Fruit celebration cake christmas

The best Celebration Cake you will EVER have tasted!

How to make the very best Christmas Cake, Wedding Cake, or anything-else Cake.

Gather round, gentlemen, and I will share with you a closely-guarded Third Millennium Man secret that’s been kept under lock and key, for – well, actually it hasn’t.  But it’s a really great cake recipe nonetheless.  It isn’t going to be cheap – certainly nowhere near as cheap as buying a ready-made cake, but what do you expect?  This celebration cake is the proverbial business.  Be prepared for some serious envy from whoever you allow to try a slice.

I remember when I first lived on my own.  I was invited over to my mother’s for Christmas Day.  I wanted to make a contribution, and decided upon making the Christmas Cake.

Mother was – well, motherly.  “Don’t worry about all those expensive ingredients” she said, “they don’t make any difference at all.  It says in my recipe to use butter; I just use Stork.  It says to use brown sugar; I just use the white stuff that I have”.  She then went on to say how she uses the washing up bowl as she doesn’t own a mixing bowl large enough, and ended the conversation with how she was going to make her own, just in case mine didn’t turn out as hoped.

Despite Mother’s assurances to the contrary, I decided to just go for it.  To make the best dang cake I possibly could.  I started out with my basic recipe – which absolutely knocked Mother’s effort into a cocked hat, by the way – and I’ve been embellishing it and adding to it ever since.  It’s now better than ever, though the core cake remains the same.  I even use that same cake tin I did so many years ago.

For the very best possible results, make your cake well in advance.  My best Christmas Cake was made in January.  It gives the flavours a chance to mature.  That does not mean to say it’ll be rubbish if it’s made a week before, it just means it’s for the best if you plan ahead.

 

 

A list of the things you’ll need:

 

This recipe requires the use of a 9” round cake tin.

 

  • 450g currants

 

  • 175g sultanas

 

  • 175g raisins

 

  • 100g dried apricots (chopped)

 

  • 50g Glacé cherries (rinsed and chopped)

 

  • 50g chopped mixed peel

 

  • A medium-quality Brandy (not the absolute cheapest, but not a £45 bottle either)

 

  • 225g plain flour

 

  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt

 

  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

 

  • ½ teaspoon mixed spice

 

  • 225g Ghee at room temperature (look for it in the Ethnic Food aisle – it’s used a lot in Indian cuisine)

 

  • 225g soft brown sugar

 

  • 4 large free-range eggs

 

  • 50g flaked almonds

 

  • 1 dessertspoon black treacle

 

  • Zest of 1 lemon

 

  • Zest of 1 orange

 

  • Zest of 1 lime

 

 

A week or so before you start to bake.

Place all your currants, sultanas, raisins,  apricots, Glacé cherries and your mixed peel into a plastic sealable container with half a cup of brandy. Stir it all up and leave it to soak for a few days.

If all the Brandy soaks into the fruit rapidly, add more until it’s all soaked in.  All that dryness is hungry for some moisture, so pour in some Brandy and you’re left with swollen, Brandy-infused fruit for your cake.

Doing this is infinitely preferable to just pouring Brandy into the cake mix, like they tell you to do in Cookery Books.  Just pouring the Brandy in when you’re mixing the cake will introduce too much liquid into the mix.  That’s why all the fruit in your Grandmother’s cake always sinks to the bottom.

Oh, and it’s important to rinse all that goo off your Glacé cherries by the way.  All that syrupy sweetness cloys the mixture, swamping all those subtle flavours and textures you’re introducing.  So chop ’em up a bit with your apricots (so they don’t just sink to the bottom of the cake but are evenly distributed) and then rinse all that sticky syrup off.  It’s for the best.

 

Making and baking your cake.

Here we go – this is the actual mixing and baking of the cake.

 

 

  • Preheat the oven to 140°C (Gas Mk. 1). Warm up the opened tin of treacle inside your oven as it comes to temperature.  The treacle will be a lot easier to work with when it’s warm.

 

  • Sieve the flour, salt, nutmeg & mixed spice into a large bowl, mixing plenty of air into it.

 

  • In a separate bowl, carefully cream together the Ghee and the sugar with a wooden spoon.  Use your hands if you’re hardcore.  Beat the eggs, and add them, a tablespoonful at a time, to the creamed butter and sugar.  Beat it thoroughly after each addition of eggs.

 

  • Fold the flour & spices into the mixture (fold, not beat – be gentle).  Stir in the soaked fruit, the flaked almonds, the treacle, and the zest of the lemon, lime and orange.

 

  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level it off as best as you can. Gently cover the top of the cake with a layer of greaseproof paper, with a 5p-piece sized hole in the centre. Wrap a double-layer of greaseproof paper around the outside of the tin.

 

  • Place the tin on a baking sheet or tray, on the lowest oven shelf. Bake it for 4 ¼ – 4 ½ hours.  Resist the temptation to open the door until 4 hours have elapsed.

 

  • Check your cake with a fine skewer.  When the skewer comes out clean, your cake is baked.  Congratulations!

 

 

After cooking

  • When the cake has cooled, wrap it well in clean greaseproof paper and store it in an airtight container.

