Ireland Hopping | By Margaret M. Johnson
With only six weeks to go, Irish cooks have already started to think about the Christmas Cake, the one that Irish cooking legend Darina Allen called “the cake of the year” in her “Simply Delicious Christmas” cookbook, first published in 1989. For those who want to get a head start, Allen offered her recipe again in a recent article in Cork’s “Irish Examiner.” As with all Christmas cakes, most cooks rely on a recipe familiar to them — one from their mum or grandmother — and Allen’s is no exception. This recipe is her mother’s, passed down through generations, which she starts early to enhance the flavors. “This makes a moist cake which keeps very well,” Allen says, “and it can either be made months ahead, or if you are frenetically busy, it will still be delish even if made just a few days before Christmas — believe me!”
DARINA ALLEN’S CHRISTMAS CAKE
SERVES 12 TO 14
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups currants
2 cups raisins
1/2 cup glacé cherries, chopped
1/2 cup candied peel
½ cup whole almonds
½ cup ground almonds
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
8 ounces butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
6 large eggs
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and grated
1. In a large bowl, combine dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.
2. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line base and sides of a 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking pan with a double thickness of parchment paper. Tie a double layer of brown paper around outside of pan. (Have another sheet of brown or silicone paper to lay on top of the tin during cooking).
3. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until very soft; add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one a time, beating well between each addition.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and mixed spice; stir into eggs mixture. Stir in grated apple and fruit (mix in gently but thoroughly). Transfer to prepared cake. Make a slight hollow on top, dip your hand in water, and pat it over the surface of the cake (this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked).
5. Lay a double sheet of brown paper on top of cake (this will protect the surface from direct heat). Bake for 1 hour, and then reduce heat to 300°F. Continue to bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours longer, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out completely clean. Remove from oven and pour remaining whiskey over cake; let cool in pan.
6. Remove from pan the next day (do not remove the lining paper). Wrap in several layers of wax paper and then with aluminum foil. The longer the cake is stored the more mature it becomes. Closer to Christmas, ice and decorate as desired.
Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page also includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, or to order a signed copy of her new cookbook “Teatime in Ireland,” visit www.irishcook.com.