Traditional Christmas Cake

                  2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (9 ounces total) butter at room temperature 
                  1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar 
                  4 eggs 
                  3 cups all-purpose flour 
                  1/4 teaspoon salt 
                  1 teaspoon ground allspice 
                  1 teaspoon cinnamon 
                  1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 
                  1 1/2 cups each currants, golden raisins, dark raisins 
                  1 1/3 cups soft dried figs, chopped
                  1 1/4 cups dates, pitted and chopped 
                  1 cup chopped stoned dried prunes 
                  1 3/4 cups chopped dried apricots 
                  3/4 cup blanched almonds, chopped 
                  2/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons brandy
                  2 teaspoons instant espresso, mixed with 1 tablespoon water 
Introduction: This rich cake can be made at the last minute before Christmas--it doesn't need to mature, although it keeps well, too.

Makes 30 servings. Total time: 4 hours 45 minutes, plus cooling time.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 300F. Grease a round 9- or 10-inch cake pan, and line bottom and sides with several layers of waxed paper.

Step 2: In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on high, beat the butter and sugar until thick and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour, salt, and spices, then fold into the creamed mixture. Add the fruit, almonds, 2/3 cup brandy, and espresso, folding in well.

Step 3: Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, leveling the surface. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 275F and bake for 3 1/2 hours longer or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Step 4: Remove the pan from the oven, cover with first a kitchen towel and then a thick bath towel so that the cake will cool slowly.

Step 5: When the cake is cool, prick the top with a skewer and drizzle with the extra brandy. Wrap in waxed paper and store in an airtight container. Keep in a cool place for up to 3 months.

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