Stir-Up Sunday: Traditional Christmas Cake.

In keeping with the seasonal theme to the blog, I am publishing my recipe for Christmas cake, that I’ve used every year since 2010. I inherited it from my mother.

Stir Up Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of November, the day you’d traditionally make your Christmas pudding or Christmas cake. Not everyone abides by this; some make their puds in January, some make their cakes in August – everyone’s got their own traditions. I make my Christmas cake on this day and have done every year thus far.

The Christmas cake is a curious thing. An extra-rich take on the traditional British fruit cake (a fruitcake, one word, is something quite different, an American ‘tradition’ and another recipe I intend on publishing!), it is heady in alcohol and often left to mature, to be ‘fed’ with booze weekly/monthly until Christmas. It is usually topped with marzipan and fondant icing to depict a snowy scene, or left minimalist, rather like a boutique hatbox. Some prefer to top it with chopped glacé fruits and nuts rather like a gemstone jigsaw (and it does look strikingly pretty as a centrepiece).

It’s had a bit of a bad rep – many people don’t like it (a bit like its gaudy American cousin) and indeed I wouldn;t touch any cake/bun with fruit in as a child. The negative stereotype of this cake is an inedible, dessicated slab, full of wrinkled currants and icing so hard it’d break your teeth (Nigella summed this up on her Christmas Kitchen series and I happen to agree 100%!) – think bad wedding cake. However a good Christmas cake is rich, moist, boozy and decadent. Some even like theirs with a sharp cheese.

Whatever your views, most homes shouldn’t be without one, even as a centrepiece – you may not have room on Christmas Day but in the following depressing weeks of January, it’s a reassuring warm treat with a brew and you don;’t have to cut a whacking great slice.

Be warned, this recipe makes a MONSTER of a cake. Last Christmas, after ending up chucking the leftovers in previous years when even I couldn’t face it anymore,  I halved it for our 4-person household and it was a perfect size. This is the one shown in the photos  – the recipe, halved. The time the blog went live, I hadn’t made this year’s yet! Plus, you could use it to make 2 smaller cakes or if you do entertain a crowd this festive season, feel free to make the full recipe.

I do recommend halving it for a smaller household but it’s entirely up to you!

Christmas Cake

IMG_4743 IMG_5063


12oz plain flour

6 eggs, beaten with 1 tbsp milk

4oz ground almonds

1tsp mixed spice

grated nutmeg (to taste)

1tsp ground cinnamon

8oz chopped dates (for candied-peel phobes. Replace with peel if you like, or even prunes for extra moisture)

8oz sultanas

8oz raisins

4oz chopped glacé cherries

Brandy (3tbsp approx but again, to taste)


8oz margarine (or butter if you wish, I prefer Stork in all my cakes)

8oz dark brown soft sugar

1tbsp black tracle

Grated zest 1 orange

  1. Soak fruit in brandy and sherry for 1 hour at least, overnight preferable.
  2. Prepare cake tin (s) – grease and line with parchment paper, on both the bottom and the sides – make sure your papers around the sides are about 2/3 the height of the tin over to stop cake burning.
  3. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
  4. In one bowl, mix dry ingredients
  5. In another, cream margarine and sugar, and gradually beat in eggs. It may curdle – unlike a sponge, a fruit cake is dense so don’t worry too much.
  6. Add fruit, treacle and citrus zest. Make a wish.
  7. Pour batter into prepared cake tin and smooth top.
  8. Bake for 1 hour at 180. Afterwards, reduce to 150 and bake for 2-3 hours (all depends on size of tin and ovens do vary). Check periodically – cover top of cake with foil if browning too quick. Cake will be done when a tester comes out clean.
  9. Cool in tin(s) for 10-15 minutes before carefully removing and finishing on a wire rack. Or cool completely on rack in tin(s).
  10. When completely cool, pierce several times witha  skewer and pour over a few tablespoons of brandy/sherry/liquor of choice – ginger wine is another great option, as well as any spiced European liqueurs such as Becherovka if you have them; hell if you have Jagermeister, you could splash a little of that over. Let it soak in, and then wrap tightly in tinfoil and store in an airtight container. Unwrap and re-feed once a week/however often you feel like it until a few days before Christmas.
  11. Cover in marzipan (24 hours before icing preferable) and ice as you wish.  I now make my own marzipan and fondant icing to do this – will put up recipes for both in a few weeks. Or forego this and cover with fruit and nuts, stuck with apricot jam and glazed. Your cake, do what you want.

    Alternatively, if you miss Stir-Up Sunday and have left it until the last minute,then you could always make a boiled cake (sounds horrid but honestly, it just speeds up the long soaking process!). In which case, follow these steps:

  12. Place fruit, alcohol, margarine, sugar, treacle, spices and citrus zest into a saucepan big enough, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and then remove from the heat. Leave for half an hour.
  13. When  the half hour is up, mix together almonds and flour, and add mixture to these along with your beaten eggs, and proceed to bake in prepared tin (s) as you would for the normal recipe. It still has the long life you’d expect a fruit cake to have and feed as normal depending how much time you have!

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