Christmas cake is an English tradition that began as plum porridge. People ate the porridge on Christmas Eve, using it to line their stomachs after a day of fasting. Soon, dried fruits, spices and honey were added to the porridge mixture, and eventually it turned into Christmas pudding.
In the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe, and butter, wheat flour and eggs were added. These ingredients helped, hold the mixture together and this resulted in a boiled plum cake. Richer families that had ovens began making fruit cakes with marzipan, an almond sugar paste, for Easter. For Christmas, they made a similar cake using seasonal dried fruit and spices. The spices represented the exotic eastern spices brought by the Wise Men. This cake became known as the “Christmas cake”.
Christmas cakes are made in many different ways, but generally they are variations on classic fruitcake. They can be light, dark, moist, dry, heavy, spongy, leavened, unleavened etc. They are made in many different shapes, with frosting, glazing, a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or plain.
The traditional Scottish Christmas cake, also known as the Whisky Dundee, is very popular. It is a light crumbly cake with currants, raisins, cherries and Scotch whisky. Other types of Christmas cakes include an apple crème cake and a mincemeat cake. The apple crème cake is made with apples, other fruit, raisins, eggs, cream cheese and whipping cream. The mincemeat cake is made with traditional mincemeat or vegetarian mincemeat, flour, eggs etc. It can also be steamed as a Christmas pudding.
All Christmas cakes are made in advance. Many make them in November, keeping the cake upside down in an airtight container. A small amount of brandy, sherry or whisky is poured into holes in the cake every week until Christmas. This process is called “feeding” the cake.
In Japan, Christmas cake is a frosted sponge cake with strawberries, chocolates or seasonal fruit. In the Philippines Christmas cake is a yellow pound cake with nuts or the traditional British fruitcake. Both cakes are soaked in brandy or rum, a palm sugar syrup and water. Rosewater or orange flower water is usually added. The cakes have a long shelf life, usually lasting many months. Sometimes they are eaten the following Easter or Christmas.
Recipe for the cake
● 150 gm sultanas
● 150 gm raisins
● 150 gm currants
● 75 gm glace cherries
● 50 gm candied oranges or mixed peel
● 50 gm chopped almonds
● 50 gm chopped walnuts
● 4 shot glasses of Very Special Old Pale (VSOP) Champagne Cognac
Mix everything together, and store it in an airtight container for as long as you can. I kept it for 7 days. If you don’t have the time, you could soak it, microwave it for 3 minutes and leave it overnight.
● 225 gm self raising flour
● 1/2 tsp salt
● 1/4th tsp grated nutmeg
● 1/2 tsp cinnamon pd.
● 1/2 tsp mixed spice
● 225 gm unsalted butter
● 225 gm demerera sugar
● 4 large eggs
Some more VSOP Champagne cognac – depends on how boozy you want to make your cake. Start with lining your baking tins with silicon paper and pre-heating the oven to 140ºC. I used two 6″ cake tins to get 2 small cakes, you could just go for one big one instead. In a bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. In another bowl, cream the sugar and butter till light and creamy. Add the eggs one by one and while beating them in, be carefull not to curdle the mixture. Now, with your hand , gently fold in the dry mix spoon by spoon, until its all incorporated. Now fold in the spirit soaked fruits and nuts and give it one good stir. Divide equally between the tins and cut a silicon paper round to cover the top of the cake to prevent it from burning in the slow baking process. Put them in the lowest shelf of the oven and let it bake for an hour and a half. Once the time is up, get them out and let them cool in the tins for 30 minutes, but if you are impatient like me, 15 minutes will do. Now turn the cake upside down in a big box with a cover, and prick hole with a skewer on it. Drizzle some of the cognac on the cakes and cover tightly so as the cake does not dry out and it soaks all the booze. Keep doing this ‘ feeding’ at regular intervals, until you are satisfied that the cake has had enough. When ready to eat, dust with icing sugar and serve with some traditional English custard.