Stir up Sunday, which each year in late November, a date in the Christian calendar known as the Sunday last before advent, is traditionally the day on which Christmas Puddings are stirred up and Christmas cakes are baked. Why Stir-up? The term comes from the Anglican Church Book of Common Prayer: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.” Stir-up Sunday always occurs on “the Sunday last before Advent.”
It’s not too late to start now and still have a great cake for Christmas. I made it once for my cooking slot on the Expresso Breakfast TV Show.
This cake is based on a recipe my grandmother used for the entirety of my childhood. The brandy was very important as the cake was fed on it in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Much to my brother and my amusement, my grandfather once put an extra slug into the dough when my grandmother went to the pantry to fetch something. Each week I feed it with brandy.
I use fruit from the Orange River where I can, I have visited there and seen the grapes and what they do with them. However they may not be available where you are, so just use the best quality you can find.
My Brandied Christmas Cake
What you’ll need…
100g Orange River currants
150g Orange River raisins
250g Orange River sultanas
100g glacé pineapple or melon, roughly chopped
100g glacé cherries, rinsed of syrup and cut in half
100g candied mixed peel
125ml KWV 3 year old Potstill Brandy, plus more for the weekly soak
130g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp each ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg, Oryx Desert Salt and black pepper
50g ground almonds
125g butter, softened
125g soft brown sugar, or muscovado sugar
4 eggs, whisked
Grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange
100g whole almonds
3 Tbs preserved ginger, rinsed of syrup and finely chopped
What you’ll do…
One of the things my grandmother believed in was soaking the fruit in the brandy at least overnight. So place the currants, raisins, sultanas, pineapple, cherries and peel in a bowl and pour over the brandy. Cover with cling wrap and leave overnight – she used a saucer! Place the butter and the sugar on a shelf in the kitchen so that they are at room temperature in the morning. The cake tin – a 20cm spring form – is lined with a double layer of real greaseproof paper, well brushed with butter and sprinkled with flour,
In the morning, preheat the oven to 140C.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, the salt and spices and the ground almonds.
In an electric beater, cream together the butter and sugar at slow speed and then beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, about one at a time adding a little of the flour mixture each time to prevent curdling. Fold the flour into the butter cream and add the fruits, any remaining brandy, the lemon and orange rinds, half the whole almonds and the preserved ginger.
Spoon the mixture carefully into the prepared cake tin, smoothing over the surface, and creating a slight hollow in the middle to prevent a hump in the middle. Make a pattern on the top of the cake with the remaining whole almonds, much like I have done in the picture.
Place the cake into the preset oven and bake for 60 minutes. Cover with a sheet of aluminium foil and bake for a further 30 minutes. Check with a skewer in the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked. If not, test every 10 minutes until the cake is cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin. Poke some holes in the cake with a skewer, pour over a little brandy, cover in muslin, wrap in foil or cling wrap and store in a cake tin. Once a week take the cake out, open it up and pour a little brandy over it.
If you wish to, ice the cake the day before Christmas. The almond pattern is so pretty, you can leave it without icing; perhaps just brush some warm apricot jam over the top or sprinkle with icing sugar.
This is the sort of cake you have in the late afternoon of Christmas Day with a glass of port style wine. This one comes from one of the oldest wine estates, Cape Ruby from Groot Constantia. To read about it, CLICK HERE.