Traditional Christmas Cake recipe
No Christmas is ever complete without a traditional Christmas Cake on the table
Have you ever read a classic Christmas story and wondered what plum pudding was? Christmas is a time of joy and traditions. One very special Christmas tradition in my household begins to take place in late October. Dried fruits and marzipan are ordered so we may prepare to bake our original Christmas Cakes.
This isn't the fruit cake you might get on the check-out aisles of your local grocery store. This cake is a tradition and a joy that my daughter and I prepare for our friends and family each year. Serving a slice with Wensleydale cheese (Wensleydale is a historic, sweet cheese, sometimes filled with fruit, that has been made in Wensleydale, in the north of England since 1150 by Cistercian monks) and a cup of hot tea is how we enjoy the fruit of our labor.
Back in the 1600s, Christmas time meant Plum Pudding would be served. Only made with the finest ingredients: fruits, nuts, sugar, and mixed spices. History tells us that all of these ingredients were rare and expensive. The mixed spices represented the exotic eastern spices brought by the Wise Men as a gift to the baby Jesus.
Before ovens, cooks wrapped the mixture in cheesecloth and boiled them; hence, the Plum Pudding you read about in all the classic Christmas stories. Over time when ovens became more commonplace, the Christmas Cake was born.
Starting in November, bakers would begin forming the cake and preserving it in an air tight container. Finally, a few days before Christmas they would add the marzipan and decorate with Royal Icing.
Slicing the cake before Christmas Eve was deemed “unlucky”.
Icing the cakes
Over time we have tried to perfect the art and have gotten a little better each year.
Brandy is poured once a week to preserve our cakes and we use marzipan underneath the royal icing after the cakes are baked.
They are given as gifts in beautiful air tight Christmas tins.
Each is made with love and reminds us as a family: what originally began many, many years ago as a gift fit for a king, using only the finest ingredients, is still appropriate today as it emphasizes the love of our King Jesus.
My daughter and I started cooking together when she was very young. We both enjoy the art of cooking, always trying new recipes, then we share our creations. We cook together and look forward to a table full of friends and family to share our passion for food with.
The father/daughter project began when she was a sophomore in high school baking just one cake. Each year even as she is away at college we plan our baking around her trips home. Today we have a tradition of baking, telling the story of why, and giving our version of this classic cake away as a gift. I cherish this special tradition and look forward to having it continue over the years. I know it's a little early to be making Christmas Cake, however I was hoping to encourage you to start your own tradition this year.
Father and daughter baking together
- 1lb 2oz/525g currants
- 8oz/ 225g golden raisins/sultanas*
- 8oz / 225g raisins
- 4oz / 110g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
- 6oz / 165 glace cherries, halved
- 10oz/ 300g all purpose or plain flour
- Pinch salt
- ½ level tsp mixed spice **** or Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix
- ½ level tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ level tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 2½ sticks / 300g unsalted butter, slightly softened
- 10 oz / 300g soft brown sugar
- Zest of a lemon
- 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 tbsp brandy, plus extra for feeding
- Heat the oven to 300°F. The temperature is low as the cake needs a long slow bake. It is packed with sugars, fruits and brandy and if the temperature is any higher the outside of the cake will burn and the inside will be undercooked.
- Line 4 - 6” inch cake tins with 2 layers of parchment or greaseproof paper. Tie a double band of brown or newspaper paper around the outside. This acts as an insulator and to prevent the cake from burning on the outside.
- In a large roomy baking bowl mix the currants, sultanas, raisins, peel and cherries with the flour, salt and spices.
- In another large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the lemon zest. Add the beaten egg to the butter mixture a little bit at a time, beating well after each addition. Do not try to rush this process as the mixture could curdle. If it does curdle simply add a tbsp of flour and mix again, this should bring the mixture back together. If it doesn't come back together, don't fret, the cake will still be delicious.
- Carefully fold in half the flour and fruit into the egg and butter mixture. Once incorporated, repeat with the remaining flour and fruit. Finally add the brandy.
- Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin making sure there are no air pockets. Once filled, smooth the surface with the back of a spoon and make a slight dip in the center (this will rise back up again during cooking and create a smooth surface for icing the cake).
- Finally, using a piece of paper towel clean up any smears of cake batter on the greaseproof wrapping. If left on they will burn and though it won't affect the cake, it doesn't smell too good.
- Stand the tins on a double layer of newspaper and bake for 2 1/2 hours. If the cake is browning too rapidly, cover the tin with a double layer of greaseproof or parchment paper after 2 hours. During the cooking time avoid opening the oven door too often as this may cause the cake to collapse.
- After 2½ hours, check the cake. The cake should be nicely risen and a deep brown all over. Insert a skewer into the center of the cake. If there is sticky dough on the skewer when you pull it out, it needs cooking longer. If it is clean, the cake's done and ready to be removed from the oven.
- Leave the cake to cool in the tin on a wire rack for an hour. Then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely. Once cooled slowly pour over 2 - 3 tbsp brandy. This feeding should be repeated every two weeks up until Christmas.
- The cake should be stored wrapped in greaseproof or parchment paper in an airtight tin.
- 1/2 cup apricot jam
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon Brandy
- Heat the apricot jam and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until liquid (melted).
Royal Icing - make and let sit for 24 hours in the fridge before use
- 3 ounces pasteurized egg whites or (3 large eggs separated)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla Pure extract
- 4 cups confectioners' sugar
- In large bowl or stand mixer combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy. Add confectioners' sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and mixture is shiny. Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Begin by dusting your work surface with icing sugar to prevent your marzipan from sticking.
- Knead your marzipan into a ball.
- Gently roll out the marzipan keeping your rolling pin horizontal.
The week before Christmas is the time to ice the cake 1- Make Royal Icing: refrigerate for 24 hours before use 2- Apricot glaze the cake 3- Roll out marzipan and cover cake 4- Ice the cake