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Most of us are passionate about certain Christmas traditions. Personally, I am quite dedicated to Christmas baking. I make our own cake, Christmas pudding, mincemeat, mince pies, Christmas tree decoration biscuits and Yule log. I’m not crazy, it’s just my Christmas passion! It isn’t masses of work because half the ingredients are identical.
Admittedly, I am a bit of a recipe fiddler. I’m always adapting, altering and tweaking. I have two alterations to share for any standard Christmas cake recipe; one today and one in a forthcoming blog. Stay tuned!
Reduced Sugar Christmas Cake
There’s so much sugar in Christmas cake that it gives me a headache when I eat it. You can reduce the sugar in the recipe without losing flavour but it will not be as moist. My preferred solution is to reduce the egg whites, which have a drying effect. For example, an average recipe* for a 9-inch (23cm) round tin uses 9 or 10 oz (275g) of dark soft brown sugar and 4 or 5 large eggs. You can reduce the sugar by a quarter but at the same time, separate one or two of the eggs and omit their whites from the recipe. So that becomes 7 1/2 oz (210g) dark soft brown sugar, 3 whole eggs plus 2 extra yolks.
If you reduce the sugar by one third, then you should add in some extra egg yolks. So that is 6 oz (180g) dark soft brown sugar, 3 whole eggs plus 3 extra yolks.
This change is not drastic, and your guests are unlikely to notice the difference in your cake. Reducing the sugar reduces shelf life, but not by much.
The Average Christmas Cake
*When I say “average recipe” I have found (with extensive book and internet research) that there is very little difference between traditional Christmas cake recipes. I personally use a Zena Skinner recipe, which is very similar to Delia Smith but omits treacle. Mary Berry does essentially the same recipe and so does the BBC food website. The main differences between all these recipes is just the extra flavours such as treacle, orange zest and spices. The egg-sugar-flour-fruit basis is almost identical. That is why you can use my tip to adapt YOUR recipe!
Tie one or two layers of brown parcel paper around the base and sides of the tin with string. The paper will stick up the sides. On top of this – not touching the surface of the cake – prop a cover of greaseproof paper with a hole the size of a conker in the middle. Don’t open the oven door for the first 4 hours.
I don’t use treacle because it can taste bitter if your oven is accidentally too hot. Also it just sits in the cupboard all year with no other purpose!
Something else which gives me headaches is E220 or sulphites in candied peel. I’ve hunted high and low and I am genuinely over the moon to have found a seller on Amazon uk who sells the sulphite-free stuff – http://amzn.to/2gWZX6Q. I’ve bought it already!
This fits an 8 inch (20cm) square or 9 inch (23cm) round tin.
10 oz (280g) raisins
12 oz (340g) currants
12 oz (340g) sultanas
10 oz (280g) dark brown soft sugar OR reduce to 6 oz (180g)
10 oz (280g) butter
5 eggs OR if sugar is reduced, use 3 eggs plus 3 more egg yolks.
10 oz (280g) plain (all purpose) flour
3 oz (85g) chopped almonds (not finely ground almonds)
5 oz (140g) candied peel
4 oz (110g) glace cherries
1 lemon (grated rind)
3 tablespoons of brandy or rum
A pinch of salt
1 level teaspoon of mixed spice
A pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of ground nutmeg
Adapted from Zena Skinner
Method: Soak the dried fruit in the alcohol overnight. Then beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add one egg at a time with a spoon of flour and beat in thoroughly. Fold in the remaining flour, salt and spices, then fold in all the remaining ingredients. Spread evenly in a tin lined with greased greaseproof paper. Bake at 145 degrees Celsius (295 F, gas mark 1 to 2) for around 4 hours 20 minutes
Lastly – The Icing on the Cake
Real Christmas cake is never going to be a health food but I am glad to find a way to make it a bit more digestable. Next time I make this I might only marzipan and ice the top, and leave the sides bare. I recommend royal icing; the best flavour every time. But if you want to use sugar paste, try to get a really good one. Renshaw is a nice brand: http://amzn.to/2z7e2XJ
If making your own cake seems like hard work, it’s a much easier job to make your own Christmas pudding – and you will really impress your guests.