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Rachel Allen shows how easy a festive bake can be

Rachel Allen
Rachel Allen
Rachel Allens Christmas Cake with Toasted Almond Paste
Rachel Allens Christmas Cake with Toasted Almond Paste

Making a Christmas cake is an epic challenge, isn’t it? First comes the planning, then the mixing, then months of feeding it booze, then baking, making marzipan and spending an eternity icing it – only for half your Christmas party to eventually turn their noses up and opt for the chocolate log.

But Rachel Allen’s delicious cake can be made on Christmas Eve, and it’s so easy, she reckons anyone could bake it.

“It doesn’t need to rise,” she says. “You just bung everything in together and bake it.

“You can choose whether to put the brandy in your cake or your tummy,” chuckles the 42-year-old celebrity chef, who lives with her husband and three children in Ireland’s County Cork.

Rachel likes to enjoy hers with a strong bit of cheese and a glass of port. “You get good value from a Christmas cake – look at how many slices you get!”

Rachel Allen
Rachel Allen

RACHEL ALLEN’S CHRISTMAS CAKE WITH TOASTED ALMOND PASTE

  • 150g sultanas
  • 150g raisins
  • 110g chopped dried cranberries
  • 110g chopped candied peel
  • 110g chopped dates
  • 110g chopped dried apricots
  • 50g finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 150ml brandy or whiskey
  • 275g butter, softened
  • 275g light muscovado or soft light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • Finely grated orange rind from 1 orange
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 275g flour
  • 2tsp mixed spice

FOR THE ALMOND PASTE:

  • 450g ground almonds
  • 450g caster sugar
  • 1 large or 2 small eggs
  • 2tbsp brandy or whiskey
  • A couple of drops of almond essence

TO BRUSH ON THE CAKE:

  • 1 small egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 150C/135 fan/300F/gas mark 2.

Line the base of a 23-inch non-stick cake tin and butter the sides. You can also put parchment paper around the outside of the tin to stop the cake drying out in the oven.

Place the sultanas, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped candied peel, dates, dried apricots and crystallized ginger in a bowl. Pour on the whiskey or brandy and allow to soak for at least two hours.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter very well. Add the sugar and beat well, and then beat in the eggs one by one. Stir in the grated orange zest and ground almonds.

Sift in the flour and spices and fold in gently, followed by the fruit and any alcohol left in the bowl.

Transfer into the prepared cake tin and bake for between two-and-a-half to three-and-a-quarter hours. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake will come out clean when the cake is cooked.

Pour another tablespoon or two of whiskey or brandy over the top of the cake, as soon as it comes out of the oven. Cover the cake, still in the tin, with tin foil. This will keep the top of the cake nice and soft while it’s cooling.

Once the cake has cooled, remove it from the tin and cover again in tin foil, until you’re ready to cover it with the almond paste.

To make the almond paste:

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7.

Mix the ground almonds and sugar together in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs, add the brandy or whiskey and a couple of drops of almond essence, then add to the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff paste.

Sprinkle the worktop with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

Remove all tin foil and greaseproof paper from the cake. Take about half of the almond paste and place it on a worktop that has been dusted with icing sugar. Roll until it is about 1cm thick.

Paint the top of the cake with the lightly-beaten egg white and put the cake, sticky side down, onto the almond paste. Cut around the edge of the cake, then carefully turn the cake the right side up with the lid of almond paste attached to the top.

Measure the circumference and height of the cake. Roll out two long strips of almond paste (to the length of the circumference) and trim both edges to the height of the cake with a palette knife. Paint both the cake and the almond paste lightly with egg white. Press the strip against the sides of the cake – do not overlap or there will be a bulge. Use a straight-sided water glass to even the edges and smooth the join. Rub the cake well with your hand (or cake smoother or palette knife) to ensure a nice flat surface.

At this stage, place the cake on a baking tray (Allen recommends turning the baking tray upside down so it’s easier to remove). Roll out the remainder of the almond paste to approximately 5mm thick, and cut out star, heart, holly or Santa shapes.

Paint the whole surface of the cake with some beaten egg yolk and stick the shapes on top and around the sides. Brush the shapes with egg yolk.

Bake the cake in the centre of a preheated oven for 10-20 minutes until lovely and golden. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then transfer to a plate.

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