 

  • Feed the cake with more brandy at odd intervals by poking tiny holes in the surface with a needle and pouring a capful of brandy in at a time. Repeat this as often as you dare, before decorating.

 

 

So what happens when you’re ready to decorate the cake?  Here’s a few more Third Millennium Man tips for you;

 

  • Buy a jar or the best rindless Orange Marmalade you can find.  Melt it a bit in the microwave, and smear it all over your cake.  It acts like a glue that holds the following layers in place.

 

  • Roll out some Golden Marzipan and lay it over the cake.  Make sure there aren’t any gaps around the bottom.

 

  • Mix up some icing.  You can buy some Ready Rolled, but why start cutting corners at this late stage?  Buy a box of Icing Sugar and mix it as directed.  Although here at Third Millennium Man we prefer to mix the Icing Sugar with one free-range egg white and a tiny drop of Vanilla Extract.  We just prefer it, that’s all.

 

Any Third Millennium Man tips on decorating the cake?  None!  That’s what kids are for.  Borrow somebody else’s if you don’t have any of your own.  Get a few good-quality decorations (you’ll find them in high-end cook shops) and a ribbon or a cake-band to wrap around the sides.

So there you have it; the very best Celebration Cake recipe doing the rounds.  The trouble is, it’s so nice, you’ll wish you’d made two.

Once you’ve tried it, why not let us all know how you got on, using the Comments box below?  It’s okay, you’re amongst friends here.

perfect steak from Third Millennium man

How to cook a perfect Steak – every time.

A gentleman should be able to cook for his guests.  He doesn’t have to be a Michelin-starred chef (although that can always help) but it’s always good to have just a few dishes up your sleeve; preferably, ones that you can cook really, really well and present in an eye-catching way.

how to cook a perfect steak - every time - Third Millennium Man
There’s just something wonderful about a really great steak that’s been well cooked and well presented.

Steak is a particularly versatile favourite.  If it’s a meal for a partner, something for the lads, or a more formal occasion, a well-cooked and perfectly-presented steak is a sure-fire hit.  It is the preferred meat of the connoisseur around the world.  So here’s a guide that will minimise the chances of you getting it wrong.

Choose the right butcher.

For the best quality, choose a really good butcher.  It’s fairly self-explanatory, but shrink-wrapped meat at your local supermarket might be a good deal cheaper, but will have a far higher water content, and won’t have the flavour or texture of a quality meat from a quality butcher.  You’ll also be able to boast of “my butcher” and earn some serious kudos.

Use a proper butcher and take his advice if you want to cook and eat better steak - Third Millennium Man
Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher’s advice.

Choose the right cut of meat.

First, where does the meat come from?  Probably all UK beef is grass-fed.  If it’s imported, then there’s a chance that it might be ‘corn-fed’ which means that it’s been raised on a maize-based diet (don’t be fooled into assuming ‘corn’ means ‘wheat’) which is unnatural for the animal and results in (what many consider to be) inferior meat. Grass-fed should have a more appetising look about it, and better ‘marbling’ (lines of fat running through the beef). Ask how old the meat is, how long it has been aged for; any cut other than fillet should be over 21 days old to allow the fat to break down, but don’t buy anything over 35 days.

  • Rib-eye steak is an up-and-coming favourite in many top-class restaurants.  Have your butcher cut it big – at least 3cm thick – and choose a piece with plenty of marbling, and a cube of fat at one end (the ‘eye’ in ‘rib-eye).  Don’t trim the fat away, as the fat adds a lot to the flavour.
  • Prime rib is often a big cut of meat (expect one steak to be approaching a kilogram before cooking). Some prefer this cut over a rib-eye, in the common belief that beef just tastes better when cooked on the bone. It will need to rest longer than any other cut. Remember that you are paying for the bone as well as the meat!
  • Sirloin was a meat so beloved of King Henry the Eighth, he granted it a knighthood (hence, Sir Loin). Cook it with the fat still on to intensify the flavour and texture, though it’s still easy enough for the diner to just trim it away if they wish. Choose a thick cut; maybe 3cm thick.
  • Fillet steak used to be the jewel in the crown. It’s not really in favour so much now, as it isn’t a muscle used much by the animal, isn’t quite as flavoursome as other cuts, and is one of the most expensive. It doesn’t need to age as it’s a lean cut with very little fat to break down.
  • Chateaubriand is a bigger, more expensive version of a fillet. It’s seriously big, seriously expensive, and I’m often inclined to give it a miss.
  • Rump steak is far cheaper than fillet steak, and has far more flavour. The best cuts come from the middle of the rump, cut against the grain. It can have a few sinews running through it, so get rid of these before cooking with a sharp knife. It’s a hard-working muscle of the animal, which can make it tougher, but much tastier.
  • Porterhouse and T-bone steaks are pretty much the same thing as each other. Both tend to be rather more bone than meat, take longer to cook (good if you like it rare, bad if you like it well done). It remains a favourite of some folk – but I have absolutely no idea why, other than a complete lack of imagination.

