This Quicker British Christmas Fruit Cake, is my last minute Christmas cake, that can be made & decorated in Christmas week. Detailed tutorial for this fruit cake, including decorating with marzipan, royal icing & handmade trees. Also includes some alternative easy & quick decorating ideas, for that last minute, rushed bake!
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Why Make This Quicker Christmas Cake?
1. Still the same great fruit cake taste (if you have tried British fruit cake).
2. Can be made Christmas week. Taking 1, 2 or 3 days to be ready, (depending on if decorating & how much time you have free).
3.No need to start the preparation in October. Can be made as late as a day before Christmas (undecorate), or when you intend eating of gifting.
4.Undecorated the cake can last up to 16 days. Decorated & stored as recommended, and it will last till no more pieces left.
5.Can be made with or without alcohol, & not an entire bottle of spirit either.
6. Simple decoration for beginner bakers, as well as some ideas for alternative decoration, using Christmas ornaments & decorations that were sourced from Primark this season.
7. Recipe is for a 8″ (20cm) round cake, that is quite deep with a tin depth of 3-3½”/7 -9cm. For smaller or larger sized tins, see my How To reduce A Recipe article.
Alternative Sizes/shapes of Tins
For alternative sizes and shapes of tins, as well as how much batter to use and how long to cook, see my British Christmas Cake Recipe.
Visit my British Christmas Cake Bake-together page, for more tips and articles including fondant tutorials.
Outline Of How To Make Christmas Week
(1, 2 or 3 Days)
Day 1 – Prepare the fruit – (leave 1½ to 2 hours).
Bake the cake.
Make royal icing & tree decorations
Day 2 – Serve undecorated cake,
OR add marzipan in AM, leave few to add fondant or royal icing. And assemble in few hours later, taking 30 minutes OR
Day 3 – Assemble (or marzipan day 2, fondant day 3) – taking only 20 – 30 minutes.
Full details and instructions are in the recipe card below, that can be saved, shared, printed (with or without process shots, or notes). Please also consider taking a minute to leave feedback for me, as it really helps me out. Scroll all the way to the bottom for that option with star ratings.
Notes on ingredients, are also found after the recipe card.
Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, enjoy your time and the cake!
- Scales or measuring cups
- Measuring Spoons
- Baking/parchment paper
- Deep 8”/21cm Round Cake tin (I used a 3½"/9cm deep tin, but 3"/7½cm deep would also be fine. For smaller cakes & tins see notes)*
- Medium to large sized mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Timer or Phone Timer
- Wooden Cocktail stick/toothpick
- Cooling rack
- Cling Film (plastic wrap)
- Food Colouring (for fondant decorations or trees if using)
- Thick ribbon (for decoration, full sized cake 2" – 3" wide/5-7½cm, optional)
- Christmas Cake Toppers (Handmade fondant decorations*, Christmas small ornaments, etc. Optional)
- Hand/stand mixer (For making Royal Icing if using)
- Baking Palette Knife (or butter knife for adding Royal icing)
- Rolling Pin (Fondant rolling pin, or wooden)
- Green Food Colouring (Sugarflair Holly Green Paste, or similar, or gel colouring for Royal Icing trees)
- Wooden Sticks, Cake Pop Sticks (for trees, bbq skewers, wooden cocktail sticks if making small trees)
- Green Ribbon For Decoration (I used 3 layers of 1"/2½cm thick bottle green/Holly Green Christmas ribbon. You can use thicker)
For The Cake
- 700 grams Mixed dried fruit (24½ oz, Sultanas, currants, etc. See notes)
- 50 grams Crystallised Ginger Pieces, chopped small (optional, or increase above dried fruit by same/1¾ oz)
- 250 grams Light Brown Sugar (8¾ oz, 1½ cup, or granulated, dark brown, caster, see notes)
- 250 grams Butter, unsalted & cubed (8¾ oz, 2 cups)
- 2 Eggs (Medium to large, or 3 small) (US Large or Extra Large)
- 200 ml Orange Juice (or other pure fruit juice, or water)
- 2 tbsp Spirit Alcohol (30ml, 1 fl oz, ⅛ cup, Raki, Rum, Brandy, Gin, etc. I used Turkish Raki. Or replace with water)
- 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- ½ tsp (level) Ground Anise (optional)
- 1 tsp Ginger
