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Christmas Cake with Louise Lennox

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Most people should at least have one attempt at making Christmas cake, we've got a recipe that's easy and simple to do if you follow our guide

With its rich fruit and the plentiful addition of alcohol, the Christmas cake has an important place at the table in any traditional Irish Christmas. Louise is here to guide us through the steps involved in making the Christmas cake

The Christmas cake should be made at least 6 to 8 weeks before eating, so now is the perfect time.

Louise Lennox - chef
After a childhood in Dundrum, Co Dublin and inspired by her mother's baking skills, Louise was nine when she burnt her first cake. 2 years later her 5th class teacher encouraged her to tackle her dyslexia, by using cookery books for to help her reading skills improve. Louise baked cakes for homework and thus proved to herself, and her classmates, that she had discovered her creative strengths.
Fast forward to Leaving Cert, and while the others in the class were studying for high points, Louise was working as a commis chef for the 'Irish Management Institute'. So while she did complete her Leaving Cert, Louise's focus was already on her true passion and future career.
For 3 years Louise studied professional cookery at Cathal Brugha Street. There she discovered her natural flair for pastry work and quickly moved to a prime job in Mahers in Dublin 4. Two years later, aged just 22, she became Head Pastry Chef at the renowned Dobbins Restaurant under the ownership of the late John O'Byrne. It was here that Louise honed her skills in the art of the plated dessert, and where her creations in edible art, such as sugar skills and chocolate work, were recognised. Nowadays you will find Louise, the self-employed pastry chef, selling her breads, biscuits and cakes in the Cup Cake Cottage in Airfield in Dundrum. She also sets aside time to give cookery lessons to children, a job she particularly loves. Louise has contributed to many radio programmes including Boiled, Baked and Basted; Family Flavours; Christmas Eve Food Special and The Tubridy Show, and is currently a contributor on the Will Leahy Show on radio 2FM.
Louise made her debut on television on The Restaurant, and as a longtime fan of the show she is particularly thrilled to be part of the team. Louise is also a contributor to The Afternoon Show on RTE One.

Double check that you have everything you need before you start making the cake!

The day before you plan making the cake:
. Place all the dried fruit (except the cherries) peel into a bowl, add the whiskey, and stir to mix well.
. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to soak for a minimum of twelve hours and up to 24 hours.

Prepare your tin as follows:
Tools needed:

. 9" Square Tin or 10" Round Tin
. Baking Parchment
. Brown Paper
. String

To line a square tin -
. Put the tin in the centre of the baking parchment or greaseproof paper.
. Measure the length and width and double the depth the paper should extend 1-2" higher than tin.
. Make four lines from the papers edge up to the corner, and cut along the lines.
. Grease the tin and place the paper inside, folding and over lapping the corners to fit.
. Using the tin as a guide, and using a pencil, mark out the size of the base.
. Cut out two double bases and place inside the tin and grease each one as you put it in.

To line a round tin -
. Cut a strip of baking parchment or greaseproof paper longer and higher than the outside of the tin.
. Fold it in half and fold back about an inch along its length.
. Using a pair of scissors, snip the paper up to the fold every ½".
. Grease the tin and press the paper onto the sides.Using the tin as a guide, and using a pencil, mark out the size of the base.
. Cut out two double bases and place inside the tin and grease each one as you put it in.

Louise Lennox's Christmas Cake 2009

. 10 oz Butter - at room temperature
. 10oz Muscovado Sugar
. 5 Large Eggs
. 4 Tablespoons Maple Syrup or Golden Syrup
. 10oz Plain Flour
. 4 oz Ground Almonds
. 1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
. ½ Teaspoon Mixed Spice
. ½ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
. 4oz Crystallised Lemon and Orange Peel or Mixed peel
. 4oz Maraschino or Marcello Cherries -dried, chopped and tossed in a tablespoon of flour
. 4 oz Dried Blueberries
. 4oz Tinned Strawberries
. 4oz Greek Currants
. 10oz Golden Sultanas
. 10oz Jumbo Raisins
. 4oz Macadamia Nuts - roughly chopped
. 12 Tablespoons Irish Whiskey, Dark rum, Sherry or Brandy


