My Christmas cake is a real crowd pleaser and can be made up to 3 months in advance to avoid any last minute stress.
For me there’s nothing better at Christmas than good homemade food and cakes; whether that’s freshly prepared fruit and veg or sweet mincemeat made just the way you like it, homemade is the way to go. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a series of Christmas posts with you to help you prepare for the festive season ahead and we’re going to start with the humble Christmas cake.
The best thing about a Christmas fruit cake, and indeed a lot of Christmas cooking, is that it can be made well in advance and will keep perfectly. I started mine a little later than usual this year as you’ll know if you’ve been following me on Instagram and I’ll say here as I did there – what we lack in time, we make up for in alcohol. A motto that serves me well …
Best EVER Christmas Cake
My Christmas cake is a real winner. Rich, fruity and full of festive spices.
For the fruit
- juice 2 oranges separated
- 1 Star Anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 10 glace cherries chopped
- 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg optional
- 500 g dried mixed fruit
- 75 g dried cranberries
- 75 g dried cherries
- 75 g dried apricots diced
- zest two oranges
- zest two lemons
- 2 tbsp runny honey
- 100 ml Jameson Irish Whiskey (or similar) plus extra for feeding
For the cake
- 150 g unsalted butter
- 100 g dark brown sugar
- 50 g light muscovado sugar
- 3 medium eggs room temperature
- 325 g self-raising flour
- 2 tsp runny honey
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- pinch salt
Preparing the fruit
Ribbon the zest of one orange and one lemon and set aside. Finely grate the zest of the remaining orange and lemon and set aside.
Individually juice both oranges, and both lemons. Combine the lemon juice in a small bowl and leave to one side.
Place the juice of one orange (if you're not freshly squeezing your own you want about 250ml/ one cup orange juice) into a small saucepan with the star anise and cinnamon stick. Heat over a medium heat until bubbles start to form - do not let the mixture boil. Once you see bubbles, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Wash your glace cherries under the tap and dry with kitchen towel to make them easier to chop up. Dice into small pieces and leave to one side.
Add the sugar, ground cinnamon, mixed spice and grated nutmeg (if using) to a small bowl and use the back of a spoon to grind the spices and sugar together and to remove any lumps. You should use the spoon as you would a pestle and mortar.
Place the dried mixed fruit, cranberries, cherries and apricots into a large bowl. Add in the glace cherries and the spice and sugar mix and stir to combine.
Discard the cinnamon stick and star anise from the warmed orange juice and add to the fruit mix. Add in the remaining freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice and all of the zest (ribbons and finely grated). Mix well.
Add in the runny honey and 100ml of Jameson Irish Whiskey and mix well to combine. Wrap the bowl in two layers of cling film and leave for at least 24 hours.
For the cake
The following day, uncover your fruit and stir through. Leave uncovered to sit whilst you make the cake batter.
Grease and line your cake tin with baking parchment and leave to one side. Pre-heat your oven to 140 degrees fan, 160 degrees normal.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl and with an electric whisk) beat the butter until light and creamy, this should take around 5 minutes and the butter should be almost white in colour. Once the butter is light, tip in the dark brown sugar and the light muscovado sugar and mix for 3/4 minutes.
Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat before slowly adding into the butter and sugar mixture. If it looks like it's going to curdle add in a tablespoon of flour after each addition of egg.
Sieve the flour into a small bowl with the spices and pinch of salt. Once combined, use a spatula to fold into the butter, sugar and egg mixture. Once the flour is combined and you have a smooth mixture, add in the fruit and any juice that may be in the bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon to ensure an even distribution of fruit.
Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake for at least 3 hours. I start checking mine from 3 hours, it can take up to 5 depending on your oven! The cake should be a lovely dark golden colour and a skewer should come out clean when inserted into the cake.
Pour a tablespoon of whiskey over as soon as the cake is out of the oven and then leave to cool entirely in the tin. Once cooled, remove from the tin and wrap in foil and place in an airtight container.
If you're going to feed the cake, pour 1-2 tablespoons of whiskey over every 7-10 days before re-wrapping. Stop feeding the cake 2 weeks prior to decorating it to ensure it isn't too moist.
Nothing says Christmas to me like the smell of orange and spices. It makes me feel so festive.
Glace cherries can be a pain to chop but if you give them a wash first they’re a lot easier to handle.
I don’t use dried mixed peel in my cake because I really don’t like it. Instead I use this handy little gadget from the Jane Asher range in the pound shop, to create ribbons of zest.
Look how pretty they are! I find them much more appealing than mixed peel!
Getting the right balance of spice is key to a good Christmas cake. You can add more or less depending on your personal taste, and because I know it can be too strong for some people, the nutmeg is totally optional.
Dried cranberries are a really great addition to the classic fruit cake and they’re widely available. If you’re more of a traditionalist, you can leave them out but I love them.
Dried fruit doesn’t have to mean dull – look at the riot of colour going on here!
The spiced orange juice really helps to add more subtle flavour to the dried fruit and it makes the kitchen smell amazing.
Fresh fruit juice is also a must for me. If you don’t like alcohol in cakes you can quite easily swap the whiskey for more fruit juice and then feed the cake with warmed spiced orange juice, or with tea!
Even with just the fruit juice the dried fruit already looks plumper and more hydrated!
The star ingredient! A little goes a long way!
Leave for 24 hours and when you return you’ll have wonderfully plump, hydrated fruit. The fruit is left to sit in a lot of liquid, most of the liquid should be absorbed by the fruit but once the fruit reaches saturation, it won’t be able to take in any more liquid. Discard any excess liquid before adding the fruit to the cake.
It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!
I’m always tempted to face-plant the bowl at this stage. Top tip – use your mixer to cream the butter and sugar but mix everything else in by hand using a rubber spatula and a wooden spoon to avoid creating a tight texture to the cake.
Look at that bad boy!
Don’t worry too much about gaps in the side or the top not being straight. We’ll level the top off later (and flip so it’s the bottom – crafty!) and fill in any gaps with marizpan.
It’s important to feed the cake with a tablespoon of whiskey when it’s fresh out of the oven to start it off. After that, a tablespoon every 10 days or so will be enough.
Good luck with your Christmas cake and remember, there are no hard and fast rules. Most traditional cake recipes will call for black treacle or chopped nuts but I don’t like them so I’ve evolved my cake into something that I would enjoy and I urge you to do the same.
If you don’t like fruit cake, you should try my Winter Spiced Orange and Cranberry Cake – it’s much quicker to make and the results are exceptional. I’ll also be sharing a few alternative Christmas celebration cakes over the coming weeks.
I’d love to see your pictures if you make this recipe – especially how you choose to decorate your cakes so tag me over on Instagram or add #foodieforthoughtblog to your posts on Insta for me to check out.