*Published 01/10/20, updated photos & structure 29/10/23
Traditional British Christmas Cake
Part 1 – Preparing The Fruit
The Group Bake-Together
I run Facebook group Great British Bake Off Fans, (known as The Great British Baking Show in US & Canada). With a lot of American & Canadian members eager to try a British Christmas cake, in 2020 we decided to have a group bake-together. Previous bake-alongs had been successful, and this seemed a perfect way to share British traditions.
Preparing In October
“Why Start Preparing Christmas Cakes In October?“
Frequently we are asked, why we start preparing and baking the Christmas cakes so early. The answer involves the whole process and the ingredients.
The dried fruit is first soaked in alcohol for 7 to 10 days, before being added to the cake batter. This usually happens in October. This provides moisture and flavour to the cake. Every week or so from then until December, the cake is ‘fed’ a few spoons of alcohol again (similar idea to brushing a sugar syrup on sponges).
During this time, the cakes are not stored in the fridge, but rather somewhere dark and cool. Once it comes nearer to Christmas, the cakes are covered in marzipan, left to dry a day or 2 and then covered in either fondant or royal icing and decorated. During this time the cake is becoming more flavourful.
“Won’t The Cake Go Bad If Not Stored In The Fridge?”
Christmas cakes won’t go bad and don’t need to be stored in the fridge, as the very high proportion of sugar from the dried fruit, as well as the alcohol, all work to preserve the cake.
British Christmas cakes won’t go bad for a year or even longer. This is due to the sugar and alcohol preserving qualities, as well as the marzipan and icing covering the cake, that keeps the cake protected and further lengthens its life.
The ‘Special’ Recipe Used
The recipe we used is based on a very old Be-Ro recipe, that my friend Christine’s family has been making each Christmas for over 100 years. Read more about the tradition of this recipe – 100 Years Of Memories In A Christmas Cake.
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS CAKE Ingredients
- Butter, unsalted
- Caster Sugar *(Extra/Super Fine)
- Baking Powder
- Ground Almonds *(Almond Meal)
- Mixed Spice *(Pumpkin Spice)
- Alcohol (optional)
- Mixed Dried Fruits (pre-soaked)
Full details, amounts & alternatives for these cake batter ingredients, can be found in Part 2 – Baking The Christmas Cake. This first part here, of the process of making a Christmas cake, is to prepare the fruit for the cake batter.
Fruit Soaking Ingredients
- Glacé Cherries
- Mixed Citrus Peel
- Alcohol – spirit (Brandy, Port, etc)
I know that in the states and Canada, some things are not as easy to come by as in the UK. Examples being the citrus peel and Glacé cherries. Maraschino cherries can also be used and for the citrus peel, that’s similar to candied citrus. There are recipes on the internet to make your own, which of course you can try, or add another dried fruit, such as dried cranberries and apricots. Crystalized stem ginger is also a nice addition.
**Money Saving Tip – UK bakers can save some money by using less expensive packets of Mixed Fruit, that contain both currants and raisins, and sometimes citrus peel. (See packet in photo collage).
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A U.S. FRUIT CAKE & BRITISH CHRISTMAS CAKE
For our US & Canadian readers who might not have made or had one, our Christmas cakes are not like American fruit cake. They both are cakes with fruit, but the proportions, structure, texture and taste are different. The choice of dried fruits is also a factor. The way it is decorated also provides some more tastes and textures making it very different and delicious.
Fruit Soaking Ingredients
- 8 oz Currants ***(226g, 1 & 2/3 cups)
- 8 oz Raisins (226g, 1 & 1/2 cups)
- 8 oz Sultanas (226g, 1 & 1/2 cups)
- 4 oz Glacé Cherries or Maraschino (113g, level 2/3 cup, chopped)
- 4 oz Mixed Citrus Peel, cut (113g, 1 & 1/2 cups Candied Peal)
- 750ml Alcohol, such as Brandy, Port or even Whiskey. (25.3 fl oz, or 3 cups + 2 tbsp)
- (Or Orange Juice in place of alcohol)
*** You can substitute 16 oz (452g) of Mixed Fruit in place of the raisins & currants.
FRUIT SOAKING FOR CHRISTMAS CAKE
1. Begin by preparing all your mixed dried fruit. (Ingredient list for the cake batter, are in Part 2- Baking The Christmas Cake). Chop the cherries and citrus peel if in strips. Roughly chop to about the same size as the currants, etc. I like to cut the cherries into 1/6 or 1/8 depending on their size. I also added dried unsweetened cranberries as was a little short on the cherries, and this is a LOT of fruit! See Photo 1 collage below.
2. Next add all the fruit to a large mixing bowl and mix together well.
3. Now add in the alcohol, (or fruit juice if making an alcohol-free cake). Give a good mix together and transfer from the mixing bowl, to a container with a secure lid. Alternatively, you can mix the fruit and alcohol in a large container.
4. Let the fruit settle down and then check where the line of alcohol or fruit juice is. Ensure that the liquid well covers the surface of the fruit, with some room for fruit expanding. (See Photo 2 collage below. First photo is when just added, and the remaining 3 photos are after leaving to soak for about 7 days). Top up with more alcohol if need be.
5. Finally store the fruit in a cupboard, or somewhere away from direct heat, for 7 to 10 days. During that time, be sure to check on the fruit every 3rd day, shake the container and top up the liquid if the fruit has not plumped up yet.
6. Once ready, the alcohol/fruit juice infused plump fruit, must be well drained before adding to the Christmas cake batter. This liquid can be used for making mincemeat for mince pies.
7. For an alcohol-free Christmas cake, you can add pure orange juice in place of the alcohol. I like to add the zest of 1 or 2 oranges & of 1 lemon to the mixed fruit.
8. Cover the fruit in the same way, but store in a good, airtight container such as a tightly sealed jar. Sore in the fridge, or somewhere cool/cold.
**Please also note that non-alcoholic cakes, should not be fed any more than 3 weeks, and should then be either decorated, eaten or frozen till December and then decorated. Alternatively, you could prepare and bake the alcohol-free cake end of November.
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VIDEO OF SOAKING THE DRIED FRUIT FOR A CHRISTMAS CAKE
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: super simple, beginner
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