An impressively decorative traditional Christmas cake
For the gingerbread cookie dough:
70g golden syrup
Juice of 1 orange
90g light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp ground ginger
½ tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
100g butter, diced
1 scant tsp bicarbonate of soda
240g plain flour
For the fruit cake:
100g mixed peel
300g natural colour glace cherries, washed and halved
200g salted butter
200g molasses sugar
4 medium eggs, beaten
1 tbsp vanilla extract
180g plain flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Large pinch of ground cloves
½ tsp mixed spice
160ml brandy, plus about 150-200ml brandy to feed the cake when it is baked
1.25kg ready to roll white icing
For the royal icing:
250g white icing sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
1 egg white
To make the cookie dough, mix the golden syrup, orange juice, sugar, spices and vanilla bean paste in a pan and heat, stirring regularly on a low to medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved and everything is melted and well amalgamated. Don’t boil this or it will make your cookies tough.
Add the butter and stir gently until it is fully incorporated. Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk into the hot mix until it is fluffy and paler in colour.
Tip the mix into your stand mixer bowl (unless you are doing this by hand) and when it has cooled slightly add all the flour and beat on slow, or mix with a wooden spoon, until the mix comes together and resembles an oily dough.
Form into a block of dough and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for at least 2 hours before rolling, or leave overnight in a fridge and roll out the next day. The dough can be frozen now for up to 1 month. To defrost, place in the fridge overnight then leave out at room temperature for an hour and knead the dough to make it pliable.
Preheat the oven to 180C and line baking trays with baking parchment. Roll out the cookie dough to an even thickness, about ¼”, then cut out your Christmas shapes and using a palette knife place them carefully on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 mins then cool on a wire rack.
To make the fruit cake, preheat the oven to 140C and line an 8” round tin with baking parchment. Weigh out all the dried fruit, peel and glace cherries into a large bowl big enough to hold the entire mix and mix together with a large wooden spoon.
Weigh the butter and sugar into a small microwave safe bowl and heat in a microwave for 1 min at a time, stirring with a whisk each time to mix the butter and sugar together. If you don’t have a microwave, do this in a non-stick pan on a low heat and melt gently.
Beat the eggs together with the vanilla extract. Add the spices to your flour and mix well with a metal spoon to disperse.
Tip the warm butter and sugar mix into the large bowl of fruit and mix well. Add the beaten egg and mix well.
Add the flour and spice mix and stir in until just mixed. Finally add your brandy and vodka for the bake.
Place in the oven and bake for an hour at 140C, then turn the heat down to 125C and continue to bake until completely cooked through. This will take approximately 3½-4 hours in total depending on your oven. Check that a sharp knife or a skewer comes out almost clean—there will be stickiness from the fruit but it should be pretty dry, not wet and shiny.
Leave to cool in the tin then turn out and wrap in a layer of baking parchment and two layers of foil. If required, you can feed the cake with more brandy to taste but it’s not essential. The cake will keep for up to 6 months or freeze for 2 years.
To decorate the cookies and cake, place all the ingredients in a bowl of a stand mixer and beat for approximately 3 mins until smooth and a stiff consistency. If you think it is a little dry add a few drops of water and if you find it a little runny, add a touch more sugar—you want the consistency to be stiff peak. This can then be stored in a tub or food bag for about 5 days, or frozen.
To decorate the little cookies, you will need a piping bag with a small round nozzle, I use a no 2. You could just cut a tiny hole in the piping bag if you do not have one.
Let your icing down to a soft peak consistency by adding just a few drops of water. The icing should hold a peak when lifted up on a spoon and then droop a little, so it’s easier to flow from the bag.
Use a small amount of pressure to push the icing through the tube or bag, and choose a starting point at one edge on the cookie. Lift the bag up slightly so that gravity allows the icing to drop in a straight line.
When you reach the point where you wish to finish your line, bring the tube towards the cookie to touch in and stop squeezing the icing, then swiftly pull the bag away. Repeat over all of the cookies to bring out the white pattern detail. Then leave the cookies to dry overnight.
To ice your cake, firstly boil a little apricot jam. Turn the cake over so that the flat bottom that was in the base of the tin is on the upper side (so you have a nice flat top), and place the cake on a cake drum of the same size.
Use the apricot jam to brush all over the cake and the drum, as we will completely cover this too.
Roll out 1kg of marzipan to a nice large round, approx 35-38cm diameter, so that it will cover the whole of the top and the sides. Lift the marzipan on to your pin and drape it over the cake to cover completely.
Using a top smoother (this really helps to get a nice smooth finish!) press the top to flatten, if you do not have one, carefully do this with the palm of your hand. Now, using your hands, lightly press around the edges and smooth over the sides to stick the marzipan over the cake sides and right down to the base of the cake drum.
You should have some excess marzipan so cut this away to leave about 1 cm extra sitting on the counter surface.
Now lift up the cake (this is why we used a drum to get it really neat!) and using a smoother or the palm of your hand, bring the marzipan right over the cake to cover the drum and trim away the excess with a sharp knife, using the drum as a guide to cut against. Allow the excess to fall away and now leave the cake to dry overnight.
The next day brush over the cake with a little brandy or cooled boiled water and then repeat the whole process of covering but this time using approximately 1.25kg of white ready to roll icing.
Leave it to set and the next day you can attach your ribbon, using a little royal icing to stick it to the cake, and arrange your cookies to top in a pretty wreath design using royal icing to stick them on. If you wish, you can finish with holly leaves and berries, or make your own using green marzipan, a holly cutter and little balls of red marzipan for the berries.
I really think you will have the best Christmas cake, it’s so pretty and very tasty. Be sure to try this alongside your cheeseboard too, the recipe is so delicious and fruity it has a chutney quality that really complements cheeses well.
Recipe: Juliet Sear
Images: John Holdship