There are many funny things about Christmas in the UK, to the outsider’s eyes. The English like their traditions, especially when it comes to Christmas – certain foods need to make an appearance, otherwise Christmas isn’t Christmas. Think mince pies, roast potatoes, Quality Street, mulled wine. Christmas cake is definitely one of those foods – in the weeks before Christmas you’ll see it absolutely everywhere.
It’s a tasty cake – full of fruit and nuts, and intensely boozy. There is a depth of flavour to Christmas cake that only comes with time – you couldn’t rush it and get the same effects. I was intrigued by the idea of making my own Christmas cake, mostly because it seems like fun project, and I liked the idea of pouring booze onto something over the course of several weeks.
Christmas cake is definitely a project that will span over a long period of time, but it means that it’ll taste all the better, and anyone eating your Christmas cake will be able to taste the love and effort you’ve put in.
Baking the cake
First off, choose you booze. Don’t get too bogged down by the rules – use what you like, but not the most expensive booze in the house (unless you have money to burn). I used Lamb’s Spiced, which is a lovely spiced rum, and some neglected single malt I had kicking around (I know, blasphemy).
Gather your ingredients. You could use the bags of pre-mixed peel supermarkets will sell around this time, but it will give you less control over what goes into your cake. It will probably be cheaper though, so just go for what works for you.
Chop the bigger fruits into small chunks.
Dump all of your fruits in a bowl, and grate the zest of an orange.
Measure your booze. This is equal amounts of whiskey and rum.
Pour your booze over your fruit mixture.
Stir the mixture, and cover. At this point, you ideally want to let this sit overnight so that the fruit can really soak up all the boozy goodness. If you don’t have that much time, leave it for a minimum of two hours.
Time to make the cake! Prepare your batter, and mix in the fruit last. Give it a good stir – stand mixer optional.
Divide your mixture over your prepared cake pans. Traditionally, people suggest using two high round cake pans, that you dress with plenty of baking paper. This is mostly because people bake their christmas cakes for hours (the paper helps prevent burning) which I don’t think is absolutely necessary. As you can see, I used one large panettone mould, and some small heart-shaped paper moulds I had lying around.
All ready for the oven!
And here we are, all baked! They will small amazing. Let cool completely, and then wrap each cake in plenty of tinfoil, and place in a cake tin. Seal tightly, and put away until next week!
Feeding the cake
Once you have baked your cakes, the idea is to ‘mature’ them. You do this by unwrapping them once every week or every two weeks, and feeding them a dose of booze of your choice.
To feed, simply unwrap one of your cakes, and spoon a teaspoon or two of booze over your cake. I used a mixture of rum and whisky. Wrap up again, and store away.
Here are my cakes, two or three weeks later. They have had a dosing or two of booze, and as you can see, the cakes have visibly matured, changing colour. They smell amazing.
This is 6 weeks later. They still smell amazing, and each dosing of booze will help the cakes stay lovely and moist. You will keep feeding them until the week before Christmas, when you marzipan and ice the cakes. Until then!
- 500g currants
- 500g sultanas
- 200g dried figs, roughly chopped
- 200g glacé cherries, cut in half
- 200g mixed peel
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 125ml whisky
- 125ml spiced rum
- 125g butter, softened
- 70g light muscovado sugar
- 55g dark muscovado sugar
- 4 eggs
- 130g plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp allspice
- 50g ground almonds
- ½ tsp salt
- 70g hazelnuts
- 50g whole almonds
- 4 tbsp apricot jam
- Whiskey, rum or brandy for feeding
- The night before making the cake, dump currants, sultanas, figs, cherries, mixed peel, orange zest and juice in a bowl. Pour over the whisky and rum, and mix everything together. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand, preferably over night, but about 3 hours will do.
- The next day, when you are ready to make the cake, preheat the oven to 140C. Grease and line a cake tin with two layers of baking parchment, with the paper coming at least 5 CM above the edge of the tin.
- Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy and light in colour, about 5 minutes. Add in the eggs one by one. The mixture will probably curdle a bit once you add the eggs - don’t worry about it. You can add a teaspoon of the flour mixture to homogenise the mixture again.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, spices, ground almonds and salt. Mix into the butter and sugar.
- Add the mixed fruits and liquid, almonds and hazelnuts. Stir until combined.
- Pour mixture into your prepared cake pans. Try to leave a slight hollow in the middle of the cake to prevent doming.
- Bake the cake for 60 minutes. Cover with foil, and bake for another 30 minutes. Check the cake, and insert a skewer to check for doneness. Check every 10 minutes until it’s cooked.
- Leave to cool and use the skewer to poke almost all the way through the cake. Pour over a few spoonfuls of whisky and rum. Wrap the cake well in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin or layer of foil.
- Feed the cake with a few tablespoons of whisky, rum or brandy every week until you are ready to ice the cake, roughly a week before Christmas.