Yule be grateful

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am


If you have yet to make your Christmas fruitcakes, you should start now, as they need to age to allow the flavours to develop. The success of a fruitcake depends on the quality of the candied fruit used. I've included recipes for candied pineapple and cherries. While the candied cherries will be misshapen, they won't have the garish, neon colour of most commercial brands.

Be sure to soak the candied and dried fruit in alcohol for two days.

Christmas fruitcake (pictured)

For this cake, I use equal amounts of dried and candied fruit, although the proportion can be varied. The dried fruit can include sultanas, golden raisins, cranberries and chopped apricot and dates. For candied fruit, you can use pineapple, cherries and lemon and orange rind. After chopping all the fruit quite small (about 5mm), put it together in a large bowl and drizzle with about 150ml of cognac, using more if the fruit is very dry. Mix thoroughly and put in an airtight container. Leave for at least two days, mixing occasionally.

This recipe is based on one in Jeffrey Steingarten's book, The Man Who Ate Everything.

500 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened

500 grams granulated sugar

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

6 large eggs, at room temperature

15ml vanilla extract

500 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, divided

1.5kg candied and dried fruit, chopped and soaked in cognac

Cognac, for brushing over the cakes as they age

Apricot jam or Seville orange marmalade, for brushing over the cakes

Marzipan, for covering the cakes

Icing sugar, for rolling out the marzipan

Rolled fondant or commercial rolled icing (such as the Dr Oetker brand of Regal Ice) for covering the cakes

Edible decorations of choice

Preheat the oven to 130 degrees Celsius. Spray the baking pans with baking spray (I used two 18cm round pans and one 20cm long loaf tin). Line the bottom of the round pans with baking paper; line the bottom and sides of the loaf tin with baking paper.

Sprinkle about 75 grams of the flour over the candied and dried fruit and mix thoroughly (this helps to prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the cakes).

Beat the butter with the sugar and salt until very light and fluffy, using medium-low speed on a heavy-duty mixer, or medium-high for a hand mixer. Turn the mixer speed to low and stir in three of the eggs and the vanilla extract. Add half of the remaining flour and stir it in. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and the beaters with a rubber spatula. Add the last three eggs and stir well, then add the remaining flour and mix until fully incorporated.

In a very large bowl, mix the cake batter with the fruit. Divide the batter between the pans, filling them three quarters of the way. Cover the pans tightly with aluminium foil and bake at 130 degrees for about 1?hours. Remove the foil, then continue to bake. They are ready when they reach an internal temperature of 93 degrees: check by using a probe thermometer, and take the temperature at several points in the middle of the cake. Cool the cakes, then remove them from the pans. Brush the entire surface of the cakes with cognac, wrap tightly with cling-film then store in a cool place. Brush them every few days with cognac before rewrapping.

On the day you want to serve the cakes, melt some apricot jam or Seville orange marmalade, adding a little water to make it thin enough to brush. Strain out and discard the fruit then brush the jam or marmalade over the top and sides of the cake. On a work surface that has been lightly dusted with icing sugar, roll the marzipan into a sheet about 3mm thick. Place it carefully over the cake, stretching the sides gently so the marzipan fits securely and smoothly, without wrinkles. Unwrap the rolled fondant and put it over the marzipan, again stretching it so it fits securely and smoothly. Decorate as desired, then serve.

Candied pineapple

1 large pineapple

Fine sea salt

750 grams granulated sugar, plus more for dredging

Remove and discard the skin, eyes and core from the pineapple then cut the fruit into 1cm pieces. Sprinkle liberally with salt, mix thoroughly then leave for 30 minutes (this draws out the acidity). Rinse well, until the pineapple no longer tastes salty, then drain. Put 1.5 litres of water in a large pan, add the pineapple, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for five minutes. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved then simmer for 90 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover with the lid and leave for at least two hours. Bring to the boil again then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Cover with the lid and leave for at least four hours. Repeat this three more times, then leave for at least eight hours. The pineapple should be translucent and the syrup thick. Drain the pineapple then lay the pieces on a wire rack so the surface dries. Dredge the pieces in granulated sugar then pack in an airtight container.

Candied cherries

I make these with canned sour cherries because it is difficult to find the fruit in fresh or frozen form in Hong Kong.

1 700-gram jar of Odenwald Schattenmorellen (sour cherries in syrup)

200 grams sugar

Drain the cherries in a colander set over a medium-size pan. Set aside the cherries. Add the sugar and 500ml of water to the pan. Bring to the boil then add the cherries. Simmer over a low flame for two minutes. Cool for at least two hours. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cherries from the syrup. Bring the syrup to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cherries, simmer for two minutes then cool for two hours. Repeat this three more times before leaving the cherries in the syrup for eight hours. Drain the cherries and dry them on wire racks. Dredge in granulated sugar before packing in an airtight container.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee