Whether it’s trimming the tree, caroling or icing the perfect gingerbread house, most families have their holiday traditions. For our producer Karen, that tradition involves baking a certain Yuletide sweet — well before Christmas is even here.
Traditional British Christmas cake is a dense butter cake made with preserved fruit and brandy.
The actual cake is baked four to six weeks in advance, and is preserved with brandy in an airtight container.
This particular dessert is as rich in flavor as it is in history. To this day, Karen’s family still bakes a symbolic silver coin into the cake for good fortune, and they all take turns stirring the batter for luck.
While Christmas cake and its traditions have been around for quite some time, this holiday favorite didn’t always resemble the sticky sweet treat that we recognize today.
In fact, Christmas cake originated as a meaty, plum porridge. Gradually, ingredients were added and removed, and plum porridge transformed into Christmas pudding, and then again into Christmas cake.
Though there are now as many Christmas cake recipes as there are families who make it, all Christmas cakes include candied fruit, exotic spices and aged spirits.
If you’re ready to serve up a slice of tradition this Christmas, or just don’t want to worry about making dessert the day of, try out Karen’s traditional Christmas cake recipe! (Bonus points if you stick to the English way and set it on fire before serving.)
Traditional Christmas Cake
Makes one 8” round cake
- 9 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice*
- 8 ounces (1 cup) butter
- 8 ounces soft brown sugar
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1½ tablespoons black treacle*
- 12 ounces raisins
- 12 ounces golden raisins
- 12 ounces currants*
- 2 ounces candied orange peel*
- 3 ounces candied cherries*, quartered
- 2 ounces almonds, blanched and chopped
- 2 tablespoons brandy or whisky
*See recipe notes below for substitutions.
Note: Christmas cake should be made at least a month before Christmas (or whenever you plan to serve it). This gives the cake time to soak up the brandy and “mature.” The longer the cake matures, the better it tastes, but it’s OK to make it a little later, too — it will still be delicious.
Line the base and sides of an 8" round or square cake pan with waxed or parchment paper. Cut two strips of brown paper to the circumference of the pan and 1” wider than the depth of the pan. Wrap these two strips of paper around the outside of the pan and tie with kitchen twine.
Into a large bowl, sift together flour, salt and mixed spice into large bowl.
In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until pale and creamy. Beat in egg a little at a time.
Stir in flour mixture, treacle, raisins, golden raisins, currants, candied orange peel, candied cherries and almonds.
Once combined, pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake the cake in a 300 F–oven for 3 hours. Then reduce the heat to 265 F and continue baking for another hour, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes (or a bit longer). Turn out the cake onto a wire tray and remove the paper.
When the cake is almost cold, turn it upside down and pierce multiple times with a skewer. Spoon brandy (or spirit of your choice) over the cake.
Leave until completely cold (even overnight).
Wrap in waxed paper. Place the wrapped cake in an airtight container or wrap in foil. (Do not let foil come into contact with cake.)
If desired, you can “feed” the cake several more times over the next few weeks with additional brandy.
Before almond pasting (if intending to ice(frost)) spoon a little more spirit over top of cake.
Don’t confuse mixed spice with allspice! If you can’t find ready-made mixed spice, you can create your own mix by combining 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg, 2 teaspoon ground mace, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 1 tablespoon ground allspice. It’s also similar to pumpkin pie spice, which you can use in a pinch.
If you can’t find black treacle, you can easily substitute an equal amount of molasses.
While you should be able to find currants in your grocery store or online, you could also substitute them for dark raisins. So instead of 12 ounces each of raisins, golden raisins and currants, you would use 24 ounces of raisins and 12 ounces of golden raisins.
Candied orange peel and cherries
Again, you likely will be able to find candied orange peels and cherries online or in specialty food stores. Or, you can make your own! Check out this simple recipe for candied cherries , and this one for orange peels .
If you enjoyed this recipe, or just want to take a peek at a few more of our favorite festive goodies, go ahead and download our free holiday recipe book .