Making a Christmas cake is often a yearly ritual for many Kiwi families. For some it will mean using a recipe that has been handed down through generations, for others it will entail experimenting with a new version each year.
Although there are numerous recipes for a traditional fruit cake, most of them follow a similar method. Here we show you the general rule of thumb for Christmas cake success and share a few expert tips and tricks to ensure you get the perfect result every time. Happy baking!
Cut strips of baking or brown paper to line the side of the pan, overlapping ends slightly. Make a 2cm fold, then snip the paper up to the fold and fit around the pan.
Lightly grease the pan to hold the paper in place. Position the paper around the side of the pan, with the snipped fold at the bottom. Two or more layers of paper are often used.
Trace the base of the pan onto the paper; cut out the paper slightly inside the marked circle. Position in the pan to cover the snipped paper and line the base.
Beat the butter and sugar only until combined. Don't over-beat, as this makes it too soft to support the fruit, and makes it difficult for the mixture to absorb the eggs without curdling.
After incorporating the eggs, stir the butter mixture into the fruit mixture. Stir in the sifted flours and any other dry ingredients as indicated by whatever recipe you are using.
Drop spoonfuls of mixture around the edge of the cake pan (or in the corners if using a square pan) to hold the baking paper in position, then add the rest of the mixture.
Fruit cakes often end up with air pockets because the mixture is heavy and doesn't flow. So push the mixture into the pan to eliminate any air pockets, then level the top with a spatula.
Hold the pan with both hands and bang it down hard on the bench (or drop it from about 20cm). Do this a couple of times to settle the mixture, and get rid of large air bubbles. Bake.
Push the blade of a sharp-pointed knife straight through the centre of the cake to the base. Withdraw the knife slowly; if you feel uncooked mixture on the knife, return the cake to the oven.
Most recipes suggest brushing the cake with alcohol; this softens the cake's crust and imparts a little more flavour to the cake. Brush it as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Make snips around the lining paper level with the cake top and fold the paper over. Cover the cake tightly with foil, then wrap in a towel and cool overnight, before removing from pan.
Trim the top so it sits flat, then turn it upside down onto cake board. Roll almond paste thick enough to fill the gap around the cake's base; smooth pieces of almond paste into holes.
Brush cake all over with extra liqueur. This will ensure the cake has maximum flavour. Roll almond paste large enough to cover the side of the cake. Join strips with a little water.
Roll and cut almond paste large enough to cover top; join edges with a little water, press together gently. Once covered, stand for at least one day at room temperature to dry.
Almond paste gives a firm surface for the ready-made icing. Roll icing on a lightly icing-sugared surface until large enough to flow over the cake. Lift onto cake using the rolling pin.
Quickly smooth the top and side of the cake with lightly icing-sugared hands, easing the icing around the shape of the cake. Trim excess icing from the base of the cake.
For the recipe used in this step-by-step guide, go to our rich hazelnut fruit cake, or feel free to experiment with one of our other incredible Christmas cakes below!