Rum and raisin chocolate Christmas cake

Aptly naming this cake seems too much like work right now. I still haven’t quite adjusted to not studying. And this cake, it’s, er… it’s complicated. This recipe has all the fruit and spice of a traditional Christmas cake, with the rum/ginger combination of a Dark and Stormy (a cocktail made with dark rum, ginger ale and lime). It also fits the flavour bill of my maternal grandmother’s favourite ice cream, pairing rum with raisins (and crainsins). Plus there’s chocolate to contend with. Rather than overcomplicate things, I’ve named it for what I intended to make, leaving the other things that slipped into the mix without explanation. Once you taste this there’s no way you’ll be demanding one anyway.

For most of my life I didn’t even like Christmas cake. As a kid there seemed no stupider idea than fruit in a cake. However, things did not improve as my tastes matured, Christmas cake remained entirely unappealing, save as a vehicle for sugar, flour and custard. But when I made a version of this cake from The Kitchen Maid last year I realised it wasn’t Christmas cake I found so underwhelming, it was just ugly chunks of orange rind and boring old sultanas, combined with poor choice of “holiday cheer”. My version in 2011 had Cointreau and ginger wine, with figs, craisins and ginger. I made yet another variation for my mum’s birthday this year and, with some encouragement from my sister, hatched a plot for this year’s Christmas incarnation

Which is where the rum and the raisins come in. I can’t remember exactly how things went down, but it was something along the lines of being asked “Can we have the cake again?” and my family’s then current obsession with a certain kind of golden raisin. Fuel was added to this already well-fed fire with a shared recollection of Nanna Win introducing us to rum flavoured frozen confections at an impressionable age. We are yet to sample the results, but the basic method is tried and true by now, as tried and true as the ice cream from which it takes its name.

This cake requires a bit of prep time and at least a few weeks sitting time, but, by gum, it’s worth it. Ideally, if you were making it, you’d want to have the cake done and dusted sometime this week, so it could sit around for about a month getting delicious. But – I have eaten it with only two weeks sitting time and it’s still good. Plus, if there are any leftovers they will just go on gathering flavour. My version of the recipe uses oil, because of a lactose intolerant sibling (Hi, Sarah!). I’ve also added cocoa and reduced the amount of real chocolate, mostly because, while I love the stuff, a few times I’ve been trying to make this on a budget and quite frankly, one block of good quality dark chocolate is enough for my wallet and for flavour. If you’re a maniac like me or my late grandmother you might like to make an extra batch and spread the batter between two smaller tins just in case. In case of what? Well, that I won’t know until it happens. But rest assured, if the apocalypse goes down this December 21st, I will be in no short supply of crazy-good chocolate, ginger, rum, craisin, raisin, spiced Christmas cake. Not only is it probably highly calorific and has, you know, some fruit in it for vitamins, but if you threw it in a zombie’s face it would probably fall over.

Ingredients:
900g of dried fruit (I used 500g of golden raisins, 250g craisins and 150g of crystallised ginger)
2 cups orange juice (I used a combination of bottled and fresh)
½ cup + 2 tbsp dark rum (I used The Kraken)
1 cup sunflower oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp molasses
grated zest of two oranges
5 eggs
2 cups flour
½ cup cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
250g dark chocolate roughly chopped

Directions:
Put all your dried fruit in a large mixing bowl. Grate orange rind onto fruit. Add 2 cups of orange juice and 1/2 cup of rum. Leave to soak overnight. The next day gradually stir in (one after the other) brown sugar, oil and eggs. Once combined, gradually add dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, spices. Finally mix in chopped chocolate.

Pour into a large cake tin. Bake for 2.5-3 hours at 150 degrees. As mentioned before, my oven is a little – ahem – special, so this is really a case of knowing your oven and checking your cake often. You’ll know it’s done when you touch the top and it bounces right back. When it’s cooled off, wrap in a clean tea towel and store in a safe place until Christmas.

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Boozy Cherry Brownies

Beginnings can be daunting – so why not begin with brownies? Not that these are exactly your average slab of chocolate slice kind of deal. Yeah, they taste a hell of a lot like chocolate and, yeah, they’re awesome, but there’s no chocolate (per-se) in them, or butter, and they’re not so much like a comforting crocheted blanket pulled up to your chin on a winter’s night as they are like a comforting kick in the face.

Really the only reason I made these was because my mum came to stay with me after a trip to Canberra. She’d been to Costco while she was there – adventure city that our national capital is – and bought me a huge bag of dried cherries. I hadn’t been baking much at the time, because I was pretty busy, kinda poor – oh, and my oven sucks. Then the cherries arrived and I decided brownies were in order.

These are boozy, dark and full of tart-sweet kahlua-soaked cherries. Given the only fat in them is half a cup of oil, they aren’t as heavy as most brownies. However, they are very intense and also rather shiny, like a gilded chocolate breastplate (I’ve been reading A Clash of Kings). If for whatever reason you can’t/won’t use dried cherries, you could use craisins. Or even substitute the kahlua for rum and the cherries for raisins for rum ‘n’ raisin brownies. Do what you like. I’m not your mother.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup kahlua (or some other liqueur)
3 eggs
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup vegetable or nut oil
1 cup cocoa
½ cup plain flour
½ cup desiccated coconut
½ tsp salt

Directions:

Soak cherries in kahlua overnight (or you can put them in the microwave for a few minutes until they soak up some of the liquid). When your cherries have plumped up, combine eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in flour, cocoa, coconut, salt. Then add the cherries and kahlua. Pour mixture into lined brownie tin. Cook in moderate oven for about 30 minutes or until the top of the brownies looks set. If you wobble the tray and nothing moves of its own accord: they’re done. Let the brownies cool and cut them into squares.