SOPHIE SMITH of BakeHouse in the Barn shares her Christmas cake recipe

YOU had every intention of making your Christmas cake in September… but it was still 30 degrees and there was gardening (and sunbathing) to be done.

You thought briefly about it in October, but the kids asked for the most obscure Halloween costumes you could muster. So now it’s three weeks until the big day and you’re in a flap. Don’t panic… there’s still time to make a showstopper. The great thing about Christmas cake is you can bung it in the oven and forget about it, put the tree up, wrap the presents… drink the brandy.

The weight of ingredients in this recipe look a little odd, that’s because its translated from an imperial recipe that featured in Good Housekeeping or similar in 1956. We all have a trusty threadbare book of Christmas recipes, the ghosts of Christmas cakes past splattering the yellowing pages. Don’t worry if your fruit mix is not spot on, a few more raisins will happily replace the currants you’ve just discovered you haven’t got; swap the sultanas with cranberries or figs. Do buy the best fruit you can afford.

I like to mix my fruit a couple of days before making the cake, slosh a couple of measures of brandy in the bowl and let it steep; you could use orange juice instead of brandy, or you could miss out this step altogether.

Christmas cake

510g currants

227g sultanas

227g raisins

113g mixed peel

170g glace cherries

283g plain flour

Pinch salt

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp cinnamon

283g butter, softened

283g soft brown sugar

Rind ½ lemon

6 eggs

3 tbsp brandy, plus extra for soaking fruit and feeding the cake

To decorate…

1 pack good quality shop bought marzipan

2 tbsp apricot jam

Royal icing (I use Delia’s method, online)

Handful of fresh rosemary or holly, cinnamon sticks, fresh cranberries

100g pasteurised egg white (such as two chicks)

300g caster sugar

Grease a 9-inch cake tin with butter and a double layer of parchment. Preheat the oven to 110 C.

Mix the prepared fruit with flour, salt and spices. Cream the butter, sugar and lemon rind until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well between each addition. Fold in half the flour and fruit using a tablespoon, then add the rest along with the brandy and fold again. Spoon into the tin, spread the mixture evenly, then make a dip in the centre. Cover the top with a double layer of greased parchment paper before popping in the oven for around 5 ½ hours, until the cake feels firm in the centre.

Once the cake is baked, leave it to cool completely in the tin before turning out. Pierce several small pricks with a skewer and brush with brandy before wrapping in parchment and foil.

Feed the cake a couple more times before preparing the decoration, leaving 4 or 5 days between each feed.

Brush the cake liberally with warmed apricot jam. Roll out the marzipan to your desired thickness, roll it back onto the rolling pin then lower it down over the cake, smooth the sides and trim the marzipan around the bottom of the cake. Leave the cake unwrapped, overnight for the marzipan to dry out a little before slathering on the icing.

Pick through the rosemary or holly, trim down any thick stems and remove any tired-looking leaves. With a pair of scissors, cut the cinnamon stick in half, it will uncoil into cinnamon spikes.

Pour the egg white into bowl, and aerate slightly with a fork. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, lightly cover the leaves, spikes and cranberries in egg white. Sprinkle half the sugar onto a plate or tray, lay the eggy decorations in the sugar, then sprinkle with the remaining sugar, turning the decorations as you sprinkle.

Lay the sugared decorations on a piece of parchment, and leave to dry at room temperature for around four hours.

Once the decorations have crisped up, arrange them on top of your iced cake. You should still be able to manipulate the stems of the rosemary or holly into a wreath shape, though it looks just as good heaped into a little festive pile in the centre of the cake.

I like to have an emergency stash of presents for unexpected Christmas guests. Homemade foodie gifts fit the bill perfectly; just try not to scoff the lot before Aunty Jean and Uncle Neville pop by…

Cherry & pistachio white chocolate fudge

1x 397g tin condensed milk (I urge you to buy a branded tin, value brands don’t seem to set)

567g white chocolate

43g butter

Pinch salt

75g chopped pistachio nuts

75g sour cherries

Line an 8-inch square tin with parchment.

Heat the condensed milk, chocolate, butter and salt in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the mixture is thick, glossy and gloopy, around eight minutes.

Fold the fruit and nuts into the mixture, reserving a few nuts for the top of the fudge.

Pour into the prepared tin, leave to cool, then refrigerate for at least two hours.

Once the fudge has set, remove it from the tin and cut into chunks with a hot (dry) knife.

The fudge will keep for a month in a tin, or you can freeze it too.

Sophie Smith runs BakeHouse in the Barn from her home in Hovingham. Sophie will be at Hovingham market on December 15 and Ampleforth village market on December 22. See Facebook BakeHouse Barn or Instagram bakehouseinthebarn for details.

Photos by Victoria Harley Photography.