Nothing says Christmas, in the culinary sense of course, like a rich, dark fruit cake. Packed with dried fruit, nuts, spices and liqueur, it’s the quintessential treat to serve on, and around, the Big Day.
Actually, I had no intention of making an alternative to New Zealand’s favourite version – Alison Holst’s Pineapple Christmas Cake. But, when I saw this delicious recipe, with its hazelnut and chocolate flavourings, pop up in my favourite NZ Food magazine this month, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.
I didn’t have a lot of time to spare – ideally, it’s better to make it several weeks ahead to give the flavours time to mature – but figured it was worth giving it a go anyway. And, I’m glad I did – this fruitcake is a stunner. It’s darker, richer and denser than the Pineapple Cake, so a nice alternative, depending on how you like your Christmas cake.
Instead of the usual brandy, this cake calls for hazelnut liqueur instead. The only hazelnut flavoured liqueur I could source here in NZ was the Italian Frangelico. To tell you the truth, I baulked at buying it given its cost but, now that I’ve tasted the cake, I have to say it was definitely worth the money.
I pretty much followed the recipe verbatim, though with Christmas looming, I took a short-cut and used a standard kilogram pack of dried fruit. Next year, however, I’m going to use the recipe’s suggested fruits which includes prunes and dates as I imagine that will ensure an even greater depth of flavour.
The cake is super simple, and very quick to make, other than the baking time of course. And, speaking of which, I was a little dubious about the three and a half hours baking time. Half way through (i.e. 1.5 hours in) I tested the cake with a baking tester (you know, the one that turns red when the cake is cooked) and it indicated it had already cooked through. I got a bit nervous at that point that I might overbake it, so I turned down the temperature by 20 degrees Celsius and wrapped the sides and top of the pan in tin foil to slow down the cooking for the remaining one and a half hours. I’m glad I did, as the cake was well and truly baked even at the lower temperature. Thankfully, while it was a little drier than the Pineapple Fruitcake, it certainly wasn’t what you’d call ‘dry’.
That aside, this is a truly scrumptious cake and one I will definitely make again next year. I might need to tweak the temperature and baking time a bit – i.e. maybe bake it at 150C (300F) for the first hour, then turn it down to 130C (265F) for the remainder and see how it goes. I’ll also make it earlier on in December, dousing it in liqueur every week to deepen the flavours and add more moisture. I can then only imagine that what is already a splendid fruitcake will be even better. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
29 Dec 2016: Just a wee note to say that I ended up brushing another layer of liqueur over the cake (a great trick if you’ve already iced the cake, but want to add some extra moisture – just turn the cake upside down, poke some holes in it, and brush over the liqueur) just before Christmas and it made all the difference to its moisture level. So, for me at least, three separate coatings of liqueur was just what the cake needed.
RICH HAZELNUT CHRISTMAS CAKE
- 2-1/3 cups sultanas
- 2 cups raisins, coarsely chopped
- 1-1/2 cups seeded dates, coarsely chopped
- 1-1/4 cups pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp raspberry jam, warmed, sieved
- 2/3 cup hazelnut-flavoured liqueur (I used Frangelico)
- 6.5 oz butter, chopped
- 1/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (I used Nutella)
- 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1-3/4 cups plain all-purpose flour (I used Italian strong flour)
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
- 1/2 cup hazelnut-flavoured liqueur extra
- 26.5 oz ready-made white icing
- Cornflour (cornstarch) for dusting
- Combine fruit, jam and liqueur in a large bowl, cover and stand at room temperature overnight or for up to 1 week (I left mine for 4 days).
- Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Line base and side(s) of a deep 22cm (9-inch) round or a deep 19cm (8-inch) square cake pan with 1 layer of brown paper and 3 layers of baking paper extending paper 5cm (2 inches) above side(s) of pan.
- Beat butter, spread and sugar in a small bowl with an electric mixer until just combined (do not overbeat as this will soften the mixture too much; you need a robust mixture to carry all the fruit). Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined between additions.
- Stir butter mixture into fruit mixture, then stir in the sifted dry ingredients and nuts (it will be very stiff, so I suggest you use a large metal spoon).
- Spread mixture into pan and level off the surface.
- Bake about 3-1/2 hours or until cooked when tested (after 1.5 hours I turned the temp down to 130°C (265°F) to ensure the cake didn’t overbake).
- As soon as the cake is out of the oven, poke holes through it and brush it with 1/4 cup of the extra liqueur.
- Cover hot cake with foil, wrap in a clean towel, and cool in pan overnight. (NB: If you intend to store the cake once the cake has cooled, cover firstly in layers of baking paper, then a couple of layers of tin foil and place in a sealed container in a cool, dry place. You can brush on extra liqueur once a week if storing for several weeks).
- When ready to decorate, brush cake all over with remaining 1/4 cup of liqueur. Knead the ready-made icing on a surface dusted with a little sifted cornflour until it loses its stickiness. Roll icing into a round large enough to cover cake. Using a rolling pin, carefully lift icing over cake. Dust hands with cornflour, and use to mould icing over the top and sides of cake, gently rub icing with hands until smooth. Trim the icing neatly around the base (I didn’t bother icing the whole cake and just covered the top). Stand cake at room temperature to dry overnight.
- Re-roll any scraps of icing into a 6mm (¼-inch) thickness, using snowflake (or other preferred shape) cutters, cut out shapes to decorate the surface. Affix to the surface with a little brushed on water.