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September is perfect month to make traditional Irish Christmas cake

Irish Christmas cake recipe/photo for the Food section at the home of freelancer Sharon Crandell. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Irish Christmas cake recipe/photo for the Food section at the home of freelancer Sharon Crandell. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Sharon Crandall For The Spokesman-Review

The weather is finally cooling down a bit, so it’s the perfect time to think of Christmas cake.

Wait, what?

Fruitcakes, called Christmas cakes in Ireland, are made several months ahead of the holidays to let the flavors develop. A little planning is needed.

After living in Ireland for 16 years, I found much to appreciate in my adopted home – from baking traditions to superstitions. It entertained me to watch the whole family, one late September afternoon, take turns stirring the Christmas cake batter three times and making a wish.

Christmas cake recipes are closely guarded, and there is great competition for the decoration. Christmas cakes are baked with care, doused with whiskey regularly, and decorated a few days before Christmas with marzipan and fondant.

The cake takes pride of place in the kitchen for visitors throughout the two weeks of Christmas. The rule of thumb with the whiskey is: If you wouldn’t pour your neighbor a Christmas drink from it, then it’s not for the Christmas cake. As with most baking, the highest quality ingredients create the best results.

Traditional Irish Christmas Cake

3 cups raisins

1/2 cup currants

1/2 cup glacé cherries

1/2 cup grated apple

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup mixed peel

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped almonds

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 lemon rind, zested

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

5 ounces whiskey

1 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

6 eggs, beaten

3 cups all purpose flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch square or round pan by lining with two layers of baking parchment, extending 2 inches above the pan’s edge. Tie a double-layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin.

In a large bowl, place all the fruit, spices and nuts with the vanilla and whiskey. Cover with a tea towel and leave overnight to marinate.

In another large bowl, cream the softened butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the beaten eggs and sifted flour and mix well.

Add the soaked fruit mixture and stir to combine. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, leaving a slight dip in the center. This will puff up during baking. Bake the cake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. (Yes, you read right. It will be quite a thick cake and needs to cook longer at low temperature to cook thoroughly.)

Cool cake thoroughly. Resist the urge to cut a slice.

Douse cake with 1/2 cup of whiskey once a week until Christmas and leave covered with a tea towel somewhere cool and dark.

When it’s time to decorate, dust work surface with powdered sugar before rolling marzipan or fondant to cover the cake. It dries out easily, so you can use a clean brush and vodka to mend cracks. Cookie cutters are handy for making colorful decorations.

Note: This is an expensive cake to make.

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