- 60 ml Water (2 fl oz, ¼ cup, see notes)
- 500 grams Plain Flour (16 oz, 3½ cups All purpose flour)
- 2 tbsp Baking Powder (or 6 tsp)
- 66 grams Ground Almonds (2⅓ oz, ¾ cup, Almond Meal, not Almond flour)**
- 1 tsp Mixed spice, optional (Pumpkin Spice alternative)
- 500 grams Marzipan (17⅔ oz minimum, or Almond Paste)
- 500 grams Royal Icing Sugar (17⅔ oz packet/box for adding just water. For making with icing/powdered sugar & egg white/meringue powder, see this royal icing recipe. Or cover with Fondant icing/sugar paste – 750g/26½ oz, for very deep cake)
- Fondant for decorations (Use from above, or small amounts & coloured or food colouring, optional. See fondant toppers tutorial)
- Icing/Powdered Sugar (few tbsp for sugar 'snow', or fake snow, optional)
- Large Sugar Crystals (optional, see recipe construction stage)
Prepare The Fruit
- Pop the cubed butter, sugar, dried fruit, fruit juice, alcohol & water in a pan on a low-medium heat, letting the butter & sugar melt. Reduce to low & let simmer for 20 minutes. Don't boil the fruit, but rather give the fruit time to absorb the liquids & spices & plump up a little. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from the heat, leave to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring, liquid & all, into another bowl & placing in the fridge for 1 hour, to cool & let the fruit absorb a lot more flavour & liquid. You can leave longer or overnight if you like, but cover the dish & leave in the fridge or in a cool place.
Prepare Cake Tin
- Line a deep 8”( 20-21cm) round cake tin with baking/parchment paper, on the bottom & up the sides. I Grease the paper in position with Frylight cooking/baking spray. You can also use homemade lining paste/Cake Goop, or butter. If you want you can double line the bottom of the tin. See Photo 3 where I used my folding technique to cut a round of parchement (video) for the base, & then used the excess paper to line the sides. So no waste!
- Pre-heat your oven 170°c/150°c Fan Oven/325°f/Gas Mark 3, before the fruit soaking time is up.
Prepare The Batter
- Ladle or drain off about ½ – ¾ cup (120 – 180ml) of the liquid from the fruit mixture, & reserve to the side. Make sure your fruit mixture is in a large enough bowl for preparing the cake batter.
- Add one egg at a time to the fruit & mix well in-between each addition. The mixture will be thick & heavy, so better done by hand than ruining an electric mixer. Next sieve over the flour, baking powder & mixed spice/pumpkin spice if you are using. Followed by the ground almonds/almond meal, making sure to mix well & not leave any flour at the bottom of the bowl. You can thin the mixture just a little with a few spoons of the reserved liquid from earlier, if required. See photo* for a reference point to how the batter should look.
Bake The Cake
- Spoon the cake batter into the prepared cake tin, smooth & level off as best as possible. Tap the bottom of the tin on the worktop/counter a few times to expel any trapped air, before placing on a baking sheet & popping in the oven to bake for about 2 hr – 2½ hours.
- *After about 45 minutes, the top of the cake will be set & golden, but not completely cooked inside. So cover the top of the cake with foil and continue baking until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean of crumbs.
- Remove from oven & leave in the tin to cool down on a cooling rack for 10 mins. Place a clean folded tea towel on top of the cake & with two hands on the cake, tin & towel, flip everything over so cake & tin upside down. Then place all on top of the cooling rack & leave to cool upside down for helping to flatten the cake if intend covering & decorating the cake. Trimming the cake is much messier a job to do. If not covering the cake, turn out like above, remove the baking/parchment paper very carefully, before turning back right-way up & leave to cool on the rack.
- If not decorating the cake, leave to cool completely (I recommend leaving overnight or at least 12 hours, only because it makes slicing much easier). See Photo 7 above, bottom photos are of the cake undecorated, with the last one being baked in a shallower tin. (See notes). If decorating, also leave the same amount of time before beginning covering the cake.