Whichever cut you choose, make sure you remove it from the fridge in plenty of time.  The best results come from cooking meat that’s already at room temperature.

Every man should be able to cook at least ONE dish, really well - Third Millennium Man

Choose the right cooking method.

Steaks can be grilled; the best way, however, is in a frying pan or similar, over direct heat. The thicker the frying pan the better, as it will hold its heat, and preferably one with a good non-stick coating. A good cast-iron skillet or griddle would be even better as these can get really hot, giving your steak that sweet, charred finish on the outside that we all love.

If you pan is too small to fit all your steaks in, resist the urge to squeeze them all in at once. Far better to cook them in small batches and allow them to rest, wrapped in tin foil, while you cook a few more.

Choose the right oil.

Do not fry your steak in butter. Butter cannot handle the heat and will just burn, ruining the steak. If you want a little extra flavour and a creamy shine to your steak, add a dot of butter the moment it’s ready to serve.

Groundnut oil is recommended by many chefs; my personal favourite is cold-pressed rapeseed oil, which is grown in the UK, delicious, and far cheaper than olive oil of the same quality.

Some chefs pour oil straight into the pan; others prefer to oil the steak, ensuring it’s completely covered, then put the steak into a dry pan. Unless you’re experienced, I’d put the oil into the pan which will show you when the oil is hot enough and ready (it should just be about to separate and almost smoke). Make sure the oil is spread all over the pan, and don’t put your steak in when the oil isn’t hot enough. You’ll be disappointed with the greasy, grey lump of meat you’ll end up with.

While the oil is heating up, sprinkle sea salt and black pepper onto a plate and lightly press your steak into it immediately before cooking (adding salt too early will dry out your steak). Fancy a little variation? How about seasoning it with a load of crushed black peppercorns (say, one teaspoonful per steak)? Or dried coriander seeds? Or a marinade, such as balsamic vinegar or honey and wholegrain mustard, both of which will give your steak an extra flavour and a beautiful glaze?

Trim away the fat, trim away the flavour.
Trim away the fat, trim away the flavour.

Choose the optimum cooking time.

Obviously there’s quite a few factors that will affect cooking times; the thickness of the meat, the cut, the fat content, just to mention a few. So here’s a rough guide for you;

  • Blue: about 1 – 1½ minutes per side. Your meat should be a dark, purple-ish colour, and fairly warm. It will feel soft and spongy to the touch.
  • Rare: anywhere from 1½ – 2½ minutes per side. The steak will be dark red with a few juices still flowing. It will also feel soft and spongy, but slightly firmer than a blue steak.
  • Medium-rare: allow 2 – 3 minutes per side. This meat will be pink in the middle, with a little pink juice flowing. It will feel spongy still, but slightly springy.
  • Medium: allow 3 – 4½ minutes per side. Your steak should be pale pink in the middle, with barely any juices, and feel firm and springy to the touch.
  • Well-done: allow 4 – 5 minutes per side. Maybe a hint of pink in the middle; it should feel springy and soft once it’s rested.

Any doubts over the cooking times? Ask your butcher when you buy your meat for his recommendations.

Once cooked allow the steak to rest, covered loosely in kitchen foil, for around ten minutes (certainly no less than six minutes). This allows the meat to re-absorb the juices, making your steak moist and tender, whilst freeing up the pan for your side dishes. Which brings us to….

Choose your accompanying sauce and dishes.

A good steak deserves a good sauce. Here’s a few suggestions;

  • Peppercorn sauce is a favourite, but why make it from a packet? Just pour off the excess oil from frying your steak, add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and half a cupful of beef stock; boil it, reduce it by half, add some thick double cream and as much black pepper as you dare.
  • Béarnaise sauce is equally easy; pour off the excess oil and add a tablespoon of the same vinegar; add a few dollops of crème fraîche and stir in some chopped tarragon. Keep stirring, and it will melt into a delicious sauce.
  • Make a tasty flavoured butter in advance and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to serve. Try stirring finely-chopped parsley and a clove of garlic into room-temperature, good quality butter; horseradish cream and chopped chives; chopped sundried tomato and basil. Roll it into a sausage, and slice off as much as you need when you’re ready (you can freeze the rest ready for next time).
Fries are a wonderful accompaniment to your perfect steak - Third Millennium Man
Fries are always an excellent accompaniment to steak.

What sides go well with a steak? Tradition dictates chipped potatoes, or maybe wedges.  If you don’t have a Deep Fat Fryer, par-boil some peeled and chipped potatoes.  Coat them in oil, salt and pepper, and roast them in a hot oven for 20 – 30 minutes.  Looking for something different? Make wedges from sweet potatoes with the skins still on.

A few peas wouldn’t go amiss – nothing fancy needed, just boil some frozen ones they way it says on the bag.

Apart from that, feel free to ring the changes. You know who your guests are and how far you can push your luck. The star of the show is always going to be the steak, so as long as the steak itself is cooked to perfection, you will have achieved greatness.

Finally – want to make absolutely sure of getting it absolutely right on the night?  Why not treat yourself to a practice run, a few days before your guests arrive – you’ll be glad you did!

Bon appétit!