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Inebriate your Christmas cake – start now

October 4, 2014

bowl with dried fruit and candied fruit being soaked in jack daniels

There’s a relaxed and joyful feeling about Dubai this weekend. Many people are celebrating Eid Al-Adha, one of the biggest events of the year in the Muslim calendar. Others are marking Vijayadashami or Dussehra and the victory of good over evil in the Hindu religion. As for my family, we had good friends round for supper on Thursday. It was a ‘dry night’ (i.e. no alcohol was served in shops, restaurants or hotels from Thursday night until Friday evening) so I expect many people were staying in. It’s a long weekend so my mind has turned to Christmas cooking including giving the fruit for my cake a gentle stir now and again. It also gave me a reason to think about the benefits of living in a place with over 80 different nationalities, each with their own beliefs and customs.

Getting the fruit started as early as possible is the key to cutting into a luscious, moist, crumbly, fragrant cake on Christmas day.  A week ago I made a light sugar syrup, let it cool, added booze and folded it into a mixture of dried fruit. I got this idea from the Pink Whisk and Bourke Street Bakery a few years ago and that’s what I do every year now with tweaks and variations along the way.

In the past I’ve taken favourite cake recipes (Nigella’s and Tamasin Day Lewis) and introduced the boozy soaking element. This year I thought I’d go back to Bourke Street. This is a lovely book by Paul Allum and David McGuinness who started a small, artisan bakery in Sydney’s Surry Hills which gained huge popularity and renown.  I replaced the figs with extra dried fruit, I’ll stir in some fresh dates from the market in a few weeks time, plus I used Jack Daniels Single Barrel which is super-smooth with a slick of vanilla.  If I buy individual bags of raisins, sultanas and currants, there are dribs and drabs hanging around at the back of the cupboard so I use a bag of plump, mixed, flame raisins and sultanas from Waitrose. I’d avoid the mixed fruit mixtures with candied peel as they tend to be poor quality. Making your own candied peel is simple.

bowl of dried fruit being stirred

Christmas old soak

  • Servings: makes a 20 cm (8 inch) round cake or 18cm (7 inch) square cake*
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 55g vanilla caster sugar
  • 55ml water
  • 160 ml bourbon (or other spirit such as whisky or brandy)
  • 455g mixed fruit (see above)
  • 110g stoneless prunes, chopped
  • 55g homemade or good quality mixed peel
  • 1 knob stem ginger, chopped finely
  • 80g fresh dates (at the rotab stage of ripeness) – use dried if not available


  1. Put the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently, swirling the pan until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and then take off the heat.
  2. Let the sugar solution cool and add the bourbon (whisky or brandy).
  3. Put all the fruit except the fresh dates into a plastic container with a lid. Pour in the soak and give a good stir.
  4. Stir everyday for one week – the aroma will be amazing.
  5. After this you need to stir the fruit once a week, for the next four weeks. Add the fresh dates two weeks before you are going to bake with the mixture.
  6. If you start really early, after four weeks you can keep the fruit in the fridge. Bourke Street says up to 2 months but I’ve kept steeping fruits in the fridge for over a year and it only gets better.

*Christmas cake recipe here

ingredients for alcohol soaked fruit for christmas cake

The baking part will follow in a few weeks time – here’s the Christmas cake recipe, but for now just get your old soak on. It’ll be well worth it. What have you been up to this weekend in your kitchen?

Post written in October 2014, updated November 2019


  1. October 4, 2014 8:50 pm

    Mmm, sounds delicious – I can almost smell the fruit & spirit combination. I remember eating your delicious Christmas cake on a visit to Dubai one January!

    • October 4, 2014 9:01 pm

      You need to come and help me hoover up this year too

  2. October 4, 2014 8:53 pm

    I’m so glad to see someone else making Christmas things right now after I felt guilty about posting about my mincemeat so early! I actually make my Christmas cake really close to the big day (the recipe works I promise and it tastes delicious and laden with alcohol still) but I wanted my mincemeat to mature and get well and truly drunk on all the whisky I added to it!

    • October 4, 2014 9:01 pm

      That’s next on the list Laura – in fact making mincemeat tomorrow… hmmmm Glenfiddich? What do you think?

  3. October 4, 2014 8:59 pm

    *hands over ears* Not listening, I can’t hear you. It can’t possibly be the ‘C’ word within the foreseeable. We’re still doing Summer here. Having said that, if I were to do a ‘C’ soak, I love your mixture – especially the fresh dates…

    • October 4, 2014 9:02 pm

      I’m with you on things in the shops in September and people with their tree up for months… but cooking… everything’s better steeped for ever in alcohol right?

