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Recipe: Last minute Christmas cake

Once again our guest food blogger Gabby Trifiletti of @gabbyandthefourseasons comes through with the goods. This time around she has adapted a marvellous recipe from Belinda Jeffery to serve up some much needed Christmas cheer.

We spent a wonderful day in Gabby's kitchen stirring and mixing and solving the world's problems and laughing and photographing and eating. The smells that wafted around her home were sublime and the cake that magically appeared from the oven after several hours was to die for. 

The crux of the matter is you don't need to preplan much for this cake. If you soak the fruit overnight you will have a stunningly delicious cake by mid morning the next day. And we can guarantee that it will be a crowd pleaser. Over to you Gabby...

"Ciao Lovely People. 
I so hope that you and your loved ones have made it safely through these past challenging months, especially for those of you in Melbourne. What a year this has been (again.)

To lift your spirits and get you in the festive food mood, I have a clever, easy and delicious twist on a traditional Christmas cake from Belinda Jeffery that you can make ‘at the last minute.’ This one’s especially for Sue - our fearless Rhubarb Rhubarb leader - who loves it with a cuppa. It would be great to take along to a shared table or party in the lead up to Christmas, or on the day itself and the many summer picnic and outdoor lazy days that follow. The cake can also be baked as three or four smaller ones, and would make a gorgeous gift for someone special, or who might need a bit of a boost.

A big thanks to Belinda for sharing her special recipe. She calls it her ‘Last Minute Christmas Cake’ and she delivers 100% on her promise. Don’t just save it for Christmas though: this cake is so sustaining and perfect with a cuppa at any time of the year. It got my lovely mum, Pier, eating again after several rounds of illness this year. Funny how ‘a little something’ to go with a cup of tea seems to go down when a big meal will not. That’s the healing and sustaining power of beautiful food made with love. My Uncle Joe loves this cake, too, with a tipple of sherry. Knock yourselves out, folks, it’s Christmas!

It’s been such a tough year, please be kind to each other and also remember that Christmas is not any easy time for many people, particularly those who have lost someone special, or are struggling with their own issues. Sharing a slice of cake, a cuppa, and your love is the greatest gift you can give.

Buon Natale a tutti.

See you in 2022 with more seasonal recipes using nature’s bounty."

- Gabby Trifiletti, December 2021


GABBY'S TWIST ON BELINDA JEFFERY'S LAST MINUTE CHRISTMAS CAKE 

Makes: 1 large or 3 medium/ small cakes.

Prep: Soak dried fruit overnight and then 20 minutes the next day.

Cooking: 2.5 hours maximum

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Ingredients:

  • 300 g unsalted butter
  • 420g dark brown sugar
  • 1.2kg mixed dried fruits (such as raisins, pitted prunes and dates, sultanas, curants and sun dried apricots)
  • 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 cup (250 ml) dark run, port or muscat
  • ½ cup (125ml) water
  • ½ cup (125 ml) cognac
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 2 heaped teaspoons cinnamon
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 ½ cups (400g) stone-ground wholemeal plain flour
  • About 150 g pecan halves and 120g whole blanched almonds, for decorating

Optional Ingredients:

  • Apricot glaze, optional (see below)

 Method for prep:

  1. Place the butter in a saucepan large enough to eventually hold all the cake ingredients and melt it over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir to partially dissolve it so it’s wet and slushy.
  2. Meanwhile, slice any large pieces of dried fruit (such as prunes, dates and apricots) into two or three pieces.
  3. Now, tip all the dried fruit, the bicarbonate of soda, rum, port or muscat, water and cognac into the pan with the sugar mixture. Increase heat to high and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once it has, stop stirring and bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and let it bubble gently for 4 minutes. You need to keep an eye on it and adjust the heat at this stage, as it froths up considerably because of the bicarb. When it’s ready, turn off the heat and leave mixture to cool in the pan. I often make this in the evening and leave it to cool overnight.

