A Different Approach
Firstly the 'base cake' - this being a 'Madeira-type;, and (as the fact sheet says) 'beating the egg whites into the butter and sugar before the yolks, helps to prevent it splitting/curdling, and also makes for a lighter cake'.
9 oz (250g) butter, softened
9 oz (250g) caster sugar
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 oz (75g) ground almonds
4 eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest and juice of one orange
Put the butter and sugar into a bowl (ideally put this in a warm place to the sugar begins to absorb the butter), then cream together until light and fluffy, then pour in the unbeaten egg whites and continue beating until the mixture is like thick cream. Then beat in the egg yolks, vanilla, and zest and juice of the orange.
Sift the flour and baking powder together, then fold (or lightly beat) into the creamed mixture with the ground almonds.
Bake in a greased and lined 9" (23cm) square cake tin and bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for about an hour or until firm to the touch.
This next recipe is for a Christmas Cake made with above cake, more a method than a proper recipe. A recipe for home-made orange liqueur will follow.
Fruitless Christmas Cake:
First make the Madeira type cake (recipe above). Leave this to cool in the tin and spike in several places with a skewer, then spoon over a little orange liqueur. Cover the tin with foil, and a couple of days later, spoon over a little more liqueur.
To decorate, either leave whole or cut into four squares (when finished these will make good gifts). Roll out some marzipan, cutting into strips a little wider than the depth of the cake. Spread a little apricot jam around the sides of the cake (or on the marzipan if you prefer) and press the marzipan onto the cake, making sure the corners are pinched together. Leave the top of the cake without a marzipan covering.
Sift about 6 oz (175g) icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough orange liqueur to make an icing that is fairly runny but not too thin. Spoon most of this over the top of the cake, the scatter over some sliced glace fruits. Soon the remaining icing over the fruits and leave to set.
Wrap the sides of the cake with greaseproof/parchment paper or clingfilm and store in a tin. Because of the liqueur, this will keep well for up to three weeks. If you prefer to not use liqueur, and perhaps just use orange juice, then the cake should be eaten within a week).
Home-made Orange Liqueur:
Take one large orange and remove all the rind, discarding the pith. Cut the peel into shreds and and put into a clean (sterilised) 1 lb (450g) jam jar. Slice the orange in half and squeeze out the juice. Add the juice to the orange peel in the jar, and stir in 1 heaped tablespoon of caster sugar, then top up the jar with brandy. Replace the lid, shake well, then store in a dark place, giving the jar a daily shake to make sure all the sugar has dissolved and the flavour of the orange permeates the brandy.
After 4 weeks strain through muslin and re-bottle the liquid as a liqueur. After straining, the orange shreds can be added to a beef casserole or scattered over a fruit salad (can be frozen if you do not wish to use these immediately, although they should keep well enough in a small jar in the fridge for a while).
Make as above, but substitute a couple of lemons for the orange. A spoonful of this liqueur is said to be the secret ingredient in Bakewell Pudding!
If not keen on a heavy fruit Christmas Pudding, but like the traditional look of one, then here is another use for the ubiquitous Madeira. Again a method more than a recipe. Note: this pudding should not be cooked in a microwave, it won't work.
Not-so-Heavy Christmas Pudding:
This is a pudding that has a Christmas flavour but is far lighter than the traditional pud.
All we have to do grease well (with butter) the inside of a pudding bowl and spread a layer of mincemeat around the sides and over the base. Then to make the filling, use HALF the recipe for Madeira Cake (see above), omitting the ground almonds and baking powder, but making up the shortfall by adding extra flour.
Cover with pleated greaseproof paper, and then a cover of pleated foil. Tie this tightly round the basin and then steam for an hour and a half. Then turn it out onto a shallow dish. It will look just like a Christmas Pudding, but with a plain centre. If you wish you can pour over a ladle of hot brandy and set light to it in the traditional way. Also eats well with brandy or rum sauce. Even better with cream!