ArchiveNovember 26, 2011

Christmas Cakes

I’ve just had an ‘oh my god’ moment where the penny has dropped that Christmas day is a mere 28 days away. It’s seems to have crept up on me and I haven’t cooked a single thing yet. In this column I will give a variety of Christmas cake and some pudding recipes. The richest can be made this weekend while the others can be whipped up closer to the time or even the day before.

This year I have decided to bake two layers of almond paste into my rich fruit cake. I adore almond paste, it’s really easy to make and adds moistness and richness to the cake. As ever fantastic ingredients make a fantastic cake, use fine Irish butter, really good eggs organic
or least free range and best quality plump dried fruit. If you are going to make a cake it might as well be delicious!

A rich fruit cake keeps brilliantly for months. I love a finger of cake with a cup of tea or strong coffee but not everyone wants to have the remains of the Christmas cake – no matter how delicious – in a tin for months on end. So, why not consider making three smaller cakes
from once the recipe this year – keep one for yourself and wrap the others in lots of tinsel and tissue – perfect presents for busy friends. The same can apply to plum puddings, a little slice is the quintessential taste of Christmas but no-one wants to have cold plum pudding hanging around for weeks after the festive season.

Once the recipe here makes 12 x ½ pint puddings each of which serves two greedy people or four who would enjoy just a few juicy morsels of plum pud.

So this weekend gather up the ingredients, root out the wooden spoon, pudding bowls and cake tins, gather the children around and have a fun baking session and pass on the skills at the same time – remember how much we all loved licking the wooden spoon!


Christmas Cake with Glazed Fruit and Nuts

This makes a moist cake which keeps very well.  It can either be made months ahead or if you are frenetically busy it will still be delish even if made just a few days before Christmas – believe me I know! If the children help to chop the cherries and prepare the ingredients it will take the mystery out of ‘making the cake’ and pudding, so you’ll have given them a skill for life.


225g (8 ozs) butter

225 g (8 ozs) pale, soft-brown sugar or golden castor sugar

6 organic free-range eggs

285g  (10 ozs) plain white flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

65 ml (2 1/2  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 (see recipe)

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 no need to peel


Almond Paste


450 g (1 lb) ground almonds

450 g (1 lb) golden castor sugar

2 small organic or free-range eggs

a drop of pure almond essence

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey


Angelica, dried apricots, pecans, glacé cherries, peeled whole almonds,


To Brush on the Cake


Apricot Glaze – 12 ozs approx

1 x 9 inch round tin or 3 x 7 inch round tins.

Line the base and sides of the tin/s with a double thickness of parchment paper. Tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin / tins.  Have a sheet of parchment or brown paper to lay on top of each tin during cooking.

Wash the cherries and dry them gently.  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.

First make the almond paste. 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. 

Preheat the oven to 150°C/315°F/gas mark 2 1/2.

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 stir in gently.  Add the grated cooking apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Divide the mixture into three equal parts, put one part into the prepared cake tin.  Divide the almond paste into two; roll each into a round slightly smaller than the tin. Lay one on top of the cake mixture, cover with another third of the mixture. Lay another round of almond paste and the remainder of the cake mixture.

If using smaller tins, divide each third of the mixture into 3 and the almond paste into six pieces and follow the method as above.

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 double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake to protect the surface from the direct heat.  Put into the preheated oven. After one hour reduce the heat to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2. 

Bake until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean after a further 3 hours approx, 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.  Store in a cool dry place, the longer the cake is stored the more mature it becomes.

A couple of days before Christmas remove the paper from the cake. Brush with apricot glaze, arrange nuts and dried fruit in a circular pattern on top. Brush more apricot glaze over the nuts and fruit. Wrap a ribbon around the edge and tie a bow. Place on a plate, admire your handy work and enjoy!



Children’s Christmas Cake

I found this recipe while researching for the revised edition of my Traditional Food Book. Nancy Elliott lived in Clones, Co Monaghan. She married in 1865 and had eleven children.  She was a keen baker and had a large collection of cake recipes including this which she made especially for her children.

Serves 8


75g (3oz) soft butter

100g (3 ½ oz) castor sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoonful milk

1 tablespoonful of cream

juice of a lemon

110g (4oz) sultanas

1 teaspoonful baking powder

225g (8oz) cream flour – add as much flour as will make a stiff dough 

Tin Size: 18 cm (7 inch) round tin line the base and sides with greaseproof paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Mark 4. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and light. Add the eggs one by one. Beating well after each addition. Stir in the milk, cream, lemon juice and sultanas. Sieve the flour and baking powder together, fold into the mixture. Place in the prepared tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 – 1 ¼  hours.

Decorate it with red and white sugar.  Do not cut till 2 days old.

Mummy’s Plum Pudding


It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made.   The grandchildren can hardly contain themselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seems the most delicious, it’s our first taste of Christmas.   The plum pudding can be made from about mid-November onwards. Everyone in the family helps to stir so we can all make a wish.


Its fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day.  Wrap them individually in silicone paper so they are bulky and clearly visible.


This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings.  The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium,  6-8 but I also like to make teeny weeny ones.


12 ozs (350g) raisins

12 ozs (350g) sultanas

12 ozs (350g) currants

12 ozs (350g) brown sugar

12 ozs (350g) white breadcrumbs (non GM)

12 ozs (350g) finely-chopped beef suet

4 ozs (110g) diced candied peel (preferably home-made)

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

4 ozs (110g) chopped almonds

rind of 1 lemon

3 pounded cloves (1/2 teaspoon)

a pinch of salt

6 eggs

2 1/2 fl ozs (62ml)JamaicaRum


Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish!  Next day stir again for good measure.  Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.


Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours.  The water should come half way up the side of the bowl.  Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary.  After 5 hours, 3 hours, 2 hours depending on the size, remove the pudding.   Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper.  Store in a cool dry place until required.


On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further 2 hours.  Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite.  Serve immediately on very hot plates with Brandy Butter.


You might like to decorate the plum pudding with a sprig of holly; but take care not to set the holly on fire – as well as the pudding!


Raisin Cake from the Blaskets


According to Máire Ní Ghuithín – who wrote Bean An OileáinRaisin Cake was the Christmas treat. On the Blaskets there was no need for a scales – the bag of raisins would be weighed in the shop. 

Every house had large mugs for tea hanging on the dresser in the kitchen; they would hold 175g (6oz) of flour.

The ingredients were as follows. 


3 mugfuls of white flour – 500g (1lb 2oz)

One rounded teaspoonful of baking-soda 

One rounded teaspoonful of salt

A small knob of butter 25g (1oz)

One egg beaten

Half a cupful of sugar 110g (4oz) Demerara

Half a pound of big raisins (with seeds removed) – muscatels (we used Lexia raisins)

Sour milk – we used 425ml (15fl) buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4

Line the base and sides of a 20cm (8inch) round tin with greaseproof or parchment paper.

All the ingredients, except the sour milk or yeast liquid were mixed together.  The mixture was then moistened with the sour milk.  Maire doesn’t say how long it took to bake the cake.  Sean Pheats Tom O Cearnaigh, also mentions in his 1992 book ‘Fiolar An Eireabaill Bhain’ that milk or cream, and ‘yeast flour’ were used to make a raisin cake, and that it was baked for an hour.

How we did it –

Sieve flour and bread soda into a bowl.  Add salt and sugar, rub in the butter.  Add the raisins and mix well.  Make a well in the centre, add the egg and sour milk and mix to a softish dough. Transfer into the lined tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour approx.

Cut in wedges and serve buttered.  This cake keeps well for a few days.


Mary Jo’s Stollen

Stollen is a favourite German Christmas Cake with a layer of almond paste baked into the centre.

Makes 2 700g (1 1/2lb) cakes


Brandied Fruit:

150g (5oz) mixed sultanas and currants

75g (3oz) diced candied cherries and citrus peel

1 1/2 tablespoons brandy


20g (3/4oz) fresh yeast (or 1 sachet dry yeast)

150ml (5fl oz) lukewarm milk

175g (6oz) strong white flour


75g (3oz) castor sugar

Grated rind 1/2 lemon

110g (4oz) softened butter

2 eggs

1 level teaspoon salt

275g (10oz) strong white flour



75g (3oz) ground almonds

60g (2 1/2oz) castor sugar

1 tablespoon egg white

Drop of almond essence


Melted butter

Icing sugar


Mix fruits, stir in brandy, cover with cling film and macerate overnight. 

To mix yeast sponge, crumble fresh yeast into warm milk in a Pyrex bowl.  Allow yeast to soften.  Mix in 175g (6oz) flour and beat well with a wooden spoon.  Cover with Clingfilm and allow to rest for 30-45 minutes.

Place 75g (3oz) castor sugar in a mixer bowl, grate in lemon rind and rub into sugar with your fingertips.  Add butter and beat until creamy.  Add eggs one at a time; add the salt and scrape down the bowl to make a soft creamed mixture.

When sponge is light and well risen, add to creamed mixture along with 275g (10oz) flour.  Scrape off K beater and replace with dough hook.  Knead on moderate speed for 10 minutes until is silky and soft.  The dough should not stick to your fingers.

Remove hook, cover bowl with Clingfilm and allow dough to rise until doubled in size.

Knock back dough and scrape out onto a flour-dusted clean surface.  Flatten to 1cm (1/2 inch) and sprinkle brandied fruit on top.  Roll up like a Swiss roll and knead fruit through dough.  The dough may grow sticky, but avoid adding more flour.  Scrape fruited dough into a bowl, cover with Clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare the marzipan by mixing sugar, ground almonds and egg white.  Flavour with almond essence if desired.  Knead to a lump, divide in half and roll each half into a log.

Next day, remove dough from the fridge.  Scrape out of bowl onto a lightly floured surface and cut in half.  Shape each half into an oval and roll out to 2cm (3/4 inch) thickness.  Make an indentation lengthways along the centre and place in long sausage shape piece of marzipan.  Fold the oval in half with long sides meeting.  Press together and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.

Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place until light.

Bake at 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 for 30 minutes or until deeply golden and tests done.

While still hot, brush with melted butter and sift icing sugar thickly over the top.

Cool well before slicing.  Will keep wrapped for 4-5 days and may be frozen.

Hot Tips

Cork City Slow Food Event – Garden Talk with Kitty Scully – Kitty Scully of the RTE show ‘How to create a Garden’ is the guest speaker on Tuesday, 29th November at 7:30pm in the Blarney Garden Centre. Kitty will share her passion for all things gardening and growing, and will show how to prepare, design and care for a garden the organic way. To book email Price: €10 – includes tea/coffee, home baked scones, 10% discount in garden centre, printed information material.


Mary Dowey’s Weekend Wine Course at Ballymaloe House – Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th March 2012 – the perfect gift for a wine-lover – the course has become a firm fixture on the spring calendar at Ballymaloe House. Learn the essentials of wine appreciation while enjoying superb food, great wines and good company in one of Ireland’s loveliest country houses. To purchase a gift voucher or to book Tel: 00 353 (0)21 4652531


Two Christmas Cookery Courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School – an early Christmas present to bring good cheer and lift the spirits!  One day Christmas Cooking Part 3 Monday 12th December 9.30am to 5.00pm and Rachel Allen’s Festive Entertaining Part 2, two and half day practical hands on course Tuesday 13th to Thursday 15th December. To book 021 4646785 or online



Past Letters