I’ve been asked to write about ‘stir up Sunday’, the traditional day when you’re supposed to make your Christmas pudding, gathering the family round to stir it and make a wish. Stir up Sunday is on the last Sunday before Advent; this year it’s the 25th November.
I took on the mantel of making the family pudding a few years ago, taking over from my beloved Nanna. But as we want you to buy our ready-made Christmas puddings (granted, they are good), I’m not allowed to tell you the recipe for that, although I may get rebellious and start a secret pudding club!
Instead, here’s a Christmas cake recipe, which we don’t sell. This is an adaptation of my mum’s cake, which is always really moist. She has even been known to make it in a festive panic the day before Christmas Eve, adding a glug more brandy, and it still tastes good! If you are making this a week or so after Stir Up Sunday, just feed the cake every 4-5 days instead of every week.
Make it, wish on it, and a star or two for extra luck. Feed it, love it, and we’ll tell you how to make your own marzipan, icing and decorations in a couple of week’s time.
You do need to start soaking the fruit for pudding or cake the day before, so the process really starts with soak it up Saturday – I’ve shared this recipe in two parts; part one – preparation and baking, part two – making your own marzipan (it’s really very easy!) and icing the cake.
Suitable stirring tunes: Elgar, or Bob Marley. He’d probably rather you used rum. And that would be fine.
Kirsty’s Christmas cake –
You will need a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin or an 18cm/7 inch square tin; the cake will cook to about 6-7cm deep, so check your tin is deep enough to hold it, sometimes the average Victoria sponge tin isn’t deep enough.
100g pitted dates, roughly chopped
100g glacé cherries, roughly chopped (try to get the darker, naturally coloured cherries rather than the plastic looking light red ones if you can)
100g mixed candied peel
4 tbsp brandy, plus extra for drizzling
250g unsalted butter, diced, softened at room temp, plus a little extra for greasing
250g light brown soft sugar
4 large eggs
250g plain flour
a good couple of pinches of salt
1 tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
75g flaked or blanched whole almonds, roughly chopped
zest 1 lemon
zest 1 orange
1 tbsp black treacle or molasses
The day before you bake:
Put the dried fruit, cherries and mixed peel in a large bowl. Pour over the brandy and stir together. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to soak overnight.
The next day:-
Preheat the oven to 140c (if you are using a fan oven, reduce the temperature to 120c or it will cook too quickly and burn).
Prepare your cake tin: line the outside of the tin with 3 layers of greaseproof paper tied with string to protect it.
Use a piece of kitchen paper to grease the inside of the tin with a little butter.
Cut a round piece of greaseproof paper to line the base of the tin, then a long strip to line the side – use a little greasing of butter to stick a couple of strips together if you need to.
Cut a round double layer of paper, enough to cover the top of the cake.
Cut a small hole in the middle of it to let the steam escape.
In a large bowl, whisk the butter and sugar until pale, light and fluffy (use an electric hand whisk if you have one, it’s easier).
Lightly beat the eggs in a small jug or bowl. Gradually add them to the creamed butter and sugar. Don’t worry if it looks a bit curdled.
Add the flour, salt, spices, nuts, zests and treacle. Stir to combine, then add the brandy-soaked fruit, together with any liquid in the bowl and stir together. Try not to over-mix it.
Transfer the mixture to the tin. Level it off and cover with the double piece of greaseproof paper.
Bake on a low oven shelf for about 4 hours (140c in a standard oven or 120c if fan), depending on your oven – start testing it after 3½ hours, then at intervals, by inserting a skewer or cocktail stick into the middle of the cake – it should come out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 30 mins.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap the base and sides of the cake in foil and place in an airtight container. Prick the top of the cake several times with a skewer or cocktail stick. Drizzle over a little brandy, about 1 tbsp. Seal the container.
Unwrap and feed the cake once a week for 3 weeks with a drizzle of brandy; about 1 tbsp each time. It’s then ready to decorate.
I’ll be sharing my recipe for making your own marzipan (much simpler than you’d think) in the second week of December when the cake will be ready for covering.