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Diary of a Christmas cake

October 10, 2010

Dried fruit for Christmas cake

Lists are the framework of my life. Do you relate to this? Unless it’s on a list somewhere, it doesn’t get done. This is due to my head being in the clouds where I spend most of my days in a distant reverie where I randomly jumble ideas for work, writing things out in my head, daydreams, rehearsed imaginary conversations and eureka moments.  Lists make sure that my feet sometimes hit the ground and a percentage of all this wool-gathering turns into reality.

So what’s on my October list? I know full well, as Autumn takes pace and runs away with the speed of an express train, if I don’t start putting some of my Christmas ‘cloud’ ideas in my head into action now, I’ll be leafing through Nigella’s Christmas in January saying ‘I meant to do that…and that.’

Part of the joy of Christmas cooking, for me, is the time (=love) invested in something to make it extra special and not every day.  So when I found a recipe for a Christmas cake that advocated starting now, I was down to my local Choitram (supermarket) in the dried fruit aisle in a jiffy.  The advantage of making your own cake, if you live in Dubai, is that you can have one that contains alcohol (essential in my book as it this transforms it from every day into luxury).Christmas cake

My entire family was glued to the Great British Bake Off last month – an excellent show on BBC TV.  It’s a series about finding Britain’s best amateur baker judged by a Paul Hollywood, a stern sounding Northerner with twinkly eyes and the doyen of baking Mary Berry who is now in her mid 70’s (proving that a lifetime of cake is the secret of eternal youth).  Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, the very witty presenters, interspersed tracing the history of British baking by visiting local baking landmarks with eating some vitally important ingredients (very funny, if a bit nerve-wracking for the contestant).  It was interesting, informative and showed off some of the best of Britain both visually and culinary. Ruth Clemens was just pipped at the winning post and although I was happy about Edd Kimber being victor I suspect that Ruth had a sizeable vote willing her on.  She lives up to her description on her blog The Pink Whisk of baker extraordinaire (check out her scone recipe). This Christmas cake fruit-steeping recipe is taken from it.

Christmas cake

Shopping is the most arduous part of this recipe.  You assemble a selection of dried fruit, steep in brandy-laced sugar syrup and give it a stir every day.  Within one week the shrivelled pieces (including some cute little mission figs I found) have been transformed into plump, dark, shiny jewels.  The pleasure in opening the lid of this concoction and disturbing its sticky depths with a spoon cannot be underestimated.*

Ruth’s recipe is below and I do urge a visit to The Pink Whisk. In the meantime, I though I’d share my Christmas list month by month and maybe you’d like to share anything on your list too (in the comments section).  After Christmas I’ll make one big list (downloadable pdf) that you can file away for next year, or visit next Autumn and I’ll  post a reminder, to ensure that your Christmas spirit in December will be as light as Ruth’s scones. Sound good? It’s a deal.

* If you live in Dubai and I still haven’t convinced you of the joys of making your own cake, you have the option of handing over some cash for some lovingly prepared traditional Christmas cake (with the essential added extra – nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Lilybakes is taking orders or contact @boozychef on Twitter for some homemade goodies.

Christmas list – October

  • Steep fruit for Christmas cake (see below)
  • Draft Christmas letter (if you write one) or a few lines to write in Christmas cards.
  • Order photos for Christmas letter to be duplicated (e.g.nice pic of children, dog, hamster, golf clubs whatever).
  • Buy Christmas cards, make a list and start writing them (a few at a time is better than a huge mountain)
  • Make 2 x Christmas puddings (you’ll have one more item ticked off the list for next year). Stir up Sunday, the traditional time to make puddings is 21st November but I say get ahead.  I’ll post my pudding recipe next week.

Dried fruit for Christmas cake

Boozy Christmas Fruit

This quantity will ultimately make an 8″ Christmas Cake.


55g caster sugar
55ml water
170ml brandy
175g dried figs
200g raisins
200g sultanas
100g dates
55g mixed peel

Start by chopping the dried figs and dates into chunks (I use scissors for this).

Place all the dried fruit in a large bowl and mix.

In a pan, heat the water and caster sugar stirring to dissolve the sugar to create a sugar syrup.  Set to one side and allow to cool slightly. When cooled pour in the brandy.

Pour the liquid all over the dried fruit.

Place the whole lot in an airtight container.

Stir this daily for one week, after that you will only need to stir it once a week.  At the end of six weeks it’ll be ready to use in a Christmas cake. Use your favourite recipe or check here in a few weeks for further instructions.

  1. October 10, 2010 1:41 pm

    Couple of months ago I’ve soaked sour cherries in rum (enough to fill a huge 3 litre jar). I’m planning to dip them in chocolate and give as presents to my friends for Christmas. Last year this was a total success and everybody is asking for the same this year too, but I’ll have to think of something else to add as well. However the liquid part was worth too, as it was better than a cherry brandy.
    And occasionally a week ago I found a small jar with some of the dry fruits I’ve soaked in brandy for the stolen last year, and surprisingly they were still ok.
    I adore mixing boozy fruits in desserts. It’s true they transform the every day dessert into luxury.

