On The Rocks: Crystal Cakes

The run up to Christmas  is often just as joyous as the big event itself (although lets not call it that as it just cranks up the stress on that unreachable ‘perfect Christmas’ in the movies, usually involving fake snow), and I bathe in festive cheer and food for the entirety of December.

I said in my ‘5 Seasonal Staples’ post that I always keep coloured candied cherries on hand to add sparkle to bakes (and for my American fruitcake) and here is one of those, zhuzhed up for Christmas.

When’s the last time you had or saw a rock cake? I find it so odd that something so simple to make and yet tastes so good has been rendered obsolete by the new wave of fashionable high tea (which is all about the scone and cucumber sarnie) and the plague of all fur coat-no-knickers cupcakes which place style several tiers above substance.

Sorry  about that statement, but I have never quite ‘got’ the cupcake movement. A cake is a treat and should taste like one, not just act as an edible ornament. I’d sooner take a slice of pockmarked and unfashionable tea loaf than a larded-on, dyed-vegetable-fat-frosted-atop-dry-sponge cupcake for £3 a go any time with my afternoon brew.

Dismounting my high horse; back to the rock cake. In the Harry Potter series, they are a favourite of Hagrid and he always offered Harry, Ron and Hermione ones he’d made despite their polite refusals. I’m amazed they never had a comeback thanks to Ms Rowling’s phenomenon and the subsequent tidal wave of merchandise and products enabling fans to eat what the Hogwarts kids ate – most wizarding sweets but never Hagrid’s humble rock cakes. So in my suburban Cambridge kitchen, I’m on a one-man crusade to make it thus.

The rock cake is a rubbed-in cake, using self-raising flour and named so for its craggy appearance. They’re snack-sized and usually contain dried fruit or desiccated coconut but can be made plain. They’re not too dissimilar to scones in concept and method and are very easy to make – I remember making them in Year 7 Food Techonology (coconut because I was still a fruit-in-baked-things phobe back then). No creaming, sifting or folding (two of my most loathed kitchen tasks) required. Just a bowl, your hands, and a spoon. And they need a very short baking time compared to regular sponge cakes so can made in a short space of time.

These are a combination of rock cakes and American fruitcake. I’ve named them ‘crystal cakes’ due to the vivid and sparkling jewels of candied cherries within, much like crystals forming in a rock, and I’ve also gone for added texture and crunch with some chopped pecans, in keeping with the US element.

Again I insist (I’m clearly a slave to Christmas kitsch) on the glowing artificially-hued multi-coloured specimens, but you could use the ‘natural’ ones if you want to – they will still glisten like garnets within and they are more easily available. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have other assorted glacé fruits to hand, feel free to use those instead, chopped evenly – angelica would be good too. Obviously there won;t be an even distribution of fruit, again much like crystal formations within rock, hence the name. So every cake is a surprise.

You can use regular glacé cherries but for maximum impact, I call upon my faithful friends the day-glow multi-coloured cherries!
You can use regular glacé cherries and they’ll still be good, if a touch monochrome, but for maximum impact, I call upon my faithful friends the day-glow multi-coloured cherries!

Seasonally spiced with nutmeg, these are great to make with your permanently-excited children to keep them entertained (in which case you could even just use red cherries and hold the nutmeg for younger fussier tastebuds to make ‘Rudolph’s Nose cakes’ as yet another variation), or maybe for a bake sale or just to have on the side, ready to swipe with a brew between present wrapping.

You can make these as big or small as you wish, depending on the size of your baking trays, but be aware they will expand as they cook and they do not need long in the oven at all. So try not to walk away.


Crystal Cakes


Makes 10-15 depending on size.

8oz self-raising flour

4oz butter or margarine

4oz caster sugar (granulated would be fine)

6oz multicoloured glacé cherries, halved or chopped.

2 eggs, beaten with 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp milk

2oz pecan nuts, blitzed in a processor or bashed with a rolling pin. Or chopped with a knife if you’re less clumsy than me

1 tsp ground nutmeg


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius/180 fan. Line two baking sheets
  2. Rub margarine/butter into flour until you get fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add sugar, cherries, pecans and nutmeg and combine evenly.
  4. Mix in the beaten eggs and stir to combine. You don’t want to overmix, this is a stiff and lumpy batter, more like cookie dough. Don’t be tempted to add more liquid.
  5. Put rough lumps (a dessert spoon is ideal for this), keeping them fairly evenly sized but let’s not get too worked up about it – they are meant to look like craggy stones – on the baking trays.
  6. Bake in oven, for about 10-15 minutes (ovens vary) until golden brown and a tester comes out clean.
  7. Let cool on tins and transfer to a wire rack.



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