Enchanted forest Christmas cake
Recipe type: Festival Special
A stunning cake that uses the 'boiling method' to plump up dried fruit. Decorate with pistachio paste trees and swirles of fluffy icing
- 200g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 200g light muscovado sugar
- 200g ready-to-eat dried apricots
- 200g ready-to-eat dried raisins
- 200g ready-to-eat dried cranberries or cherries
- 100g dried figs
- 100g mixed peel
- finely grated zest and juice 1 orange
- finely grated zest 1 lemon
- 100ml Cointreau or orange liqueur
- 100g blanched almonds
- 100g shelled pistachios
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 250g plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground mixed spice
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 tbsp orange flower water
- For the pistachio paste:
- 100g shelled pistachios
- 100g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for rolling out and dusting
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 100g ground almonds
- few drops almond extract
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- green food colouring
- For the icing:
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp liquid glucose
- 500g icing sugar, sifted
- To finish:
- 1 tbsp apricot jam
- 3cm wide ribbon
- cocktail sticks
- silver balls
- icing sugar, for dusting
- Chop the butter and put in a large pan with the sugar. Chop the apricots and figs and add to the pan with the cranberries or cherries & raisins, orange and lemon zests, orange juice and orange liqueur.
- Heat slowly, stirring, until the butter has melted and the mixture has come to a slow simmer, then simmer for 10 mins, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a dry frying pan until lightly coloured. Cool slightly, then tip half the almonds and half the pistachios into the food processer and grind to a fine powder. Roughly chop the remaining almonds (keep the pistachios whole).
- Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool. Heat oven to 150C/130C fan/gas 2. Grease and double-line the base and sides of a 20cm-deep cake tin with baking parchment.
- Stir the chopped and ground nuts and the eggs into the cooled mixture. Set a sieve over the pan and sift in the flour, baking powder and spices. Stir in gently until the flour is well mixed in. Stir in the orange flower water.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake for 2 hrs, then reduce the heat to 140C/120C fan/gas 1 and cook for a further 1-1½ hrs until the cake is dark golden and firm to touch. If the cake starts to become too dark, place 2 sheets of foil loosely on top.
- To test it is cooked through, insert a fine skewer into the centre – if it comes out clean with no uncooked cake stuck to the skewer, it is cooked. If not, cook for a further 15 mins and test again.
- Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 30 mins, then turn out, peel off the paper and cool on a wire rack. Wrap in 2 sheets of baking parchment, then overwrap in foil. Will keep for 3 months, or freeze for up to a year.
- To make the pistachio paste, grind the nuts as finely as possible in a blender or food processor. Tip into a bowl with the sugars and ground almonds. Add a few drops of almond extract, the egg yolks and lemon juice, and mix to a firm dough, using your hands to work the mixture into a ball.
- Knead the dough to a fairly smooth ball, then cut off a third and wrap in cling film. Dust the work surface with a little icing sugar and roll out the remaining paste to a little larger than the top of the cake. Brush the cake thinly with apricot jam and cover with the paste. Trim off excess using a sharp knife in a downward movement around the side of the cake.
- Add a few drops of green food colour to the remaining pistachio paste to make it green. To make a tree, pinch off a small piece of paste and flatten between your fingers to a rough round. Place on a tray dusted with icing sugar. Make a smaller round and place on top, slightly offcentre. Continue to build up the tree, then top with a tiny paste cone. Repeat to make 7 trees in varying sizes. Leave to dry for several hours or overnight in a cool dry place. To make the icing, beat the egg whites with the lemon juice and glucose in a mixing bowl. Gradually sift in the icing sugar, beating all the time to make a stiff icing that forms peaks.
- Tie the ribbon round the cake. Thread a cocktail stick through a tree base, then thread on the tree, leaving a little of the stick showing at the base to attach to the cake. Swirl the icing thickly over the cake, forming peaks and teasing it over the sides. Stick the trees into the top of the cake and scatter over a handful of silver balls. Dust the trees thickly with icing sugar.