Making Royal Icing
- If making the royal icing trees, best to prepare the icing today, either while the fruit is soaking, or the cake is baking, to allow time for the trees to dry. Prepare the Royal icing sugar & immediately cover the bowl with cling film/plastic wrap. Here I used Royal icing powder – this is icing/powdered sugar with dried egg whites & so only water is needed to make this Royal icing. Supermarkets & online have these, & I used a 500g box of Silver Spoon Royal Icing Sugar. If you can't get this don't worry, you can use icing/powdered sugar & add egg whites (or meringue powder, which is dried egg whites). Here is a homemade royal icing recipe by my friend Tanya.
- A 500g box was more than enough for a good covering of the cake as well as for making some tree decorations. I simply added 35ml/1 fl oz of water & started mixing into the sugar, pushing down really well, & then gradually adding enough of the remaining 35m/1 fl oz of water till the sugar was a thick, smooth consistency. (You don't want too runny, where it easily runs of a palette knife. But more of a spreadable consistency). Then whisk the mixture with a hand-held or stand mixer, using the whisk attachment(s), until shinny & stands in soft peaks. (See my old video on different 'peaks' in baking). Spoon about 4 or 5 large spoons' worth of the royal icing into a small bowl. Cover the bigger bowl tightly with cling film/plastic wrap or it will harden quickly. Can also be stored in the fridge for about a week or freezer 1 month. Also loosely cover the smaller bowl of royal icing, that you will colour green for the trees.
Making Royal Icing Trees
- If you want to make royal Icing trees, these take longer to dry & the thicker ones obviously take longer, but they are less prone to break. So ideal to make the trees before icing the cake, (or earlier, as they will keep). Make a small bowl of green icing by adding small amounts of green food colouring paste or gel, (leaving a few seconds after mixing, to let the colour develop). Cover the bowl with clingfilm/plastic wrap while you prepare & are ready to make the trees.
- Have baking/parchment paper ready to pipe your trees on, (I have not tried a silicone mat). I used some wooden sticks that had sugar chunks/nuggets on them (were free sugar stirrers for tea/coffee), but had to remove the sugar first (which I saved). And I also cut the sticks to different heights. You can do this after piping, but a few of mine broke when I did that. (My tallest tree was 4½" (11½cm), & smallest 2½" (5cm) tall, not including the stick). Place the prepared sticks on the paper with plenty space in-between. Only now when ready to make the trees should you open up the small bowl of prepared green royal icing. Quickly place in a piping bag with a nozzle, or use a small food bag with a corner snipped off. Proceed to pipe trees any way you find comfortable. Make any size of style of tree you like.
- I first tried just piping thinner lines diagonally, & widening as I went down, in a kind of zig-zag motion. These ones look good, but are very prone to breakage. Piping on top of them worked better, making them thicker. You can pipe an outline of a tree, then fill in the gaps one bit at a time, then take a wooden cocktail stick and fill in any tiny gaps.
- Make sure the icing isn't too thin a layer if spreading it. You can go over the tree again with some of the icing & then use the cocktail stick to gently spread it out. I was trying for a more 3d look and used the stick to make thinner edges, & tried to make it look like there were branches in front of you and not just on the left & right of the tree. These need to dry completely & once able to remove, you can also add a bit more icing to the back side of the tree just to reinforce the area where the stick is attached.
- These can be made ahead of time, even before baking the cake. So after a day or so of drying completely, cover gently with cling film/plastic wrap. Having the paper on a tray is a good idea & you can cover that & put away somewhere safe.
Decorating – Marzipan Layer
- Begin by laying out a fondant mat(s), some baking/parchment paper, or dust your counter/worktop with icing/powdered sugar. Then soften the marzipan/almond paste in your hands. Knead it into a rough round shape, & flatten into a disc on your prepared area. Use your hands to round the edges as best as you can, as this will make rolling a circle much easier. Also 500g packet of marzipan is just enough for a thin layer to cover this 8" by 3½" deep cake. So we want to roll a good round shape.
- I am using a 2-piece clear silicone rolling mat by Iced Gems. This is the large size & has markings, lines & circles on the top mat, from 6"/15cm to 19"/48cm. Two mats are great as you can turn things over easier. No need for any icing/powdered sugar either. So if not using something similar, you might need the sugar to stop the marzipan sticking to the mat/counter or rolling pin. For marzipan & fondant, if you use a fondant rolling pin, it shouldn't stick either. Alternatively use 2 pieces of paper & a regular rolling pin. You can even mark a circle on your paper and turn over before rolling out, & use as a guide. You want to roll to at least 15" (38cm) wide, to account for also the height of the cake on both sides.
