Back when I was just starting to morph from the resident wild child into the aunty who makes the cakes for Christmases, weddings and birthdays, I approached my first effort at a traditional Christmas cake with some serious trepidation – my mum was going to be sharing it, so the pressure was really on!
The recipe didn’t look that bad, but I had experienced plenty of fruit cakes that were rather hard and unappetising, though made to look fancy with that thick layer of royal icing that almost rots your teeth on contact. But I also knew that my mum’s mum, our Granma, was a legend for her fruit cakes, so I gave her a bell to get some hints.
She was a fan of using very fresh eggs (usually from her own chooks kept in the back yard – now they’d be “organic” and “free-range”!); she certainly did urge caution in preparing the cake tin thoroughly, and taking care to mix it well but gently, lest it all become tough. But, rather more memorably, her secret ingredient was the rum – use overproof dark rum, and don’t be afraid to be heavy-handed!
Now I use a silicon pan (no paper needed), and have the luxury of time (since I only need to multiplex 2 or 3 things at a time, not 20 like when the boys were small), but I can confirm that her best advice turned out to be a gift that just keeps on giving!
This recipe has served me very well for many years now – each Christmas one went to home for Mum and Dad, one to my husband’s family home for his mum and dad, and others were sprinkled along the way from time to time for my godmother or other “senior” friends and family who liked the old style cakes. With mum and my father-in-law now both gone to their reward, along with my godmother and many others, now we usually need just one – but I make it a “kissing cake”, shared half to my dad and half to my mother-in-law, with good wishes from us to them and from them to each other.