Darina Allen’s Christmas Cake with Toasted Almond Paste

This makes a moist cake which keeps very well. I have a passion for almond icing, so I ‘ice’ the cake with almond icing and decorate it with heart shapes made from the almond paste. Then I brush it with beaten egg yolk and toast it in the oven — simply delicious!

225g (8 ozs) butter 225 g (8 ozs) pale, soft-brown sugar or golden castor sugar 6 organic free-range eggs 285g (10 ozs) flour 1 tsp mixed spice 65 ml (2½ fl ozs) Irish whiskey 340 g (12 ozs) best-quality sultanas 340 g (12 ozs) best-quality currants 340 g (12 ozs) best-quality raisins 110 g (4ozs) real glacé cherries 110 g (4ozs) homemade candied peel 55 g (2 ozs) ground almonds 55 g (2 ozs) whole almonds Rind of 1 organic unwaxed lemon Rind of 1 organic unwaxed orange 1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23 cm) round, or an 8 inch (20.5 cm) square tin, with brown paper and greaseproof paper.

Wash the cherries and dry them out. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4 and cover with a sheet of brown paper.

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and a pinch of salt and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently, but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Lay a sheet of brown paper over the top. Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160C/325F/regulo 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer — it should come out completely clean, 3-3½ hours in total. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

Next day remove from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper, but wrap in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required. Almond paste or ice closer to Christmas.

Almond Paste

450g ground almonds 450g castor sugar 2 small organic free range eggs A drop of pure almond essence 50 ml Irish whiskey

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond essence, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all of the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

To Brush on the Cake: 1 egg white, lightly beaten

Glaze: 2 egg yolks

Remove the paper from the cake. To make life easier for you, put a sheet of greaseproof paper onto the work top; dust with some icing sugar. Take about half the almond paste and roll it out on the paper: it should be a little less than 2cm (1 inch) thick. Paint the top of the cake with the lightly-beaten egg white and put the cake, sticky side down, onto the almond paste. Give the cake a ‘thump’ to make sure it sticks and then cut around the edge. If the cake is a little ‘round shouldered’, cut the almond paste a little larger; pull away the extra bits and keep for later to make hearts or holly leaves. With a palette knife press the extra almond paste in against the top of the cake to fill any gaps. Then slide a knife underneath the cake or, better still, underneath the paper, and turn the cake right way up. Peel off the greaseproof paper.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/regulo 7.

Next, measure the circumference of the cake with a piece of string. Roll out 2 long strips of almond paste: trim both edges to the height of the cake with a palette knife. Paint both the cake and the almond paste lightly with egg white. Press the strip against the sides of the cake: do not overlap or there will be a bulge. Use a straight-sided water glass to even the edges and smooth the join. Rub the cake well with your hand to ensure a nice flat surface.

Roll out the remainder of the almond paste approx. 3 inch (5 mm) thick. Cut out the heart shapes, paint the whole surface of the cake with some beaten egg yolk, and stick the heart shapes at intervals around the sides of the cake and on the top. Brush these with egg yolk also.

Carefully lift the cake onto a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until just slightly toasted. Remove from the oven, allow to cool and then transfer onto a cake board.

Note: As I’m an incurable romantic, my Christmas cake is always decorated with hearts, but you may feel that holly leaves and berries made of almond paste would be more appropriate for Christmas! Basically, you can, of course, decorate it any way that takes your fancy.

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