- Once rolled out, the marzipan will be thin (but not too thin. You can check it against the cake. With a double mat (or 2 sheets of paper), you can lift the marzipan & check it against the cake, making sure it will cover to the bottom of the cake. If not, you can roll out more, if perhaps the marzipan is thicker in the centre. Or, if some ends are too long, you can remove some marzipan & patch it together. Since this will be covered with Royal icing, you can do this & smooth it down.
- Next step can be done a few ways, but basically you want to add jam/jelly/preserve to the top & sides of the cake. Traditionally thinned apricot jam is used, but you can use any you have, or a complementary flavour. I used new Aldi Lime & Raspberry Curd (so wasn't even a jam). It was nice & smooth (as well as tasty with a citrus kick), so easy to apply. I spread the curd on top of the cake, then I carefully, using the small cake board, turned the cake over & onto the centre of the marzipan. Alternatively, you can spread the jam on the marzipan centre area, (about 8½-9" or 21½-23cm wide). Make sure you have added the jam to the flat edge of the cake, so your cake 'bottom' will not be as flat an end.
- Next step is to then start adding the jam/curd to the sides, & lifting the marzipan up, smoothing out by hand, & letting any excess come over the top, which is really the bottom of the cake. Do a little section (about ¾"/2cm wide, & kind of fan it in towards the top edge of the cake. Do this slowly, & push the marzipan up, & over the folds, using your fingers to smooth the marzipan as best as possible. Using a cupped hand, press the sides to smooth down the folds. You can also tear off any excess marzipan to make the smoothing & joining process easier. Add a little jam at first, lift up a section, smooth & repeat. Once finished, let the excess coming over the top (bottom of the cake), & thin it with your fingertip, making it smooth into & attach onto the cake easier. Any excess jam, wipe away with a clean paper towel as you go.
- Next use a cake smoother, the hard type with a handle, or the softer pliable thin ones, & use to smooth the sides of the marzipan covered cake. For marzipan I found the small ones easier. I like to use two (they come in pairs & are inexpensive. Even places like Home Bargains have them), & I basically smooth the sides & the top, with the 2 cards perpendicular to each other. (forming a 90° angle). One on top & one on sides, meeting at the edge of the cake. Then perform a smoothing action. This gives a nice sharper cleaner edge, as well as using a second one ensures you don't mess the marzipan with your finger if holding by hand. And as you will cover the marzipan too, no need to be super precise.
- Once happy, turn the cake carefully over, right way up, & onto some parchment/baking paper, on top of a cake board or plate (something to help with turning back over). Then proceed to smooth again, making sure that the flat top edge stays flat. Sides are not as important as covering, but you want the top relatively straight & level. Leave the cake out at room temperature, or even cooler (it is probably winter after all), unwrapped & not in the fridge. We don't want condensation but for the marzipan to dry a little. You can place some baking paper & a clean tea-towel on top if you.
- Now you can leave 2 or 3 hours before adding the Royal icing or fondant layer. For British Christmas cakes that are started in October & feed, it is often advised to wait a few days for the marzipan to dry before adding Royal icing, as sometimes it can give the icing a grey tinge to it. However, this quicker cake, was absolutely fine with adding the icing same day (marzipan added in the morning & Royal icing at late afternoon or evening). But to suit your schedule, you can still leave to dry till following day if you need to. Just try & cover the cake with cling film/plastic wrap if leaving for longer than 24 hours.
Apply Royal Icing Or Fondant
- Have your spatula ready, a spoon, & a little food bag. You can place your equipment inside this when not using, so that the icing on it doesn't go hard & saves having to wash too often. If you want the icing on the cake to not set quite as hard as the trees, (ie. not be brittle), you can add 1 tsp Glycerine. Just give the royal icing a quick beat & then whisk the glycerine in for about 20 seconds. If not making the trees, you can alternatively add this glycerine when first making the icing & after your first half of water
- Have your cake turned upside down, with the bare side of cake pointing upwards. I apply the royal icing to the side of the cake, when upside down, as I feel it gives a neater edge to the cake, as well as stopping pieces breaking off once hardened. So go ahead and spread the icing thickly over the cake. I applied in upward strokes with the palette knife & had intended doing a thin crumb coat layer, but it didn't need it. After spreading on, & making smooth, it added a nice thin layer but was enough to cover the cake completely, with no marzipan discolouring happening. When you come to what is the real bottom side of the cake. Be sure to go all the way up & even spread a little over the edge too.
