Last year for Christmas we made Gingercake in a Jar as our Christmas gifts. This year I wanted to take this idea and get even more creative. I’m thinking edible snow globes with traditional Christmas cake fed with cognac and with marzipan and white frosting…
I found pretty round preserving jars at Weck – I was looking for a round jar with clear sides that I could use to bake cake in. When I called the customer help line at Weck to ask if their jars were suitable for baking I was told in no uncertain terms that they hadn’t been tested for this – although the woman did admit to hearing of this being done in Europe (she was obviously bound by legal requirements not to say I could use them for baking in the US) but given that Weck jars originated in Germany I felt confidant to give it a try. I was also cooking the cakes at a low temperature.
The recipe is quick and easy to make up – I went to the Queen of English home cooking, Delia Smith, for her recipe and then adapted it for America and my taste. The hardest part was identifying all the dried fruit – currants, raisins, saltanas – oh my! After a little translation and investigation I learned to distinguish my raisins from my currants and my saltanas from my golden raisins. You start the night before you want to bake the cakes to let the dried fruit plump up with the cognac.
Adding in the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar in cake baking seems to always result in a broken mixture for me. This year I was determined to get it right. Delia suggests a teaspoon at a time for the egg. I emailed my friend pastry chef Richard Ruskell of the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills to ask him for his advice. “It will help if your ingredients are room temperature,” he wrote. “Remember, egg is mostly water and butter is, well, fat. The two do not want to go together. You have to beat it until they submit. Much like putting together oil and vinegar. You can beat this without any damage to the structure of the cake. However, once you add the flour, gentle is the word of the day.” I now think of cakes as victims, beaten into submission – it’s not called batter for nothing. Once the mixture is complete, take a moment to gather the family so everyone can take a turn stirring the mixture to make a wish. Traditionally this is done on the last sunday before advent – Stir-up Sunday was when everyone would make their Christmas puddings and cakes in England.
I am extremely grateful to Rémy Martin for supplying extra cognac for my Christmas cakes project. At a recent tasting where I learned all about where the cognac comes from and how it is made I couldn’t get over how it smelt of sugar and spice and all things Christmassy. To now be using this liquid gold to feed my hungry cakes before decorating them it’s all I can do to stop myself having a little night cap or two. I do love this rich, smooth nectar of French royalty and it’s going to infuse the cakes with that je ne sais quoi… that’s if there’s any left after my tipple!
Perfect Christmas Cake in a Jar
Adapted from Delia Smith’s How to Make a Christmas Cake
1lb (450 g) of Zante currants
6 oz (175 g) of golden raisins
6 oz (175 g) of Thomson seedless raisins,
2 oz (50 g) of glacé cherries (rinsed, dried and finely chopped)
2 oz (50 g) of mixed candied peel, finely chopped (I don’t like candied peel so I used extra cherries)
4 tablespoons Rémy Martin cognac plus more for feeding the cakes
8 oz (225 g) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz (225 g) of soft golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
8 oz (225 g) of all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground all spice.
2 oz (50 g) of chopped almonds
zest of an orange
zest of a lemon
1 tablespoon of molasses
Makes enough to half fill 6 half liter or 12 mini Weck deco jars
1. The night before you wish to bake the cake you need to put all the dried fruit in a large bowl and mix in the cognac. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave overnight for the fruit to absorb the alcohol.
2. Sterilize the Weck jars by placing them in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Dry and place on a large sheet pan.
3. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
4. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the whisk attachment cream together the butter and sugar until light, pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
5. Lightly beat the eggs and add to the creamed mixture little by little. [If you add the egg too quickly the mixture will break, not a deal breaker but the resulting cake will be slightly heavier.]
6. Gentle fold in the flour, nutmeg, and all spice trying to maintain as much air in the mixture as possible.
7. Add the soaked fruits to the cake mixture, along with the almonds, the orange and lemon zest and the molasses. Fold these in carefully, using the same gentle technique as before.
8. Using a teaspoon put the mixture into the prepared jars being careful not to get any on the sides and mouth. Smooth the top out with the back of the spoon and wipe away any cake batter from the sides.
9. Cover each jar with a circle of parchment paper with a small hole cut in the center. Bake in the oven towards the bottom for about 1 1/2 hours (the small jars will take less time to cook than the half liter jars). The cake is done when the center springs back to the gentle pressing by a finger. Remove from the oven and cool complete on a wire rack.
10. Feed the cakes with drops of cognac at least twice between baking and frosting the cakes. Make several holes in the top of the cakes with a fine skewer or toothpick and then drop in some of the Rémy Martin. The rubber seals and lids can be used to store the cake in an airtime environment between feeds.