Are you looking for small treats to give to the office, the kindergarten or to serve for Christmas lunch? Would you like a taste of England in Austria without having to ship in goodies online? Have you ever wanted to try baking Christmas cakes? If so, my grandmother may just be your new best friend.
Every Christmas she makes ginormous, traditional English Christmas cakes. But, being from a good Irish/Australian household, her cakes are a little rebellious. Instead of brandy or sherry, the cakes use Jameson Irish whisky. Three years ago my grandmother gave me the recipe. Tapping into my inner domestic goddess (who, like me, hates housework but likes high heels), I started to make the family Christmas cake. But this year in Vienna I decided to try something different. If I made one cake, my husband and I would eat the entire bottom-layer-of-a-wedding-cake-sized treat by ourselves. Thankfully, the small expat family can enjoy traditional Christmas cake without the need for crash dieting, major gym sessions or very unChristmasy self-control. How? Make mini Christmas cakes.
So here is my grandmother’s recipe for tipsy Christmas cake or mini Christmas cakes. The recipe takes time but it’s not difficult. You can even enlist the kids to help mix in the glossy, drunken fruit. The ingredients have been updated to take account of what’s available in Vienna.
Makes: Approximately 50 mini cakes or one 12 inch (30 cm) square cake. (Plenty to share with co-workers, neighbours and visitors).
Takes: Several hours, particularly if making mini Christmas cakes. It takes about an hour to prepare the cake/mini cakes (more if you’ve taste tested the whisky). The cake takes approximately three hours to cook. Each batch of 24 mini cakes takes approximately
1 hour. Don’t start this late at night.
5 tbsp whisky (or to taste. True confessions: I pour in most of the bottle. Please don’t judge).
1.5 lb W480 flour (weizenmehl)
0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda*
2 tsp ground cloves**
2 tsp ground cinnamon**
1 tsp nutmeg**
1 tsp ginger**
2 lb sultanas
1 lb raisins
1.5 lb mixed dried fruit (cranberries, chopped up prunes, currants, whatever you can find)
8 oz glacé cherries
8 oz shredded peel
1 lb butter (softened)
1 lb sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
a dash of milk (if needed)
*Available in Bobby’s Foodstore
**An impressive range of spices is available from the Naschmaket and Sonnentag, Kerala Ayurveda Shop in the 7th district.
three large bowls
two muffin trays/12 inch square cake tin
50 muffin or cupcake cases/baking paper
wooden spoon or spatula
The recipe takes two days to prepare. But don’t worry, it’s not two full days.
The night before…
- Combine the whisky and fruit in a bowl. Depending on the size of the bowl, you may need two. Mix well, so that all the fruit has a chance to drink. Soak the fruit overnight. By morning the fruit should look plump, glossy and just a little drunk.
- While the fruit luxuriates in a whisky bath, watch Netflix or visit a Christmas market.
The morning after…
- Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius/300 degrees Fahrenheit (if making mini cakes) or 180 degrees Celsius/355 degrees Fahrenheit (if making one enormous cake). Line two muffin trays with muffin or cupcake cases. (The recipe makes about 50 mini cakes so you’ll have to re-line the muffin pans once the first batch is cooked). Or, double line the cake tin with baking paper (double lining the cake tin will keep the bottom of the cake from getting crispy). The BBC has great tips on how to line cake tins.
- Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and the spices into a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside. You’ll come back to the dry ingredients later.
- Mix together the butter and the sugars until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is mixed in well. Once you remember where you put them, grab the dry ingredients and stir into the butter, sugars and eggs until just combined.
- Transfer half the mixture into the now-empty dry ingredients bowl. Now comes the fun bit (unless you’ve been drinking from the Jameson, in which case this whole cooking experience has been fun and possibly a bit wild). Add the fruit mixture a bit at a time to each bowl and mix to combine. If there are little ones in the house, recruit their help (but remind them not to eat the intoxicated fruit—or drink from the pretty green bottle).
- The mixture should have a stiff, dropping consistency (which basically means this is a thick batter that can stand on it’s own). To get the correct consistency, you may need to add a drop or two of the milk you have been wondering what to do with.
To make mini Christmas cakes
Place the batter in the muffin pans. Cook at 150 degrees Celsius/300 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour. Check at 40 minutes. If starting to brown on top, cover the mini cakes with a layer of aluminium foil for the remainder of the baking time. Once cooked, you can decorate (here is Martha Stuart’s recipe for royal icing) or leave as is and let the fruit speak for itself.
To make a large Christmas cake
Add the batter to a double-lined cake tin. Smooth out the top so that it’s level. Place in 180 degrees Celsius/355 degrees Fahrenheit oven and bake at slowly decreasing heat for 2.5–3 hours. My grandmother recommends the following:
- 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius/355 degrees Fahrenheit
- 1 hour at 150 degrees Celsius/300 degrees Fahrenheit
- remaining time at 100 degrees Celsius/210 degrees Fahrenheit (when decreasing the heat this time, you may need to cover the cake with aluminium foil to stop the top from getting crispy—the top should be blonde not brunette).
Turn off oven, open and leave cake in to cool. The cake can be stored in an airtight container or decorated and proudly displayed in a place of honour. You can leave it plain to display the cake in all it’s fruity glory, or decorate. Here is Martha Stuart’s recipe for royal icing.