Christmas Cake   Leave a comment

Or “Rich Fruit Cake”, to give it its full title.

Saturday was the hottest October day on record, peaking at 29.9°C in Southend. So what better way to spend it than with the oven on for four and a half hours, baking a Christmas cake? And so, to both accurately recount my day and provide knowledge to the world (at the risk of treading on Megan’s toes), I shall type up the recipe here.

I can’t promise this is the best Christmas cake recipe, or the easiest (it’s not – it took me most of a day to bake mine), or anything like that. But it is the recipe that’s been used by almost everyone in my family for quite a long time. It originally came from a booklet in a magazine (possibly Woman’s Weekly), although the “original” handed down from my grandmother is a stained photocopy (maybe even a copy of a copy) replete with hand-written notes. I only have one page, but my mother may have more.

I’ll quote the introduction, to provide a little amusing historical context, and also thoroughly incriminate myself if the copyright-SS come calling:

“To make and decorate a beautiful cake for a special family occasion is a most satisfying achievement. A daughter will appreciate a cake lovingly made by her mother for her wedding; grandparents will be thrilled if the cake at their golden wedding party has been made by a member of their family. These are the times when the personal touch is a real compliment.”

I wouldn’t think mothers baking their daughters’ wedding cakes would be nearly so popular now, but my cousin successfully used this recipe to make her own wedding cake a few years ago.

Anyway, on to the recipe, as written, although I’ll add some notes to the end. I believe that all measurements are Imperial (which I think correspond with American in these cases) – right-thinking Metric users will just have to figure out how to change their scales’ units – and that eggs are UK sizes. They are, at least, the measurements we’ve always used. I think Imperial tablespoons were slightly larger than Metric tablespoons, but it doesn’t make much difference. As a quick, approximate guide for shopping:

250g = 8oz
500g = 17oz = 1 lb 1 oz
1kg = 35oz = 2 lb 3 oz

Ingredients and Baking Times

Ingredients Cake tin sizes              
  Round 6 inch   Round 7 inch, Square 6 inch Round 8 inch, Square 7 inch Round 9 inch, Square 8 inch Round 10 inch, Square 9 inch Round 11 inch, Square 10 inch Round 12 inch, Square 11 inch Square 12 inch
Sultanas 3 ½ oz 5 oz 6 oz 9 oz 12 oz 15 oz 1 lb 4 oz 1 lb 8 oz
Currants 5 ½ oz 8 oz 13 oz 1 lb 1 oz 1 lb 6 oz 1 lb 12 oz 2 lb 4 oz 3 lb 4 oz
Raisins 3 ½ oz 5 oz 6 oz 9 oz 12 oz 15 oz 1 lb 4 oz 1 lb 8 oz
Glacé Cherries 1 ½ oz 2 oz 2 ½ oz 3 oz 5 oz 6 oz 8 oz 10 oz
Candied Peel or Dates 1 oz 1 oz 1 ½ oz 2 oz 3 oz 4 oz 5 oz 6 ½ oz
Chopped Almonds 1 oz 1 oz 1 ½ oz 2 oz 3 oz 4 oz 5 oz 6 ½ oz
Plain Flour 5 oz 6 oz 8 oz 12 oz 1 lb 1 lb 4 oz 1 lb 10 oz 2 lb
Salt 1/8 teaspoon 1/8 teaspoon ¼ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1 ½ teaspoons
Nutmeg1 1/8 teaspoon 1/8 teaspoon ¼ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1 ½ teaspoons
Cinnamon1 ¼ teaspoon ¼ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1 ½ teaspoons 2 teaspoons
Butter 4 oz 5 oz 6 ½ oz 9 oz 13 oz 15 oz 1 lb 8 oz 1 lb 12 oz
Soft Dark Brown Sugar 4 oz 5 oz 6 ½ oz 9 oz 13 oz 15 oz 1 lb 8 oz 1 lb 12 oz
Lemon Rind ¼ teaspoon ¼ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1 ½ teaspoons
Eggs 2 large 3 standard 3 large 4 large 6 large 8 standard 12 standard 14 standard
Instant Coffee Powder ¼ teaspoon ¼ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1 ½ teaspoons
Water 1 dessertspoon 1 dessertspoon 1 tablespoon 1 tablespoon 1 ½ tablespoons 1 ½ tablespoons 2 tablespoons 2 ½ tablespoons
Brandy2 1 dessertspoon 1 dessertspoon 1 tablespoon 1 tablespoon 1 ½ tablespoons 2 tablespoons 2 ½ tablespoons 3 tablespoons
BAKING TIME 3 hours 3 ½ hours 3 ¾ hours 4 hours 4 ½ hours 5 hours 5 ½ hours 6 hours

Rich Fruit Cake
All rich fruit cakes improve if allowed to mature for a few months, so make them in good time. Store in a cool dry place, wrapped in greaseproof paper and double thickness kitchen foil. If you like an extra rich cake, drip brandy into it from time to time while it is being stored.

Grease cake tin lightly with melted lard then line base and sides with 4 thicknesses of greaseproof paper to come about 1 1/2 inches above the top of the tin. Tie a band of brown paper the same depth as greaseproof around outside of tin3.

Clean sultanas, currants and raisins if necessary4. Wash and dry glacé cherries, cut into quarters and add to other fruit with candied peel or chopped dates and almonds.

Sift flour, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon together.

Cream butter and sugar well together until light and fluffy5. Add finely grated lemon rind. Beat in eggs one at a time with a little of the sifted flour to prevent curdling. Dissolve coffee in water and stir into creamed mixture.

