Christmas cakes have a rich history that dates back centuries, filled with traditions and delightful stories. Imagine cozy homes adorned with festive decorations, where families gather around to celebrate the joyous season with a slice of scrumptious Christmas cake.
The Christmas cake has strong roots in English cuisine, stemming from the historical “plum cakes” that were popular during medieval times. England played a significant role in shaping the Christmas cake as we know it today.
In the 16th century, the English began incorporating more spices, dried fruits, and spirits into their cakes, particularly during Christmas celebrations. The addition of these ingredients not only enhanced the flavor but also contributed to the cake’s longevity, allowing it to be preserved for a longer time.
English families started the tradition of baking Christmas cakes weeks or even months before the holiday, allowing ample time for the flavors to meld and develop. The cakes were often made with a rich mixture of dried fruits like raisins, currants, and candied peel, bound together with spices, eggs, flour, and sometimes a splash of brandy or rum.
The English Christmas cake became a symbol of abundance and celebration during the holiday season, adorned with marzipan and icing, and often served on Christmas Day.
As mentioned earlier, the Christmas cake’s early roots can be traced back to ancient Roman times, when fruitcakes were considered a luxurious delicacy. However, the evolution of the cake into the festive treat we know today with its association to Christmas is more closely linked to English traditions.
The ancient Romans enjoyed a cake-like dessert made with nuts, fruits, and spices, which somewhat resembles the early form of fruitcakes. These sweet treats were often consumed during special occasions and celebrations, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune.
Over time, as the tradition of Christmas and its associated customs evolved, various cultures, including the English, adapted and transformed these early fruitcakes into what eventually became the modern Christmas cake.
While the concept of fruitcakes existed in ancient Roman cuisine, it was the English who shaped and popularized the Christmas cake as a centerpiece of their holiday celebrations, infusing it with their unique blend of spices, fruits, and festive traditions.
Isn’t it fascinating how a humble cake has woven itself into the fabric of our holiday traditions? Now, let’s delve into the magic of creating your very own delightful Christmas cake!
Preparation Time: 25 mins
Cooking Time: 2 hrs and 10 mins + cooling
Portion Size: Cuts into 12-15 slices
1kg mixed dried fruit (use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, cranberries, prunes or figs)
zest and juice 1 orange
zest and juice 1 lemon
150ml brandy, Sherry, whisky or rum, plus extra for feeding
250g pack butter, softened
200g light soft brown sugar
175g plain flour
100g ground almond
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
100g flaked almonds
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Step 1: Preparing the Fruit Mix
Put together 1 kilogram of mixed dried fruit, the zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, 150 milliliters of brandy or another type of alcohol, 250 grams of softened butter, and 200 grams of light, soft brown sugar into a big pan. Heat it up on medium.
Step 2: Cooking the Mix
Let it reach a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer gently for 5 minutes. Pour this fruity mix into a large bowl and let it cool down for about 30 minutes.
Step 3: Getting the Oven Ready
Preheat the oven to 150°C (or 130°C for a fan oven, or gas mark 2). Take a deep 20-centimeter cake tin and line it with two layers of baking parchment. Then, wrap two layers of newspaper around the outside of the tin and tie it up with string to keep it secure.
Step 4: Mixing the Ingredients
Add 175 grams of plain flour, 100 grams of ground almonds, ½ teaspoon of baking powder, 2 teaspoons of mixed spice, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves, 100 grams of flaked almonds, 4 large eggs, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract into the bowl with the fruit mixture. Stir everything together really well to ensure there aren’t any pockets of flour left.
Step 5: Baking
Pour this mixture into your prepared cake tin, smooth out the top with a spatula, and pop it in the middle of the oven to bake for 2 hours.
Step 6: Adding More Flavor
Take the cake out of the oven, make some holes in it using a skewer, and spoon over 2 tablespoons of your chosen alcohol. Let the cake cool completely while still in the tin.
Step 7: Storing the Cake
To store it, remove the baking parchment and tightly wrap the cake in cling film. Every two weeks, feed the cake with 1 to 2 tablespoons of alcohol until you’re ready to decorate it with icing.
Step 8: Final Touch
In the last week before icing, stop feeding the cake with alcohol. This will give the surface a chance to dry out a bit before you start decorating.
A Christmas cake, stored properly in a tin, can stay delicious for quite a while. Some recipes suggest making it up to 3 months ahead, depending on the recipe you follow. But guess what? You can actually make it even earlier! You have the option to bake it months in advance, freeze it, and then thaw it out when you’re all set to ‘feed’ it with more deliciousness or decorate it with icing.
Here’s a tip: A lot of folks like to kick off the Christmas cake-making tradition on Stir-up Sunday, which falls on the last weekend in November. For some people, that might feel a tad bit late! So, feel free to start even earlier if you’re eager to dive into the holiday baking spirit. The more time it has to soak up those flavors, the yummier it gets!
Get ready to embrace the holiday spirit and savor the delightful taste of your homemade Christmas cake! Whether you’re starting on Stir-up Sunday or planning ahead to create this festive treat, the anticipation of that first slice is part of the joy. With its rich, indulgent flavors that deepen over time, this Christmas cake isn’t just a dessert; it’s a tradition wrapped in sweetness, ready to be shared with loved ones during the most magical time of the year.