Let the cooking begin!

With just four weeks to go, Irish cooks have already started thinking about Christmas cake, the pièce de résistance on which every Irish cook sinks his reputation. Sweet and spicy desserts like this cake have been a part of Irish Christmas celebrations for centuries and were highly prized because they included spices and dried fruit, once difficult and expensive to obtain. Irish cooking legend Darina Allen, founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School, called it “the cake of the year” in her Simply Delicious Christmas cookbook, first published in 1989. For those wanting a head start, Allen offered her recipe again in a recent article in the Cork Irish Examiner. As with all Christmas cakes, most cooks rely on a family recipe for them, one from their mother or grandmother, and Allen’s is no exception. This recipe is her mother’s, passed down through the generations, which she starts early to bring out the flavors. “This makes a moist cake that keeps really well,” says Allen, “and can be made months in advance, or if you’re frantically busy, it’ll still be delicious even if made just a few days before Christmas, trust me! ”

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2 cups of golden raisins

2 cups of currants

2 cups of raisins

1/2 cup glazed cherries, chopped

1/2 cup of candied shell

½ cup of whole almonds

½ cup of ground almonds

zest of 1 orange

zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup Irish whiskey

8 ounces butter, at room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

6 large eggs

1 cup of flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice

1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and grated

1. In a large bowl, combine the dried fruit, walnuts, ground almonds, and orange and lemon zest. Add approximately half of the whiskey and allow to macerate for 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line bottom and sides of 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking dish with double-thick parchment paper. Tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the pan. (Have another sheet of brown or silicone paper to place on top of the tin during cooking.)

3. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until very smooth; add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and spice mix; add to egg mixture. Add grated apple and fruit (mix gently but thoroughly). Transfer to prepared cake. Make a slight indentation in the top, dip your hand in water, and pat it over the surface of the cake (this will ensure the top is smooth when baked).

5. Place a double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake (this will protect the surface from direct heat). Bake for 1 hour then reduce heat to 300°F. Continue baking for another 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out completely clean. Remove from oven and pour remaining scotch over cake; let cool in pan.

6. Remove from pan the next day (do not remove liner paper). Wrap it in several layers of waxed paper, then aluminum foil. The longer the cake is stored, the riper it becomes. Closer to Christmas, ice and decorate as desired.



Christmas cake is usually covered in almond paste and covered with Royal Icing. I like to decorate it with sugared cranberries and rosemary, a lovely addition to other desserts too. You’ll find this and other Christmas cake recipes in my new Festive Flavors of Ireland cookbook. To request signed copies, visit irishcook.com

for the cake

2 cups of dried currants

2 cups of sultanas (golden raisins)

1 cup of raisins

1/4 cup candied cherries

1/4 cup candied mixed shell

3/4 cup chopped almonds

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spices or pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup Irish whiskey, divided

8 ounces butter, at room temperature

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

5 large eggs

2 cups flour, sifted

For the almond paste

1 large egg white, beaten

1 (7-ounce) package marzipan

For the royal icing

2 large egg whites

4 cups of icing sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Make the cake. The day before baking, combine the currants, sultanas, raisins, cherries, mixed zest, almonds, lemon zest and juice, mixed spices or pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, and 1 /2 cup of whiskey in a large bowl. Cover; let stand at room temperature overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 275°F. Flour a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray; cover bottom with a round of parchment or wax paper.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well and adding 1/4 cup of flour with each egg. Stir in remaining flour; add soaked fruit. Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish.

4. Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the top is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven; let cool in pan on wire rack for 30 minutes.

5. Prick top of cake with skewer in several places; pour remaining 1/2 cup whiskey over top. Run knife around sides of pan; release sides. Invert cake onto rack; remove the liner paper and place it back upright. Let cool completely. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Store in a cool place for several weeks to allow the cake to mature. Unwrap the cake every week; brush a few tablespoons of Irish whiskey on top. rewrap.

6. The day before serving, lightly dust a work surface with sugar. Unwrap the cake and brush the top with egg white. Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll out the marzipan into a 9-inch round. Place it on top of the cake; trim the edges. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate overnight.

7. Make the frosting. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites, sugar, and lemon juice on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth enough. stiff to spread Using a flexible rubber spatula, spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Garnish the top with sugared cranberries and rosemary, if desired.

SUGARED CRANBERRIES AND ROSEMARY: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves; Take it off the heat. Add 1/2 cup blueberries; stir to coat with syrup. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cranberries to a wire rack set over a baking sheet or paper towels to drain off excess syrup. Let dry for 30 to 40 minutes. Coat in additional sugar; return to rack to dry completely. Repeat with rosemary sprigs. Store in a single layer in an airtight tin; refrigerate up to 1 week.

Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page also includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For more details on her work, or to order signed copies of her cookbooks, visit irishcook.com

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