‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. Let’s all hold this saying close to our hearts this year because, as has been demonstrated by all the HM team’s Christmas baking efforts thus far, 9th hour kitchen sessions are never pretty. Or enjoyable. Or in any way helpful to the surrounding area/family/pets – nothing is sacred in the path between raw ingredients and finished bake. That’s why we’ve called in Royal baker Fiona Cairns – her delicious fig, port and star anise cake is nothing short of a Christmas miracle – it sounds posh but is super easy, it looks ridiculously brilliant and the earlier you make it the better the flavour. We’re sold.
- 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
- ½ 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
You'll Need: 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
You'll Need: TOOLS
- ribbon, or lengths of raffia
Makes 25 slices
Oh, pick up issue 11 of Homemaker for Fiona’s incredible Christmas wreath éclairs – yes, that’s right, éclairs shaped and decorated as wreaths! The woman is a magician, trust us.
FIONA CAIRN’S FIG, PORT AND STAR ANISE CHRISTMAS CAKE
“All the flavours of Christmas combine in this deliciously moreish cake; make it up to a few months ahead for the best flavour. It’s one for those who would rather forego marzipan and icing, and is to be eaten in slivers at any time, with a glass of port and a slice of Lancashire cheese. Be sure to use the very best quality ready-to-eat dried fruits that you can afford.” – Fiona Cairns
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. 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.
The next day, butter and line the sides and base of 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. 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. 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. 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.
Place in the water-filled tray and bake for 2–2½ 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. 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.
A week before Christmas, bring the jam and brandy to the boil, push through a sieve and brush most of it over the cake. 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). Wrap the sides of the cake with baking parchment or clear film to stop it drying out. Finish with a ribbon or lengths of raffia.
For more delicious recipes from Fiona, pick up Seasonal Baking (£25, W&N).