Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Countdown to Christmas 4: Secrets

We all want to bake the perfect Christmas fruitcake, so for this blog, I searched for the tips and secrets of the most famous bakers around the world. Regrettably I cannot possibly share some of recipes and tips for the "world's best fruitcake" - not because I want to keep them secret, but because I simply cannot understand them - like the example above in Urdu. However, I consulted just one American, one Australian and one British  baking expert to make a "to do list" for the perfect cake.  
Firstly from American author, Dolores Casella, renowned for her two classic cookbooks, The World of Baking and The World of Bread :

  1. Make fruitcake well in advance of the time that they will be used. One month of storage is the minimum.
  2. Freeze fruitcake only after it has been stored for at least 4 weeks.
  3. Take several days to make your cake or cakes. prepare the nuts and fruits, pour the liquor to be used over them, and let the mixture stand well covered for two or three days. Then make the batter and bake your cakes.
  4. Always bake fruitcakes at a low temperature
  5. Line the pans with brown paper or waxed paper to prevent the cakes from burning during the long baking time.
  6. Always place a pan of hot water on the floor of the oven. This prevents the cakes from drying out.
  7. Cool fruitcakes on a rack in the pans in which they were baked. When cakes are cooled, turn them out of the pans and carefully peel off the paper.
  8. If you are not decorating the cakes before storing them, wrap them in cheesecloth. Sprinkle liberally with whatever liquor or wine was used in the recipe. 
  9. Seal the cakes in plastic wrap or in plastic storage bags. Once a week, brush the cakes with more liquor.
  10. Perhaps the most important, don't feel absolutely bound by a recipe
Fruit Cake to feed a crowd, prepared by Alison Alexander ( - 612 ABC Brisbane)
Alison Alexander is a Brisbane based food consultant and Queensland Food Fellow who write the food blog, Seasonal Pursuits. Alison's tips mostly relate to the quality of the ingredients: 
  1. Choose good quality dried fruit and nuts. Check that there is no taint of rancidity in the nuts. Cut fruit to the same size as sultanas.Any combination of fruit is OK, but must be equal weight to your recipe. 
  2. Use unsalted butter
  3. Line the tin - brown paper, greaseproof paper or baking paper - two layers  
  4. Use large hen's eggs or duck eggs 
  5. If white sugar is used in the recipe , use caster sugar. Otherwise  use brown sugar, golden syrup or treacle for a darker cake. Parisian essence may be used to darken the colour of the cake as it has no taste. 
  6. Medium sherry, run, brandy or an orange flavoured liqueur are the usual flavours for dousing the cakes. Alison Alexander  also agrees  with the American author about the storage of the cakes and warns that In Australia, while  it might be a temptation to store the cake in the fridge in summer, be careful as it may crystallise the sugar content of the cake. 
I particularly enjoyed reading the article by UK chef, Felicity Cloake  in The Guardian . The article is entitled "How to cook the perfect Christmas cake" . Felicity Cloake is a writer specialising in food and drink and was the winner of 2011 Guild of Food Writers Awards for Food Journalist of the Year.  She also wrote the award winning  recipe book "Perfect" .  After critiquing recipes for fruitcakes by the rich and famous, Felicity Cloake offers this advice. " A Christmas cake should be rich and spicy, bursting with boozy fruit, but never ever heavy. After all you need to leave room for a mince pie. "  And here is the recipe...
 Perfect Christmas cake

Felicity's perfect Christmas cake
 Felicity's perfect Christmas cake. Photograph: Felicity Cloak
250g currants
250g sultanas
100g dried figs, roughly chopped
100g glacé cherries, cut in half
100g mixed peel
125ml whisky, plus extra to feed
125g butter, softened
125g muscovado sugar (unrefined brown sugar)
4 eggs, beaten
130g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
50g ground almonds
Grated zest of 1 lemon
50g whole almonds
25g crystallised ginger, chopped

1. Put the dried fruit and peel in a bowl along with the whisky, cover and leave to soak overnight. Stir well before use. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with 2 layers of baking parchment.

2. Preheat the oven to 140C. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition so the mixture doesn't curdle.

3. Mix together the sifted flour, baking powder, spice, ground almonds and a pinch of salt and then fold this into the butter and sugar mixture. Add the soaked fruits, and any remaining whisky, the lemon zest, chopped almonds and ginger, and stir to combine.

4. Tip the mixture into your prepared tin and smooth the surface, scooping out a small hollow in the middle to prevent a doming effect.

5. Put the cake in the oven for about an hour, then cover with foil, and bake for another 30 minutes and then check the cake. It's done when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean – check every 10 minutes until it's cooked.

6. Leave to cool in the tin then use the skewer to poke a few holes almost all the way through the cake, and brush them with more whisky. With the baking parchment still attached, wrap well in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin or a layer of foil, repeating the feeding every week or so until you're ready to ice just before Christmas.

Information sources:  http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/nov/17/how-cook-perfect-christmas-cake; http://www.abc.net.au/local/recipes/2007/11/28/2316622.htm; http://whatscookingamerica.net/Q-A/fruitcakesec.htm

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