    • October 10, 2010 2:26 pm

      Hi Silvia, Glad to hear someone else shares my enthusiasm for this. There is something so luxurious about the transformation isn’t there?

  2. Anna permalink
    October 10, 2010 8:58 pm

    Great idea…the pre-planning list I mean, will try to follow some of those tips. I love the dried fruit pics, being a fan of the stuff…and also, they remind me of amber (the semi-precious stone).

    • October 11, 2010 7:13 am

      Sadly Anna, the only thing I can’t plan is to be with you this Christmas. Boo.

  3. October 11, 2010 2:47 am

    I was glued to Great British Bake Off too, it was a great programme. If you want a Nigella Christmas recipe that you can make in January without feeling silly then I recommend the Pumpkin and Goat’s cheese lasagne, it’s amazing.

    • October 11, 2010 7:11 am

      Thanks Sarah, I haven’t used that recipe although I do use quite a few of the mass catering ideas from the Christmas book throughout the year (the tortilla dips, loaded potato skins, chilli) as I’m often feeding a crowd. I must try that lasagna.

  4. October 11, 2010 8:56 am

    Thanks Sally
    This will be a huge help for me, as I have so little time these days, I haven’t even thought about Christmas yet! Exciting to do so now, though 🙂

    • October 11, 2010 9:41 am

      P more reminders coming up over the coming months. Hopefully it will help to prevent us all ending up in a heap on 25th!

  5. Michelle permalink
    October 11, 2010 4:29 pm

    Wow, another good read, thanks Sally, will be off to get the ingredients thanks for the reminder. ps I am a list person for sure.

    • October 11, 2010 10:20 pm

      Thanks Michelle, glad you liked it – I know you like baking.

  6. October 12, 2010 12:52 pm

    Hi Sally,
    Will you be in Dubai for Christmas or do you take a trip back to the UK? I spent many years as an expat in sunny places, experiencing tropical Christmases. It has it’s special charm. The cake recipe looks great by the way. Px

    • October 12, 2010 3:30 pm

      Thanks Pascale – It’s years since we spent Christmas in the UK and although we miss our dear family we have made our own traditions here with a lovely group of friends. As you say, it does have a special charm and you can’t beat starting the day with champagne on the beach.

  7. October 12, 2010 11:04 pm

    Really loved reading this. I’m making mine next week so this is a good starter for my own (as yet undecided!) recipe 🙂

    • October 13, 2010 9:12 am

      For me, part of the pleasure is deciding which recipe to use Scott. Have fun.

  8. October 13, 2010 5:55 am

    This post has me tickled pink! I love boozy cakes! LOL! There are endless ways to get creative in making extra special cakes.

    • October 13, 2010 8:52 am

      So do I Christine …I have to stop myself getting carried away. My husband thinks my trifle is lethal!

  9. October 13, 2010 11:13 pm

    oh wow this cake sounds amaizing. i love fruit cakes with booz 🙂 thank you for sharing this post.

  10. October 14, 2010 6:09 pm

    Well, you are definitely organized in getting ready for Christmas! Very admiring. Luckily my German Christmas bread (Quark Stollen) doesn’t need to sit that long and I still have some time.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • October 14, 2010 7:16 pm

      Now that isa good idea. I’ve never made Stollen and would love to try. Better put it on my list!

  11. October 15, 2010 5:29 pm

    totally relate to the list making… although they do say that if you ake lists it tends to make you forget things quicker!…great blog… I found you through ‘just add yeast’ and I love your posts and photo’s… hope you can join in our sourdough journey over at just add yeast and come visit me at belleaukitchen

    • October 15, 2010 6:23 pm

      Thank you Dominic. Totally up for making sourdough (I usually make River Cottage cheat version!).

  12. October 15, 2010 10:38 pm

    Oh my, you are organised, I feel quite daunted. I always have tons of ideas for Christmas, but end up leaving it too late or running out of time. I used to be brilliantly organised and make lists all the time, so maybe that’s the answer – get that pen and paper out! Mastering the art of truffle making is one of the things I want to do before xmas so I can give them as gifts – gulp.

    • October 16, 2010 5:30 pm

      Black Book Kitchen diaries – I rather like booze in most cooking 🙂 Choclette – What a great idea, another thing for my list, my whole family adore truffles (more booze – whoops)

  13. October 17, 2010 8:24 pm

    Sally you are so organised. I guess it is extra hard being in Dubai, due to the fact that winter will never come over there. But i would trade the hot weather for one good summer here in the UK….I am definitely NOT organised but am totally jealous of your list. Need to fix this ASAP! I think i am going to try and list some things….. Hmmmm let me think!
    1)make a list
    2) put somthing on the list
    3)make it interesting
    4)Leave the list making to Sally

    Love the cake…..

    • October 18, 2010 12:04 am

      Joudie – thanks dropping by …mood = inspiring.


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