The Ark luxurious Christmas cake

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My family loves this Christmas cake - an old recipe of my mum's which makes it very special to us.

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375g raisins
375g currants
125g blanched almonds, finely chopped
130g chopped mixed peel
125g chopped glacé cherries
300g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
250g salted butter
250g dark muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar or vanilla paste
1 tbsp black treacle
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp milk
150ml brandy or dark rum

To decorate:
2 tbsp apricot jam
1/2 tbsp water
5-600g marzipan
2 egg whites
2 tbsp lemon juice
500g icing sugar

Mix raisins, currants, almonds, mixed peel and glacé cherries in a big mixing bowl. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of flour over the bowl contents and mix it in.

In another large mixing bowl, cream the butter and the muscovado and then mix in the vanilla sugar and syrup. Mix the eggs one at a time into the mixture, adding the remaining flour (sieved) a little at a time, with cinnamon, nutmeg and the prepared fruits. Mix it well – the dough is very heavy to stir now. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk and pour into the bowl. Finally, add as much brandy or rum as needed to make the dough smooth and easy to stir.

Grease a 24 cm round cake tin and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Cut one or two long strips of baking parchment, 1 1/2 to 2 times wider than the height of the cake tin. Tie them round the outside of the tin with cotton string. This is important to protect the cake from burning during the baking. Place the cake tin on a baking plate in the 140 degrees warm oven and bake the cake for 3 1/2 to 4 hours and then test with a skewer. If not ready, bake for a little longer until the skewer comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin overnight.

Turn out on to a wire rack and remove the baking parchment.
Pour over 50 ml of the brandy/rum. Store the cake wrapped in cling film and then a layer of foil.

Spoon over a few tablespoons of brandy every week until you are ready to ice and decorate your cake (at least a month later).

To decorate the cake:
Roll out half the marzipan to fit the top of the cake (1/2 cm thick) and roll out the rest in strips to fit around the sides of the cake. This is easy to do on baking parchment and with cling film on top.
Warm the apricot jam and water together, and brush the cake all over with it. Then place the marzipan on top and around the cake. Smooth the edges together with a knife.

You can now decide whether you simply wish to decorate the cake with sieved icing sugar and a marzipan rose, a small branch of mistletoe or Christmas ornaments before serving. Or if you want to put any icing on the cake, this would have to be at least two days later.

To make the icing, lightly whisk the egg whites, and then add the lemon juice and the icing sugar at intervals. Beat well until the icing reaches soft peaks. Spread icing all over the cake either flat iced using a clean ruler or by forming soft peaks.
To keep the cake moist, it’s a good idea to store it in a cake tin.

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