As with all traditional Christmas cakes, if this is made a few weeks in advance you will get a lovely moist texture. But this cake can also be made (much to the busy person’s relief) just a few days in advance or even the day before!
110g/4oz candied peel, chopped
75g/3oz stoned dates, chopped
75g/3oz dried apricots, chopped
25g/1oz crystallised ginger, finely chopped
125ml/4fl oz Irish whiskey or brandy
275g/10oz butter, softened
275g/10oz soft light brown sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
50g/2oz ground almonds
275g/10oz plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
FOR THE ALMOND PASTE
450g/1lb ground almonds
450g/1lb caster sugar
2 tbsp Irish whiskey or brandy
couple drops almond essence
icing sugar, for dusting
TO BRUSH ON THE CAKE
1 small egg white
2 egg yolks
Place the dried fruit and ginger in a bowl. Pour over the whiskey or brandy and allow to soak for at least 2 hrs.
Heat oven to 150C/fan 130C/gas 2. Line a 23cm round or 20cm square cake tin with greaseproof paper and wrap a collar of brown paper around the outside of the tin. This will help to prevent the cake drying out.
Cream the butter in a large bowl or an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the orange zest and ground almonds, then sift in the flour and spices. Fold in gently. Fold in the dried fruit and any whiskey or brandy left in the bowl.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared cake tin. Bake in the oven for about 21⁄2-31⁄4 hrs (the round cake will take longer) or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cover the cake, still in the tin, with foil and allow to cool. Once the cake has cooled, remove from the tin and cover again in a layer of greaseproof and foil until you are ready to cover with almond paste.
To make the almond paste, heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Mix the ground almonds and sugar together in a bowl. In another bowl beat the egg, add the whiskey or brandy and the almond essence. Gradually mix this into the dry ingredients until you have a stiff paste – you may not need it all. Sprinkle a work surface with icing sugar and gently knead the almond paste until smooth.
Unwrap the cake, take about half the almond paste and place on a work surface dusted with icing sugar. Roll out to about 1cm thick. Brush the top of the cake with beaten egg white and turn the cake upside down onto the almond paste. Cut around the edge of the cake, then carefully turn right side up with the lid of the almond paste attached to the top of the cake.
Next measure the circumference of the cake with a piece of string. Roll out two long strips of almond paste each half the length of the string, and trim both edges to the same height as the cake with a palette knife. Brush the cake and the almond paste lightly with egg white and press the strips against the side of the cake. Do not overlap the seam or there will be a bulge. Use a straight-sided water glass to even the edges and smooth the join, and rub the cake well with your hand to ensure a nice flat surface.
At this stage carefully place the cake on a large oiled baking tray. Roll out the remaining almond paste approximately 5mm thick and, using festive cutters, cut out star, heart, holly or Santa shapes. Brush the whole of the cake with egg yolk and stick the shapes on top and around sides if you wish. Brush these with egg yolk, too.
Bake cake for about 10-20 mins (not too near top of oven) until it is nicely golden and toasted. Remove from oven and allow to cool before transferring to a serving plate.