 Method for baking:

  1.  Preheat your oven to 150 degrees celsius.
  2. Butter a 23cm  x 23cm x 8 cm square tin (or three 13 cm x 13 cm x 8 cm cake tins) and line the base and sides with a double thickness of baking paper.
  3. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and eggs to the dried fruit mixture and sitir them in well. Mix in the flour, then leave the batter to sit for a few minutes. Scrape it into the prepared tin(s) and give it a gentle shake to level the top.
  4. Now it’s time to decorate the top of the cake: you can create all sorts of different patterns by marching alternating bands of pecans and almonds across the top.
  5. Bake the cake for 2 ¼ - 2 ½ hours (if you are baking smaller cakes, they will take approx. 1 hr 40 mins.) untili t fels firm-ish in the centre when lightly pressed and a fine skewer inserted in teh middle comes out clean. After an hour or so, check the top; if it’s a good rich brown cover it loosely with a sheet of foil to stop it getting darker.
  6. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin on a rack, then remove it from the tin, wrap it tightly in cling wrap or foil, and store it in the fridge where it will keep well for up to 3 months. (Ours never lasts this long, but good luck!)
  7. Just before serving the cake, brush a little warm apricot glaze over the top, if using. 

Apricot Glaze:

Warm up ½ cup apricot jam with 1 ½ tablespoons water for 4-5 minutes, until it becomes thick and syrupy. Watch carefully or it will stick and burn! Brush hot glaze over the cake and leave to set. (We never get this far, either. This cake smells sooo good that I defy you to ‘wait’ for the glaze to set. We slice it up into big greedy slices and devour it immediately with lots of cups of tea.) 

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Recipe Notes:

  • For the cake, please use up whatever dried fruit you have loitering about in your pantry. Belinda’s recipe calls for ‘1.2 kg of dried fruit’: we used organic raisins, currants, pitted dates and prunes, and apricots. In no special proportions. I snipped the dates, prunes and apricots into halves with kitchen scissors as they went in. Rhubarb Rhubarb has all of the ingredients for this cake in-store if your pantry is looking a little bare (especially after another year of intensive COVID-Lockdown baking in Melbourne.)
  • Same goes for the alcohol in the cake: use up whatever ends of bottles of what you have. I used a mixture of Bacardi Rum, Vermouth, a few splashes of Angostura Bitters and Nonno Amaro. My usual rule of cooking applies though: if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it! If you’d prefer not to use alcohol at all, you can substitute water, fruit juice or a mixture of both.
  • If you have the time, make the dried fruit/alchol/melted butter mixture the night before. Just leave it in the pot, lid on, overnight. Saves time. Next day: just add flour, spices and eggs and voilà! The cakes are ready to bake.
  • This is a very generous sized mixture: I make one round cake (20 cm diameter, 8.5 cm high), and one loaf cake (25 cm x 11 cm x 11 cm.)
  • To Belinda’s recipe, I also added ginger (3 teaspoons) and organic vanilla extract (3 teaspoons.) I used a mixture of brown sugar and caster sugar, and organic pecan halves and whole macadamias to decorate.
  • For the salad: we used a mix of baby cos from Rhubarb, some darker Cos and fresh dill and parsley from my garden. Use what is seasonal and to hand: what you have in the fridge, you have already bought, grown or been gifted.

Photography by Emma Byrnes

About Belinda Jeffery:

Many of you will know Belinda’s lovely recipes from her many years on Better Homes and Gardens on TV, and her fabulous internationally-acclaimed cookbooks. She is a champion of home cooks, and creates simple, delicious and creative recipes using seasonal and local ingredients where possible. Belinda is well-represented on my bookshelf – lovely batter-splattered and annotated pages - and has just released a new book, A Month of Sundays, inspired by her weekly Insta recipes and reflections this past year. I am eagerly awaiting my copy. Pop over to her Instagram or her website to check out her new book, and for loads more of her mouth-watering recipes, ideas, cooking classes and reflections on food and life. Make yourself a cuppa, and settle into a comfy sofa and enjoy a lovely wander through her warm and delicious foodie world.

 

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