For as long as I can remember, my father made Christmas Cake the third Sunday in November. It’s called Stir-Up Sunday for a verse in the Book of Common Prayer which begins “Stir up our hearts O Lord…”. My father would bring out the huge yellow-ware bowls he and my mother had collected over the years and begin making the cake. Here are my two sisters taking their turns stirring. Each person is supposed to give the cake a stir for luck.As you can see by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe below, it isn’t too complicated to make, although the ingredients can take some time to find and assemble. I’ve converted the grams to cups to make it a little easier. The measures are close approximations, but should be fine.
Makes one cake.
200g sultanas (7/8 cup)
200g currants (7/8 cup)
150g dried apricots, finely diced (2/3 cup)
150g prunes, diced (2/3 cup)
150g raisins (2/3 cup)
60g candied peel (¼ cup)
60g dried cherries or cranberries (¼ cup)
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
200ml apple brandy (7/8 cup)
110g hazelnuts, roasted, papery skins removed and roughly chopped (1/2 cup)
200g unsalted butter (7/8 cup)
muscovado brown sugar (1/2 cup)
muscovado brown sugar (1/3 cup)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
250g plain flour (1 1/4 cup)
1 heaped tsp mixed spice
¼ of a nutmeg, grated
¼ tsp salt
90g stem ginger, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
300g whole dried fruits, such as figs, apricots, apple slices, cherries (1 1/3 cup)
120g nuts, such as hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds (1/2 cup)
150g warm apricot jam, strained (2/3 cup)
Put the first nine ingredients in a bowl, add the brandy, stir, cover and leave for 48 hours.
Preheat the oven to 275F. Grease a round 22-24cm x 9cm, loose-bottomed cake tin, and line with parchment to come 4cm above the sides. Pulse half the hazelnuts until very fine, add a quarter of the boozy fruit and blend to a thick purée. Beat the butter and sugars till fluffy, then beat in the eggs one by one (if it begins to curdle, add a little flour). Sieve the flour, spices and salt, then stir gently into the batter. Fold in the purée, nuts, soaked fruit and ginger, spoon into the tin, smooth and bake for two to two and a quarter hours, until a skewer comes out clean. (If it browns before it's done, cover with parchment.) Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and wrap in a double layer of foil. Store in a cool, dry place, feeding it with a slug of brandy every two weeks.
A day or so before the big day, brush with warm apricot glaze, lay the fruit and nuts on top, and glaze again. If you have time, cover in marzipan and icing instead.
Store in an airtight container.