- Leave out to dry until you attempt to turn over the cake onto the other side. Have a cake board or large plate ready to turn it on to. I used a smaller thin cake board that could not be seen, so I could place on my cake stand. It also means I can move it if need be. Then proceed to cover the top of the cake with Royal icing & leave out to dry & harden. For me the drying times only took *****. If your icing is a thicker layer, or 2 layers, this will take longer to dry completely.
Assembling The Cake
- Once your cake is on your plate or cake stand, go ahead & sieve icing/powdered sugar on top of the cake, right to the edges. It doesn't need to be super fine or all flat. Some lumps will make it look more realistic. See Photo 15.
- Now add your ribbon of choice, around the sides of the cake. In photo 16 below, I show using a thick beige Christmas Tree & Truck ribbon (2”/5cm wide), & also a thinner 1”/2 ½cm green ribbon, 1 layer of ribbon & two. In the end I really liked the bottle green contrasting against the pure white icing, so went for 3 layers.
- I have also included some simple inexpensive ideas for topping the cake if you can't make royal icing trees. Crafts shops sell these small 'bottle brush' trees, and the little ceramic houses and polar bear candle, were all from Primark. (See photos 16, 17 and in notes).
- I simply used a pearl headed pin, to hold the beginning of one layer of ribbon in place, & at the back of where I wanted my front of cake to be. Then proceeded to wrap carefully around the cake, making 3 levels or layers of ribbon. Then trimmed the ribbon, folded the end over, & pinned the last piece in place.
- Now the worst bit of the whole process, removing the trees & hoping they don't break. The trees I left overnight in the end were the ones that survived & were thicker too. While thicker means more drying time, the layering & in slightly different directions, helps strengthen the trees. The easiest way to remove is gently fold the paper under itself at the edges & let the tree start to come away from the paper. The better paper you use the better too. Bacofoil Non-stick Baking Paper is good & re-useable. Once off the paper, immediately put down on another piece of paper out the way where it won't get damaged. Then proceed to release the rest.
- As soon as possible, add the trees to the cake. I like things in 3 & that is a photography habit. You can position anywhere you like, make a scene etc. Just do very carefully & push down while holding the front of the stick, & not touching the top of the tree. You can if you want make a slightly smaller hole where you want to put the first tree, before adding the tree itself. And don’t touch the trees after positioned.
- Finish the cake off with some little touches. I had some large sugar nuggets from the sticks I used for the trees. (See photo 21 below). I simply placed a few around the base of the trees as I had left the sticks showing a bit & didn't want to push down too far, in fear of breaking the trees. So placing some of the sugar nuggets/large crystals, made it look like rocks around the tree base. I then used a small spoon to put icing/powdered sugar on top of these. Finally, sieve over more sugar on top of the trees, letting it stick to the top & branches of the trees. Some sugar will naturally fall & stick to front of the trees, but if flatter, you will need to kind of throw the sugar towards the front of the trees. You can also choose to do this after positioning the first tree. Add more sieved sugar to the whole area if you like & make some footprints of lines in the snow if you like (I forgot to do that).
Serving & Storing
- The cake is now ready to serve, with a large sharp knife. I found a straight edged knife better for this cake than a serrated. Serve with tea, coffee, or a warming seasonal beverage and enjoy.
- To store the cake, it is best to remove the trees & cover with clingfilm/plastic wrap, then foil & stored in a cake tin or cake stand with dome. If you want to keep the trees in place, you can use several pieces of cling film/plastic wrap & go over the cake & in-between the trees. But don’t cover the trees themselves. Some foil around the cake as well, will keep it a bit longer. But wrapping tight with no trees is best.
- This cake is very deep, so thin slices are ideal. You can instead of a triangle shape slice, cut the cake down the middle, then make one long slice from the centre area, & then cut that into square or rectangular slices. Then push the cake back together, before wrapping well. This is a good way to keep moisture in the cake. And gives more slices too. Probably would make about 24 – 30 pieces depending on size cut. Otherwise 18-20 slices.
Baking ingredient measurement conversion table.
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