Fiona Cairns gives us her fruit cake hacks and her favourite recipe.

Ingredients

The Great British Bake Off has finally returned to our screens. Kicking things off, as always, was cake week – the perfect way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The first signature challenge was a fruit cake which had to be choc-full of fruit. Many of the bakers called upon family recipes for their signature bake, whether it was Rosie’s spicy chai loaf or Steph’s great-grandmother’s fruit cake with marzipan roses.

And who better to school us on the perfect fruit cake than royal baker Fiona Cairns, who made the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding fruit cake?

Fiona Cairns’s fig, port and star anise cake
This cake is a great one to make for Christmas – you could even start it now, and let it sit and become extra-delicious in the months leading up to December. If you can’t wait that long, skip the festive decorations and you can tuck into the cake in a few weeks time.

Ingredients:
(Makes 25 slices)

For the cake:

  • 140ml port, plus 2-3 tbsp to feed the cake
  • 3 star anise
  • 500g dried figs, roughly chopped
  • 300g dates, roughly chopped
  • 300g prunes, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp treacle
  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic orange and 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tbsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 250g unsalted butter, really soft, plus more for the tin
  • 200g pecan nuts
  • 100g hazelnuts
  • 160g dark muscovado sugar
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 170g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp salt

To decorate:

  • 4 tbsp apricot jam
  • 2 tbsp brandy
  • 9 dried figs, 22 dates, 20 prunes, 22 pecans and 5 star anise
  • 1 egg white
  • Pot of gold edible glitter

Tools:

  • Paintbrush
  • Ribbon, or lengths of raffia

Method

  1. The day before making the cake, pour the port into a pan with the star anise. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and leave for a good few hours to infuse.
  2. Place the figs, dates and prunes in a large bowl with the treacle, zests, mixed spice, nutmeg and port (removing the star anise). Stir, cover and leave overnight.
  3. The next day, butter and line the sides and base of a 23cm square, 7.5cm deep tin (do not use a loose-based tin) with baking parchment. Wrap brown paper round the tin and tie with string. Preheat the oven to 150°C/fan 130°C/300°F/gas mark 2.
  4. Put the nuts on a baking tray and cook for 10 minutes, until toasted. Cool and chop. Place a tray of hot water (large enough to hold the cake tin) in the oven.
  5. In a food mixer, beat the butter and sugar for at least five minutes, until pale and creamy. Mix in the eggs slowly, adding 1 tbsp of flour to stop the mixture curdling.
  6. Using a large spoon, fold in the remaining flour, the salt, the fruits and their liquid, and the nuts. Fold together and tip into the tin.
  7. Place in the water-filled tray and bake for 2 to 2 and a half hours, or until a skewer comes out almost clean with a couple of crumbs on it. If the top is browning before it is cooked, protect with foil. Cool in the tin, on a wire rack.
  8. When cold, prick all over with a skewer and sprinkle over the extra port. Wrap in baking parchment and then in foil, and leave for at least a few weeks.
  9. A week before Christmas, bring the jam and brandy to the boil, push through a sieve and brush most of it over the cake.
  10. Decorate with dried fruits and nuts, glazing with more jam. Paint the star anise with egg white and glitter, and add (they are not for eating).
  11. Wrap the sides of the cake with baking parchment or clear film to stop it drying out.
  12. Finish with a ribbon or lengths of raffia.