Fold in half the flour then the mixed fruits and remaining flour. Mix well6.

Turn into prepared tin. Smooth top with a pallette knife, slightly hollowing centre. Bake on shelf just below centre of a very slow oven (275°F, Gas Mark 1, 135°C) for the suggested cooking time, covering cake with greaseproof paper if it becomes too brown. (Ovens do vary, so check how cake is cooking towards the end of cooking time7.) To test if cake is done, insert a fine skewer into centre of cake – it should come out clean.

When cooked, remove cake from oven and cool in tin for about 2 hours, then turn on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Remove paper, then prick top of cake with a skewer and spoon brandy over2. Invert cake and repeat process with base.

Wrap cake and store until required.

A helpful hint is to turn the cake upside-down to decorate it; the former bottom will give you a smooth top, and it doesn’t matter if it’s sitting on the lumpy side.
The only part of the recipe I have regarding decoration is:
Almand paste or marzipan is essential to prevent discoloration; thickness depends on personal taste. The cake must be brushed with apricot glaze (made by warming and sieving 2-3 tablespoons apricot jam, adding water if necessary) before applying almond paste.
There follows a half-photocopied column detailing the method for making and applying Almond paste, but the ingredients were on a separate page. We’ve always used shop-bought marzipan, but I’m sure there are plenty of recipes on the internet. The column ends with, as best I can work out:
[After applying marzipan] Place cake on silver cake board and leave to dry 2-3 days before [applying icing]. Note: Cake boards should always be 2 inches larger than the cake.
(Original recipe ends here.)

After the marzipan has dried, the cake should be iced. Traditionally, one should use Royal Icing, made from egg whites, icing sugar, lemon juice and glycerine. A BBC Recipe can be found here.

However, I don’t much like Royal Icing; it manages to both be bland and sickly, and worst of all involves separating eggs. So a couple of years ago I thought I’d experiment with this White Chocolate Frosting recipe from the River Cottage Community site. It turned out fantastically, and met with much approval and no complaints, so I’d suggest everybody use that instead. It probably won’t keep as well as Royal Icing, but it kept long enough for me. As an added bonus it’s much easier to make, and it caused no broken teeth or shrapnel injuries, which are potential hazards of Royal Icing after it’s been knocking around for a few weeks.

I shall duplicate the recipe below, due to the transience of the internet and my complete disregard for intellectual property. It claims to cover an 8″ cake, so for larger cakes (or extra-thick coatings) a multiple should be used. Simply slather it on the cake once the marzipan’s dried; you can leave it with a pleasing snowdrift texture or spend ages with a knife smoothing it as you like. Finally, stick on all those ancient Christmas cake decorations that’ve been sitting oh-so-hygenically unwashed in the box in the cupboard since they were chipped off last year’s cake (personally, I omit this step).

White Chocolate Frosting
50g white chocolate
70g butter
70g icing sugar

Melt the white chocolate; either in the microwave (on defrost) for 1 1/2 minutes or until melted, stirring halfway through; or in a bowl over hot water in a pan on the stove (I prefer the latter method; if you do melt it in the microwave, be sure to do it very gently). Leave to cool.

Beat the butter and the icing sugar in a large bowl until creamy, then beat in the chocolate.

Cover and chill for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature for a few hours before using.




  1. I’m usually slightly generous with the spices; I think the recipe hails from a time when British palates were less adventurous.
  2. My 11″ round cake absorbed 3 tablespoons of brandy to each side without trouble, so you may find the measurements given quite stingy.
  3. I’ve only used loose-bottomed and springform tins. This is, by far, the fiddliest and most time-consuming part of the recipe. But you mustn’t skip it, as it stops the outside of the cake burning; it will be in the oven for a very long time. A double-thickness of baking parchment will substitute for brown paper. If you want the cake to be vegetarian, you’ll obviously have to substitute some other fat for the lard; I’m afraid I’ve never tried this. Some advice: Be sparing with the lard, and cook this cake before you clean the oven, because any excess fat will inevitably fall out of the bottom of the tin.
  4. I don’t wash them, but I do wrap them in a tea-towel, give them a good rub, and then give them a quick check for any stalky bits, which should be removed before they’re used.
  5. This bit’s the hardest work. Much easier on a warm day, and if you take the butter out of the fridge in plenty of time, though. Once you’ve finished it might be time to pre-heat the oven.
  6. It’s important that, for the last bit of mixing, everybody in the house has a go and makes a wish.
  7. In my fan oven an 11″ round cake was baked 15 minutes early, and non-fan electric ovens seem particularly prone to over-browning the top, so really do keep an eye on it. If you do burn the top, you can probably rescue the cake (make sure it’s cooked through) by waiting for it to cool, then turning it on its side and lopping the burnt top off with a breadknife. This also works for the sides, if necessary, although it’s harder to get neat. I learnt this when trying to bake in an oven with a knackered thermostat.

So there you go; that’s how I make Christmas cake. I have a pile of leftover ingredients, so if you think you have a better recipe then share it, and I can make it so that it can be compared to this one to show, fair and square, once and for all, that mine is best.

To finish, some pictures of how it turned out (click for Big-O-Vision™):

Upside-down cake

The cake, bottom-up, awaiting brandy. Best to decorate it this way up.

Boozification complete!

Right-way-up, post-dousing.

No doubt I’ll post pictures of the decorated cake towards the end of December.


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