**FAB CHRISTMAS CAKE RECIPE** Nigella's 'Incredibly Easy Chocolate Fruit Cake'
Attention traditional Christmas cake haters who detest all that weird fruit, almond essence & marzipan: Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Fruit Cake from her 'Nigella Christmas' cookbook may just be the perfect Christmas cake recipe for you. It's also an ideal recipe for Christmas cake novices or those of you who have always wanted to try making your own Christmas cake but are a little bit scared to...
As I write this, my cake is cooking away nicely in the oven & my kitchen is alive with the smell of Christmas (did 'the hills are alive with the sound of music' song just pop into your head like it did mine?). This is the second time I have made this cake. My first attempt was two years ago when I was living in London & my Mum was coming over from New Zealand to spend Christmas with us. It was also my last Christmas in the UK so I was determined to make it a Christmas to remember with a real tree, a lovely Christmas cake & all the trimmings. My Mum had bought me the 'Nigella Christmas' cookbook & I was immediately drawn to her 'incredibly easy chocolate fruit cake' recipe (page 180 for those of you who have the book). What appealed to me the most was the inclusion of cocoa, coffee liqueur & the distinct absence of marzipan or rolled fondant icing. The cake is un-iced & is instead adorned with edible gold bling & chocolate covered coffee beans. This cake is definitely an eye catcher!
I'm overjoyed that there isn't a drop of almond essence to be found in this cake nor does it have a tonne of 'weird dried fruit' (or as I've heard some people call it, 'dead flies'). Now, obviously being a fruit cake there is a certain amount of dried fruit inside. But the majority is either dried prunes (don't let the dried prunes put you off - they're not that bad once chopped up small & in the cake),an acceptable amount of raisins (usually the biggest culprit for being akin to dead flys) & currants. What's also nice is that the cake is dark & coffee-ish as well as being chocolatey with a hint of jaffa flavour due to the addition of fresh orange zest & juice.
Another draw card of this cake is that it really is easy to make although you will still need to set aside the better part of a morning to make it because it will take around 1 - 1.15 hours for preparing your tin & actually making the cake, 30 minutes of cooling time for the mixture & then 1 3/4 - 2 hours to cook it. I would recommend making this cake in the morning because it takes ages to cool down completely, which you need to let it do before removing it from the tin.
There are a a few different ingredients to this cake so read the list carefully the day before to ensure you have everything. Before you start, also ensure that you have a round spring bottomed cake tin of 20cm x 9cm deep (give or take a few mm). You'll also need some non-stick baking paper as well as some cooking spray for preparing your tin.
Because it's a sturdy fruitcake you can make it up to two weeks ahead of when you need it & once it's cooled & removed from the tin, I would recommend brushing the top with a little coffee liqueur to keep it moist. If you don't want to decorate the cake straight away, just wrap it up in baking paper & tinfoil before storing it in an airtight container or cake tin. The last time I made this cake, I unwrapped it once a week & brushed it again with a little coffee liqueur. I've always seen my Mum & Nana do this with their Christmas cakes to prevent the cake from drying out.
Finally, according to Nigella this cake makes 10 generous slices. Any leftovers that you don't have the heart to throw away can be frozen. Just wrap the remaining cake up again as you did the first time & to thaw it out just remove the wrapping & let the cake sit overnight at room temperature.
Now that I've hopefully convinced you to make this cake, let's move on to the recipe!
350g chopped prunes (or this year I've chosen dates)
175g soft butter
175g dark muscovado sugar (I couldn't find this at my supermarket so used dark brown sugar instead)
125ml Tia Maria, Kahlua or another coffee liqueur
Juice & finely grated zest of two oranges
1 teaspoon mixed spice (also known as all spice)
2 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
150g plain flour
75g ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (A.K.A bicarbonate of soda)
For the decoration
25g dark chocolate coated coffee beans
Basically as much edible gold bling as your heart desires like edible gold stars or glitter
What to do...
