This is a deliciously rich, moist Christmas cake. It’s a recipe that is like an old friend I love to say hello to every year.
As I sat down to write this post, I looked back at the copious notes all over this recipe in my file. I knew it had been quite some time that I have been nurturing and tweaking it. What I wasn’t expecting to find was just how long. This recipe was developed over the course of 14 years!
As a Christmas cake is only made once a year (generally), I would make notes to remind me what to adjust the following year. The persistence paid off. I love my note on 2014 when I my notes say **PERFECT**!! (see second Post-It down on the left hand side below)
The biggest challenge was all around cooking time, oven temperature to avoid scorching the outside and how to achieve a moist cake. I tried all sorts of combination of oven temperatures and also starting with one temperature and then turning it down part way through baking.
In the end, my key success factors are these:
- one consistent low temperature throughout baking;
- covering the cake part way through baking with a cardboard ‘lid’ to protect the cake from burning;
- wrapping the outside of the tin with a layer of brown paper and then brown cardboard;
- feeding the baked cake by basting it, with a pastry brush, rather skewering it. Skewering not only opens the cake up to drying but you also end up with concentrated pockets of brandy (or whatever you favourite tipple is). Basting allows an even absorption of the brandy by simple osmosis and does not create holes to let the drying air in.
- topping and tailing the cake during basting. I don’t just baste the top and sides; I turn the cake over and baste the bottom too.
- basting the cake once every 2 weeks over the course of 8 weeks (so four times) then leaving at least a 2 week gap between the last basting and decorating and eating it. This allows some time for the brandy to mature and mellow.
Step by step instructions on how to make this rich, traditional, Christmas cake
First soak the fruit
I recommend soaking it for at least 2-3 days; I have been known to soak it for a week! You can do it for shorter but it just means that the fruit hasn’t absorbed as much moisture and flavour. The longer you soak it, the more moist your cake will be.
Line the tin
You can get ahead and do this several days before you are going to bake or just do it on the day.
Make the cake
Make the cake and bake it.
Feed the cake
Feed the cake with brandy or whiskey. I recommend once a fortnight over 8 weeks. Allow at least a two week gap before decorating it and eating it to allow the last addition of brandy to mature.
Decorate the Christmas cake (if you want to)
Decorate the cake with marzipan and sugarpaste and a gold trim. However, you can leave out the decoration altogether.
How long can you keep Christmas cake?
The Christmas cake will keep for months wrapped in foil and in an airtight container.
Can you freeze Christmas cake?
Yes you can. The cake freezes very well. Wrap it up well in foil or clingfilm.
How do you feed a Christmas cake?
I use either brandy, rum or whiskey to feed my cake. I don’t recommend using a non-alcohol liquid such as a fruit juice because it will allow bacteria to grow and ruin the cake.
I feed mine once every two weeks for 8 weeks (so 4 times) with two tablespoons of brandy (for this 25cm square cake). I top and tail the cake so that I am also feeding the bottom of the cake because that is actually going to be the top of the cake if it is decorated. I then leave the cake for final 2 weeks between the last ‘feed’ before decorating and/or eating. This is to allow the last bit of brandy to mellow out.
Traditional rich Christmas cake
- 25cm square, loose bottom, cake tin
- 450 g currants
- 450 g raisins
- 450 g sultanas
- 450 g cherries rinsed to remove any syrup, then halved
- 450 g peel rinsed to remove any syrup
- 100 ml rum
- 1 orange zest & juice
- 450 g dark soft brown sugar
- 450 g butter softened
- 300 g eggs approx. 6 med eggs, beaten
- 450 g self raising flour
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 450 g ground almonds
- 2 lemons zest
- 40 g treacle
- 40 g glycerine
To decorate (optional)
- 600 g marzipan
- 600 g sugarpaste plus a little extra if making snowflakes
- gold food dust
- Soak the dried fruit in the rum, orange zest and juice of orange in large, round plastic cake tin (10”) for a minimum of 24 hours; 2 to 3 days is better. I actually soak mine for about a week! Leave it on the counter top; it doesn't need to go in the fridge. Give the container the odd shake to ensure all the fruit is coated with the rum and orange juice as the liquid will initially sink to the bottom.
- Prepare the cake tin:
- a. first line the base and sides of a loose bottomed 25cm square tin with a layer of baking parchment.
- b. to line the outside of the tin, cut strips of double thickness brown paper the height of the tin and enough to go right round the tin. Once the tin is filled with cake mixture, this will be put around the tin and fastened in place with string.
- Prepare a 28cm (11 inch) square piece of cardboard or brown paper to form a ‘lid’ to be put over the cake whilst cooking to prevent burning.
- Prepare a 25cm (10”) square cake drum board covered with foil which will be used to store the cake on once baked.
- Place oven shelf on the bottom rung and heat the oven to 125C.
- Cream the sugar and butter in a large stand mixer.
- Sift the flour and spices.
- Add the beaten egg a little at a time to the creamed mixture. Mix well after each addition to avoid curdling.
- Add the flour, spices, ground almonds, lemon zest, glycerine and treacle and mix well.
- Add the soaked fruit – if the mixture is too much for the stand mixer handle altogether you may need to mix in batches or complete the final mixing by hand.
- Spoon mixture into the lined tin ensuring the mixture is pushed right into the bottom corners of the tin. Level with the back of a spoon or wedged palette knife.
- Place on bottom shelf of oven and bake for 2½ hours uncovered. Cover with the square cardboard lid and bake for further 2 hours.
- Remove from oven and leave to cool for 10 mins. Demould the cake from the tin, and place onto a cooling rack. Leave to cool for 8-10 hours or overnight without removing the base of the tin that the cake is still resting on. Once completely cold, remove the base of the tin and the lining paper and place cake centrally on cake board covered with foil.
- Baste the whole cake, top, sides and bottom with brandy (approx. 2 tablespoons should do it) using pastry brush. I don’t pierce with a skewer as this creates concentrate pockets of brandy.
- Wrap cake in foil tightly and place in an airtight container. ‘Feed’ every 2 weeks 4 times leading up to Xmas over 10 weeks. You want to leave at least 2 weeks between the last feed and actually eating it to allow the brandy to mature a little.
- Decorate with marzipan and sugar paste icing if required or leave the cake as it is.