Christmas cake

Christmas cake

B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself

This is a cake you are pretty much guaranteed to make every year. Last year I made three and still managed to eat only one measly slice! The recipe does benefit from being made a few weeks in advance (I usually start mine just after Bonfire Night) so you can soak it in booze, but also works just fine if you’ve left it to the last minute. I’ve given a version that uses royal icing, but if you don’t have the time or the inclination – or if you just like it better – use fondant instead. As a kid, we always used to make a big deal of baking the Christmas cake and everyone in the family had to give it a stir for good luck. I still do that now with my own family.


Quantity Ingredient

For the cake

Quantity Ingredient
75g glace cherries
250g currants
250g raisins
250g sultanas
75g candied mixed peel
1 orange, zest finely grated
1 unwaxed lemon, zest finely grated
60ml brandy, plus more to ‘feed’ the cake
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
225g dark soft brown sugar
4 eggs
225g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon mixed spice
75g blanched almonds, finely chopped

For the marzipan layer

Quantity Ingredient
100g apricot jam
1 quantity marzipan, (see note)
a little bit cornflour, to dust

For the royal icing

Quantity Ingredient
3 large egg whites
or 6 tablespoons two chicks liquid egg white
1 tablespoon lemon juice
500g icing sugar

Tool kit

Quantity Ingredient
18 cm square or adjustable cake tin
or 20 cm diameter round sandwich tin
electric whisk
offset palette knife
wire cooling rack
cake board or serving plate
rolling pin
pastry brush
cake/icing smoother, (optional)


  1. Start the day before you want to make the cake by soaking the fruit. Cut the glacé cherries up into eighths and put in a bowl with the currants, raisins, sultanas, mixed peel and zests. Pour in the brandy and stir together with a wooden spoon until all the fruit is wet. Some brandy will collect in the bottom of the bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to soak overnight.
  2. When you’re ready to make the cake and know you’ve got a few hours spare to bake it, prepare an 18 cm square or adjustable cake tin, or a 20 cm round, deep-sided cake tin, by lining it with double layers of baking parchment. You’ll need to fold the baking parchment up the sides of the tin and fold it over the top rim to make it hold in place. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  3. Cream together the butter, vanilla bean paste and sugar in a large bowl with an electric whisk until smooth and light in colour. Beat in the eggs one by one, beating thoroughly between each addition. If the mixture starts to split, just beat in 1 tablespoon of the flour to bring it back.
  4. Sift together the flour, nutmeg and mixed spice and gently fold into the batter with a silicone spatula, making sure to pick up any flour that collects in the bottom of the bowl. Tip in the soaked fruit and almonds and gently fold together until the cake is well mixed (get everyone else to do it too for good luck!). Gently tip into the prepared tin (don’t let it hit the parchment-lined sides and drag them down as it is poured in) and smooth out flat with an offset palette knife.
  5. Lay a double layer of baking parchment with a small hole cut into the middle directly on top of the batter, then bake for 4–4½ hours. After 4 hours, poke a cocktail stick into the centre of the cake to check if it is cooked. If it’s cooked the stick will come out clean. Put the cake on a wire rack in its tin for 1 hour to cool down.
  6. Once cool enough to handle, remove the cake from the tin and set on the cooling rack to cool fully. Poke several holes in the top of the cake with a skewer (to help it absorb booze), wrap in foil and put in an airtight container. Every few days in the weeks before Christmas, sprinkle a little brandy directly on to the cake to soak in, then wrap it up again.
  7. Put the jam in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water and set on a low heat to melt together. Once the jam is melted, take off the heat and set aside. Unwrap the cake and set it on a cake board or serving plate.
  8. Take the marzipan out of the fridge and roll out on a cornflour-dusted work surface to a 35 cm square (it’s less likely to stick to cornflour than it is to icing sugar). While rolling, turn it regularly and, if necessary, sprinkle more cornflour to stop it sticking. Use a pastry brush to paint a thick layer of jam all over the cake (clean the drips that land on your cake board with damp kitchen paper).
  9. Roll the marzipan up on to the rolling pin and lay on to the cake. Working as quickly as you can, push the marzipan on to the edges of the cake. Be careful to avoid tearing it on the corners (if it does, patch it with some offcuts). Cut excess marzipan off the bottom and smooth the surface with a cake/icing smoother, if you like.
  10. Now make the royal icing by putting the egg whites and lemon juice in a large bowl and beating in the icing sugar with the electric whisk on a low speed, a couple of spoonfuls at a time. Then turn the whisk up to high speed and beat until the mixture thickens.
  11. Using an offset palette knife, liberally spread the icing all over. Draw it into peaks with the back of a spoon. Leave to set. Serve on Christmas Day.


  • This recipe has a level 3 (advanced) difficulty.


  • To make the marzipan, put 250 g ground almonds and 250 g icing sugar in a food processor and mix thoroughly. Add 2 large egg whites (or 4 tablespoons Two Chicks liquid egg white), and 1 teaspoon almond extract and mix well until all the ingredients come together. When the marzipan has formed, wrap in cling film to prevent it drying out.


  • I love Christmas and making Christmas food. I understand, however, that not everyone does, so here are a few shortcuts you can rely on if you’ve really got to go out and get shopping, or go mad at a work Christmas party.

    Firstly, although I really urge you to make it, you can always buy marzipan. It comes ready to roll. It is also usually found in the back of the cupboard, opened and rock-hard from last year, so if you do have any left over, make marzipan fruits with it with the kids, or build it into the sweet baking recipes in this book.

    If you don’t fancy royal icing, you can buy fondant icing in a packet. It’s an easy way to cover cakes quickly and neatly. Remember to put another layer of melted jam on the marzipan to stick it on, though. You may get the odd tear in it if you roll it out too thinly, but in most cases, you can rub a bit of icing into the tear with your cake-smoothing tool and no one will know. If you have an imperfection you can’t smooth over, it’s time to do some creative decorating. One thing you should avoid with fondant icing is water; it will melt the icing.

    If you don’t fancy marzipan or icing, I’ve got you covered. After you’ve baked the cake and fed it for a couple of weeks, toast a few nuts (blanched almonds, walnuts and pecans work well) paint a layer of jam on the cake and arrange the nuts on it. Paint more jam on the nuts to glaze them and you’re done.
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