- The first thing you need to do is to prepare your cake tin. You need to line the bottom & sides with TWO LAYERS of non-stick baking paper. First thing to do is grab a pen, tear off a double layer of baking paper & trace a circle around the bottom of your cake tin. Grab some scissors & holding the layers together as you cut, cut out two circles. Next, you need to cut two layers of baking paper which will go around the sides of the tin. You need to ensure that the sides are around 10cm higher than the top of your tin (or twice the height of your tin). (BTW the reason for all of this is to create a protective shield right around the cake to prevent it from burning.) To make the sides, tear off two long rectangles of baking paper (enough to wrap around the sides of your tin). Place one piece of paper on top of the other & fold up one long side of the paper by around 2cm. Then grab some scissors & cut diagonally along the folded up side at about 2cm intervals to make a frill.
- To prepare your cake tin, start by spraying the bottom & sides of the tin with cooking spray. First, place one of your round pieces of paper at the bottom of the tin & smooth it out, ensuring that the edges fit snugly around the bottom. Grab one of your side pieces & with the frilled bit at the bottom of the tin, fit it around the inside of the tin ensuring that you smooth the paper up against the sides for a snug fit. Press the frills down flat onto the bottom of the tin as well. Spray some more cooking spray around the papered sides of the tin, then do the same thing again with the second rectangular side piece of baking paper. Finally, once the sides are lining the tin nicely, grab the second circle of paper & fit this snugly & smoothly into the bottom of the tin. **TIP FOR PEOPLE WITH SMALL OVENS: once your tin is lined, just make sure it will fit inside your oven given that it will have a higher top on it with the baking paper.** I had to take one of the oven racks out & then I could fit my tin on the bottom rack.
- Put the fruits, butter, sugar, honey, coffee liqueur, orange juice & zest, spice & cocoa powder into a large, wide saucepan & bring everything to the boil over a medium heat, stirring as you go while the butter melts. Reduce the heat if necessary & simmer gently for a further 10 minutes before removing from the heat & setting the saucepan aside to cool the mixture for 30 minutes.
- Pre-heat your oven to 150C (I used fan bake at 150C & kept an eye on the cake as it cooked). Go & make yourself a cuppa & put your feet up now, you deserve it.
- Once the mixture has been left to cool for 30 minutes, add the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda & beaten eggs. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are combined.
- Pour the mixture into your cake tin & bake for 1 3/4 - 2 hours or until the top of the cake is firm to touch. Now, as I type this I have literally just taken my cake out after 1 3/4 hours. I had the dilema of whether it was cooked in the middle or not. Nigella's recipe states that the top of the cake should be firm, but have a shiny/sticky look about it & that it may be still a little gooey in the middle. My cake ticked all of those boxes but when I inserted a skewer into the center, it was a touch too gooey for my liking. My cake was quite a dark brown around the edges so to be on the safe side, I reduced the heat of my oven to 120C & put the cake back in for a further 5 minutes & then checked it again before putting it back in for a further 10 minutes. The cake has sunk ever so slightly right in the middle but this will be because when I inserted the skewer in the middle it let some of the air out of it. I'm now confident it will be cooked through as there was only a small amount of mixture left on the skewer when I removed it & I know that the cake will continue to cook out of the oven for a few more minutes because it will retain it's heat for a while.
- Once you remove the cake from the oven, place it on top of a metal cooling rack & leave it there until completely cool (which will take a few hours).
- Once cool, remove the cake from the tin & decorate if you are eating it straight away OR if you want to decorate it at a later date, brush the top with a little coffee liquiuer before wrapping the cake up in two layers of baking paper secured with cellotape, then a layer of tinfoil & finally wrap the whole thing in a tea towel & store it in an airtight container or cake tin in a cool, dry place.
To decorate the cake, place the chocolate coated coffee beans in the center & then sprinkle the cake with your edible gold bling.
I remember last time when I made this cake, someone suggested it would be nice heated slightly in the microwave with some ice cream as a dessert so I'll definitely be trying that this time!
Good luck! x