The Cool House: Solstice Cake: Dried fruit, cognac and patience

Monday, November 24, 2008

Solstice Cake: Dried fruit, cognac and patience

Well sure you can make a Christmas cake on Christmas Eve. And in many places you can buy a Bûche de Noël at your local bakery. But if you want to make a traditional cake with sultanas and raisins, currants and dried peel, almonds and brandy you have to start early. The dried fruit must macerate in spirits for 24-48 hours before you can think about adding them to the batter. That allows them to plump up and ensures that when you do get around to eating the cake, in four weeks or so, each tiny bite will be intoxicating, in a really good way.

Because this cake contains 3lb of dried fruit it will take a really long time to bake. Before I mix up the batter I have to prepare the tin so it will insulate the cake from the direct heat of the oven. A layer of greaseproof paper inside the cake tin will help and prevent the cake from sticking to the sides as it cooks.

Now it's time for the batter: 2 sticks of butter, 1 cup of soft brown sugar, 3 cups of flour, 3 teaspoons of spices, 1 tablespoon of molasses, the zest of a lemon and an orange and 6 eggs. When it's mixed I add the fruit and nuts and transfer it to that tin. But we're not done protecting the beauty yet, it needs a double layer of paper on top, with a small hole to allow the steam to escape. Then another double layer around the outside of the cake pan, some more paper on a cookie sheet underneath and we're ready to slide it into a coolish oven for 4 1/2 hours.

Four and a half hours is a long time and while the cake is baking the kitchen fills up with those enticing smells of nutmeg and cinnamon, cloves and ginger, cognac and dark rum. When it comes out of the oven, it has to sit and cool and perhaps be briefly admired. Then it must be wrapped in more greaseproof paper, a sheet of aluminum foil, placed in a box and put out of sight again until midwinter. Once a week for the next month I will unwrap it and feed it teaspoons of brandy and then recover it until eventually, a couple of days before solstice, I will ice it, or cover it in glace fruits or nuts, and serve it at last with Wensleydale cheese.


Anonymous said...

This whole martha stewart thing? is it part of the impending 'L' celebrations rather than Noel?

modernemama said...

Comment? Qu'est-ce que tu racontes ? Non, il n'y a rien de tel.

Anonymous said...

It ain't just a river in africa.