Hurried into the oven as we wrapped up in hats, gloves, thick socks and wellies, the cake was left to its own devices as we hurried out to toffee apples, hot dogs and sparklers. That moment - coming in from the cold to the engulfing warmth of cinnamon, clove and citrus - is when Christmas begins for me.
Since leaving home, I sadly can't be a part of our family tradition every year. But recreating it in own kitchen - with my own recipe to boot - keeps me in touch with those moments and emotions that will never stop being special.
The reasoning for starting your cake in early November is twofold: it allows the cake to mature and moisten deliciously, while you feel very proud and unflustered as Christmas takes over. All that is required from you is to unwrap your cake once a week, and brush with a gentle measure of brandy, whisky or rum. I bring you this recipe in the hope that you can start your own special traditions this year too.
My recipe replaces some of the currants with indulgent and chewy dried figs, and uses glace ginger in place of traditional candied peel.
Aside from being totally delicious, ginger boasts a plethora of health benefits too. As the cold weather beds in for winter, this piece by Health Fitness Shop on 13 Proven Health Benefits of Ginger makes for comforting reading!
500g dried figs
250g glace ginger
100g dried apricots
400ml rum, brandy, sloe gin or whisky
175g dark brown sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp treacle
300g plain flour
150g ground almonds
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Additional rum, brandy, sloe gin or whisky for feeding
The day before you plan to bake your cakes, weigh the figs, sultanas, glace ginger and apricots into a heavy based saucepan. Drench with the rum, brandy, sloe gin or whisky, then set over a gentle heat. Slowly bring to the boil, then remove from the heat as soon as the liquids start to bubble. Cover and leave to steep overnight.
The following day, begin by preheating your oven to 160C. Line your tins - this recipe makes x1 10 inch cake, x2 8 inch cakes, x3 six inch cakes of x4 five inch cakes. Each tin needs to be lined with thick baking parchment which has been greased with butter.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and dark brown sugar. Once creamy, add the eggs, lemon zest, and treacle, and mix together slowly to ensure the mix doesn't split. Sieve in the flour, ground almonds, ginger and cinnamon and fold to combine. Finally chop the walnuts, and add these to the batter along with the soaked fruit (liquid and all). Spoon into your prepared tins and bake in the centre of the oven for 2-3 hours. Check it after 1 hour and for every 15 minutes after that - baking time varies hugely dependant on your oven, and the cakes are done when they pass the knife test.
Allow the cakes to cool in their tin for 30 minutes, then gently turn onto a cooling rack and leave them to cool completely. Once they are cool, wrap each cake in a layer of baking parchment, then a layer of tin foil to to secure. Tuck into a cool, dark corner of your kitchen.
Once a week, take the cakes out, unwrap, and brush with a teaspoon or so of booze. Rewrap and return to their hiding place. This is called 'feeding'.
Come Christmas Eve, unwrap your cakes and top with apricot jam, marzipan and royal icing. Alternatively, you could make your own brandy buttercream for a more modern finish.