The first proper entertaining for nearly two years to celebrate four wedding anniversaries (56, 51, 44 and 3 years plus two birthdays for which I’m too polite to mention the decades). With my problems of fatigue, memory, concentration and organisation, it had been a daunting prospect but, with good old Naval planning, it all worked. The key was a timetable that would please any First Lieutenant: a menu designed for some elements to be made weeks beforehand and frozen (smoked salmon mousse, chocolate truffle torte, honey and ginger ice-cream); just the right amounts for the shopping list: a count-down of actions for the weeks and days before the event. With a few bits of preparation to do each day, a four-course lunch for over a dozen was just achievable.
However, the weather was stubbornly outside my control and thunderstorms were forecast. The gazebo was up, tables out, seating Covid-spaced and fingers firmly crossed. We were immensely lucky: there was torrential rain and lightning just a few miles away while we sat in warm relaxing sun. With the last guests departing some eight hours later, I felt I’d regained my entertaining confidence.
And, of course, there was a cake to complete our celebrations. It is my standard rich fruit cake but with honey replacing sugar (you can tell how old the recipe is as it still uses Imperial measures!). Actually making the cake takes no time, it is the preparation, weighing and cooking that takes a while. Finished with marzipan and royal icing before being festooned with myriad champagne and star candles, it was an attempt to celebrate all those years of marriage and life.
brandy to cover.
4 eggs .
12 oz self-raising flour.
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 heaped teaspoons mixed spice.
half teaspoon salt
2oz (home-made) candied peel.
8oz glace cherries.
2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.
2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).
2oz dates, chopped.
2 oz dried figs, chopped.
1 orange, zest and juice.
1 lemon, zest and juice.
3oz whole almonds chopped.
3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.
Place the raisins, currants and sultanas in a jar or similar container, cover with brandy and leave to soak for several weeks.
Cream the butter and honey.
Whisk in the eggs one at a time with a teaspoon of flour.
Fold in the dry ingredients.
Fold in the drained fruit (reserving the brandy), other fruit and nuts.
Place the mix in a 10-inch cake mould (silicone or greased and lined).
Cook in a pre-heated oven at 140C, Gas 1 for 2 hours 15 minutes then reduce to 120C, Gas Half for a further 45 minutes. The internal temperature of the cake should reach about 96C.
When cool, remove from cake mould and, over a week, inject the cake with the sieved reserved brandy.
Decorate as you like.
If replacing the honey with soft brown sugar, reduce the flour to 8 ounces.
I used the same recipe for an Easter Simnel cake but with a rolled layer of marzipan on top of the first half of the mix before topping with the remainder before cooking.