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Have yourself a higgledy-piggledy Christmas

Tasting

DELICIOUSLY QUICK It’s a chaotic time of year, but Delia Smith’s last-minute Christmas cake is here to save the day.

Food

Redmond Cabot

“I love your house!” a visiting friend once commented. “It’s so higgledy-piggledy!” It’s a remark that might not please everyone, but I knew it was intended as a big compliment.
Our house is indeed higgledy-piggledy (soon to change – New Year…). There are too many animals and too many toys. More often than not there are muddy paw-prints in the hallway and you risk tripping over a discarded welly or rollerblade. But our house is also warm and cosy and lived-in; it’s full of pretty pictures and trinkets from long ago travels, and there’s also a lot of purring.
On a recent visit to a beautiful, minimalist, childless home, Penny (9) and Louis (3) exclaimed: “Why isn’t our house like this?!” Ahem … because of children! This Christmas, everything will not be perfect in the Cabot household. Adverts galore will tell us what we should be buying to do Christmas properly. But, hey, those advertisers are selling a pup and, as I said earlier, we already have too many animals.

Having your cake
“What are we doing for a Christmas cake this year?” I asked the Brunette. “We’ll bake one,” she replied. “But when?”
This time of year is so hectic we nearly found ourselves consulting diaries.
If we all want to do it together for the craic, it’ll be a last-minute job. We could of course run into a supermarket and buy one for a tenner. It would taste fine and look perfect. A homemade one will cost a lot more to make if you get good ingredients. But there’s no price on the fun we will have making the cake with the kids and letting its baking aroma fill the house. (This makes the dogs very sad.)
We will buy pre-made marzipan and fondant icing. The children will take charge of decorating. With the three-year-old involved, it won’t be the picture-perfect shop version. But I do love a wonky Christmas cake.
Many people bake their cake weeks in advance. But, for the disorganised, there’s a brilliant, speedy alternative from Delia Smith. She decorates it with glazed nuts – very quick and looks great.

Delia Smith’s last-minute christmas cake

What you need
For the pre-soaking

  • 150ml brandy
  • 400g jar luxury mincemeat
  • 110g no-soak prunes, roughly chopped
  • 50g glace cherries, quartered
  • 175g dried mixed fruit
  • 50g whole candied peel, finely chopped

For the cake

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 3 tsps baking powder
  • 1.5 level teaspoons mixed spice
  • Two good pinches of salt
  • 150g soft butter
  • 150g dark muscovado sugar
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 50g Brazil nuts roughly chopped
  • 50g mixed chopped nuts
  • Zest of one small orange and one small lemon
  • 18 walnut halves
  • 18 pecan halves
  • 20 whole brazils

For the glaze

  • 1 heaped tablespoon sieved apricot jam
  • 1 tablespoon brandy

What you do
Presoak the fruit for at least four hours. Then mix the fruits and mincemeat in a bowl with the brandy, cover and leave somewhere cool. Grease a 20cm round, loose-based baking tin and line with parchment. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and mixed spice into a very large mixing bowl, then add the butter, sugar and eggs and beat with an electric hand whisk till smooth and fluffy.
Gradually fold in the pre-soaked fruit mixture, chopped nuts and lemon and orange zests. Spoon into the tin, level the top with the spoon then arrange the whole nuts in circles or rows on the surface.
Take a double square of baking parchment with a euro-sized hole in the centre and place on the rim of the liner (not touching the cake mix). Bake in the centre shelf of a pre-heated oven at 170°C for two hours or until the centre springs back when lightly touched.
Cool on a tray for 30 minutes and remove to a wire tray to continue cooling. Heat the apricot jam and brandy together, and brush the nuts to make them shiny and glossy.
Happy Christmas!

(source: ‘Delia’s Cakes’, by Delia Smith)

Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.

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