Christmas cake.... a lost cause regainedLast Saturday the monthly farmers market was awash with late summer produce. Heirloom red onions,white peaches, chucha tomatoes and fresh farm eggs in mismatched sizes.What I was most drawn to, apart from being distracted to buy a gorgeous hunk of presunto, was one of my regular and most reliable suppliers offering beautiful figs.Que coincidência,this was exactly what I had set off from home with the intention of looking for. I was on a mission to make a salami de figo for Christmas.Forget stir-up Sunday, thats two months away, I had to start now as it takes two and a half months to "cure" so to speak.Traditionally, if following the Italian recipe, the fig paste is mixed with anise liqueur and reduced grape must and very often chopped walnuts.It is rolled into a log resembling a salami,wrapped in fig leaves, and aged for for at least a month and up to 3 months.
I excitedly brought my figs home and immediately set about chopping them and blending them in the food processor with more lovely Algarvian ingredients,almonds, home made orange liqueur and blended with balsamic vinegar.The recipe said add a bit more liquid if needed.With what was now going to ensue there would be no need for that. I pressed the button, Whooossshh, and ended up with a sloppy sludge that would be impossible to turn out onto a work surface and roll into a log.I called for advice..."Have you read the recipe" asks the thespian.Reads recipe, can´t see anything awry.Reads recipe again, one pound of "dried" figs (cue hysterical tears).Puts thinking cap on, - tastes sublime, could it become part of a new twist on my traditional Christmas cake? After years of tinkering I thought I had finally perfected the recipe.I had chucked out all the usual currants, raisins and sultanas in favour of dried figs, apricots, hazelnuts, prunes, cherries and dates.Hey-ho,what I had before me put paid to this.To make this succeed I would have to put my Mary Berry bake-off hat on and create a cake recipe from scratch,yikes thats quite a challenge.My main concern was getting the right ratio of wet to dry ingredients so that the dry ingredients,nuts etc, would be suspended throughout the cake and not fall to the bottom.My first thought was that using fresh fruit instead of dried would affect the shelf life when storing the cake.My fear came out of being told once that, in the event of a nuclear holocaust, the earth would be populated solely by Cher, cockroaches, Styrofoam hamburger containers, and fruitcakes.(Fruit cakes have always been renowned for keeping moist and fresh for years,some taken out of tins up to 25 years later have improved with age).
Have you ever wondered how a baker can create a cake recipe from scratch and know that it will work? Unlike a savoury chef who can often use intuition to design a successful dish, a baker must work within defined parameters to produce a cake that will rise, set, and taste the way he or she wants. Experienced cake bakers would never dream of trying to bake a cake without first "doing the math" to make sure that the ingredients are in balance. Having the right proportions of flour, eggs, sugar, and fat is essential.My first task was to thicken the fig paste from my thwarted salami project.I put it in a medium pan and reduced it for 20 minutes.It thickened beautifully by half to a sticky jam like texture.I then let it cool completely before weighing it,then incorporated that into my maths.I have taken all this into account and created a Christmas cake with a difference.No sultanas and no raisins.And how smug am I that I can say September is not over yet and my Christmas cake is tucked up to rest wrapped snugly in parchment paper and foil inside an airtight container.I will be giving it a tipple of liquor from time to time between now and Christmas.
Bolo natal embebeda do figo
Boozy Christmas fig cake
340g self raising flour (farinha com fermento)
1 tablespoon mixed spice,mace,cinnamon,cardamom and ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
115g (4oz ) salt dried cherries (re-hydrated overnight)
500g (1lb ) fresh figs cooked down to a paste with 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and either almond or orange liqueur
115g (4oz )Dried apricots,soaked in liquor overnight
115g prunes,soaked in liquor overnight
170g mixed nuts,roughly chopped
280g/10oz moist brown sugar
280g/10oz unsalted butter softened
5 large eggs beaten
juice and grated zest of 1 large orange
60g dried cranberries
4 tablespoons honey
Light rum or brandy or orange liqueur for soaking fruit
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark3 ( 160ºC, 325ºF )
Sieve together the flour,spice and salt. In a large bowl mix together all the fruits, nuts,fig paste and spiced flour, coating all the fruits with the flour.In a second bowl cream the butter and sugar until quite light in colour. Beat in the eggs then thehoney, lemon juice and zest.
Combine the two mixtures in one bowl. Mix well, adding enough alcohol to arrive at a soft dropping consistency.
Butter and line the bottom and sides of a 7-8lb ( 3.2 - 3.6 kg ) square or round cake tin ( about 9in/23cm square or 10in/25.5 cm in diameter and 31/2in/9cm deep)with double buttered paper. Fill with mixture and level the top. bake for 1 hour, then reduce the temperature to gas mark 1 (140ºC, 275ºF ) for a further 2-21/2 hours.Test with a skewer to see when the cake is done. Leave to cool. Store for at least a month, spiking it with rum and or brandy once a week.
STORAGE TIP: Wrap in clean parchment paper (papel Cuisson/papel vegetal) then wrap in foil and store for up to 3 months in an airtight tin or container.