Christmas Countdown, Skye McAlpine’s Christmas Cake with Marzipan and Glace Fruits

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We are delighted to have this beautiful recipe from Skye McAlpine to share with you on our ninth day of our Christmas countdown.

Extract taken from A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty by Skye McAlpine (£26, Bloomsbury)

Photography © Skye McAlpine 

This is my mother’s recipe and I’ve made it every year for the better part of my life, first with my mother as a child, now with my elder son Aeneas. It is a rich cake, and while the brandy, fruit, nuts and glace fruits on top mean it can work out as rather costly, Christmas feels like the one time of year when extravagance is de rigueur. Each winter, I make several of these to give as gifts: you can bake them a couple of months before Christmas, then wrap, uniced and undecorated, in foil until you are ready to gift (or eat) them. Just add the marzipan and fruits before boxing the cake up; it will then keep for a couple of weeks. A note on glace fruits: these can be tricky (and expensive) to buy in the UK. I’ve found online is the best bet: I’ve been buying a selection of baby pears, figs, peaches, apricots and orange slices from a small producer called Country Products for years and have found them to be excellent. In the absence of whole glace fruits, decorate the cakes with a mix of dried apricots, figs, nuts and glace cherries (all of which you can easily buy in supermarkets), then paint with a thick glaze of shimmering apricot jam for a simpler, more rustic-looking – but still charming and festive – cake.

30 mins preparation, 24–48 hours soaking, 4½ hours baking, 4 hours cooling
For the cake
glace cherries, halved
mixed peel
salted butter, plus extra for the tin
dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp
black treacle
1 tsp
mixed spice
2 tsp
ground nutmeg
self-raising flour
A large pinch
of fine sea salt
To decorate
apricot jam
1 tbsp
a selection
of glace fruits and nuts, such as glace pears, plums, orange slices, cherries, pecans and walnuts
Put the glace cherries, peel, currants, raisins and sultanas in a large bowl, pour over the brandy, cover and leave to steep for 24 – 48 hours. The longer you leave the fruit, the more flavour and moisture it will give to the cake.
When you are ready to make the cake, heat the oven to 140˚C/fan 120˚C/Gas 1. Butter and double-line a 23cm round cake tin, then cut a circle of greaseproof paper the same size as the base of the tin and set aside.
Beat together the butter and sugar until they become paler and fluffy, then add the treacle and beat until smooth. Crack each egg at a time into a small bowl, beat lightly with a fork, then add to the mixture, little by little, and beat until well combined.
Now sift in the spices, flour and salt and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined. Finally, add the fruit and any remaining soaking liquid and mix well together.
Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and gently even out the top with the back of the spoon. Cover with the circle of greaseproof paper and set it on the bottom shelf of the oven to bake for 4½ hours. The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to cool in its tin. You can make the cake up to this point months in advance if you like, and store wrapped in foil.
To decorate the cake, roll the marzipan out into a sheet roughly as thick as a £1 coin. Cut out a circle of marzipan the same diameter as the cake. Spoon the jam into a small saucepan, add the measured water and set over a medium heat until it begins to bubble lightly. Use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the cake, then carefully lay the circle of marzipan over.
Brush the glaze over the marzipan and, while it is still tacky, stick on glace fruits and nuts, arranging them as you like. I usually do this in concentric circles, with nuts on the outside and a collection of cherries, whole orange slices and a couple of tiny sugared pears and a plum half or so at the centre.
Finally, use what is left of the apricot jam to glaze the nuts and fruits, to give them a lovely shine. The cake will keep happily like this for 2 – 3 weeks.