Nigella Lawson has announced that she’s giving Christmas cake the heave ho ho ho.
In news that may very well divide the nation, Nigella revealed that she will not be serving Christmas cake this festive season “because I’m surrounded by those who abominate dried fruit in all its seasonal manifestations”, in favour of an altogether more fan-friendly desert.
Instead, the celebrity chef will whip up a chocolate cake for her family, with Nigella urging others who have a strong distate for the traditional fruitcake to do the same this year, she told The Sunday Times.
“Much as I love a slice of dense, damp Christmas cake, especially when eaten with a slice of strong, sharp cheese, I am surrounded by those who abominate dried fruit in all its seasonal manifestations,” the host of Nigella’s Kitchen said.
Nigella, who once revealed she cooked Christmas dinner for 35 guests, continued: “If no one in your family likes dried fruit, there’s no point having a Christmas cake gathering dust or just being eaten on sufferance. If chocolate cake appeals more, go for it.”
First served around the 16th century, a Christmas cake is typically loaded with sultanas, or golden raisins, currants, and raisins soaked in brandy, rum, or whisky, and flavoured with spices such as cinnamon and cloves.
However, its popularity appears to have waned in recent decades.
According to an Ocado consumer survey of 2,000 people, one in five who buy the dessert admitted they don’t enjoy eating Christmas cake. Almost 50 per cent of respondents also said they would rather treat themselves with chocolate cake instead of the traditionally served fruit cake.
Nigella decided to substitute the Christmas fare “in the interest of harmony in the home,” she told the newspaper, explaining that her grown-up children Cosima and Bruno Diamond also don’t enjoy it.
“It was made clear to me long ago that, in the interest of harmony in the home, I needed to introduce a new tradition that made us all happy, and this cake is it,” Nigella said. “Tradition is a glorious thing at this time of year, but I’m all for embracing new Christmas rituals of our own.”
Elsewhere, Nigella revealed she no longer buys Christmas presents for adults in order to “spare other people the effort too”.
Her other Christmas hacks include using gift bags for the presents she does buy, typically for her neices and nephews, instead of wrapping paper because she “can’t stand giftwrapping”.
“There are certain things I can’t bear, like wrapping. I’m a complete mess,” she admitted. “I get all my hair stuck in the sellotape. My late husband, John [Diamond], always used to say I was the only person who could wrap a book and make it look like a bottle of wine.”
Here’s the full recipe for Lawson’s Winter Wonderland chocolate cake, developed in collaboration with Ocado:
For the cake:
150g unsalted butter, cut into 5 slices, plus extra for greasing
1 x 100g bar Menier Swiss Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa, bashed and broken up inside the packet
100g soft dark muscovado sugar
125g caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
200g Plain flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g Green & Black’s Organic Cocoa
½tsp fine salt
2 large eggs
50g soured cream (serve the rest of the tub with the cake, if you like)
2tsp vanilla extract
For the filling and recipe:
150g Ocado Own Range Frozen Raspberries
2 large egg whites or 2 x 5g sachets Dr Oetker Free Range Egg White Powder
150g golden syrup
125g caster sugar
½tsp lemon juice
pinch of fine salt
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease 2 x 20cm sandwich tins (preferably not loose-bottomed) with butter and line the bases with circles of baking paper. If you only have loose-bottomed tins, then cut the baking paper circles slightly bigger than the bases so they go up the sides of the tins just a little.
Over low heat, start melting the butter in a heavy-based saucepan of 22-23cm diameter. Put the kettle on. Tip the bashed up chocolate pieces into the pan, and when the butter and chocolate are all but completely melted, pour in 250ml freshly boiled water, followed by both sugars, stirring very gently to get rid of any lumps. When you have a smooth liquid, take the pan off the heat and leave the mixture to cool a little.
Meanwhile, measure the baking powder, flour, bicarb, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl. Loosely whisk the eggs, soured cream and vanilla extract together in a measuring jug.
Tip the dry ingredients into the saucepan, and whisk slowly and carefully until smooth. Then gradually whisk in your jug of wet ingredients until everything’s incorporated and the batter is dark and glossy.
Divide the batter equally between the prepared tins, and bake in the oven for 18-20 mins: the top of the cakes should be set (don’t worry about the cracks) and coming away from the tins at the edges. A cake tester will come out mostly dry but still slightly smudged with chocolate.
Leave to cool on a rack for 15 mins or until you can handle the tins without oven gloves. Turn the cakes out, peel off the baking paper and leave until cold.
While you wait, tip the frozen raspberries onto a lipped plate in one layer and leave to thaw.
You can leave the cold cakes, covered, for a couple of hours, if needed, before icing them. But once the cake is filled and iced, it really is at its best served within 1½ hours or so.
Now to the icing, which requires a bowl and pan that you can fashion into a double boiler. Put a very little bit of water into the pan and bring to a simmer. Put the egg whites into a wide-ish heatproof bowl that will fit over your pan (if you’re using the egg white powder, make it up first, according to packet instructions). You want the gentle steam from the water to heat the base of the bowl, but no water should touch it, ever! Add the golden syrup, caster sugar, lemon juice and salt and, using an electric hand-held whisk, beat the mixture vigorously for 5 mins: it starts off rather yellowy and very liquid, but when the 5 mins are up, you will have a firm, thick, voluminous and snowy meringue mixture. Lift the bowl immediately off the saucepan and place it on the cool kitchen surface.
Sit one of the sponges, domed side down, on a cake stand or plate – 23cm diameter at most or it will look lost – and spread enough of the icing to give you a layer about 1cm thick. Then top with the thawed raspberries, leaving a pure white ring of icing about 2cm wide all around the edge.
Gently sit the other sponge, domed side uppermost, on top. Ice the top and sides, using a couple of spatulas for ease, swirling the top and smoothing the sides as best you can.
Adorn with Christmas decorations if you wish, and leave for 30 mins or up to 1½ hours before you slice into it. Serve with the extra soured cream, if you like, and joy in your heart. Store leftovers for 1 day in an airtight container in a cool place.