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How to bake your Christmas cake – take it slow

November 25, 2014

Christmas cake baking - mycustardpie.comImmersing dried fruit in booze so it all plumps up, giving the juicy, sticky mixture a swirl now and again, weighing the ingredients, creaming the butter and sugar, stirring it all up with a wooden spoon in my huge Mason Cash bowl, wearing my favourite pinny and pretending to be a domestic goddess (or even the domestic goddess!). All this I love. But there’s one bit of the Christmas cake making I’m not so enamoured with – in fact positively dread. It’s the baking.

Lining the tin is a faff but I’m fine with that. It’s the other stuff that bothers me. Wrapping some layers of newspaper round the sides with brown string so the tin doesn’t scorch the outside (or buying those expensive cake tin insulators you’ll only use once a year). The inevitable rise and crack of the top and those blackened raisins. Watching it like a hawk so it’s perfectly cooked through. Trying to balance a piece of paper on top to stop it over-browning when the fan blows it away. It’s all nerve-wracking stuff.

The answer is to bake it at a lower temperature and longer time. No need to wrap the outside, the cake stays level and a nice even colour all over. If your oven has a range of internal temperatures (mine does) it won’t make a huge difference. I’ve tried it and it works perfectly. OK there was one hitch – we had to get the taxi to double back as I’d forgotten to take it out of the oven when we went out for the evening. Luckily it was so good-tempered that there was no harm done. Thank you to Ruth Clemens of The Pink Whisk for this tip. In fact I used her quantities for my cake too.

This recipe assumes you’ve been lovingly soaking your fruit in booze for weeks by making Christmas Old Soak. You could do it for a week and then make the cake – you might have to heat the fruit to evaporate any excess liquid first. Or you could make a different recipe and feed religiously (Tamasin Day Lewis from All You Can Eat is a good one and this ‘Make and Mature’ recipe looks good too).

Christmas cake baking -

Christmas cake (inspired by the Bourke Street Bakery and Ruth Clemens)

  • Servings: 1 x 15cm cake and 3 x 6cm cakes
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print


  • 225g butter, softened plus extra for greasing
  • 150g soft, light brown sugar
  • 70g soft, dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of black treacle or molasses
  • 2 teaspoons raw honey
  • 1 heaped teaspoon marmalade
  • 5 eggs, large and free range
  • 285g plain flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 1 quantity of Christmas old soak

You will also need some of your chosen booze to feed the cake after it is baked. I used Jack Daniels Single Barrel for the soak so I’m using it for feeding too. Ruth reckons you’ll need about 150ml but I’m less measured about it and go by eye.


  1. Preheat the oven to 130 C or 110 C fan oven. Arrange your oven shelf so it is towards the lower part of the oven ( about 1/3rd of the way up from the base).
  2. Grease your tin with butter and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.
  3. Using a stand mixer or a wooden spoon and bowl, cream the softened butter and both types of sugar together until the mixture is light (in colour) and fluffy. Beat in the treacle or molasses, raw honey and marmalade.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. My mixture always curdles so I add half a tablespoon of flour before the first egg and in between each additional egg.
  5. Fold in the sifted flour, mixed spice and ground almonds.
  6. Add the Christmas old soak fruit and stir well to combine making sure no pockets of flour remain.
  7. Spoon the cake mixture into your tin (or tins) using a spatula to remove every last morsel from the bowl and to level the top. I used a 15 cm round tin this year and also filled 3 giant muffin cups (approx. 6cm each) for mini cakes. The large tin must be at least 7cm deep. Ruth has a handy guide if you want to use a different sized tin.
  8. Put all the cakes into the oven. Remove the small cakes after 1 hour, testing that they are done by inserting a skewer or toothpick into the centre. This should come out clean or with a few crumbs attached. Remove the large cake after 3 hours (start checking half an hour before).
  9. Remove the cake from the oven, put on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely in the tin.
  10. Once the cake has cooled, remove it from the tin. Place the cake on a large piece of baking parchment or greaseproof paper and use a bamboo or metal skewer to make lots of holes all over the surface of the cake without piercing through the base.  Feed the cake with 1-2 teaspoons of booze, dripping it carefully over the top of the cake.
  11. Wrap the paper over the cake (use two pieces at right angles if necessary) and so the same with a piece (or pieces) of foil. Put the wrapped cake in a tin or container with a lid that seals tight so nothing can find its way in (especially in Dubai) and leave in a cool place (not the fridge).
  12. Feed your cake 2-3 teaspoons of booze every 4 days until most of (or all) the alcohol is absorbed (don’t feed if the cake appears wet). Don’t feed the cake for the final week to give the surface a chance to dry before icing.
  13. You can decorate your cake up to a month ahead although mine is usually made during the last two weeks week.

Shall we decorate along together? I’ve got a few easy icing ideas up my sleeve. See you in a few weeks time.

P.S. If I’ve got you feeling festive, head over to Festive Food Friday on Taming Twins for all sorts of Christmassy ideas.

  1. November 25, 2014 4:31 pm

    You make me want to bake some – unfortunately I’d have to eat them all by myself, thanks to my picky dried-fruit-adverse family 😉

  2. November 25, 2014 4:43 pm

    This sounds wonderful and a great way of cooking it. My family have never liked Christmas cake much and prefer a lighter Dundee cake … but I love the rich traditional kind so am always willing to help friends eat theirs up!

