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Christmas Cake


This is the recipe for my family’s Christmas cake. I’ve been making it for a number of years and my mother made it for many years before I started making it – it’s been in the family a very long time.

It’s a traditional English Christmas cake, with marzipan or almond icing covered with royal icing. Our version is full of glacé fruit as well as dried fruit. We don’t make the cake very far ahead and we don’t soak the fruit in the alcohol – but doing either of these things is fine if that’s what you’re used to.  The cake has always been sensational without that forward planning.

It sometimes seems incongruous to be making this most traditional of northern hemisphere cakes in the hot summer days of Christmas week in Sydney. The weather is always lovely and the sun shines as I decorate the cake with its “snowy” icing. Making the cake in summer means that the almond paste icing dries quickly and sometimes if pushed for time I can do both icings in one day. However letting the cake rest for a day before you apply the royal icing is recommended.

Over the years of making I have tweaked the basic recipe, adding in things I love. I tend to put more glacé fruit in the mix; I love ginger so it appears in both crystallized form and as a spice in my cake.  I don’t stick to whisky and brandy for alcohol – I often add Grand Marnier and I have sometimes put a couple of tablespoons of Pedro Ximinez sherry as well as whisky into the cake.

This the “mother” of the baby Christmas cakes already featured on this blog – I give the muffin sized cakes to work colleagues every year as little  Christmas gifts.

It’s a VERY big cake. I actually halve the recipe and still end up with a decent sized cake, but if you have a cast of thousands to feed, the big size is the one for you.

Helpfully to save you the calculations I am including the quantities for the halved version!

The photos are of the halved version plus I got enough out of the mixture to make a little one too.

The recipe is SO versatile  – you can make so many different sizes.


Big Cake Ingredients

500 gms butter
500 gms brown sugar
625 gms plain flour
750 gms raisins
750 gms sultanas
250 gms glace cherries
125 gms glace peaches
125 gms glace pears
250 gms glace apricots
125 gms glace pineapple
125 gms crystallized ginger
125 gms mixed peel (optional)
12 large eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons almond essence
1 teaspoon glycerine
Juice of an orange
Finely grated peel of the orange
1/2 cup of good brandy/whisky – extra 1/2 cup of brandy/whisky to pour over the hot cake when it comes out of the oven.

Medium Cake Ingredients

250 gms butter
250 gms brown sugar
315 gms plain flour
375 gms raisins
375 gms sultanas
125 gms  glacé cherries
65 gms glacé peaches
65 gms glacé pears
125 gms glacé apricots
65 gms glacé pineapple
65 gms crystallised ginger
65 gms mixed peel (optional)
6 large free range eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond essence
1/2 tsp glycerine
Juice of half an orange
Finely grated peel of half an orange
1/4 cup of good brandy/whisky – extra 1/4 cup of brandy/whisky to pour over the hot cake when it comes out of the oven.

Method for both sizes
Grease a cake tin and line with baking paper or aluminum foil. I use a 28cm or 11″ square tin  or a 28cm or 11″ diameter round tin for the big cake. For the medium cake I use a 18cm or 7″ square tin  or a 18cm or 7″ diameter round tin. You may end up with left over mixture with this size, so you could go up a size. I like a high cake and this cake doesn’t rise so you can fill the smaller tins fairly full.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C then turn back to 135 degrees C.  The principle of cooking a rich fruitcake is to put the cake into a preheated oven and cook very slowly. This size cake does take a long time!
The original recipe says to mix by hand in a large basin. This was lots of fun when we were growing up making the family Christmas cake but now I suggest using an electric mixer.
Cream butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the sifted flour lightly. Stir in spices, essences, glycerine, fruit juice and brandy/whisky, and finally stir in the fruit the larger varieties of which have previously been cut roughly. There is no need to wash the fruit. If the fruit is wet it tends to sink to the bottom of the cake.
Bake about 3 – 4 hours (big cake) 1- 2 hours (medium cake) or until the top is pale brown and a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake.  It’s a little hard to be more precise than this as the weather, the quality of the flour and individual ovens have a lot to do with cooking time. You can put a piece of foil over the top of the cake during the last hour of cooking if the cake browns too quickly.
When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and pierce all over with a skewer. Pour 1/2 a cup of brandy/whisky over the hot cake and wrap in a towel till cool.
Turn out of the tin onto a board or large flat plate.


Almond Icing

Big Cake
500 gms ground almonds
750 gms icing sugar
2 egg whites
Juice of a lemon

Medium Cake
250 gms ground almonds
375 gms icing sugar
1 egg white
Juice of  1/2  lemon

Mix all the ingredients to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into sections – one large ball for the top of the cake, the rest for the sides of the cake.
Brush the cake with apricot jam which will help the almond paste to stick. Let the cake rest for a day.


Royal Icing
for both cakes

The original recipe says :”2 eggs whites and the juice of a lemon to every pound of icing sugar”. This doesn’t tell you how much of these ingredients you will need.

Having just made the medium cake, it took all of the above quantities, so the big cake would need more. Make up the base recipe and if it isn’t enough – make some more – use your judgement!

2 egg whites
500 gms icing sugar
Juice of a lemon

Beat eggs lightly, add icing sugar and lemon juice.
Apply to cake with a palette knife. Be generous with this icing, to create a “snowy” effect.
Leave to set for at least a couple of hours.
The cake keeps well –  up to a year – although it is at its best when eaten within 3 months.


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