‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the….’ You were singing that weren’t you? That’s OK because it’s perfectly acceptable to be nuts about Christmas. I am. Now I know Christmas is not about the bright lights, the pressies and the parties. But I really, really do so love the build up to and the bling that is Christmas.

Of course with 40-degree heat instead of snow, we do Christmas a bit differently in the south, but I manage to have a white one anyway. I get up early to beat the heat of day and pick baskets of dew-laden white iceberg roses from my garden. I hunt down all the white hydrangeas I can lay my hands on. As night falls, I switch on fairy lights and light dozens and dozens of white candles.

The smells of Christmas are invited into my kitchen – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, orange, cloves and brandy – all captured in one perfect bite in Heksie Hartley’s fruitcake. ‘Heksie’ was obviously a nickname. She wasn’t at all – a witch that is. Quite the opposite in fact, rather like calling a 6-foot-7 guy ‘Shorty’. This would have been her 98th Christmas. She may not be with us anymore, but that’s the magic of recipes – they get passed on.

This is a slightly lighter fruitcake with a much crumblier texture than the dense, darker fruitcakes we normally associate with Christmas. So if the usual kind is not your cup of tea, this may just be. Like the richer dark ones, this cake still needs to mature for a bit and be generously laced with brandy. I don’t ice it. Once it’s had its brandy love, I tumble a whole bottle of preserved oranges, orange peel or kumquats on top. And I dish up a waistline-ruining dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on the side. Forget the tea, I open a bottle of fine bubbly to enjoy with this.

All you need is…

2 cups seedless raisins
2 cups golden sultanas
2 cups currants
¼ cup brandy
2 tbs brown sugar
¼ cup water
1½ cups butter, at room temperature
1½ cups brown sugar (I used Selati muscovado)
6 eggs
1 x 100g container of mixed citrus peel (I used the lovely one from Moir’s)
2 x 75g tubs of glacé cherries, halved or left whole
¾ cup almonds, roughly chopped
3 cups cake flour
½ cup brandy (I used KWV 3-year old)
¼ tsp salt
1½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
bottle of oranges or kumquats preserved in syrup, for serving
sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving

Many fruitcake recipes call for soaking the fruit in brandy overnight. You can do this, but am I not known for my patience. I want the lot done in one morning, so I help things along by putting the raisins, sultanas and currants in a large saucepan with a quarter cup brandy, quarter cup water and 2 tbs brown sugar. I boil it for 5 minutes then allow it to cool in the liquid before I strain it.

While you’re waiting for the fruit to cool, grease and line your cake tin with two baking paper circles on the bottom and a double layer of baking paper on the sides. Ensure that the baking paper protrudes 4cm above the rim of the tin.

Once the fruit is cool, cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking in between each addition. Add the strained fruit, lemon rind and nuts and stir well. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and spices and stir in. Add the brandy and stir in. This mixture is very thick, you’ll need to ladle it into the baking tin, none of this pouring stuff. Bake at 160 degrees Celsius for 90-120 minutes until baked through. To test it, simply insert a thin skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s ready.

Pour over two tablespoons of brandy while still warm and allow to it to cool before you wrap it up nice and tight in tinfoil and store it in an airtight container for two weeks to mature. Give it another two tablespoons of brandy after the first week.

makes

1 large

bake

90-120 min

mature

2 weeks

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tips, tricks and trivia

Play a bit

You can use this recipe as a base but play with ingredients. For instance swap the almonds for hazelnuts and/or pecans or replace the cherries with dried cranberries (soak them with the other fruit in brandy first to hydrate). If brandy is a no-no, replace it with orange juice.

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enjoy with

We are very lucky to have pretty much consistently good MCC (Méthode Cap Classique) sparkling wines in SA. There are some excellent choices around the R100-R130 mark. One of them is Leopard’s Leap’s Culinaria MCC which (unlike many other local offerings) contains all three grape varieties allowed in a traditional French Champagne: Chardonnay (59%), Pinot Noir (29%) and Pinot Meunier (12%).

The palate reveals lovely cranberry, elegantly supported by a fine balance between fruit and acidity. It’s available from the estate website for R125.

Leopard's Leap

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