You can make Mary Berry's sherry-infused, Victorian-style Christmas cake well ahead of the big day - in fact, the longer you leave it, the better it will taste!
175g (6 oz) raisins
350g (12 oz) glace cherries, rinsed, thoroughly dried and quartered
500g (1lb 2oz) currants
350g (12oz) sultanas
150ml (¼ pint) sherry, plus extra for feeding
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
250g (9oz) butter, softened
250g (9oz) light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp black treacle
75g (3oz) blanched almonds, chopped
75g (3oz) self-raising flour
175g (6oz) plain flour
1½ tsp mixed spice
To finish and decorate Mary Berry's Christmas cake:
About 3 tbsp apricot jam, sieved and warmed
675g shop-bought almond paste
Packet royal icing mix to cover 23cm/9in cake
You should make this cake at least three weeks ahead of Christmas, for if eaten too early it's crumbly. If you don't want to use alcohol, use the same quantity of orange juice. Instead of covering with icing, you could brush warmed apricot jam over the cake, then arrange glace fruits and nuts on top.
Put all the dried fruit in a container, pour over the sherry and stir in the orange zest. Cover with a lid, and leave to soak for 3 days, stirring daily. Grease and line a 23cm (9in) deep round tin with a double layer of greased greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 140ºC/Fan 120ºC/Gas Mark 1.
Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and almonds into a very large bowl and beat well. Add the flours and mixed spice and mix thoroughly until blended. Stir in the soaked fruit. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface.
Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 4-4½ hours or until the cake feels firm to the touch and is a rich golden brown. Check after 2 hours, and, if the cake is a perfect colour, cover with foil. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
When cool, pierce the cake at intervals with a fine skewer and feed with a little extra sherry. Wrap the completely cold cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper and again in foil and store in a cool place for up to 3 months, feeding at intervals with more sherry. (Don't remove the lining paper when storing as this helps to keep the cake moist.)
Decorate with almond paste and royal icing.
To prepare the Christmas cake ahead: Prepare the fruit and soak in sherry 3 days ahead - this is essential to plump up and flavour the fruit. Make the cake and wrap as in stage 4. Store in a cool place for up to 3 months, following stage 4. You could also freeze the cake before decorating, for up to 3 months; defrost at room temperature.