Friday, November 6, 2009

Irish Christmas Cake - Ciste Nollag

And so the Christmas Cake odyssey begins...the ingredients are gathered in one place and now they must be strategically arranged and manipulated into a faboo Crimbly Cake the likes of which you have never seen, especially so if you have only ever encountered those doorstops with bright red dye #5 glace cherries, never mind the green ones...but we digress....
Lucie says "This is hard work, don't let anyone fool you, making a Christmas Cake is a feat of strength no one should underestimate!!

Christmas Cake - Ciste Nollag from “Irish Traditional Food” by Theodora FitzGibbon

This ideally should be made at least one month in advance in order for the flavours to marry and meld and let the cake mature in it’s little, actually not so little if you make the full recipe...I only made half the recipe for each cake you see pictured here!!... air tight tin. Many people in the UK use this also as their wedding cake...we are more inclined to fruit cakes in Blighty than our cousins in the US!!

This is a family recipe dating from 1860, it is a very rich and toothy fruitcake

Firstly assemble the following ingredients the night before you are baking the cake:

8oz raisins

8oz sultanas or white raisins

4oz currants

2oz dried tart cherries

3oz chopped candied peel (I made mine from scratch because the flavour is so much better...but you can purchase this if you want to skip that arduous step!!)

2oz chopped, dried apricots

2 oz chopped walnuts

Lucie and I proceeded with the dried fruit in two different ways. I mixed all the above ingredients together in a big glass bowl and then covered this mound of dried delights with a combination of strong brewed black tea and apple cider, you can use either or, or both together as I did, totaling about 3 cups (UK 24 fl ozs) of liquid and allow the fruit to soak up the will be surprised at how much the fruit expands, I know I was. Lucie on the other hand mixed all her fruit together, put it in a baking tin, covered it with foil and placed it in a very low oven for a few hours until it expanded and was somewhat sticky. Leave the fruit to soak overnight or cool down after the warming according to which way you went.....of course the soaking makes the cake much moister and, we found out, MUCH larger!!!

3oz soft brown sugar

3oz white sugar

6oz butter room temperature

3 large, room temp. eggs whisked together

8oz sifted all purpose white flour
2oz ground almonds

½ teaspoon mixed spice/allspice

½ rounded teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

grated rind and juice of 1 orange

2 tablespoons whiskey, rum or brandy (optional)

Prepare the cake tin: Because I did half the recipe BUT soaked the fruit I used a 10" shallow cake pan and Lucie used a 6" tall cake pan, remember mine turned out a lot larger because of the fruit soaking episode!! Anyways...choose your tin, grease liberally with butter and then line the bottom and sides with cut-to-size parchment, then grease the parchment and reline with another set of cut-to-size parchment.....lining the tins really helps cut down on the possibility of the cakes burning on the outside...also cut a piece of parchment and grease to put on the top of the cake as it bakes. Those little dahlingks are in the oven for quite some time.

Heat the oven to 350F

1. Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.

2. Add the whisked eggs bit by bit beating well between each addition...there’s a good likelihood the mix will curdle near the final not worry about this the flour and other ingredients will help rectify this situation!

3. FOLD in sifted flour, spices, ground almonds, fruit juices, zests and salt until well blended but don’t work it too hard, beat it or mix too long as it will, indeed, make the cake hard!!

4. Add the prepared fruits and walnuts gradually, and the alcohol if you choose to add it, of course I made mine with Irish whiskey!!...this starts to get to be hard work but it is good for you...and remember the harder you work, the more calories you burn, the more cake you can eat!!!

5. Put the cake mix into the prepared tin and smooth the top with a wet spatula then loosely cover with the greased parchment round.

6. Set cake on middle rack in the oven.

7. After half an hour reduce the heat to 275 and cook for 1 1/2 hours

8. Now start checking the cake about every 20 minutes for doneness...a skewer inserted should come out clean and the cake should smell great and look baked.....if you need the top to brown more take off the parchment on top, if you think the cake is browning too much lower the heat...this is a very undefinable process but if you are used to making cakes you’ll have the feel for when the cake is should be browned nicely and the skewer should be clean, although if you pass through a wet raisin that may fool you into thinking it isn’t done so check in a couple of places.

My cake took a total of about 3 hours but yours could well be longer or shorter than that.

When the cake is ready remove from the oven, leave in the baking tin and pour over 2 more tablespoons of the assigned alcohol. Take out of the tin after about 30 minutes and then allow to cool on a rack until completely COLD!!! cannot put it into the tin unless it has no heat in it at all or the cake will get clammy and yucky.

9. Wrap in parchment paper before secreting it into it’s safe and happy airtight tin...this is a must to keep the cake from molding, also keep the tin in a cool, dark place.

About a week before Christmas we will be covering our Crimbly cakes with marzipan and Royal wait with bated breath for that post!!!

Off you pop now and bake your cake!!

My cake has already started to darken as it ages and smells just divine!!
Here are the cakes before they enter the confines of the warm and toasty oven...
...and here they are after they have cooled and are ready to be loaded into their cozy tins.
James and I drove to Lewiston yesterday and here is a photo of the weather conditions on the way's snowing, it's November...what is going on!!!...well it is Maine I suppose and it does seem appropriate that the ground should be covered with snow today as I post my Christmas Cake recipe.
I like snow!! I am sitting by the wood stove...Harry the kitten is on the chair behind me, Freddie the Bassett is on a big pillow by the fire, Bunny the Beagle is on her settle and Eleanor the Mutt (half Beagle/half French Bulldog!) is lounging blissfully by the fire after getting too hot being underneath the stove for a while!!
Above here is my new design for the Greetings Card Store and it will be up on the Cafe Press store hopefully later today!!

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