Inebriate your Christmas cake – start now
There’s a relaxed and joyful feeling about Dubai this weekend. Many people are celebrating Eid Al-Adha, one of the biggest events of the year in the Muslim calendar. Others are marking Vijayadashami or Dussehra and the victory of good over evil in the Hindu religion. As for my family, we had good friends round for supper on Thursday. It was a ‘dry night’ (i.e. no alcohol was served in shops, restaurants or hotels from Thursday night until Friday evening) so I expect many people were staying in. It’s a long weekend so my mind has turned to Christmas cooking including giving the fruit for my cake a gentle stir now and again. It also gave me a reason to think about the benefits of living in a place with over 80 different nationalities, each with their own beliefs and customs.
Getting the fruit started as early as possible is the key to cutting into a luscious, moist, crumbly, fragrant cake on Christmas day. A week ago I made a light sugar syrup, let it cool, added booze and folded it into a mixture of dried fruit. I got this idea from the Pink Whisk and Bourke Street Bakery a few years ago and that’s what I do every year now with tweaks and variations along the way.
In the past I’ve taken favourite cake recipes (Nigella’s and Tamasin Day Lewis) and introduced the boozy soaking element. This year I thought I’d go back to Bourke Street. This is a lovely book by Paul Allum and David McGuinness who started a small, artisan bakery in Sydney’s Surry Hills which gained huge popularity and renown. I replaced the figs with extra dried fruit, I’ll stir in some fresh dates from the market in a few weeks time, plus I used Jack Daniels Single Barrel which is super-smooth with a slick of vanilla. If I buy individual bags of raisins, sultanas and currants, there are dribs and drabs hanging around at the back of the cupboard so I use a bag of plump, mixed, flame raisins and sultanas from Waitrose. I’d avoid the mixed fruit mixtures with candied peel as they tend to be poor quality.
Christmas old soak
- 55g vanilla caster sugar
- 55ml water
- 160 ml bourbon (or other spirit such as whisky or brandy)
- 455g mixed fruit (see above)
- 110g stoneless prunes, chopped
- 55g homemade or good quality mixed peel
- 1 knob stem ginger, chopped finely
- 80g fresh dates (at the rotab stage of ripeness) – use dried if not available
- Put the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently, swirling the pan until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and then take off the heat.
- Let the sugar solution cool and add the bourbon (whisky or brandy).
- Put all the fruit except the fresh dates into a plastic container with a lid. Pour in the soak and give a good stir.
- Stir everyday for one week – the aroma will be amazing.
- After this you need to stir the fruit once a week, for the next four weeks. Add the fresh dates two weeks before you are going to bake with the mixture.
- If you start really early, after four weeks you can keep the fruit in the fridge. Bourke Street says up to 2 months but I’ve kept steeping fruits in the fridge for over a year and it only gets better.
The baking part will follow in a few weeks time (I’ll supply the Christmas cake recipe), but for now just get your old soak on. It’ll be well worth it. What have you been up to this weekend in your kitchen?