It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas…

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Ah, the smells of Christmas. Many years ago, when pot pourri was still fashionable, I had a wonderful mixture that smelled of Christmas. I would put it out in early December, and each night when I got home from work, the spicy fruity smell would welcome me in the door.

The real thing, of course, is Christmas baking. The heady fragrance of the Boozy Christmas pudding mix that wafts up as you stir it. The warm smells of a rich and spicy Christmas cake as it slowly cools.

There are so many recipes for fruit cake, and I’ve certainly tried a few. But this one is my keeper. It’s a boiled fruitcake from Aussie cookbook author Belinda Jeffrey that was published in Australian Home Beautiful magazine a few years ago. The beauty of the recipe is its flexibility—the types of fruit included can be varied to include any combination of raisins, sultanas, currants, prunes, dates, apricots, and other dried fruits; similarly the liquids can be varied to include orange and lemon juice, brandy, rum, port, to your tastes.

One of the main ingredients in this fruitcake recipe is fruit mince, and I’ve included a recipe for a homemade version as well, although a good quality store-bought fruit mince will work just as well. This recipe also comes from an Australia cookbook writer, the beloved-by-many Margaret Fulton.

I’m not one for the traditional marzipan icing and fake holly leaves. I don’t even make a nice pattern of almonds and pecan nuts on the top of the cake. It’s all about the rich, dark, fruity, dense cake for me.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and all the best for a Happy New Year!!!

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Christmas Cake

Adapted from a recipe by Belinda Jeffrey, published in Australian Home Beautiful, December 2009.

Makes 2 Christmas cakes, 20cm diameter.

1 large lemon, zest finely grated, juice reserved
1 large orange, zest finely grated, juice reserved
495ml brandy or cognac
450g butter
540g dark brown sugar
1200g mixed dried fruit—for example, raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped apricots, chopped prunes, diced dates, candied fruit peel, glace fruit)
555g fruit mince (see recipe below)
3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 heaped tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cloves
3 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp almond extract
6 eggs
570g wholemeal flour
blanched almonds and pecan halves for decorating (optional)
extra brandy/cognac

Measure out lemon and orange juice and add 1/2 c water to it, then pour in brandy until mixture measures 900ml total. Add the zest and set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat in large saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until the mixture is wet and slushy. Add the dried fruit, fruit mince, bicarbonate of soda and reserved juice mixture and stir to mix. Increase heat to high and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then stop stirring and bring the mixture to the boil. Allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid the frothy mixture boiling over. Then turn off the heat and allow to cool completely in the saucepan.

Preheat oven to 150C. Grease 2 20cm round deep cake tins with butter and line with a double thickness of baking paper.

Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, cloves, vanilla and almond extracts to the cooled mixture and stir. Add eggs and stir in well. Mix in flour and stir to thoroughly combine, then allow batter to sit for a few minutes before scraping it into the two prepared tins.

If desired, decorate the tops of the cakes with almonds and pecans arranged in concentric circles.

Bake the cakes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, approximately 1.5 hrs. Check the cakes periodically during cooking, and cover with foil once the tops are a good rich brown colour.

Leave the cakes to cool completely in the tin, on a rack. Remove from the tin, and brush the base and the top with brandy/cognac, then wrap in cling wrap and foil. To prolong the life of the cake, store in the fridge.

Notes:

1. The boiled fruit mixture can be cooled overnight if that is convenient.

2. The top of the cake will feel firm when lightly pressed when it is fully cooked.

3. The cake will last in the fridge for at least a couple of months.

Fruit Mince

Adapted from a recipe by Margaret Fulton, published in Australian Home Beautiful, December 2009.

Makes approximately 4.5 cups.

1.5 c raisins
1.5 c currants
1.5 c sultanas
1/3 c blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1 apple, grated
3/4 c brown sugar
75g unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c brandy or rum
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 orange, zest and juice

Process dried fruit and almonds in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Spoon into a bowl and combine with grated apple, sugar, butter, brandy, spices and orange juice and zest. Mix well.

Cover and chill, stirring daily for at least 2 days before use.

Notes:

1. Fruit mince will last for several months in the fridge. Give it a stir now and then.

2. This recipe is actually half of the original recipe, but I find I don’t use it all up (I’m not one for making fruit mince tarts). I have enough left over after making the cakes to make a batch or two of fruit mince muffins.

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