Traditional British Christmas Cake
Did you know that the of eating fruitcake around the holidays stemmed from Great Britain?
The traditional Christmas dessert isn’t at all similar to the candied peel and citron cakes you might think of when “fruitcake” is mentioned. Called Christmas cake or plum cake in Great Britain, the dessert dates to Roman times!
The rich fruit and nut cake is ‘fed’ with brandy or whiskey - a few spoonfuls at a time, every few days for weeks. The most important thing to note with traditional British Christmas cake is that the longer it sits in the tin and is ‘fed’ brandy over a course of these weeks, the better it is. Traditionally, you’d make this cake at least two months before Christmas, for it to mature with the ‘feeding’ of brandy. Making it later is fine as well, it simply won’t store as long as the ‘aged’ one. Of course, if you didn’t think to prepare the cake a couple months ago, you can cheat a bit with this simple recipe from theSpruce.com.
Helpful hints before you start:
- It’s actually an easy process if you weigh out or measure each of the ingredients ahead of time, then it only requires a basic assembly of sorts.
- Soaking the nuts and fruit in some brandy the night before you start will help make this cake nice and moist.
- Sultanas and raisins are different, and you should most definitely use both. Raisins are dried white Moscatel grapes. Whereas sultanas are still dried white grapes, however, come from seedless varieties. Sultanas are golden in color and are known in the states as Golden Raisins.
- If you have the time, take it with this cake. Again, the longer it sits the better. As well, this cake requires icing ahead of time, as far ahead as you can do it. If you don’t have the time, buying a ready-made marzipan or fondant can be just as fun.
- The Christmas cake is not usually part of Christmas dinner but is kept to be offered at tea time and for snacks during the holidays.
3 ½ cups/525 g currants
1 ½ cups/225 g golden raisins/sultanas*
1 ½ cups/225 g raisins
3/4 cup/110 g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
1 cup, glace cherries, halved
3 ⅓ cups/300 g plain flour
½ level tsp. mixed spice **
½ level tsp. ground cinnamon
½ level tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
10 oz./300 g butter, slightly softened
1 ⅓ cups/300 g soft brown sugar
Zest of ½ lemon
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tbsp. brandy, plus extra for feeding
Prep Time: As long as you have
Heat the oven to 300F
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 a 9" cake pan with 2 thicknesses 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 read more about why here.
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).
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 tin on a double layer of newspaper in the lower part of the oven, if you have a gas oven ensure the paper is well away from any flame, and bake for 4½ hours.
If the cake is browning too rapidly, cover the tin with a double layer of greaseproof or parchment paper after 2½ hours.
During the cooking time avoid opening the oven door too often as this may cause the cake to collapse.
After 4½ hours check the cake is cooked. The cake should have nicely risen and a deep brown all over. Insert a skewer or fine knife 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 remove 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 prick the surface of the cake with a fine metal skewer and slowly pour over 2 - 3 tbsp. brandy.
This feeding should be repeated every two weeks up until Christmas. Again, if you don’t have time to take the weeks, take as long as you have to feed the cake.
The cake should be stored wrapped in greaseproof or parchment paper in an airtight tin.