Last year, we skipped the cake and pudding in favour of a "Yule Log" (Buche de Noel), and leftover cake from Danny's Birthday. It was mentioned that a Christmas Cake would be appreciated this year, along with a steamed pudding, and some mincemeat tarts made with the recipe from Jenn's Grandmother (Thanks Jenn! It really is better than any other recipe we've made). If you're keeping track, that is a whole hell of a lot of dried fruit. At least no one will suffer constipation on my watch! Because many dried fruits are processed in facilities that also handle nuts, that means making my own. My multi-tiered dehydrator has paid for itself many times over. I finished-up the stem ginger and candied pineapple this week along with the mixed peels and citron. Honestly, compared to the cost of buying those tiny tubs of glaced fruit at the supermarket, it is worth the effort, and unlike the tiny tubs at the supermarket, I know these haven't been sitting on a shelf drying out for years.
I did the pineapple differently this year out of necessity. Typically, I use tinned pineapple slices in heavy syrup and then just dry them out before use. I accidentally bought pineapple in fruit juice, so I re-used the syrup from cooking the ginger and ended-up with a lovely ginger-infused batch of candied pineapple. It almost seems a shame to use them for baking as they are delicious eaten as they are. For cherries, I drain a jar of maraschino cherries, and dry them. There's enough sugar in the syrup to do the job nicely, and you can leave the cherries whole. In previous years I candied dried Bing cherries in the summer, but the results weren't worth the cost, and everyone missed the bright red and green cherries in the baked goods.
Danny's been suffering with allergy-induced asthma this week (please Mother Nature, enough with the rain-send a frost!) so he's been moping about inside looking for something interesting to do. I handed him a spoon and let him at the gigantic bowl of fruit to do the all-important stirring.
But first, we needed to make applesauce for the cakes.
Pare, core and chop apples. Place in a large pot. For each quart of apples add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until soft. Remove from heat, and mash (or put through a food mill). Add 1 teaspoon (or more) lemon juice depending on the tartness of your apples, and as much sugar (if any) you like. If you like ginger or cinnamon, add that as well. Return to the heat and simmer a few minutes until thickened. There, you made applesauce.
You will need:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarb
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup brandy for soaking
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1 pound raisins
1 cup sultanas
1/2 cup diced citron
1 cup chopped mixed peel (I used lemon and orange)
1 cup glaceed cherries
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup diced dried apricots
1 cup chopped figs
1 cup chopped dates
Day before: Soak fruit in a large bowl with brandy tossing occasionally). When ready to bake, drain and reserve the liquid. You will need 1/4 of a cup for the recipe, so make it up with water or more brandy if the fruit was very dry and absorbed it all.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and line one large, or two smaller springform pans (or really any pan you like-Bundt, Loaf, etc.) with parchment (if possible, otherwise grease generously and flour lightly). Do this first as it can be fiddly. Set aside.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift together the dry ingredients removing 3 tablespoons to toss with the fruit. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternating with the remaining 1/4 cup of brandy. Stir in the applesauce, then the fruit. Pour into prepared pans. Place pan(s) on a baking sheet. Timing will depend on pan size and whether it is a tube or not. My two springform cakes took 1 hour and thirty minutes. You'll want to start testing at about an hour. The toothpick test works well here, as does lightly toughing the centre with your fingertips. If you're feeling brave, pull the tins out of the oven, and bend in close. If the cake makes a humming noise, it is done. Try to avoid burning your ears. Personally, I use a toothpick, but I'm accident prone!
Cool cakes in pan on a rack for 30 minutes before gently removing the sides. Let it sit another ten minutes before turning out onto a rack and removing the bottom piece and the parchment. Up-right the cake again onto a rack. If it feels at all fragile, let it cool completely on the bottom-the cake will be none the worse for it.
When cool, use a skewer to poke holes all over the top of the cake. Lightly brush the cake with more brandy. Wrap the cake tightly in cheesecloth and again, brush the cheesecloth generously with brandy. Wrap in grease proof paper, then tightly in foil. Place in an airtight tin, and let rest at least a month in a cool, dry place, I like to turn the cake in the tin once a week, but that's just me being my mother! I have no idea if it matters, but that's how I've always done it.
If you plant to store the cake for a long time, it might need additional brandy, so check it monthly.