Tomorrow is Stir Up Sunday and this is the Christmas cake recipe I will be baking. I made it last year and, even though I’m not generally the biggest fan of rich fruit cakes, I thought it was absolutely delicious and so it has to be made again.
It’s essentially Guardian columnist Felicity Cloake’s recipe from her How to cook the perfect… series, but instead of using whisky I flavour my cake with amaretto, that deliciously perfumed, sweet-tasting almond-flavoured liqueur. It’s the drink I most associate with Christmas. My husband and I buy a bottle for the festive season every year, and we just about make it last until twelfth night.
Stir up Sunday traditionally falls on the last Sunday before Advent, which this year is 24 November. The name is thought to come from a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, which is always read in church this Sunday:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Since the prayer readies Christians for the start of Advent, this day has also become synonymous with the start of other Christmas preparations, including the mixing of the Christmas pudding. With just over four weeks to go until the big day, it’s also the perfect time to bake the Christmas cake, giving sufficient time for ‘feeding’ with your alcohol of choice – be it rum, brandy, whisky or, in my case, amaretto.
Last year I let the children help me decorate the top of the cake with figures made from coloured icing sugar. We ended up with a penguin and a snowman but I have absolutely no recollection as to what the third character was meant to be! I didn’t have the heart to leave it off the cake as my youngest was just so proud of it.
Amaretto Christmas cake
100g dried figs, chopped
100g glacé cherries, halved
100g mixed peel
125ml amaretto, plus extra to feed
125g soft butter
125g demerara sugar
4 eggs, beaten
130g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
pinch of salt
50g ground almonds
grated zest of 1 lemon
50g blanched almonds, roughly chopped
25g crystallised ginger, chopped
Start by soaking the fruit in the alcohol. Place the dried fruit and mixed peel in a bowl, cover with the amaretto, and leave to soak overnight.
Preheat the oven to 140C / gas mark 1. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition.
Sift the flour and baking powder into another bowl and then stir in the mixed spice, ground almonds and salt. Fold this into the butter and sugar mixture. Give the soaked fruits a good stir and add these, along with any remaining amaretto, the lemon zest, chopped almonds and ginger. Stir well.
Pour the mixture into the tin and smooth the surface. I appreciated Felicity’s tip of scooping out a small hollow in the middle of the mixture to prevent it doming during baking.
Bake for about an hour, before covering with foil and baking for another half an hour or so. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.
With a skewer, poke some holes deep into the cake, and generously brush the surface with more amaretto. Remove the cake from the tin and with the baking parchment still in place, wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.
Feed again with amaretto every week until it’s time to ice the cake just before Christmas. I cheat at this stage and use a layer of shop-bought marzipan, followed by a layer of shop-bought royal icing. But if you’d like to make your own icing, I can recommend Delia Smith’s recipe. Sorry – I’ve never made my own marzipan, so wouldn’t know where to point you for that!
This cake has become one of our family Christmas traditions. What are yours?