I was going to call this ‘Camp as Christmas’, but as this cake is positively restrained when compared to a cassata, it seemed unfair. Besides, the campness comes at the last minute via a generous sprinkling of 100s & 1000s, and although this is utterly compulsory, it’s just a bit of Christmas silliness on an otherwise very serious cake. That said, in at least two households in the UK, this will forever be known as Jason’s Ring – because, it turns out, that after a few mulled wines, and because it’s a sturdy thing, this cake makes a brilliant hat … if your name is Jason.
It should be a centrepiece, because it’s a very handsome thing, and whilst fiddly to make, it’s not that difficult, with time and patience. The recipe I’m giving comes from Rachel Roddy’s Two Kitchens, because when I tested various recipes out on the Sicilian, her’s earned an emphatic “THAT is that taste of buccellato”. Be warned though, this is a grown up thing; compared to most British cakes, there’s very little sugar in it – and that is mostly in the pastry. In fact a grumpy pink man at a food market once pulled a face and shouted ‘bitter! It’s bitter!’, which it is, slightly, from the dark chocolate. The best way to describe it is like a spiced, fruity, nutty, chocolatey, giant fig roll, except it’s a ring, as we know. The pastry is crimped for added effect, and then the whole thing is glazed with honey, before those essential and abundant 100s & 1000s are added.
There are some similarities with British Christmas Cake – the dried fruit, the added booze, the spicing – so you can detect that somewhere way back, they may have a common ancestor. But make this Sicilian descendent and you’ll be saved inch thick royal icing and death by marzipan. It’s also an excellent keeper, so make it a few days before Christmas and it’ll keep going til 12th Night, assuming it survives resident foragers.
Rachel’s recipe makes an unapologetically big cake – it’s a beast. But you can easily adapt the amounts to make something smaller, to match your home’s appetites. Besides, I find that there is a strange effect once a buccellato has its first slice taken. People can’t resist it when they pass by, or when it’s sitting on the sideboard. They’ll cut themselves the thinnest of slices, promising that they’re full, and this will be their last. But then ten minutes later they’re back, and then again. Cumulatively – this seductive loveliness means that your huge, moreish centrepiece of a Christmas cake is unlikely to make it til New Years Eve.
Rachel Roddy’s Buccellato
400g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Grated zest of a lemon (unwaxed)
170g cold, butter, chopped up
2 large eggs
Rub the butter and flour together (with the salt and lemon), to get a breadcrumbs texture.
Then add the eggs and sugar and mix until it all comes together.
Form it into a rough cylinder, wrap in clingfilm and put it in the fridge.
500g dried figs
300g nuts – almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts (I tend to use hazelnuts, because they’re my favourite)
60g candied peel
Zest of an unwaxed orange and lemon
100g chopped dark chocolate
a bloody generous Pinch of cinnamon and ground cloves
Soak the figs for ten minutes in warm water, and then chop them (I pinch the tough stems out), the nuts and the raisins finely (it’s easiest if you have one of those mini food processors).
Mix in all the rest of the ingredients and you’ll get a thick, sticky, very tactile paste.
Now, retrieve your pastry and roll it into a rectangle – about 70 x 14 cm and lift it onto a piece of clingfilm.
Make a log with the filling – and lay it in the centre of your pastry, leaving a short gap at each end.
Now you need to fold the pastry over, using the clingfilm to support it as you lift it. Wet and seal the edges, turning the whole thing so that the seal is hidden underneath., – you’ll now have a long pastry sausage. Bring the two ends together, to make your ring, wetting them again and pinching them to seal them. This bit requires bravery the first time you do it, but summon the courage and refuse to be cowed by the alchemy of fusing pastry to pastry.
I then chill it for two hours, before decorating, to let the pastry harden. You can get a handy pincher thing from a cook shop – or just use a fork to stab and drag the pastry. You want to be able to see the filling through the gabs, but not to shred the pastry completely.
Then bake it until golden brown (30-40 minutes, depending on your oven) at 180 C/Gas 4.
100s & 1000s
Finally, let it cool, then warm some honey to make it runny and brush the entire ring, then scatter your hundreds and thousands with gay abandon.
It’s ready. Mangia! Mangia!