A cake termed 'rich' is one that contains a high proportion of fat to flour. Often, the dried fruit content will be well over 55% of the whole cake content. If made two to three months ahead of time, the fruits and sugars 'mature' giving improved flavour, richness and texture to the cake. The cake will also be made easier to cut and, therefore, provide more portions.
Because of its weight, rich fruit cake provides an excellent stable base for sugarpaste or royal icing and is suitable for all decorative work. A rich fruit cake’s excellent keeping quality enables you to start well in advance and takes the stress out of last-minute baking and decorating. Once the celebration is over, any cake not cut into will normally keep for up to a year if it is stored correctly (see below).
- Wash and dry the fruit beforehand – dried fruits are often coated with mineral oil, so rinsing them in cold water allows them to absorb more liquid such as spirits or fruit juices, thus helping to make your cake as delicious as possible. Check for any stray stones or stalks in the fruit prior to use, too. Glacé cherries should also be rinsed and thoroughly dried.
- Consider your guests – if there are going to be young children at the celebration and the recipe includes chopped nuts, think about substituting them with ground nuts to avoid any risk of choking (or whizz them in a food processor/blender before use).
- Make sure that all the ingredients are at room temperature before use to prevent the mixture from curdling.
- Tins should be fully lined using baking parchment, good quality greaseproof paper or reusable baking film.
- Because rich fruit cakes are baked for a long time, wrap a double layer of brown paper or newspaper round the outside of the tin prior to baking the cake. This will help to ensure an even bake. Both the lining and the outer paper should be level with the top of the cake and not above as this could act like a chimney and draw the mixture up, thus creating a domed or raised top to your cake. When attaching brown paper around a tin, always secure with string – sticky tape and elastic bands will melt in the oven!
- Once baked, invert the cake onto a cooling tray. This will help to flatten what was the top of the cake and will give a level surface (i.e. the 'bottom' of the cake) to work on. If your cake has a slight dome after baking, the gap around the base (once the cake has been inverted) can be filled with marzipan when decorating. For a heavily domed cake, it may be advisable to trim the top flat before inverting the cake.
- If you are using brandy, drizzle it over the top of the cake while it is tepid – at this temperature the cake will absorb the liquid well. If the cake is too hot, the brandy will simply evaporate before being absorbed into the cake. Take care not to use too much liquid as this may result in a soggy texture, more like a pudding than a cake.
- Rich fruit cakes should be completely cold before being stored. Drizzle the brandy over the tepid cake, allow to cool completely, then wrap in a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment. The cake can then be overwrapped with aluminium foil.
- Do not store cakes in plastic tubs/boxes as these can cause the cakes to sweat and a mould may form. Keep the wrapped cake in a strong cardboard box with a well-fitting lid.
- Store in a cool dry place away from sunlight – As rich fruit cakes keep for many months, it is not necessary to freeze them.
- 200g/8oz butter
- 200g/8oz moist brown sugar
- 250g/10oz plain flour
- 4 large eggs
- ¾tsp mixed spice
- 250g/10oz currants*
- 200g/8oz sultanas*
- 175g/7oz raisins*
- 50g/2oz chopped almonds
- 75g/3oz glacé cherries
- Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
- 45ml/3tbsp brandy
*Alternative to currants, sultanas and raisins: 625g/1lb 9oz dried mixed fruit
- Wash and dry the dried fruit. Soak overnight or for up to three days in the lemon juice and 40ml brandy.
- Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2.
- Line a 20cm/8" tin with baking parchment, then wrap brown paper round the outside of the cake tin.
- Cut the cherries in halves or quarters, rinse and dry.
- Break the eggs into a bowl and beat very lightly.
- Cream the butter, sugar and lemon rind until light and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time to the creamed mixture, beating well between each addition. Continue until all the egg has been beaten in.
- Gently fold in the flour followed by the fruit, nuts and cherries.
- Place the mixture into the lined tin, carefully smooth it to the edges (and corners if applicable) and make a small indent in the centre of the cake – this helps to achieve a level top when baked. Bake at 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 for one hour. After the first hour of baking, reduce the temperature to 140°C/275°F/gas mark 1 and bake for a further 1¾–2¼ hours. (Check the cake at regular intervals towards the end of the baking time to be certain the cake is properly cooked.)
- Remove from the oven when baked, turn upside down onto a cooling rack and allow to cool. When tepid, pour over the remaining brandy.
- When cold, wrap in two layers of greaseproof paper and aluminium foil and store in a tin or a strong cardboard cake box.