independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Kevin Dundon's Christmas cake

You will need

450g/1lb currants

200g/7oz sultanas

200g/7oz raisins

110g/4oz glacé cherries, quartered

110g/4oz candied mixed peel, chopped

100g/3½oz blanched, slivered almonds

50g/2oz ground almonds

1 lemon, grated rind and juice

4 tbsps whiskey

1 dessert apple, peeled and grated

300g/10oz unsalted butter

300g/10oz dark muscovado sugar

5 eggs, beaten

350g/12oz plain flour

½ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp ground mixed spice

2 tbsps black treacle, optional, to darken the cake

For the almond paste

150g/5oz icing sugar, sieved

150g/5oz caster sugar

300g/10oz ground almonds

3 large egg yolks, beaten

½ tsp almond essence

2 tsps lemon juice

1 tbsp whiskey

Boiled apricot jam

For the icing

2 egg whites

450g/1lb icing sugar

½ tsp glycerine

Juice ½ lemon

Method

Using double-thickness greaseproof paper, line the base and sides of either an eight or nine-inch cake tin. Tie a double band of brown paper around the outside of the tin. The paper helps absorb some of the oven heat and protects the cake from over-cooking. Mix the dried fruit, cherries, candied peel, almonds and ground almonds together. Stir in the lemon rind and juice, whiskey and grated apple.

Leave to one side while you make the cake mixture. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs. Sieve the flour and spices, and fold half the flour into the cake mixture. Stir in half the dried-fruit mixture followed by the remaining flour and dried fruit. Stir in enough treacle to darken the cake. The mixture should have a soft dropping consistency. If it looks a tad dry, add a dash of whiskey. Spoon into the prepared tin and make an indentation in the centre of the cake. This helps ensure an even rise. Bake the cake for about three hours, until it's firm to the touch.

When the cake is pierced with a skewer, it should come out clean. If it looks as if it's getting too brown in the oven, cover the surface of the cake with several layers of greaseproof paper. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out on to a wire rack. Don't take the greaseproof paper off, though. Pierce the cooled cake with a skewer and drizzle a couple of spoons of additional whiskey over the top. Do this a couple of times while it is maturing — once a week should be enough, depending on how moist you like your cake.

If you can, it's a good idea to give the cake around three weeks to mature before covering it with almond paste. To store: wrap the cake in several layers of greaseproof paper and keep it in an airtight box.



For the almond paste

Place both the sugars in a mixing bowl with the ground almonds. Lightly beat the egg yolks, almond essence, lemon juice and whiskey. Add enough of the egg-yolk mixture to the almonds and sugar and knead to make a soft, but not sticky, dough. Turn on to a surface which has been dusted with icing sugar, then knead until smooth. If you're not using the paste straight away, keep it covered with plastic wrap as it has a tendency to dry out.

To apply the paste to a round cake: If the cake isn't very level, turn the cake upside down and put the almond paste on the base instead of the top. The top and sides of the cake are covered separately. Measure around the circumference of the cake using a piece of string. Brush the top with boiled apricot jam. Dust a surface with icing sugar and roll out one-third of the almond paste for the top of the cake.

Turn the cake on to the almond paste and trim away any excess paste with a sharp knife, so it fits the exact size of the cake. Turn the cake the right way again and set on a cake board. Brush the sides of the cake with apricot jam and roll out the remaining almond paste to an oblong, the length of the piece of string. The width should be about the same height as the cake. Carefully roll up the almond-paste oblong and smooth it on to the sides of the cake.

Trim with a sharp knife so that the paste fits the shape of the cake. Leave the cake for about five days so that the almond paste has a chance to dry, then cover with royal icing.

For the royal icing

Lightly whisk the egg whites in a large mixing bowl until they are just beginning to get frothy. Stir in a couple of spoons of icing sugar and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Gradually add the rest of the sugar, beating well between each addition. Stir in the glycerine and the lemon juice.

It's a good idea to make the icing a day before you need it and let it sit in a covered bowl overnight. This way, the air bubbles will rise to the surface and you're more likely to have a smoother finish when it comes to icing the cake. Spread this over the cake in a decorative fashion.

Be as imaginative as you like. Allow the icing to dry for a couple of days before cutting.

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