There are some parts of a Christmas celebration in Britain which just don't change, especially the traditional Christmas cake. A British Christmas isn't complete without this classic treat on the table. Though making this cake, at first glance, may look complicated, it is very easy. The secret is to prepare and weigh all the ingredients, and line the tin before you start any mixing. The actual assembling part is then straightforward.
Christmas cake ideally should be made at least two months before Christmas; this allows time for the cake to be fed at regular intervals with brandy, which, in turn, helps to mature the cake. However, if you are making it later, you can be assured the cake will still taste as good, though it may not store as long as a mature one.
If you have time, you can also soak the dried mixed fruits the night before in a little extra brandy and proceed with the recipe next day; this creates an even more moist cake.
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- 3 1/2 cups/525 g currants
- 1 1/2 cups/225 g golden raisins/sultanas
- 1 1/2 cups/225 g raisins
- 3/4 cup/110 g mixed candied peel (finely chopped)
- 1 cup glace cherries (halved)
- 3 1/3 cups/300 g plain flour
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 level teaspoon mixed spice
- 1/2 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 level teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 10 ounces/300 g butter (slightly softened)
- 1 1/3 cups/300 g soft brown sugar
- 1/2 lemon (zested)
- 6 large eggs (lightly beaten)
- 3 tablespoons brandy (plus extra for feeding)
Gather the ingredients.
Heat the oven to 300 F/150 C/Gas 2. 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-inch cake tin 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.
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 tablespoon 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 s 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 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. Bake for 4 1/2 hours. If the cake is browning too rapidly, cover the tin with a double layer of greaseproof or parchment paper after 2 1/2 hours. During the cooking time avoid opening the oven door too often as this may cause the cake to collapse.
After 4 1/2 hours check that the cake is cooked. The cake should be 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 to 3 tablespoons 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, until ready to serve.
- The cake is lovely with a glass of Port. In northern England, the Christmas cake is generally always served with a slice of cheese, preferably Wensleydale or a crumbly cheddar.
- If mixed spice isn't available, you can use pumpkin pie spice mix.
- The difference between raisins and sultanas is important to the Christmas cake, as each brings something different to the cake.