Individual Dark Ale Christmas cakes
The nights are drawing in, the miserable weather feels like it can only be braved when fueled on mulled wine and December is only a week away. It’s definitely starting to feel a lot like Christmas.
It’s also definitely starting to feel like Big Hungry Gnomes has been very neglected due to a lot of changes which have been going on. Since my last post, I’ve taken on a lot more responsibility in the bakery where I work, managing entire shifts and baking all the bread which we sell. I’ve also moved out of my parents’ house. It feels like there hasn’t been a moment to stop, do a little baking and a little writing.
On my first night in my new house, my new housemates were wonderfully welcoming and we had a chilled night of sampling some local ales. We decided the rich fruity and gloriously bitter flavour or one of the darker beers tasted like ‘liquid Christmas cake’ and that amazing sounding liquid has inspired me to make these little wonders, soaked in a dark ale syrup. As tiny individual versions of a Christmas cake, they don’t need any maturing and can be eaten straight away.
If you fancy making a full sized dark ale Christmas cake, it’s dried fruit can be similarly soused in ale before baking, with the malty beer syrup being used to ‘feed’ your Christmas cake once it’s baked. You would simply need make up a larger amount of the syrup, pierce lots of holes over the surface of the cake using a skewer and spoon over the syrup, turning and repeating the process every few days or once a week if are organised enough to give the finished cake a really lovely rich flavour. This recipe is adapted from my Grandma’s eight inch cake which my Grandma, my Mum or, more recently, I bake every Christmas.
Individual Dark Ale soaked Christmas cakes
80g or 2 and three quarter oz sultanas
80g or 2 and three quarter oz currants
40g or 1 and a half raisins
20g or three quarters of an oz glace cherries
20g or three quarters of an oz candied peel
a 500ml bottle of dark ale
110g or 4 oz soft brown sugar
80g or 2 and three quarter oz unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus a little extra for greasing
2 medium eggs
100g or three and a half oz plain flour
quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon
quarter teaspoon of ground nutmeg
quarter teaspoon of ground allspice
quarter teaspoon of ground ginger
The dried fruit can be made up in any ratio, the amounts above are just what I’ve opted for. If you want to add in dried cranberries, chopped dates or dried prunes then feel free to play around with the amounts of each dried fruit, you just need 240g overall. In order to get the most of the rounded bitter and rich sweet flavour of the ale, place the dried fruit in a bowl and soak in about a quarter to a third of the bottle of beer and leave covered overnight. You want to the fruit to soak up pretty much all the liquid that you add so the it needs to be liberally soused but not swimming in beer. I opted for Brewer’s Dark from J.W. Lees & Co Brewery which has a slight liquorice flavour and a lovely malty aftertaste. You want to pick something which will compliment the rich dried fruit, caramel flavour of the soft brown sugar and the gentle spices so any dark ale which is both sweet and bitter will be great, with any which mention chocolate, fruit or spice in their description being particularly lovely.
On the day you make your little Christmas cakes, start by preheating your oven to 140°C (fan oven)/ 150°C/ 300 Fahrenheit/ gas mark 2 and grease a nine or twelve hole, deep muffin tin, lightly coating each muffin cup with a little butter.
Next, cream together the butter and 80g or 2 and three quarter oz soft brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Feel free to do this in whatever manner you prefer. I went for using a wooden spoon and a bit of brute force, but you can easily use an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk with a fork to break them up and begin to gradually add the eggs, stirring until fully incorporated after each addition. This sponge has quite a lot of egg so the mix will curdle if you add too much egg in one go so try to be patient and add the egg a little at a time, adding a little flour if you feel the mixture is getting close to curdling.
Mix the ale soaked fruit with the plain flour and spices. As with any fruited sponge, coating the dried fruit with a little flour will prevent it from sinking to the bottom of the baked cake. Tip the flour and fruit mixture into the butter, sugar and eggs and gently mix until incorporated.
Spoon the cake batter into your prepared muffin tin, filling each muffin cup about three quarters full, and bake in the centre of your preheated oven for thirty to forty minutes, or until coloured and springy in the centre, with a skewer coming out clean. As these are such tiny cakes, you want to avoid over baking as they will become very dry so keep your eye on them. Once baked, allow to cool slightly in the tin before running a knife around the edges and lifting each cake out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
To make the dark ale syrup which soaks into and coats the outside of the cakes, place the remainder of the bottle of beer into a saucepan with the rest of the soft brown sugar and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about twenty minutes to half an hour to give an intense syrup. While the syrup is still hot, turn the cakes upside down, pierce them several times with a skewer to allow the syrup to soak in and spoon the syrup over each cake. If you want a really strong flavour, spoon over a dessert spoon of syrup onto each cake, allow to cool and soak in. You can then turn the cakes over and soak the tops of the cakes with even more of the beer syrup.
The dark ale syrup brings out the all the festive flavours of the Christmas cakes. It’s malty flavour compliments the rich dried fruit and the intense bittersweet flavour gives it a molasses quality which is lovely with the Christmas-y cinnamon and nutmeg.