Read on before you write in to complain. I am aware that the traditionalists among you will have made your cake before the pandemic, and that you've been feeding it every week since. Well, best beloveds, the clue is in the title - Light. Sister in law Alison's husband started to suffer from chronic indigestion when he ate her traditional cake. She discovered this lighter recipe and has been making it ever since. Er, well, not quite like this.
I phoned her up to chat it through. How coarsely do you chop the whole blanched almonds? Eh? came the reply - are they not the ones you use for the topping? Not according to your recipe, I said. Oh, I don't make it like that, she said. Never look a gift recipe in the mouth, I suppose. Alison finishes hers as a traditional Christmas cake, with marzipan and icing. I'll give you the two variations. And if you're looking for the reference to the chopped almonds, Alison tells me she uses flaked. As she is an expert baker, I'm sure it's wonderful.
*For those of you who aren't experts, here is a tip I picked up from the trouble and strife, one well known to any baker beyond Grade 1, but not to me. When the recipe blithely says Add all the remaining ingredients take care with the eggs. Add them all at once and your cake mixture will split. Best to beat the eggs in a jug. Add a little egg then a little of the flour, and combine well before adding more egg, and so on. (Keep reading this column and you'll be ready for the Bakeoff by 2040.)
350g glacé cherries; 1 x 200g tin of pineapple in natural juice; 350g ready to eat dried apricots; finely grated zest of two lemons; 350g sultanas; 250g self raising flour; 250g caster sugar; 250g softened butter; 100g flaked almonds; 75g ground almonds; 5 large eggs.
Whole blanched almonds; glacé cherries halved; 100g sifted icing sugar; water.
Warmed apricot jam; marzipan; icing.
Grease a 23cm deep round cake and line the sides and base with a double layer of buttered greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 160˚C/140˚C Fan/Mark 3.
Cut the cherries into quarters and rinse. Drain and roughly chop the pineapple. Dry them all thoroughly. Cut the apricots into raisin sized pieces. Put them all together in a mixing bowl with the almonds, sultanas and lemon zest and mix together. Add the remaining ingredients (* I repeat verbatim the words of the recipe but see the caveat above) and mix together well for a good couple of minutes until the mixture is smooth. Turn the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the surface.
Option 1 - Decorate the top with blanched whole almonds and halved glacé cherries.
Option 2 - Don't.
Either way, bake for about 2 hours 15 minutes until golden brown. Check after about an hour. If the cake is getting too brown, cover loosely with foil. Even I know about the skewer test. Prod the middle of the cake with a skewer. If it comes out clean the cake is ready. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. If you're following option 1 and want to go totally over the top mix the icing sugar with enough water to make a thin icing and drizzle over the cake.
Option 2 is the classic way to finish a Christmas or wedding cake. I loathe marzipan, as did my Aunty Agnes who was another star baker. I seem to recall she used a layer of something chocolatey, but as she's been dead these last 40 years I can't ask her. There's no point in me trying to tell you how to ice a cake, but here's a link to a lady on YouTube who knows.
Merry Christmas. This is the last recipe of the year. Tom Cooks! will return in mid January.