Last-minute Christmas cake

This is Christmas cake for the eleventh hour. With the countdown to the festive season fast approaching, many organised cooks will already be topping up the brandy-soaked fruit for the cake. But late-comers need not put their names on the naughty list – this rich and fruity cake can even be made the night before Christmas.

Serves 16

300g unsalted butter

1¾ cups (385g) brown sugar

2 cups (300g) raisins

3/4 cup (120g) sultanas

2/3 cups (110g) currants

1/3 cup mixed peel (optional)

250g pitted prunes, quartered

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ cup (125ml) brandy, plus ¼ cup extra to sprinkle

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 1/3 cups (200g) plain flour, plus 1 extra tablespoon

2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground cloves

1 cup (100g) walnut halves

¾ cup (120g) blanched almonds

  1.  Melt butter in a large saucepan on medium and stir in sugar. Add dried fruit and peel with bicarbonate of soda, brandy and 1 ½ cups water. Increase heat to high and stir thoroughly until sugar has melted. Reduce heat to low and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Cover and set aside for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 150°C or 130°C fan. Grease a 22cm square cake pan and line the base and sides with a layer of baking paper. Add another layer of baking paper to ensure the cake is easy to turn out after baking
  3. Stir eggs thoroughly into fruit mixture. Sift flours and spices together, then fold into fruit mixture. Turn mixture into prepared pan. Level top and drop pan sharply onto kitchen bench to settle mixture. Decorate top with nuts, alternating between almonds and walnuts.
  4. Bake for 2 hours and 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, and it’s ready to share. Remove from the pan. Sprinkle the cake with extra rum or brandy while it’s still hot, then wrap in a clean tea towel and leave on a cake rack until completely cool. Wrap the cake in baking paper and foil and store in a cool dark place until you’re ready to enjoy it!

And there you have it – a Chrissie cake that can be made right up until the big day. Serve it warm or cold with some fresh custard or ice-cream. Merry Christmas!