This cake is a brilliant alternative to the traditional, heavy, fruit-based cakes that get served up at this time of the year. Most people I know have a love-hate relationship with fruit-based Christmas cakes. The results can vacillate wildly from richly satisfying to overwhelmingly stodgy and heavy. Obviously I’m going to claim my Mum’s beautifully dense, moist and liquor-laden cakes as the best I have tasted. She makes them months prior to Christmas, douses them in alcohol and allows their flavours to develop to epic proportions. I’ve never made this style of Christmas cake before and I think I’ll be leaving it in my Mum’s capable hands for the time being. I do love a good Christmas bake-off though…not that it’s a competition Mum (not really).
This recipe is one I’ve had lurking about for weeks now. It’s a bit on the decadent side so I had to wait for the right occasion to warrant the fancy ingredients. I’ve given Angela Harnettt’s traditional Italian recipe a bit of a makeover for Christmas by adding pistachios and freeze-dried raspberries. They’re a fantastic additions I think. The lovely thing about this cake is that it’s very light in texture. The recipe calls for a tonne of eggs of which the whites are whisked to within an inch of meringue. This gives the cake an airy, sponge-esque structure…a perfect finish to a day of heavy, excessive eating.
Freeze-dried raspberries are a thing of beauty. The aroma is incredibly intense, matched only by the ruby-red hue of the powder. It provides a subtle background berry flavour and a delicate marbled effect to the cake. You should be able to find them easily enough at any good deli. I used the Fresh As brand which can be found at both Nosh and Farro speciality food markets.
The original recipe calls for whole almonds with their skins on which are then finely ground in a food processor. I couldn’t be bothered with that for the test run so just bought almond meal and freshly ground the pistachios to a slightly coarser texture. The flavour and texture is apparently much better if you freshly grind the almonds too, so if you have the time and inclination definitely give that a go.
It’s really important to invest in a large metal spoon if you are a baker, particularly when making a cake with a high egg content such as this one. A metal spoon cuts through the air bubbles created by beating the eggs, whereas a plastic or wooden spoon will squash them and deflate your cake.
The other important thing to note is that you need only fold the ingredients until everything is just incorporated. Don’t be tempted to keep stirring after reaching this point or you’ll only deflate more bubbles and achieve a heavier final result.
Having said that, this is an easy recipe to pull off. It makes a mammoth cake which is perfect for feeding a crowd and looks very beautiful once dressed up with with cream and a light sprinkling of raspberry powder.
INGREDIENTS (serves 10-12)
200g whole almonds – skin on (or ground almond meal)
100g whole pistachios
Zest of 1 large lemon
10 eggs – separated
300g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
20g freeze-dried raspberries
Icing sugar, freshly whipped cream and strawberries to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 160˚C. Grease the base and sides of a 30cm springform cake tin with butter and line the base with baking paper.
2. If using whole almonds, grind them finely using a food processor and set aside in a large bowl. Grind the pistachios a little less finely than the almonds and add to the bowl along with the almonds and the lemon zest.
8. Pour the mix into the prepared tin and bake for approximately 1 hour until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. You can also gently press the centre of the cake to check it is cooked. The cake should spring back without leaving an indentation.
9. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin on a wire rack. When the cake is cool, run a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen the cake from the sides. To remove the cake from the tin, put a plate on top of the cake and invert it so the top of the cake is plate-side down. Then put another plate on the bottom of the cake and invert it once more so the cake is right way up.
If the cake deflates slightly in the middle, as mine did, don’t fret. It’s the perfect nest for the whipped cream so fill it generously as if you planned the whole thing. Dust with icing sugar and a sprinkling of raspberry powder and serve with fresh strawberries on the side.