Saturday, November 5, 2011

Christmas cake in Japan (part 2 - recipe!)

A taste of England's festive season in Japan. Love it or hate it, it's unlikely you'll pass a winter in the UK without being offered some traditional Christmas cake.

Here is the recipe for the fruit cake I was hankering after making in my last post (marzipan and icing to come much - weeks!- later). At the end of the post I also included the main links I used in adapting it.
  • 215g unsalted butter at room temperature*
  • 215g dark brown sugar
  • 225g all purpose plain flour
  • 4 free-range eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
  • ½ tsp of vanilla essence
  • ½ tsp of fine salt
  • ½ tsp mixed spice (unavailable, even at Nissin, gasp! Make your own**)
  • Pinch ground nutmeg (or fresh if you can find it)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Zest of 1 medium orange and 1 lemon
  • 700g mixed dried fruits (350g currants, 175g sultanas, 175g raisins - or preferred combination)
  • Handful of dried apricots, chopped
  • 80g chopped mixed candied peel (I found lemon and orange candied peel at Nissin)
  • 50g glacé cherries, (rinsed, dried and chopped - you can use more if you like them, I'm not so keen)
  • 100g blanched almonds (not roasted), chopped (using some hazelnuts would be nice too)
  • 1-2 tbsp molasses (I used the Brer rabbit brand from Nissin. Traditionally black treacle is used, but molasses give a better flavour apparently.)
  • Brandy*** (1 slug to soak the fruit, and then keep half a bottle or so handy to feed the cake for the next few weeks, a few tablespoons at a time.)
Nissin supermarket had ALL of the above ingredients (hurrah!), apart from the mixed spice.

You'll also need a 8 or 9 inch (20-23cm) cake tin, and lots of grease-proof paper. Set your oven to 140°C. The hardest things about this stage of making a Christmas cake are probably sourcing the ingredients and correctly judging the cooking time.

Soak dried fruit in a bowl overnight with a slug of brandy. Delia suggests that 3 tablespoons are sufficient to "plump up the fruit" but I found that with 700g of fruit a more generous splosh was called for.

Introducing the fruit to the brandy. That's a lot of fruit!

Grease and line your 8 or 9 inch cake tin (great page here, with a video on a quick way to make parchment circles).


To get ready, measure out your spices, mix all the fruit, nuts and peel and zest together in one bowl, and crack your room temperature eggs into another bowl and add the vanilla essence and molasses to the eggs, beat lightly. Cream the butter and sugar together with hand mixer (or by hand) 'till fluffy in a third very large bowl. With no baking powder in this recipe, this is the part of the process that incorporates air into the batter for leavening. Mix the beaten eggs bit by bit into the butter mixture (avoid curdling by having the butter and eggs at room temperature, and you can also use a little flour while adding eggs a bit at a time).

Add a little flour to prevent curdling.

Sift flour, salt and spices into the mixture and gently fold them in (over mixing the flour, or leaving the mixed batter to hang around too long will produce too much gluten and give you a tougher, dry cake). Carefully fold in soaked fruits, chopped nuts, candied peel and fresh zest.

I need bigger bowls!

Spoon into greased and lined cake tin, smooth down the top and make a little well in centre to avoid the cake rising too dome-like.

Make sure to remember to cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment to avoid burning. Tying brown paper around the outside of the cake can help to prevent the outside of the cake cooking too quickly as well. Cook at 140°C for about 3-4 hours.

The final cooking time will depend on your oven, and regardless of the setting you use your oven may be lying to you about the actual temperature inside. Check around 2.5 hours - is the top browning too quickly? You might need to turn the heat down - best to err on the side of cooler temperature/longer cooking for Christmas cake. The tests to find out if the cake is done are whether a skewer through the centre of the cake comes out clean, or if the middle of the cake springs back when lightly pressed.

Once it's done, leave it in the tin for half an hour, then turn it onto a wire rack to cool completely. Make a few holes with a chopstick and pour in the first couple of tablespoons of brandy. You'll want to wrap the cake in grease-proof paper and then foil, and put it in an air tight container. Repeat the 'feeding' on alternate sides each week leading up to December and the great marzipaning/icing of the cake. But more on that later.

I'll edit the recipe based on how this turns out. Let me know how it goes if you make your own!


* Why use unsalted butter if you're then going to add salt?
This is something that had bugged me for a while, especially since butter of any variety has been harder to come by recently. I looked through a few different sites and forums (fora?) until I found an answer that made sense to me: a) you want to be able to control how much salt to use in any given recipe, and more importantly b) unsalted butter is purer than salted butter. Apparently the preservative qualities of salt mean that aside from being able to keep the butter longer, a lower percentage butterfat can comprise the finished product, with the rest made of presumably cheaper milk solids and water. Unsalted butter is better quality then, and is likely to give you a better bake.

** Making your own British 'mixed spice':
Mix together 1 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp ground coriander  1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp cloves. I also added a pinch of ground caraway seeds. You end up with a more than you need for one cake, but you can store the rest to make sticky toffee pudding, Yorkshire parkin, your own mincemeat filling for mince pies... Note! 'Mixed spice' is a particularly British mix which is different to 'all spice' which is different again to '5 spice'. How confusing. If you want to buy your spices in bulk, try Spice Home behind Roppongi Hills, near Cafe 8.

*** Brandy (cognac), rum, whisky, sherry, port or Baileys in my Christmas cake?
I chose brandy, mainly because I thought it might bring out something nice in the dried apricots in the mix, however I've seen a good many recipes also recommend rum. Sherry could be good and feels appropriately festive as long as it's not too sweet, and I feel port should be avoided for the same reason (just my opinion here though.) I feel that whisky would overpower the fruit in the cake, and match less well with the marzipan and sugary icing, but again, if you love the taste of whisky, you'll love the result. I would steer well clear of putting Baileys, Kahlua, Malibu, limoncello, chocolate liqueur in the cake. What have you had great results with, and how much of the bottle did you end up using? ;)

Here are places I got some of the ideas from: (Delia's trusted recipe, great photos on how to protect the cake tin once it's filled.) (Includes conversions for different sized cake tins.)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Stacy, this is great. I make Christmas Fruitcake every year as well. The spice mix we use ( my mother's recipie ) is ground cinnamon, mace ,cloves and cardamom . Yes we used Brandy as well but I find Captain Morgan rum quite a good substitute . I would never have thought of putting treacle in......well from now on . Actually our ancestors would burn the sugar and pour the molten mass into the mixture.