Tim isn't particularly keen on fruit cake, so would be quite happy to have no Christmas cake at all. I'm not bothered either way - I like a piece or two, but don't find it particularly scrumptious.
But Richard LOVES Christmas cake. The traditional rich fruit cake, that is, of which the best recipe - in my opinon - is Delia's classic Christmas cake.
So every year I bake one. Delia says, in her book, that it should be made about eight weeks before it's eaten. I don't think I have ever managed that, because somehow the beginning of November just doesn't feel like the right time to think about Christmas. Particularly not when the weather is bright, sunny, and around 25C. Last year I made the cake at the beginning of December, but then we were away for most of November last year.
This year I seem to be more organised, at least in theory. I actually THOUGHT about the Christmas cake before we went away for seven weeks in September. Since we were due back on October 26th, I reckoned I'd have the weekend to recover from the flights, and then could make the Christmas cake easily eight weeks before Christmas.
Reality never quite meets expectations. When we got home, we were absolutely shattered. We did go shopping a few hours after we landed, but I went around the supermarket like a zombie, picking up a few things that looked useful, and a lot of fruit and veg. I certainly didn't think about Christmsa cake ingredients.
Still, a week later, I did remember, so I got out the recipe, and wrote the ingredients on my list. We bought them all, and I unpacked them into a cupboard, thinking I would bake the cake over the weekend.
Then I forgot all about it until a week later - last Friday - when I was looking in the cupboards to see what we were running out of. I noticed the mixed peel and extra soft brown sugar, and the large quantities of raisins and currants.
Perhaps, I thought, I would bake it at the weekend...
But somehow, although I don't do much at the weekend, it didn't happen. Possibly because Tim does all the cooking at weekends, so I don't go into the kitchen much at all, other than to clear away.
So I decided to make it on Monday. That's the day before yesterday. I was planning to cook a beef stew for our evening meal, and it needed the oven set low. Ideal, I thought, for the Christmas cake to bake at the same time.
On Monday afternoon I put the stew in the oven, then got out the recipe.
Then I noticed the part which I always manage to forget: 'The night before you make the cake....'
Duh. I've been doing this recipe for at least five years now, and never ever remember in advance that I need to soak all the dried fruit in brandy overnight before I can make the cake.
I thought about putting the fruit to soak over Monday night, but since I'm out helping at mothers-and-toddlers on Tuesday mornings, I knew I would be tired and wouldn't even get started till after lunch, and the cake would then be in the oven when I wanted to use it for other cooking.
So I decided to soak the fruit Tuesday night. I didn't remember until about 9.30pm, but at least I did it. So this morning I FINALLY got around to making the cake. Yesterday it was six weeks till Christmas so I'm only two weeks late.
Here's how it looked when it went in the tin:
Then, although the online version of the recipe doesn't mention it, Delia's book says that the tin should have a piece of brown paper tied on the outside as well as a double layer of greaseproof paper on the top of the cake, while it's baking. I had some brown paper saved from a year ago, so I followed the instructions, and then baked the cake at 140C (on regular, not fan oven) on the bottom shelf for four hours. I didn't even peek during that time.
The smell was amazing. After four hours I did take a look, and I reckoned the cake was done. So I turned the oven off and let the cake cool in the oven for ten minutes, then took it out to cool some more:
Finally, after another half-hour, I turned it out so it can finish cooling on a wire rack:
If you're not familiar with rich fruit cake, you might think it odd that the baked version looks not much bigger than the raw version. That's correct. The flour used is plain, and there's no baking powder or bicarbonate of soda added (thank goodness - imagine the taste if a cake with bicarb was left for six or eight weeks!)
I shall put marzipan and icing on at some point in December (quite possibly Christmas Eve though I hope to be slightly more efficient) and we will cut it open on Christmas Day.