People often make mincemeat (aka soaked dried fruit) one year in advance. So we should really be soaking dried fruit for our Christmas cake or pudding now for use next year. Crazy, isn’t it?
There are three parts to making the perfect mincemeat:
- Wash, dry and prepare dried fruit
- Source good-quality liquor
- Soak the dried fruit
There are many varieties of dried fruit combinations for Christmas cakes and puddings. Traditionally, one would use raisins, sultanas, candied peel and some chopped almonds. I use a mixture of raisins, golden sultanas, candied peel, stem ginger, dried dates, apricots, prunes and cranberries, fresh fruit (apple/pear) and chopped nuts (pecans, almonds, cashews, pine nuts). You can add other types of nuts or fruits into this mixture – the world is your oyster. However, try to follow the proper ratios to avoid the fruits and nuts not being soaked well enough. When it comes to cleaning, washing and drying your dried fruit are a must as they could have some dirt or unwanted stalks, stems or seeds that might sneak into the cake later on.
Liquor or Sainthood?
Time to bring out the booze! Different countries have their own traditions on the kind of alcohol that is used to prepare the ever-so-classic Christmas cake and pudding. Brandy is the most commonly used spirit to drown dried fruit. However, I use a combination of brandy, Old Monk Rum and Cointreau. You could also use peppermint schnapps, crème de cacao, bourbon – the flavours you soak your fruit in are the flavours that will permeate through the cake. Also, it's these liquors that we then have to drench the cake in once it's out of the oven.
For those who don’t drink or consume alcohol in any form, there are two great options for soaking your dried fruit mixture:
- Steep the dried fruits in a mixture of grape juice, orange juice, vanilla extract and dark brown muscovado sugar. This will help to get your dried fruits plump and ready for baking.
- Boil the liquids (mentioned above) and sugar together, add the dried fruits into the boiling liquid, boil for a minute and take off the heat.
Whichever is your preference, make sure to soak the fruits well in advance for the best results. It is of utmost importance to let the mixture cool down before storing. Store your mix in an airtight container (preferably a glass jar) and place in a dark spot in your kitchen at room temperature. This mix can last up to five years if stored properly.
- 100g raisins
- 100g sultanas
- 100g candied peel
- 3 pieces stem ginger
- 100g dried dates, pitted
- 100g dried apricots
- 50g prunes
- 100g dried cranberries
- 1 piece fresh fruit (apple/pear)
- 100g chopped nuts (pecans, almonds, cashews, pine nuts)
- 2 tbsp dark brown muscovado sugar
- 3 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp mixed spice
- 650mL liquor (your choice)
- Finely chop all the dried/fresh fruits and nuts until uniform.
- Add the sugar, vanilla and mixed spice and stir until combined.
- Add the liquor and, using your hands (wearing gloves), mix and smash the fruit a little into the liquid. Transfer into an airtight container and leave to soak until needed.
- Note for non-drinkers: Replace the alcohol with a mixture of grape juice and orange juice. Warm it in a saucepan and add the fruits, nuts, sugar, vanilla and spice and leave to steep, or boil all the ingredients together and leave to cool before storing in an airtight container.
This filling can be used in cakes, puddings, mince pies, muffins, tarts or even warmed up over some vanilla ice cream. It makes a great edible gift for your friends too!