7 Things To Keep In Mind To Bake The Perfect Christmas Cake
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The tradition of cake mixing and making the fruit-loaded Christmas cake, starts a couple of weeks before the actual holiday, in order to allow it some time for the flavours to mature and deepen. The foundational ingredients typically include a mixture of dried fruits such as raisins, currants, sultanas, candied citrus peels and sometimes cherries, which are soaked in alcohol for a period of time before being mixed into the cake batter. Some bakers are also known to feed the cake periodically with more alcohol to keep it moist and intensify its flavours, after which it is decorated with marzipan and icing closer to the special day. A beloved tradition in households, recipes for Christmas cakes have been passed down through generations, as a result of which variations exist based on family preferences and regional influences.

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Prep Ingredients Beforehand

Start by soaking your dried fruits in alcohols such as brandy or rum at least a couple of weeks in advance, for the fruits to absorb moisture and flavour. In addition to this, ensure your nuts and extra ingredients are chopped and stored separately. On the day of baking, ensure that your batter ingredients are at room temperature before you start mixing. 

Low Temperature Baking

Christmas cakes benefit from slow baking at low temperatures, since this ensures that the cake cooks evenly without drying out. Covering the top of the cake with a sheet of parchment or foil halfway through, prevents over-browning. A lower temperature, usually around 150°C, for an extended amount of time, depending on the size of the cake, can yield beautifully moist results.

Feeding & Maturing

Once the cake is done baking, allow it to cool completely before wrapping it in parchment paper and storing in an airtight container. To enhance its flavour, ‘feed’ the cake by brushing it with additional alcohol during periodic intervals. This process can be done once every week leading up to Christmas since it allows the cake to mature and have a moist, rich texture. Keeping an eye on the cake while it bakes and using a skewer or toothpick to test for doneness is advisable before it is removed from the oven.

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Overmixing Batter

Overmixing the batter can result in a dense and heavy cake; hence, mix the ingredients until it is just combined. Fold the flour in gently to avoid overdeveloping the gluten, which can make the sponge tough. It is also ideal to add in the soaked fruits once the base batter has been combined to a desired consistency, since different textures could hinder the homogeneity of the mixture.

Inadequate Fruit Preparation

Ensure that the dried fruits get enough time to soak in the alcohol and absorb the liquid before adding them to the cake batter. If the duration of the soaking is inadequate or too dry, the fruits might tend to absorb moisture from the cake, leaving the final product with a dry crumb. On the other hand, if the fruits are too wet, chances are that they might sink to the bottom of the cake.

Imbalanced Temperature

Baking your Christmas cake at too high a temperature or for too long can result in a dry cake. Ideally, it is best to go by recommended temperature and time of your recipe and keep a close eye on the cake to prevent over-browning or burning. Covering the cake with foil if it browns too quickly is also one way to make sure that it retains its perfect golden-brown hue. Similarly, high temperatures might also lead to a cake with an uncooked centre that isn’t an ideal output.

Insufficient Maturation

Christmas cakes often taste better after maturing for a while and hence, it is best to avoid cutting into the cake right after it has been baked. The key lies in wrapping and storing the cooled cake in an airtight container, periodically feeding it with alcohol to highlight the flavours of fruits and spices. Ideally, bake the cake a couple of weeks in advance and let it rest on its own before you can indulge in some holiday bingeing.