Karoo Christmas Cake

Karoo Christmas Cake
Karoo Christmas cake enhanced with makataan, green fig preserve and masses of brannewyn. (Photo: Louis Pieterse, Kudu Studio)

Add, to a traditional Christmas cake recipe, a touch of green fig preserve and some makataan, and you have a Platteland take on a rich, dark and brandy-sodden fruitcake.

This recipe has been updated to reflect a missing step (when to fold in dry ingredients), with apologies.

Chef Mynhardt Joubert sent me a challenge recently, but he sent me more than that: at the front gate, by courier, arrived a large parcel which seemed a bit like a Christmas box. There was something about it.

Unwrapping it in the kitchen I found many delights. Packets of dried fruit and almonds, a bottle of vanilla essence, bicarbonate of soda, dates, red and green glacé cherries, baking powder, flour, even a bottle of KWV 10-year-old brandy. But there was more: the prize item in the box was square, well wrapped, and heavy. It was Chef Mynhardt’s own famous Christmas cake. I immediately poured brandy over it and stored it away. As one does.

I stored everything away in fact, contemplating, for a few weeks, how I would approach the challenge. And clearly that’s what it was: Mynhardt’s unspoken challenge: “Here’s what I did, let’s see what you can do?”

So here’s what I did. A nod, here, to two other people: my fellow Cradocker Heyla Meyer, whose wonderfully moist, luscious Christmas cake that we bought from her a year ago was truly inspirational. When I asked her for her secret she replied: “Tony, green fig preserve and makataan.” That’s the beloved syrupy wild watermelon preserve you find all over the Platteland. The other is Delia Sainsbury, whose classic Christmas cake I have made a few times over the years. While this is by no means her recipe, my “Christmas cake knowledge” has come mostly from her recipe and from cooking at my mother’s elbow as a little boy all those decades ago. So, yes, in fact, there are four people to thank. Thank you Mom, Heyla, Delia and most of all Mynhardt Joubert. So here’s my…

Karoo Christmas Cake

Start the day before you intend to bake the cake.

The method follows each group of ingredients.

First prepare the tin. 

You’ll need:

1 x 24 cm springform cake tin

Non-stick baking paper

Brown paper


Butter for greasing


Grease the base and sides (inside, obviously) of the springform cake tin thoroughly with butter. Cut out four rounds of baking paper to fit the base of the tin. Fit two of them in snugly, one on top of the other. Keep the remaining two rounds of paper aside.

Line the base with two rounds of baking paper.

Cut out two long strips of baking paper to fit all the way around the inside of the tin, to come 3 or 4 cm above the top of the tin. Arrange both of these strips around the inside of the tin. When you spoon in the cake batter later it will hold the paper to the sides.

Now cut out a long piece of brown paper to fit all the way round the outside of the tin, which you can hold together with a bit of stickytape. All of this provides plenty of protection while the cake is baking for all those hours.

The day before:

You’ll need:

500 g cake mix (pitted raisins, sultanas and citrus peel)

250 g dried fruit mix (Thompson raisins, sultanas)

150 g sayer dates, chopped

200 g red glacé cherries, whole

100 g preserved green figs, chopped

80 g makataan (preserved wild watermelon), chopped

8 Tbsp KWV 10-year-old brandy


Leave to macerate in the fridge for 24 hours.

Combine all of the above in a large bowl, mix well, cover with cling film and refrigerate to macerate for 24 hours or more. If you’d rather buy packets of raisins, sultanas and citrus peel separately, weigh out 375 g each of raisins and sultanas, to amount to 750 g, and add 50 g dried citrus peel. You should find this in the baking section of your supermarket.

On the day:

First remove the above mixture from the fridge and leave aside to come to room temperature. Then preheat the oven to 150℃. Now measure out the following.

You’ll need:

250 g plain cake flour

½ tsp grated nutmeg

½ tsp grated cinnamon

1/2 tsp mixed spice

½ tsp salt


Sift the flour into a large bowl with the spices and salt.

Next, you’ll need:

250 g unsalted butter at room temperature

250 g treacle sugar

4 jumbo eggs


In a separate large bowl, using a wooden spoon or balloon whisk, cream the butter and sugar together until light and pale. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl. Add a tablespoon at a time of the beaten eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, beating with a wooden spoon, until all is combined.  Now fold in the flour and spice mixture.

Next, you’ll need:

60 g whole almonds, roughly chopped

1 Tbsp green fig syrup (the syrup from the 


jar of preserved figs)

1 lemon, the zest of (not the juice)

1 pink grapefruit, the zest of (not the juice)

More almonds to decorate the top of the cake


Fold the marinated fruit mix into the creamed butter mixture, in broad, light movements to keep the air in. Then fold in the chopped almonds, then zest, and finally the green fig syrup.

Your batter is ready.

Use a ladle to spoon the mixture into the tin, starting at the centre and moving outwards, so that the batter pushes the paper to the sides. Use the back of the ladle to even the batter out and fill any gaps, and to smooth the surface. Arrange whole almonds on top in a pattern of your choice (you can see what I did), pushing them down only slightly so that they hold.

Grab the remaining two rounds of baking paper and fold them in half. Cut a little semi-circle in the centre of the fold to make two little holes in the centre of each round. Place them one on top of the other on top of the cake. 

Put it in the oven and bake for up to 4 ½ hours. When it is done the top will bounce back or “resist” when you press it gently. Remove to a wire rack and do not touch for 40 minutes, then release the springform clamping mechanism. Leave it another half hour before removing the paper. Leave it for a few hours to cool completely. Use a skewer to make holes in it here and there, and pour brandy over the top, not too ungenerously. Wrap the cake in plenty of baking paper, and then again in plenty of foil, and store in a dark cupboard until Christmas. Once a week, unwrap it, pour more brandy over, wrap up and return to its cupboard. It will thank you for it. DM/TGIFood


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