Celebration Cake 2017

I’ve tweaked and tested and tried various versions of celebration fruit cakes over the last twenty years. Some of them have been a bit dry, some of them too boozy, others too dark and treacly. I needed an excellent cake for the winter solstice this year, and it was also a perfect opportunity to try out a new recipe ahead of our wedding next year (yes, even in a Christmas cake blog post I can get a mention of my forthcoming wedding in, give yourself a shiny*).

I tested this bake at work as the quantities below made more than my 8″ square tin could hold so I was able to bake a skinny 7″ round cake too. Everyone who tried it in the office declared it delicious and I don’t think they were just being polite.

You can veganise this cake by using dairy free spread in lieu of the butter and replacing the eggs with flax egg.

My cake based on Nigella’s Traditional Christmas Cake from her Nigella Christmas book.

* Watch this if you don’t know what on earth I am going on about…

For an 8″ square cake which will yield 16-24 slices depending on greed you need:

  • 1kg of mixed dried fruit: currants, raisins and sultanas. I used up what was in my larder but it worked out at about 350g of each type of dried fruit
  • 200g mixed peel
  • 250g glace cherries
  • 300ml each of brandy and dark rum
  • 300g butter or vegan spread
  • 180g light brown muscovado sugar
  • grated zest of two lemons and two oranges
  • 4 large eggs or the equivalent in flax egg
  • 2 tbsps treacle
  • 450g plain flour (add a little baking powder if using flax egg)
  • 1/2 freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  1. Start by placing the dried fruit, peel and cherries in a LARGE bowl and pour over the booze. Mix thoroughly then cover with clingfilm and leave in a cool place (not the fridge) for 2 weeks. Stir every couple of days to rotate the fruit and ensure even soaking.
  2. Make the cake by creaming the butter/spread with the sugar. Then add the eggs/egg replacement and flour in alternate spoonfuls to prevent curdling. Add the grated zest, treacle and spices. Mix well.
  3. Add the soaked fruit. Leave any remaining liquid in the bottom of the soaking bowl until you know if you need it. Sometimes the batter is runny enough without it, sometimes you need to add some of the liquid to let it down a bit. This stage is difficult as the batter is stiff and the bowl will be very full. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands in to ensure even fruit distribution if necessary.
  4. Scrape the mix into a lined 8″ square tin. Fill to 1cm from the top as the cake won’t rise too much whilst baking. Smooth the surface and make a little dip in the middle to compensate for any rise.
  5. Cover the tin with a square of foil with a hole in the middle to prevent the top of the cake from catching and the fruit burning during the cooking.
  6. Bake the cake in a pre-heated oven at 150 degrees (130 if fan) for 2 hours 45 mins to 3 hours 15 mins. Take the foil lid off about 45 mins before the end of the baking time to allow the top to brown evenly.
  7. Once cooked LEAVE TO COOL IN THE TIN!!! I learnt this the hard way this year when I turned it out too quickly thinking that would help it not sweat and scarily huge cracks appeared on the bottom. It was rescued by putting quickly back into the tin!
  8. Once cooled, wrap well and store or marzipan and ice. There’s no need to feed this cake as all the booze is locked inside the soaked fruit. It’s safe to give to children however as the booze cooks off as the cake bakes. If you want you can replace the booze with orange juice for a fresher tasting cake.
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Baklava

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I’ve been meaning to blog this for a while and just haven’t had time, sorry! I made a big batch for our engagement party and it got rave reviews. It’s dead simple to make but tastes far more complicated than it is! The recipe says it makes 30 pieces but that comes down to how big you make them. I prefer bite sized pieces to bigger chunks. The recipe is taken from Tess Malos The Complete Middle East Cookbook.

For 30 or so pieces you need:

For the pastries

  • 20 sheets of filo pastry
  • 3/4 cup melted butter (that’s 190g to you and me…)
  • 1 cup finely chopped pistachios
  • 1 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves

For the syrup

  • 1.5 cups caster sugar
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1/4 cup runny honey – use a good quality one
  • thinly peeled strip of lemon rind
  • small piece of cinnamon bark
  • 3 cloves
  • 5 crushed cardamon pods
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  1. Butter the sides and base of a 33cmx23cmx5cm tin.
  2. Layer up 9 sheets of  filo pastry into the base of the tin, buttering each well before placing in the tin.
  3. Mix the nuts and sugar with the spices then sprinkle half over the pastry.
  4. Layer a further two sheets of pastry on to the nuts, buttering each as before.
  5. Spread the remaining nut mix on top of these sheets.
  6. Top with the remaining filo, buttering each.
  7. Trim the top and sides and tuck in neatly.
  8. Sprinkle some water over the top to stop it from crisping too much in the oven.
  9. Score into pieces, taking care not to cut all the way through to the base.
  10. Bake in the centre of a 180 degree oven for 30 mins. After 30 mins, move one shelf up and cook for a further 30 mins. You want the pastry to be golden brown and crisp all over.
  11. Whilst the baklava is baking make the syrup. Place everything in a pan and slowly bring to the boil. Once all the sugar has dissolved, boil rapidly for 15 mins until reduced and syrupy in consistency.
  12. Take the baklava out of the oven and drench in the hot syrup.
  13. Leave for at least four hours before eating. Then scoff!

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Peanut Butter Flapjacks

These are based on a recipe by the huge furry whipping tool. I’ve adjusted the quantities of dried ingredients to suit our tastebuds and preferences. Don’t be tempted to ditch the orange and lemon zest, it makes a real difference when you include rather than omit them. 

For 16 bars you need 

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 150g soft light brown sugar
  • 125g crunchy peanut butter
  • 75g honey
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 200g oats
  • 75g sunflower seeds
  • 50g coconut
  • 50g pumpkin seeds
  • 50g sesame seeds
  • 100g chocolate chips
  1. Begin by melting the first six ingredients together until mingled 
  2. Add everything else apart from the chocolate chips. 
  3. Press into a lined tin 20cm x 20cm tin
  4. Scatter over the chocolate chips and bake in a 160 degree oven till browned all over.
  5. Leave to cool completely before trying to scoff. They do not slice well hot!