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OFF TO A FRUITY START

 

Friday, December 14, 2007.

 

By Franka Philips

 

Raisins, currants, sultanas, prunes, cherries and mixed peel - the dried fruits that are now happily soaking in rum until it’s time to bake the great Caribbean Christmas cake in a couple of weeks. Some might say that I’m a bit late, because I should have been soaking them six months ago but I don’t agree.


This might sound like blasphemy to some, but I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with soaking the fruits in alcohol the night before baking the cake. I feel it’s how you treat the cake after you bake it that makes all the difference.


When my mother makes her fabulous black cake, she pours alcohol on the cake when it comes out of the oven, and ‘feeds’ the cake occasionally after that. People who rate Mummy’s cake usually say they enjoy balance she achieves because the alcohol doesn’t dominate the taste of the cake.


Another vital aspect of making great black cake is of course, the fruit. I also learnt from my mother that it’s good to leave some of the fruits whole, to give the cake a better texture. And it’s true, because I think it’s great when you can still get whole raisins and chunks of glace cherries in the cake.


Nowadays, if you’re cooking over the Christmas season for variety of people - including strangers - it helps to be aware of dietary issues like nut allergies, gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerance. Additionally, there are some folks who don’t like boozy black cake so you have to think about them too.


But since none of my friends have dietary issues, I will bake a ‘normal’ black cake using the
recipe by master baker Dan Lepard that got so many rave reviews last year.

 

If however, you want to err on the side of caution, then I’ll give you an alternative Christmas cake recipe that can be gluten free and not overly boozy.


This recipe is for Prune and Armagnac Creole Cake by Delia Smith.
Armagnac is a type of brandy that you can find at good supermarkets and sprit retailers. If you can’t find it, substitute with very good brandy. To make the cake gluten free, use gluten free flour flour and add a heaped teaspoon of gluten free baking powder.

 

Prune and Armagnac Creole Cake
by Delia Smith

Fruit mixture to pre-soak
12 oz pitted prunes
10 fl oz Armagnac
1½ tsp Angostura bitters
2 oz glace cherries
2 oz unblanched whole almonds (optional)
4 oz mixed candied peel
8 oz each raisins and currants
½ rounded tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
1½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp molasses sugar
Grated zest of one orange
Grated zest of one lemon
½ tsp salt

 

Method
1. Measure the
Armagnac
, bitters and 3 tbsp of water into a large saucepan.
2. Roughly chop the prunes, cherries and almonds. Add these along with the rest of ingredients to the pan.
3. Stir and bring the mixture up to simmering point, then, simmer gently, uncovered over low for 15 minutes.
4. Allow to cool then pour into a glass jar or container, seal and put aside until ready to use.

For the cake
Pre-soaked fruit mixture
9oz self-raising flour
9oz Demerara sugar
9 oz unsalted butter, softened
5 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Grease and line an 8-in cake tin.
2. Preheat oven to 140C.
3. Measure out flour, sugar and butter into a large bowl.
4. Add eggs and mix until everything is evenly blended.
5. Gradually fold in the fruit mixture until thoroughly mixed.
6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, levelling the surface with the back of the spoon.
7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 2½ hours without opening the door, then cover the cake with two layers of baking parchment and continue to bake for 15 minutes or until the centre feels springy when lightly touched.
8. Cool the cake for 45 minutes in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
9. When the cake is completely cool, wrap in a double layer of parchment paper, then foil and store in an airtight container until it’s time to eat.

 

Franka Philip is a journalist with the BBC in London. She blogs at www.Cancookmustcook.com

 

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