and mysterious and rest for 10 minutes.
3 - Beat the eggs and add to the mixture along with the flour (sifted of course), the ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Fold in thoroughly until not a trace of flour is left.
4 - Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake on the middle shelf for 2 hours. If the top looks like it is catching, cover with baking paper.

1 comment:

Andy hall said...

Sounds like a winner there mate! i think I will give it a go and if it turns out to be a typical Andy dish which is normally burnt or undercooked Ill give it to the Basset hound!