Time to soak the Christmas cake

Christmas cakeWhisk(e)y, both Irish and Scottish, and sherry are sampled this week as I get started baking the Christmas fruity puds and cakes. Recipes for booze-soaked Christmas fruit cake always say you should let the cake 'mature' for at least a week before you ice it. But the cake will still taste wonderful if you start munching when it’s only been out of the oven for an hour and just (about) cooled down.

But you'll find as you eat the rest of the cake over the coming week(s) it will become ever mellower and smoother. The sharp tangs resulting from the alcohol in the soaking liquor of choice become less obvious and finally disappear making for a more balanced cake.

You don't need an 'O' level in Home Economics to make a really good Christmas cake - in fact the more feeble your efforts the better the resulting cake.

CockburnsFirst cover and soak the dried fruit overnight in more than the recommended eighth of a pint of sherry, whisky or dark ale. I have experimented with sweet sherry (good but the sherry flavour can get lost amongst the fruit), rum (over dominates) and have now settled on whisky as the alcohol of choice. It won't overpower your fruit cake and makes for a very satisfying drink before, during and after the cake making process.

To make the cake, don't beat the butter and sugar as you would normally, just stir in the remaining ingredients and this will help keep the cake mix stiff enough to support the huge amount of fruit and stop this from subsiding to the bottom of the cake. Then bake in a cool oven (gas mark 1, 140 degrees C) for three hours.

PG Cake Soaking Choices

Tesco Finest Special Reserve Oloroso Sherry

£6.40 (50cl) Tesco

Tastes like alcoholic walnut juice with a hint of raisins. Be generous and slosh it in.

Writers Tears labelWriters Tears Irish Whiskey

£25 Marks and Spencer (down from £28 until December 1)

Being Irish there’s an ‘e’ in whiskey but other than that it’s made pretty much the same way as the Scottish stuff – barley grains are steeped in water and fermented to form a beer which is then distilled in either a pot still (the traditional dumpy round sort) or a column still (modern tower devices). But Irish pot still whiskey, like Writers Tears, is slightly different to its Scottish counterpart – where as Scottish whisky uses 100% malted barley, the Irish stuff is made from a mixture of malted (the barley grains are allowed to start sprouting side shoots similar to old potatoes) and unmalted grains which allows for a softer tasting drink with none of the sour peaty flavours often associated with pure malted whiskies. So expect light honey and unripe peach flavours – which will go nicely with all that butter in your cake.

Highland Park 12 years old Scottish Malt Whisky

£26.32 Ocado

Starting smooth and buttery, the flavour then develops an astringent smokiness followed by nutty nuances of pine kernels. Fresh.

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Scottish Malt Whisky

£41.45 Master of Malt

Being matured in American oak casks for ten years and then old ruby port barrels results in a very smooth and sweet-tasting whisky – expect none of that traditional peatiness but straight strawberry jam flavours. Strange but tasty. Perhaps a slurper rather than a soaker.

This article has also appeared as Paula's Wines of the Week on MatureTimes.co.uk