1. Sieve the flour, ground almonds and spices into a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.
3. Break the eggs into a small bowl and lightly beat with a fork.
4. Add a tablespoon of the beaten eggs at a time to the creamed sugar and butter.
5. Beat well after each addition. If the mixture looks as if it might be starting to curdle, add in a little of the measured flour and spice mix.
6. When all the eggs have been added, fold in the flour and spices using a metal spoon.
7. Add the maple syrup to the soaked fruits and stir well.
8. Very gently stir the soaked fruits, the cherries, strawberries, crystallised lemon and orange peel and the nuts.
9. Using a metal spoon carefully spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.
10. Use the back of a wet spoon to even off the mixture and make a slight indentation in the centre to ensure that the surface is even when cooked.
11. Cover the outside of the tin with a double band of brown paper and tie with string. Once the cake mixture is in the tin, the top can be covered with a clean tea towel and it can be left until the next day before cooking.
12. Put a double layer of baking parchment on top of the cake and put into the preheated oven.



. 2 Large Oranges
. 4 Lemons
. 8oz Caster Sugar
. 24 floz Cold Water

1 Peel the skin of oranges and lemons using a
vegetable peeler. Be careful not the get the white part as this is extremely bitter.
2 Very finely cut the peel into strips.
3 Fill a pot half way with boiling water, add the peel and leave for 30 seconds only. Strain the peel then rinse in cold water.
4 Place the peel and sugar in a shallow saucepan, pour in the water. Cook very slowly on a low heat until all the water has evaporated, the orange and lemon peel is ready to use.

See temperatures and cooking times below.

Oven Temperatures and Approximate cooking times

Bake at 170o for 1 ½ hours then reduce the heat to 150o for remaining 2 hours
Bake at gas mark 3 for 1 ½ hours then reduce the heat to gas mark 2 for remaining 2 hours
This is a guideline only as it is best to refer to the manufacturers instructions. Some manufacturers suggest that Christmas Cakes should be placed in a cold oven, while other manufacturers say that the oven should be preheated. So these are the suggested temperatures. Bake at 150o for 1 ½ hours then reduce the heat to 130o for the remaining 2 hours. Again check the cooking instructions that you got with your oven.
As all oven temperatures vary, it is important to check that the cake is cooked after the cooking time is up. This is done by the following:

1. See if the cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin.
Press firmly on top of the cake and if no indentations are left remove it from the oven.
2. Gently put a thin metal skewer into the middle of the cake and if it comes out clean, the cake is ready.
Next step
1. When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.
2. Once the cake is cold, leave the lining paper on and cover the cake with extra baking parchment or greaseproof paper and then wrap tinfoil over it. Never wrap fruit cakes directly in tinfoil as the foil interacts with the fruit.

Every week, until the cake is iced, "feed" it by taking a skewer and making holes over its surface and pour about a tablespoon of whatever alcohol that was used in baking the cake. This helps to keep it moist and adds to the flavour.

Cooking Tips for making Christmas Cakes

1. Always buy good quality dried fruit.

2. Don't use dried fruit that you find at the back of a cupboard. It will have dried up more since the last time that it was used.

3. Never use self raising flour when baking fruit cakes as it will cause your cake to crack.

4. Always use the size tin given in the recipe.

5. Don't use flour that is at the back of your cupboard, it will probably be damp, so buy a fresh one.

6. All ingredients must be at room temperature and butter must be slightly soft. If the butter is not soft it won't cream into the sugar satisfactorily.

7. Eggs will curdle if they are taken straight from the fridge and used immediately to add to the creamed butter and flour.

8. If you don't want to add alcohol to your cake, you can use fruit juice. I find a mixture of orange and apple the best.

9. Take time to line the tins and when the mixture is in the tin, put brown paper around it. As fruit cakes take a long time to cook, it is very important that the edges and the bottom don't cook before the centre of the cake. It this happens, the outside of the cake will be hard and tasteless.

10. Don't open the oven door until the cake is cooked! Opening the door allows cold air into the oven and your cake will sink!

11. Also, while your cake is cooling, keep it away from drafts.