  4. October 4, 2014 9:46 pm

    October certainly isn’t too early to prepare Christmas food, I think in my Fanny Cradock Christmas book she starts giving you jobs in March!

    Never got around to doing this but my grandma left the iced cake until the next year more than once and it was very good indeed!

    • October 5, 2014 9:09 am

      I’d love a Fanny Craddock cook book!

  5. October 4, 2014 10:18 pm

    Love these it reminds me of the time I spent in London 🙂

  6. October 5, 2014 12:37 am

    Great idea to soak the fruit as there’s nothing worse than a dry christmas cake. I usually soak my dried fruit like this when I make a bread and butter pudding – a tip I picked up from my time in catering:-)

    • October 5, 2014 9:09 am

      Now that’s a fantastic idea.

  7. October 5, 2014 12:58 am

    This looks intriguing! I’d love to try to make a Christmas pudding, but I am the only one who eats it. And as I am already pudding-shaped, that’s not a very good idea.
    Looking forward to the next instalment!

  8. October 5, 2014 2:23 am

    clever you Sally, look forward to seeing the cake evolve! Hope you have had a lovely celebratory weekend.

  9. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    October 5, 2014 9:23 am

    I need to do visit the Cellar 🙂

  10. October 5, 2014 10:14 am

    Shubho Bijoya to you and your family Sally… I have been cooking the whole weekend – traditional, very traditional cooking. And this morning was spent *soaking* in everything – I am going to make a cake this Christmas with Big Z’s help – so will wait for your recipe update.

    • October 5, 2014 10:59 am

      Just had to Google ‘Shubho Bijoya’ … auspicious victory. Enjoy your celebrations Ishita and love to your family.

  11. October 5, 2014 12:28 pm

    I miss the days of living in Mauritius with all the different beliefs and customs.
    Love your cake mix!
    Have a wonderful week ahead Sally.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  12. October 5, 2014 1:18 pm

    Mmmhhh, you remind me that I should soon bake a Christmas cake…



  13. October 5, 2014 2:15 pm

    I love the idea of adding stem ginger to the mix. We always drip-feed our cake with the rest of the bottle of brandy in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Tastes fantastic, but I wouldn’t advise driving after a slice!

  14. ramblingtart permalink
    October 6, 2014 3:04 am

    Ohhhh, I’m SO happy you posted about this today. 🙂 I want to make my first boozy Christmas cake this year so I’m glad I now know I’d better get a move on!

  15. October 6, 2014 9:07 am

    I’m definitely jumping aboard the fruit-soaking train Sally! I LOVE Christmas and a boozy Christmas cake is one of the most delicious parts!

    • October 6, 2014 5:00 pm

      boozy soak planned next for the mincemeat, pudding… draw the line at sprouts…just.

  16. October 6, 2014 11:59 am

    My darling mom has been doing this for years and come Christmas, we always treat our taste buds to a homabaked rum soaked Christmas cake and traditional Mangalorean sweets called Kuswar. Pure joy!

    • October 6, 2014 4:59 pm

      Sounds like a delicious Christmas in your home Jasmine.

  17. October 6, 2014 11:01 pm

    My grandmother actually made and started soaking her cake in rum from October. If I remember correctly, she (or one of us) would feed it every week or so. Seeing as we were generally a tee-total family (Mum was allergic to alcohol) you can imagine the effect the cake had on us by Christmas! And yes, you are blessed to live in such a multi-cultural place where religions seem to mix with relative ease, and customs respected and celebrated. And the food culture with influences from so many countries and areas – just wow. The syrup idea is a good one. I have used an adapted Delia recipe in the past but my MIL loves to make the cake as I make the family dinner so I shan’t get a chance to try this out for awhile yet. Lovely post, Sally.

  18. October 7, 2014 5:47 pm

    Hahahaha I am glad I am not the only person who does this – I often get “compliments” on how boozy my cake is though I have been accused of making it stronger and stronger every year! (They are probably right). Even so…I think it’s a little too early for me to start yet!

  19. October 10, 2014 10:53 am

    Instead of self-raising flour, can I use baking soda and plain flour. How much of what do I need, can you please tell me on instagram @shrishtizitasaha or DM me. Thank you.

  20. November 2, 2014 8:01 pm

    I normally add both fruits (raisins and dried cherries) and nuts into my mixture. The nuts are great!! They hold the booziness through and through and so nice to bite into them. I haven’t done it with sugar though, as I am under the assumption that the fruit have enough sweetness to balance out the cake? How has yours turned out with sugar in the past?
    Good tip on the ginger… will try that this time 🙂

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