And so we plough on through the fruit section of Mary Berry's Baking Bible. Feeling buoyed up after the success of the Apricot and Cranberry Fruit Cake recently, I eagerly turned the page, only to find a recipe for Rich Fruit Cake, which Mary describes as suitable for "Christmas, birthdays and all special occasions".
Oh dear. A Christmas cake. My first instinct was to skip straight over it and go onto the intriguingly-named Quick Boiled Fruit Cake on the next page. There's such a sense of tradition, history and mythology surrounding the perfect Christmas cake. Everyone has a mum or grandma that makes the definitive version. In fact my own Mum used to weigh down the Christmas table every year with a rich, dark, fruity, boozy creation the size of a small tanker. It was wonderful. Was I ready to make my first ever Christmas cake?
And if I was, what would I do with it? We won't be spending Christmas at home, and even if we were, I'm not sure how much headway OB and I would be able to make through what was clearly going to be a big, big cake.
In the end though, I was persuaded to go through with it by a friend who said she'd be delighted to have it as a Christmas present. Brave I thought, considering she'd have no way of knowing if it was even edible until she cut into it on Christmas Day in the presence of her entire family!
So, I went shopping. I needed more dried fruit than I have ever seen in one place before. Even my very biggest mixing bowl was barely large enough to contain the mixture and I had to buy a new, bigger cake tin to cook it in. And the time it takes! Four to five hours slowly baking away. Somewhere near the end of cooking I thought once again how nice it would be to actually have a skewer rather than just poking away at the thing with a butter knife and trying to decide whether what came out could count as 'clean'.
Of course, I can't taste it, but I think it's ok. Possibly the very edges have just slightly caught - there was a faint smell of singed currants, although it was hard to tell through the fog of brandy fumes! It was only after I'd finished the bake that a discussion with a friend triggered a long-buried memory about how my Mum used to do it. The whole time I was carefully double-lining the tin with baking parchment, I was troubled by a feeling that string should be involved. Surely my Mum used to do something with string, didn't she? Well yes, she did. She used to wrap the whole tin in a sort of baking parchment 'coat', all tied up with string, to protect the edges of the cake. It rose way above the sides of the tin to protect the top too.
I wish I'd remembered this before I put it in the oven!
Honestly, the whole thing was such an effort, and I was so pleased to give it its first feed and wrap it in the baking parchment and foil and hand it over to its new owner that I completely forgot to take a photo of the finished cake! And we'll have to wait until well after Christmas for a verdict on the taste, although I have high hopes that regular feeding with brandy will cover up any little flavour issues.
Not to worry though, as I do have a finished photo of the aforementioned Quick Boiled Fruit Cake that I also baked this week.
Not a looker is it!
This was a very strange recipe (well, to me anyway) which involved simmering the dried fruit in a mixture of condensed milk and butter. I double-checked the recipe, but for me there seemed to be far too little liquid in the pan for any real simmering to take place. We achieved something more like a squelchy gloopy fruit effect. On reflection, perhaps I should have worked harder to get a smooth finish to the surface of the cake before I put it in the oven.
Ah well, you live and learn!