So you’ve been watching that fruit getting wonderfully fat and juicy in the booze for three days and now you’re ready to embark on the cake itself. This is essentially the Rich Plum Cake from The Constance Spry Cookery Book, but like lots of cookbooks from that era, the instructions are a little light on detail, presupposing you’ve made many a plum cake in your time. I’ve fleshed it out a bit as we’re not all Mrs Patmore. For cooking times and other great tips, such as covering the top with a double layer of baking parchment so it doesn’t brown too quickly, I referred to Saint Delia
Measure everything out before you start, ticking everything off as you go so you don’t forget anything, and it’s pretty plain sailing from there. This is slightly lighter than some Christmas cakes, but in my opinion all the more delicious for that.
If you have any queries, leave a message here or tweet me @lickedspoon. Tweet LOUDLY as I’ll be at the football between about 2.30 and 5.30 and I’ll need to be able to hear you over the roar of the crowd.
1 lot of fruit soaked in booze for 3 days
300g plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves and mixed spice (if you want to make your own mixed spice, and it’s delicious and easy to do, check out my friend Thane Prince’s excellent blog.)
225g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
225g light muscovado sugar
6 eggs, separated, yolks lightly beaten
140ml black treacle
Juice of a lemon
260ml cider, apple juice or milk (I used cider, obviously)
70ml dark rum, plus a few more tablespoons of rum or brandy for feeding the thirsty little cake until Christmas
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Butter a 22.5cm/9” spring-form tin and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment. Cut a double strip of baking parchment that will come about 2.5cm/1” above the top of the tin and tie it tightly around the outside of the tin with kitchen string. Cut another couple of circles of baking parchment the same diameter as the tin and cut a small hole in the top of them. This is to cover the top of the cake while it cooks, to protect the top from browning too quickly.
Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas mark 1.
Sift together the flour, spices and salt into a large bowl, raising the sieve high above the bowl so that you incorporate as much air as possible.
In a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and creamy then add the sugar and continue to beat on a medium-high speed for about 10 minutes, scraping down the bowl and spatula a couple of times, until very light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks a couple of tablespoon or so at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the treacle and lemon juice. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and gently beat in half of the soaked fruit, half of the flour mixture and about half of the cider, juice or milk.
At this point, I use a spatula to scrape all of the batter into a large mixing bowl as it gets too unwieldy to combine properly in my mixer. It also means I can wash the mixer bowl so that it’s scrupulously clean, change the beater to a whisk and beat the egg whites until quite stiff – you want them to hold soft peaks but be careful not to mix them too much or they will become grainy.
Tip the rest of the fruit into the bowl with the batter and sift the remaining flour and bicarbonate of soda over it. Use a spatula or large metal spoon to gently fold the mixture together, incorporating as much air as possible as you go, until almost mixed. Pour in the rest of the cider, juice or milk and rum. Fold a couple of times then add the beaten egg whites. Fold them in gently – you want the batter to be smooth and well combined, but stop exactly at this point. Don’t overmix. Gently does it.
Spoon the batter into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for between 3 3/4 hours and 4 hours. It can take a little more or a little less time, depending on your oven, but don’t check until the 3 1/2 hour point. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean with no damp batter clinging to it – the little hole in the middle of the baking parchment makes it really easy to check the cake. If it isn’t done, return it to the oven and check every 10 minutes.
Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When it’s cold, use a fine skewer or cocktail stick to pierce it all over the top and trickle over a few tablespoons of brandy or rum. Let it soak in then turn the cake over and do the same to the base. Wrap in clean baking parchment secured with string or a rubber band, then wrap it in foil and store in an airtight container. Feed it with a little more booze every 4-5 days until you’re ready to cover it in marzipan and ice it.