I’ve made a couple of Christmas cakes since I’ve been in Torino. The first was last Christmas. I wanted a hands-on project to take my mind off a busy period at work — Christmas was approaching and it seemed a good idea to make something “from home” to share with my friends here, so I emailed my mum who very kindly sent me her recipe. (In contrast, the week of Christmas, I was in Australia and tried to oh-so-casually ask my Oma about her famous Christmas pudding recipe, but no dice. Every thing else she’s ever cooked, she’ll happily write out for me in her immaculate European handwriting, but that Christmas pudding is going to the grave with her.)
Last Christmas’ cake worked out pretty well, especially considering I couldn’t find all the right dried fruits. So when summer rolled along and some friends and I decided to have a Christmas-in-July party, I decided a second cake was in order. The idea of the party was to have an Australian-style Christmas while the weather here suited it, for the benefit of the poor lost Europeans who have such bewildering ideas like “Christmas is a winter festival”. So I made a more Australian-style cake, swapping in glace ginger for some of the dried fruit, another trick I’d learned from my mum. I wasn’t as happy with that cake as the first one — I should have tweaked the alcohol choice to match the ginger — but it was still a good summer picnic cake to take hiking and even to carry across to Slovenia with me on my vacation.
So it’s inevitable: now it’s chilly in the mornings and they’ve put the Christmas lights on, it’s time for another cake.
Pretty lights: a message from Comune di Torino to make a Christmas cake already.
No ginger this time, but I’m using home-made mixed peel and sort-of raisins, and I’m planning on a 1-2 week soak for the fruit, inspired by the most touching story I’ll ever read about cake.
Go, read it, see if you don’t also end up with something in your eye, and a hankering for a nice, rich, Christmas cake.
Below is the recipe I use, as my mum very kindly typed up and emailed to me (I’ve included her comments).
Extra Special Christmas Cake
(Family Circle 1996)
Preparation time 1 hour plus 2 hours standing
Total cooking time 3-3.5 hours
Makes 1 x 22cm round cake
350g mixed glace fruit
250g raisins, chopped
250g seedless prunes, chopped
1 cup Cointreau or other orange flavoured liqueur
180g unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup SR flour
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1 tablespoon mixed spice
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup strong black coffee
1/4 cup plum jam
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon parisian essence (‘gravy browning’)
125 g walnuts, chopped
125 g dark chocolate, chopped Mum adds: “plus 125 g extra for eating as you make the cake“
Combine glace fruit, raisins, currents and prunes in large bowl, add Cointreau and stir. Stand for 2 hours. This is the Mum-est comment ever: “(or sit and drink a glass of Cointreau)”
Preheat oven to 160 C
Line base and sides of 20cm round cake tin with baking paper, making sure paper comes at least 4cm above rim
Use electric beater to beat butter and sugar in small mixing bowl, until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well.
Combine mixture with soaked fruit.
Using a metal spoon, begin to fold in sifted dry ingredients, alternate with the combined coffee, jam and essences. Stir until just combined and mixture is almost smooth, then stir in walnuts and chocolate and mix until just combined.
Spoon the mixture evenly into prepared tin. Smooth surface with wet hand, tap cake tin gently on hard surface to settle the mixture.
Wrap double thickness of brown paper around the tin and secure with paper clips
Bake for 3-3.5 hours or until a skewer comes out clean at the centre of the cake.
Allow to cool in the tin.
Some notes of my own: I’ve never bothered with the gravy browning but sometimes I put in a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder; I’m quite a fan of using Grand Marnier instead of Cointreau, for a stronger citrus-y taste. The original recipe said the cake’s a 20 cm diameter but I make it in a 22 cm round tin and Mum uses a 20 cm square tin and neither of us think it would fit in anything smaller.