A good Christmas cake must age for at least three to four weeks, so the time to start baking is now. This is especially important if you want to infuse a bit of brandy. This is best done every few days for the last three weeks of aging.
This cake recipe is an adaptation of my grandmother's recipe. Every year my grandmother sent us a Christmas cake, which were wrapped, not in plastic, or tinfoil, but in the cotton wrappings in which they were baked. My grandmother was the kind of baker who never measured anything, so over the years and over the many miles that separated us, my mother and I learned to translate the meaning of such instructions as; 'a few handfuls', 'just enough', 'so it feels right', 'just enough to be tasty', ' so it's just right', and our all time favorite, 'the right amount'.
Both my grandmother and my mother are long gone, but I think this recipe is a pretty good facsimile of those cakes we longed for and savored, so many years ago.
You will need two large bowls to make this cake. I use 8" pans, and the recipe makes four of these. I line the pans with tinfoil - no cotton for me! Leave lots of hang over to use as handles when removing the cakes.
The oven needs to be set at 300 degrees, and a pan of boiling water should be put on the bottom rack, so the tops of the cakes do not dry out.
Now we are ready to start. Take a minute to have all your ingredients, and supplies, lined up so you won't waste time in frantic searches.
In one of your large bowls, place 1 pound of butter. I do this when I get up in the morning so it has time to soften. Cutting it into pieces also helps hasten softening. Set aside.In a small bowl, beat together 8 eggs. Set aside.
In one of your large bowls, blend together:
-----2 cups of all-purpose flour
-----3/4 tablespoon nutmeg
-----3/4 tablespoon cinnamon
-----3/4 tablespoon cloves
-----1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Set this mixture aside.
In your other large bowl place:
-----2 pounds good quality raisins
-----2 pounds currants
-----1 pound glazed cherries - any color, cut in halves
-----1 pound mixed peel
-----1/4 pound glazed pineapple
-----the zest(grated rind) of one small lemon
-----11/2 tablespoons lemon juice
-----1 pound walnuts or pecans
-----2 pounds of chopped dates - If you buy the compressed dates, they are less sticky, and easier to handle, if you put them in the frig in the morning, when you set out your butter.
Mix all these ingredients until they are well integrated, then sprinkle 1 cup of flour over the surface, and mix again. Set this mixture aside. Now you are ready to deal with that butter.
Cream together the 1 pound of butter with 2 cups of white sugar.
Add your 8 beaten eggs to the butter mixture, and blend well.
Into this butter mixture, slowly blend your flour and spice mixture, alternately with 1/2 cup pineapple juice.
When this is thoroughly blended, blend in your fruit mixture. This is a stiff mixture, so take the time to make sure everything is well blended. Your hands may be the best tools for this job.
Spoon the mixture into your cake pans. Use a spatula to make sure the cake is even and you have eliminated any air pockets.
Place the pans, evenly spaced, in the oven.
You can use different sized pans, but just make sure to allow them to bake until the tops are dry and there is no more sound of sizzling. My cakes take about three hours, but being of a frantic nature, I check constantly after the first two hours.
Remove the cakes. Place them on racks, and allow them to cool completely. After about half an hour, I lift them out using the hanging edges of the foil.
When the cakes are completely cooled, remove the foil, and wrap the cakes tightly in plastic wrap, and then clean foil. Set them aside to age for at least four weeks.
Or - and I like this option - wrap your cakes firmly in foil. Once or twice a week, open the foil. Prick a dozen or so holes in the cake with your finest knitting needle, and pour a modest amount of brandy over the cake. Rewrap, and repeat the process as necessary. Remember to leave one alcohol-free cake for the kiddies.
I don't think this cake needs glazing or frosting, but you may feel differently.
Note: You can vary the fruit ingredients, if you wish, but may sure to have your proportions 'just right'.