  3. talkavino permalink
    November 25, 2014 4:45 pm

    I really like the recipe starting from the very first line: “Immersing dried fruit in booze” – brilliant! 🙂

  4. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    November 25, 2014 4:56 pm

    I didn’t bother making one in the end, there is only me who eats it so it felt a bit of a waste.

  5. November 25, 2014 5:05 pm

    Ooh now I never add black treacle to mine, or marmalade but I might have to this year! Lovely recipe and photos x

  6. November 25, 2014 5:25 pm

    That’s for my Big Z… ingredients are ready! Lovely photos… can’t wait:)

  7. November 25, 2014 5:34 pm

    Oh you’ve all really cheered me up with your lovely comments. I’m feeling really rotten with flu and bronchitis (verging on pneumonia) – I’ve had to cancel three lovely events and I’m struggling with work. Everyone taking time to comment has given me a wonderful boost. THANKS to all.

  8. November 25, 2014 5:58 pm

    I’ve never dared make a Christmas cake but your recipe looks rather tempting. I particularly love the mix of sugars, honey and molasses. I wonder if it would work with spelt flour? Most cakes do, but this would be a terrible waste if it were to go belly up. I think I would use Armagnac as it’s from around here… I do hope that you feel better soon. I can imagine that just the smell of this cake would be healing.

  9. November 25, 2014 6:18 pm

    Fabulous recipe Sally!
    Have a wonderful day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  10. November 25, 2014 7:20 pm

    Heavenly! I love Christmas cake. I made one last year and I really want to make one soon again (even if it’s not for Xmas, lol)…



  11. November 25, 2014 9:46 pm

    Hi Sally- lovely post and i know very little about the X mas cake so it was good to know how hard it is actually to get it right.- I have a Q for you. did you take the first picture outside or inside? Yr lighting is stunning… I am still struggling with getting the right light for my photos. If i take photos indoor i feel they are a little grey… then like today i took outdoor and i think they were over exposed- if you have any advice for me ..PLEASE let me know- Are there any work shops happening soon?I think it is the basics I struggle with and if you remember i got in touch with a student you knew once and having done the jean Casals – i think i need something much more simpler and basci that Casals was.

  12. glamorous glutton permalink
    November 25, 2014 11:12 pm

    Mr Glam loves Christmas cake but last year I was asked not to make one as he’s about the only one who eats it. A whole cake is a lot to get through! This year I’m definitely making one. It’s so much tastier than bought. This slow cooked method is a great idea. GG

  13. November 25, 2014 11:20 pm

    I’ve never made a Christmas cake before but I keep seeing them this year and you’re really tempting me! Looks great! 🙂

  14. November 26, 2014 2:21 am

    This reminds me of my grandmother’s hermit cake that she made every Christmas. 🙂

  15. November 26, 2014 6:25 am

    I just love your little bit of British Christmas in Dubai. Looking forward to the decorating stage. And hope you feel better soon!

  16. November 26, 2014 1:50 pm

    I am not much of a baker, and I have never liked Christmas cake (except perhaps when it was FULLY LOADED with booze and glacé cherries and easy on the peel) but I do like any recipe that takes some of the faff out of baking – like this one! Those cakes look beautiful and so evenly coloured…

  17. November 26, 2014 5:24 pm

    I haven’t even started my Christmas cakes yet. Feeling very unprepared at the moment. Your photos are amazing!

  18. November 26, 2014 9:46 pm

    I agree with you on baking your cake on a low temperature for longer, that’s exactly what I do. I been using the same Women’s Weekly Christmas cake recipe for years, it’s now a family tradition. Your cakes look lovely and your photos are beautiful as always.

  19. ramblingtart permalink
    November 27, 2014 12:39 am

    Such an excellent tip. I’ve never made Christmas cake since one of my besties gives us luscious homemade ones every year, but one day I will try. 🙂

  20. November 27, 2014 3:16 pm

    I had to laugh about your taxi ride to rescue your Christmas cake. Ages ago I popped the cake in the oven – low temperature – and went somewhere with the family. Plenty of time. except a car accident rendered the road home a car park. So, what did I do? I got out of the car and ran home to rescue the cake. It was fine. I was not. This version is quite exquisite and obviously made with love.

  21. November 27, 2014 8:30 pm

    This is a great tip Sally, I’m rather behind this year and still haven’t made one yet. Better late than never, right? I will certainly listen to your advice and take it slowly, I too hate the wrapping of the tin! I never seem to get the paper to sit quite right and always end up in a muddle. The paper flapping in the fan breeze also made me laugh, so true! Thanks so much for linking to #festivefoodfriday.

  22. November 27, 2014 10:59 pm

    110C! I’ve never baked a cake at such a low temp, how intriguing Sally! And I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been so crook – hope you’re well and truly on the mend now! xxx

  23. November 30, 2014 1:22 pm

    Your cakes look divine and thanks for the baking tip (I always thought you need to get the oven nice and hot for the cake to rise) Hope you are feeling better now Sally!

  24. December 4, 2014 10:05 pm

    Ohh that’s an even lower heat than the (what I thought was) low heat I bake mine at – will try that.


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