Ingredients: 350g butter, diced, at room temperature, 350g unrefined dark Muscovado sugar, 1kg dried fruits – I use a mix of soft figs, prunes, apricots, candied peel and natural-coloured glace cherries, 500g dried vine fruits – Lexia raisins, big golden sultanas and currants (I use only a few currants), 5 large free-range eggs, good and fresh, 100g toasted ground almonds, 150g toasted shelled hazelnuts, 5 tbsps Cognac, the grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, the grated zest and juice of 1 orange, ½ tsp baking powder, 350g plain flour, a pinch of mixed spice. A suitable cake tin (ideally 9-10inches, with a removable base), a little melted butter for greasing
Method: First, prepare your cake tin. Brush the tin lightly with butter and line with greaseproof paper. You will need a circular base and a ‘collar’ to stand at least two inches above the top of the tin. Using scissors snip about a third of the way up the collar at ½-inch intervals (this makes it easier to fold inside the tin), butter the collar lightly and push gently into the tin, pushing the paper into the corners. It’s very fiddly, but be patient. Then, butter the central base piece and slip it into the tin. Set the oven to Gas 3 / 325°F / 170°C. In a mixer, whip the butter and sugar together until very pale. It should take about 10 minutes. While this is being beaten, chop the larger fruit into smaller pieces. I quarter the apricots, prunes and figs and also remove any hard stalks. Now add the eggs, one by one, to the butter and sugar. The mixture will split, but that’s not a problem. Tip this into a large bowl and add the fruit, the vine fruit, the nuts, the juice and zest and the Cognac. Mix very well. Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice together and fold gently into the cake mix. One final mix (I believe here’s the point where one makes a wish – a Wii Sport, perhaps, or peace to all men – it’s up to you) and tip the mixture gently and evenly into your prepared tin, smoothing the top. Bake for 1 hour, without opening the door of the oven, then turn the heat down to Gas 2 / 300°F / 150°C and bake for a further 2 hours or so. As with most cakes, here’s the really tricky bit – deciding if the cake’s done or not. I test mine by inserting a cold skewer into the centre of the cake and withdrawing it after a few seconds. There should be no liquid residue, just a few greasy crumbs. If the cakes appear done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool before unwrapping them, and re-wrapping for storage in greaseproof paper and tinfoil. Should you so wish, you can skewer the cakes and ‘feed’ them more Cognac for a couple of weeks. And please, don’t forget to order the Wensleydale or crumbly Lancashire to go with it. The final task is Herculean – can you and the family leave the cake alone until Christmas?