Howick Christmas Cake

Aunt Daisy's Book of Selected Special RecipesSomething beautiful happened to me this week. What was conceived as a brief Twitter conversation a few weeks ago came full term yesterday when a friend of mine baked a Christmas cake and then shared it not only with me, but with my family too. It was what the ancients called ‘Yummy’.

Of course, I just had to get the recipe. As it happens, it comes from The Twelve Cakes of Christmas: An Evolutionary History, with Recipes by Helen Leach, Mary Browne and Raelene Inglis (Otago University Press, 2011), and is adapted from the Howick Christmas Cake recipe which was first published in Aunt Daisy’s Book of Selected Special Recipes from California, Canada, France, Australia and New Zealand (1935). Anyway, the cake tastes wonderful, or at least my friends’ effort at it did, and I thought it worth sharing the recipe here. I also think that I’ll have to give it a go myself over the next few days. I don’t really do desserts, so this is a big step up for me.

Ingredients

450 g bread flour
340 g raisins
340 g sultanas
340 g currants
225 g peel
225 g crystallised ginger, chopped
115 g walnuts, chopped
115 g almonds, chopped (no need to skin)
340 g butter
340 g sugar
6 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons treacle
1 cup black currant jam

Royal icing
350g icing sugar
1 egg white
3-4 tsp lemon juice

Method

Prepare a 25 cm diameter-round pan or 23 cm-square pan by lining with a double layer of brown paper and a single layer of baking paper. Preheat the oven to 130˚C with a shelf in the middle or slightly below.

Weigh the flour and set aside. In a large bowl place the raisins, sultanas, currants, peel, ginger, walnuts and almonds. Add 2 tablespoons of the weighed flour and stir through, separating any clumps of dried fruit.

Soften the butter in a large bowl and cream with the sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl beat the eggs until foamy. Add to the creamed mixture a little at a time and continue beating. If the mixture shows signs of curdling add a spoonful or two from the weighed flour. Beat well. Sift the remaining weighed flour with the salt and baking soda. Fold into the creamed mixture.

Add the treacle and jam to the fruit and stir to mix thoroughly. Lastly add the creamed mixture and fold through gently but thoroughly.

Spoon into the prepared cake pan. Smooth the surface with a wet hand. Place in the oven and bake for 4 to 4 1/2 hours. (Details on how to test when a cake is cooked are given below.) Remove from the oven, cover with a teatowel and leave in the pan until cold. Turn out on to a rack or tray. Remove brown paper and baking paper. Wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight cake container or wrap in foil.

When you’re ready, it’s time to tackle the royal icing. Place sugar, egg and 3 tsp of lemon juice into a bowl and beat until smooth. Add the extra lemon juice if the mixture is too stiff. Spread generously on the top of the cake, and be sure to lick up any leftovers.

Hint

During the cooking check that the surface of the cake is not browning too much and if so cover with a double piece of baking paper. Bake the cake for the shorter time specified in the recipe and test for doneness. When cooked, a cake will have shrunk slightly from the sides of the cake pan, the middle will be firm when gently pushed at the centre and the colour will have darkened. If these criteria are met then use a warm skewer or wire cake tester to insert into the middle of the cake. It should come out with no uncooked mixture adhering to it. If necessary, continue to bake for another 10–15 minutes and test again.

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