Traditional English Christmas Cake Recipe
My Great Aunty Jenny's Christmas Cake
Every family has its own traditions, and none more so than around Christmas, like the tree decoration that came out year after year, the bowls of nuts on the sideboard, and the Christmas cake with icing and the well-used cake decorations.
When I was a child, it was my great aunt who made all the family Christmas and birthday cakes. These were rich, moist, heavy fruit cakes laced with alcohol and groaning with fruit. The cake was then covered in marzipan and iced. It would then be served with cheese with Christmas day tea and given as a New Year gift to the first footers.
Traditional English Christmas Cake Recipe
I hope you enjoy this exceptional recipe as much as I do. This is the method dictated to me over the phone by my mother. I've tried to fill in the blanks for you. I've listed all of the supplies and ingredients including alternative options. When you reach the second step of the instructions, read how to line a cake tin if you need additional assistance. Happy baking!
- A large mixing bowl
- Various large bowls for prep
- A wooden spoon
- A 10-inch or 25-centimeter diameter cake tin
- A flat baking tray if your cake tin doesn't have a base
- A cooling tray
- Baking paper and brown paper to line the cake tin
Tip: Use a Springform Tin
When I bake this cake, I put my springform tin onto a flat baking tray. If you can produce these two little goodies, it will help you get your very large cake out in one piece. The springform tin opens up so that you can take it off like a collar. Then, you can slide the cake off the baking tray and onto a cooling rack.
- 350 grams or 3/4 pounds butter or margarine
- 350 grams or 3/4 pounds brown sugar
- 450 grams or 1 pound plain flour
- 450 grams or 1 pound currants (I use extra sultanas and prunes as I can't get currants in France)
- 450 grams or 1 pound sultanas
- 100 grams or 1/4 pounds mixed peel
- 100 grams or 1/4 pound ground almonds
- 50 grams or 2 ounces whole almonds, chopped (plus about 50 whole almonds for decoration)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 5 to 6 eggs (depending on size)
- 100 grams or 1/4 pound glacé cherries, halved
- drop of vinegar
- 1 dessert spoon of black treacle or golden syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon almond essence and lemon essence
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
- brandy, sherry, rum, whisky or similar
- Soak the dried fruit in wine overnight. (I use red wine.)
- Grease and line a 10-inch or 25-centimeter diameter cake tin. Use 4 or 5 layers of grease-proof paper and a layer of brown paper.
- Cream the butter and sugar. This means stirring and 'squashing' the sugar into the butter and then stirring it hard and fast until the mixture is creamy. It helps (a lot) if you warm the bowl and butter. I put mine over the stove, but you could heat the oven a little and put it in there. Be very careful as to not melt the butter.
- Beat the eggs in a separate bowl.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, ground almonds and spices in another bowl.
- Add a little of the egg to the creamed butter and then a little of the flour mix; stir them in well. Continue to add these alternately until you have mixed half.
- Drain the fruit and add to the mixture along with the peel and chopped almonds.
- Continue to stir.
- Add the almond essence, lemon essence, vinegar and black treacle or golden syrup.
- Put the mixture into the lined cake tin.
- Pour boiling water over the whole almonds and leave them to soak for about 15 minutes; remove the skins and arrange them on top as shown in the picture.
- Bake the cake in a cool oven at gas mark 1 (140°C or 275°F) for about three hours. Keep checking on it, and when the top looks solid, test it with a skewer. Put the skewer into the centre of the cake; it is ready when it comes out clean.
- If the top looks as if it is browning too much, cover it with foil or baking paper.
Tips for Cooling, Storing, Decorating and Serving
Cooling and Storing
When the cake is cooked you are ready for stage two. Take it very carefully out of the tin and peel off the baking paper. It might be better to leave it a little to allow it to solidify. Then, let it cool on a wire rack. When it is completely cool, wrap the cake in foil and store it in an airtight tin in a cool place.
Priming the Cake
After a week or so, take out your cake and make several holes in it with a skewer. Carefully pour your brandy (or other choice of spirit) into these holes. Repeat every week until Christmas. We always used brandy in our house.
Decorating the Cake
My mother used to decorate our Christmas cake. Here is what she would do:
- First, a layer of marmalade was spread over the top of the cake, then a layer of marzipan.
- Next, she would add a layer of royal icing and roughly spread it with a knife, pulled into little peaks, and then on with our family cake decorations.
Alternative Toppings: Now we are too old, too fat and too worried about diabetes to load our cake with all of that. We will probably just eat it 'nude', but you could also decorate it with sugared fruit and nuts.
Serving the Cake
We would serve our cake with sherry and a slice of hard cheese like cheddar for Christmas day tea (around five or six o'clock in the afternoon for our family). This is a big cake, therefore, we served it to guests and visitors.
The 'First Footers' Tradition
This cake was especially popular as a New Year's gift for the 'first footers'. As the tradition goes, just after the stroke of midnight on the 31st of December, a piece of Christmas cake, cheese, a slice of rice loaf and a glass of sherry would be offered to that 'tall, dark and handsome stranger' who would be the bearer of luck for the coming New Year.
A Fun Christmas Joke
One traditional aspect of Christmas is the joke in the cracker. I just heard this joke on the radio:
Q: 'What happened to the raisin that drowned in the Christmas cake'?
A: 'He was pulled under by a strong currant'.
Here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The First Footers Tradition
© 2010 Les Trois Chenes