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The perfect Christmas gift for you or a loved one
Start with the fruit. Pour the apple juice into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the butter, let it melt, then take off the heat and add the syrup and rum. Put the mixed fruit and cranberries into a large bowl, pour over the hot rum mix, then cover tightly with cling film and leave overnight.
The next day, heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease and double-line a 20cm round, deep cake tin with non-stick baking parchment. Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy and pale, then gradually beat in the eggs until light and fluffy. If the mix starts to split or look lumpy, add 1 tbsp of the flour and keep beating. Sift in the flour, spices and 1/4 tsp salt, and fold in using a large spoon. Fold in the orange zest, nuts, soaked fruit and soaking liquid.
Spoon the batter into the tin, level the top, then make a slight dimple in the middle using the back of the spoon. Bake for 1 hr 30 mins, then reduce oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1 and bake for a further 1 hr 45 mins or until it has risen, is a dark golden colour and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Put the tin on a cooling rack and leave until warm.
To feed the cake the first time, use a cocktail stick to poke all over the top of the warm cake. Stir together the rum and maple syrup, then slowly spoon over the cake. Cool completely, then remove the baking parchment, wrap loosely in clean baking parchment and store in an airtight tin. Feed the cake every week to 10 days until you decorate it.
Now you're ready to cover and ice your cake. Sit the cake on a large flat plate or board and brush a thin layer of apricot jam over the top.
Dust the work surface with icing sugar. Lightly knead the marzipan until pliable, then roll out in one direction, turning the marzipan 90 degrees every few rolls and keeping the pressure even. Keep it in a circular shape, reshaping it if needed as you go. When large enough (a 20cm circle to cover the top of the cake), lift onto the cake. Smooth the top with your palms and trim with a knife so flush with the cake. If you have time, leave to dry overnight.
Clean the work surface and rolling pin. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the marzipan with cooled boiled water or alcohol, then cover with the sugarpaste icing, rolling it in the same way. Lift onto the cake, then work your way gradually over the icing, smoothing out any folds with your palms to avoid wrinkles forming. Polish the icing with the palms of your hands (or a proper cake smoother) for a smooth finish. Trim with a sharp knife.
Use a straight-sided glass or jar to rub around the icing to make it flush with the cake. If not quite big enough, rub the top with the flat of your hands to spread a little, then use the glass or jar to smooth it.
Arrange the tea lights in a triangle on the top of the cake. Mark their positions by pressing down lightly into the icing, then cut out and remove three circles from the icing, going right down to the marzipan. Insert the candles.
Loosely tie the ribbon around the middle of the cake, then drop a cinnamon stick at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock between the ribbon and the cake. One by one, fill in the gaps with the remaining cinnamon sticks. When they are all upright, tighten and tie the ribbon in a knot – you may find a second pair of hands helpful for this bit.
Separate the bay into 3-leaf sprigs, then insert into the icing (I find the leaves look best if they all swirl around in the same direction). Add the rosemary, bending the stems a little to help if you need to, then fill in any gaps with single bay leaves. (Make sure that no leaves hang over or near where the candle flames will be). When ready to show off your cake, light the candles. Don’t leave the cake unattended.