I couldn't decide between a chocolate-nutty cake or a boozy-fruity one for this, my second Christmas recipe for 2011, so I asked my Facebook friends which one they'd most fancy on the table this year. Although a few were doggedly in the chocolate camp, most voted for a boozy/fruity pudding. My friend Fiona Snyckers summed it up very well: "When Pooh Bear was asked to choose between honey or condensed milk, he got over-excited and said 'both!'. But if I have to pick one, I'd say boozy-fruity because it's a once-a-year thing. You can have choc-nutty every other day of the year. Christmas is all about the brandy-soaked cherries."
My sentiments exactly. I'm not sure what to call my new Christmas confection, because it's something of a hybrid: part trifle and part cheesecake, with a nod to a classic Italian zuccotto. With a creamy, fruity filling and a lining of booze-soaked Madeira cake, it's sure to appeal to guests who are expecting a wickedly rich, Christmassy-tasting dessert at the end of a festive meal.
This is easy to make and can be prepared a day (or even two) in advance, although the whipped-cream icing should be made and spread over the cake not more than two hours before you serve it.
You can add anything you like to this filling. I used toasted slivered almonds for crunch, and crushed Amaretti biscuits for their lovely bitter almondiness, but I think what would make this pud perfect is some sour-sweet brandied cherries (thanks for the suggestion, Fiona). I didn't have any of these to hand when I made this, but I'm soaking fresh cherries in brandy as we speak for use on the big day.
Boozy, Fruity Trifle Cake for Christmas
2 small Madeira-cake loaves (trifle sponges)
1 cup (250 ml) sweet dessert wine, or similar
3 T (45 ml) tepid water
4 tsp (20 ml) gelatine powder
400 g cream cheese (I use full-fat cream cheese, but you could use a half-half mixture of full-fat and low fat)2/3 cup (160 ml) icing sugar
1 cup (250 ml) fruit mincemeat, from a jar
2/3 cup (160 ml) slivered almonds, lightly toasted
16 Amaretti biscuits, lightly crushed
3 T (45 ml) brandy or whiskey
250 ml cream
For the icing:
350 ml cream
3 T (45 ml) icing sugar
a few drops of vanilla extract
Grease a 24-cm spring-form cake tin and line it with baking paper. (Cut out a circle for the base, and a long strip of paper that's the same width as the height of the cake ring. Alternatively, you can line the tin with several sheets of clingfilm.)
Cut the Madeira loaves horizontally (that is, with your bread knife held parallel to the chopping board) into long, 1-cm thick slices. Each slice will be about as wide as the cake tin is high. Pour the dessert wine into a shallow dish. Quickly dip each slice into the wine and then press the slices one by one around the edges of the tin. Use more dipped slices to line the bottom of the tin, pulling them into pieces if necessary and fitting them together like a jigsaw. Don't worry if the sponge lining looks uneven and messy: the whole cake will be covered with whipped cream. Reserve any left-over slices of cake for the topping. Put the lined tin in the fridge while you make the filling.
Put the tepid water in a teacup-sized bowl, sprinkle over the gelatine powder and set aside to 'sponge' for a few minutes. Place the bowl in a pot of simmering water (the water should come half-way up the sides) and stir occasionally as the gelatine melts. When the liquid is clear, remove the bowl and set aside to cool for a few minutes. (Alternatively, you can melt the gelatine very gently in a microwave oven.)
In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and icing sugar, until smooth. Stir in the mincemeat, almonds, crushed Amaretti biscuits and brandy (or whiskey). Stir in the melted gelatine. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to a soft, thick peak. Gently fold the cream into the cream-cheese filling mixture. Pour the mixture into the cake-lined tin and smooth the top. Dip the remaining slices of Maedira cake in the leftover wine and press them lightly over the top surface of the cake. Cover the tin with clingfilm and refrigerate.
An hour or two before you're ready to serve the cake, make the icing. Whip the cream, icing sugar and vanilla extract to a firm and voluptuous (but not stiff) peak. Take the cake out of the fridge and gently loosen it from its mould. Invert the cake on a serving platter and gently peel away the baking paper or clingfilm. Spread the whipped cream evenly in a fairly thin layer all over the cake and decorate with silver balls, or chocolate shavings, or brandied cherries, or any other festoonments of your choice.
Makes one cake; serves 8-10 Print Friendly