I have a Christmas Cake recipe which instructs me to "wrap the outside of the [cake] tin with a few sheets of newspaper, securing with staples or string". What is the reason for doing this, and is it really necessary?
A Christmas cake is a large cake and you're cooking it for a long time. Insulating and padding the tin helps prevent the outside of the cake from scorching before the inside is properly cooked.
You can also just use brown paper and string if newspaper appears to be 'dirty'. My mother would always wrap the tin with brown paper to twice the height of the tin (partly because that was her mother did).
Worked too - never burned or too crispy on the top. She'd do the same with certain other fruitcake recipes as well.
Bluebelle When I was a child my mother made a Xmas cake. This was a recipe unknown to her at the time. The inside of the tin was lined with the accepted brown paper stuck to the tin with fat. The outside of the tin was covered with 4 layers of newspaper and the cooking time was over an hour longer (about four and a half hours). I also remember her saying that the oven temperature would not be cool enough and doing both linings would allow a longer time in the oven at the higher temperature. The outside paper acted in the same way that we now use aluminium foil while cooking in the microwave. It was also known the brown paper was least 3 time the cost of a newspaper in the early 1960s.
As an alternate, depending on your recipe, is to use an angel food cake tin; i.e. one with a central hole.
It allows for heat to better hit the batter as the cake is not so thick at any one place.
My recipe, from my grandmother, from an old Toronto newspaper "The Telegraph", actually calls for such a pan.
No padding required, just foil over the top to stop it from browning too quickly. But remember to poke a hole in the foil to match the hole in the pan, or you will defeat the natural convection created through such a pan.