December has started and the run-up to the festive season has begun in earnest. I have to admit that I've been doing a little seasonal baking already though: there is a large jar of mince-pie filling in the fridge (I hate calling it 'mince meat' - bleurgh) and a Solstice cake maturing in a tin on top of the kitchen cupboards. These little gems are, however, probably The Scientist's favourite seasonal treat. Well, apart from Christmas pudding. And roast potatoes. And the pigs in blanket travesty I already mentioned. But these are right up there.
These cupcakes are actually just Nigella's Easy-action Christmas cake baked small. She calls the little versions 'jewelled cupcakes' but to us they are 'Nigella cakes', and I generally end up making lots around this time of year and stashing them in the freezer for when a whim for festiveness strikes. They're easy action because all the ingredients are just melted and stirred up together and then baked. They are the reason why I occasionally have chestnut puree around (though thank you so much, Johanna, for reminding me about the chestnut mousse cake I made a while back - I made a delicious improvised version with a lot less butter after reading your post on chestnut puree!). They're one of the easiest recipes for Christmas cake I've seen and, like all others, make the kitchen smell amazing. Plus, since the cakes are small they don't take too long to cook. I left these ones plain so they don't look too enticingly shiny, but Nigella suggests glazing them with some sieved jam and decorating with glace fruits and nuts. I sometimes do that too and it does make them look very jolly :)
This first batch of Nigella cakes of the year have disappeared already - they were for The Scientist's gaming weekend last week (where they were actually upstaged by another batch of the ginger parkin cookies, but that's just a sign of how good the cookies are. I think that The Scientist undersold them so as to leave more for himself :) )
Nigella Cakes (aka jewelled cupcakes, from Feast)
This is the full quantity recipe, but I often halve it to make about 12 fairy-cake-sized cupcakes. The full recipe is for a 20cm cake, or 24 small cupcakes
775g best-quality mixed dried fruit
175g unsalted butter
250g dark muscovado sugar
1 x 250g tin sweetened chestnut puree or spread (I use unsweetened and add sugar - the proportions are given on the tin)
125ml dark rum
juice and zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
to decorate: 4 tbsp smooth jam, approx 150g assorted glace fruits and blanched nuts
Preheat the oven to Gas 2/150C (though you might hold off doing this until after the fruits etc have been set bubbling). Line the sides and bottom of a deep 20cm round cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper, leaving a cuff higher than the sides of the tin. Wrap a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin leaving a cuff double the height of the tin, tying with string. This gives some extra insulation to make the cake cook slowly. If making cupcakes try to use the foil liners which are thicker than the regular sort.
Put the dried fruit, butter, sugar, chestnut puree/spread, rum and orange juice and zests into a large wide saucepan and bring to the boil gently, stirring as the butter melts. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes and then take it off the heat and leave to stand for 30 minutes, by which time the fruits will have been soused and the mixture cooled slightly. Now, add the beaten eggs, flour, baking powder and spices and stir to combine.
Pour the fruit cake mixture very carefully into the cake tin/s. Place in the oven and bake for 1 3/4 - 2 hours for the cake, or 35-40 minutes for the cupcakes.. The top of the cake/s should be firm and dry and will have cracked a little. A cake tester will still be sticky.
Put the cake on a cooling rack and take off the brown paper from around the outside of the tin. It will hold its heat and take a long while to cool, but once it has cooled completely unmould it from the tin and wrap in a layer of greaseproof paper and then foil until you want to decorate it. I just store the little cakes in a tin, or freeze them once they're cooled.
To decorate: warm the jam in a pan with 1 tbsp water. Cool. Paint the top of the cake/s with the cooled jam and then decorate with the fruits and nuts. Paint another layer of jam over the top to give a glossy finish.