Traditional British Christmas Cake Recipe

Traditional British Christmas cake on a plate

The Spruce

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 4 hrs 30 mins
Cool Time: 60 mins
Total: 6 hrs 15 mins
Servings: 12 to 16 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
585 Calories
17g Fat
107g Carbs
7g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 16
Amount per serving
Calories 585
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 21%
Saturated Fat 10g 49%
Cholesterol 108mg 36%
Sodium 168mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 107g 39%
Dietary Fiber 4g 14%
Total Sugars 75g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 2mg 12%
Calcium 74mg 6%
Iron 3mg 17%
Potassium 571mg 12%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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. At first glance, making this cake may look complicated because it seems like a lot of ingredients, but it's actually very easy. The secret is to prepare and weigh all the ingredients, and line the tin before you start any mixing. The assembly is straightforward. The rest is an exercise in patience; the wait begins.

The cake needs a long, slow bake and a little TLC. 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. Additionally, the cake benefits greatly from resting on a layer of newspaper while it's in the oven; this helps insulate and protect the cake so it cooks evenly. While it's baking, avoid opening the oven door too often, as this may cause the cake to collapse.

Ideally, Christmas cake should be made at least two months before Christmas, which allows ample 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 closer to the holiday, you can be assured the cake will still taste as good, though it may not store as long as a mature one (the brandy helps keep it moist).

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 the next day, which creates an even more moist cake.

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"This cake was excellent. My 9-inch cake pan was not deep, so I used a 9-inch springform pan, which was the perfect size and worked well. Wrapping the pan with parchment was a little tricky, but paper clips helped hold the paper while I tied the twine. It was perfectly baked in 4 hours." —Diana Rattray

Traditional British Christmas Cake Tester Image
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Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups (525 grams) currants

  • 1 1/2 cups (225 grams) golden raisins/sultanas

  • 1 1/2 cups (225 grams) raisins 

  • 3/4 cup (110 grams) mixed candied peel, finely chopped

  • 1 cup glace (candied) cherries, halved

  • 2 1/3 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour

  • Pinch salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

  • 10 ounces (300 grams) butter, slightly softened

  • 1 1/3 cups (300 grams) soft brown sugar

  • 1/2 lemon, zested

  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 3 tablespoons brandy, plus extra for feeding

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for Christmas fruitcake

    The Spruce

  2. Heat the oven to 300 F/150 C/Gas 2.

  3. Line a deep 9-inch 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 helps prevent the cake from burning on the outside.

    Cake tin lined with parchment

    The Spruce

  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the currants, sultanas, raisins, candied peel, and cherries with the flour, salt, and spices.

    Dried fruit combined with flour for Christmas cake
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  5. 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 slowly a little bit at a time, beating well after each addition; otherwise, the mixture could curdle. If it does, simply add a tablespoon of flour and mix to bring it back together. If it doesn't, don't fret; the cake will still be delicious.

    British Christmas cake wet ingredients in a bowl

    The Spruce

  6. Carefully fold in half the flour and fruit into the egg and butter mixture, and repeat until fully incorporated. Add the brandy.

    English Christmas cake batter in a bowl with a wooden spoon
    The Spruce
  7. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin, making sure there are no air pockets. Smooth the surface with the back of a spoon and make a slight dip in the center—this will rise again during baking to create a smooth surface for icing the cake.

    Christmas cake batter in the pan
    The Spruce
  8. Use a paper towel to clean up any smears of cake batter on the parchment so they don't burn. (It won't affect the cake; it just doesn't smell good.)

    Christmas cake in pan with paper towels to remove excess batter
    The Spruce
  9. 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 in preheated oven for 4 1/2 hours. If the cake is browning too rapidly, cover the tin with a double layer of parchment paper after 2 1/2 hours.

    British Christmas cake baking in the oven
    The Spruce
  10. Check the cake after 4 1/2 hours. It should rise well and be a deep brown all over. Insert a skewer or fine knife into the center of the cake; it should be clean when you pull it out. If the dough sticks when you pull it, return the cake to the oven for a little longer.

    British Christmas cake baked and just out of the oven
    The Spruce
  11. Cool the cake on a wire rack for an hour, then remove it from the pan to cool completely. Then, prick the surface of the cake with a toothpick or skewer and slowly pour over 2 to 3 tablespoons brandy. Repeat this feeding every two weeks up until Christmas.

    British Christmas cake cooling on a wire rack with skewer
    The Spruce
  12. Store the cake wrapped in greaseproof or parchment paper in an airtight tin, until ready to serve. Enjoy!

    Traditional British Christmas cake in a tin covered with a parchment round
    The Spruce

Tips

  • The cake is lovely with a glass of port. In northern England, Christmas cake is often served with a slice of cheese, preferably Wensleydale or a crumbly cheddar. 
  • If mixed spice isn't available or you don't have the ingredients to make your own, you can use pumpkin pie spice mix instead. They're very similar.
  • The difference between raisins and sultanas is important to the Christmas cake, as each brings something different to the cake.
  • Christmas cake is often made with brandy, but rum, whiskey, and sherry are common, too.
  • If you don't have a deep 9-inch round pan, you may use a 9-by-3-inch springform pan.

Recipe Variations

  • Replace the lemon zest with the finely grated zest of a large orange.
  • Add about 3/4 to 1 cup of finely chopped almonds (about 75 grams).
  • For an alcohol-free cake, replace the brandy with apple juice or fresh orange juice.

Can You Freeze Christmas Cake?

  • Whether making the cake well ahead of the holidays or preserving leftovers, Christmas cake freezes beautifully. Wrap it well in plastic wrap and then wrap it in heavy-duty foil. Place the frozen cake (or slices) in zip-close freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • If the Christmas cake is iced, freeze the cake or slices first and then wrap.
  • Defrost frozen wrapped Christmas cake at room temperature for at least 4 hours or overnight.

What's the Difference Between Fruitcake and Christmas Cake?

The recipes for these two traditional holiday baked goods can be very similar. (And then there's Christmas pudding, which confuses, too.) Christmas cake and fruitcake often refer to the same thing: a cake with lots of candied dried fruits in them, a spicy-sweet flavor profile, and the presence of an alcohol such as rum. However, the American version of fruitcake often differs significantly from British Christmas cake, which is typically a moist, dense fruitcake draped in fondant and often decorated festively for the holiday season. American fruitcake is often maligned because it's often associated with the mass-produced types that line grocery store shelves; homemade fruitcake is far superior.