Traditional Irish Christmas Cake
There are hundreds of different recipes for Christmas Cake, all with slight variations on the same theme.
In all cases is it a moist, rich, slightly spicy cake crammed with fruit and nuts, which is traditionally baked at least 6-8 weeks before Christmas, and then ‘fed’ whiskey regularly in the run up to the big day.
The slice here is from a cake with no icing, but the finished cake will usually have both marzipan icing and white icing or frosting.
This is not a quick ‘throw in a mixer, bake and eat’ sort of cake – especially if you plan to ice it properly. It is quite a hassle, but it certainly is worth the effort and no Irish Christmas would be complete without ‘the cake’.
The photos below were taken in November 2006 as I made my cake for Christmas. Click the images for a larger view.
Note that I have not translated this recipe into amounts using cups for American readers – it’s tricky to do and I don’t want to get it wrong. But I have stuck to ounces rather than grams, which may help a little.
The best conversions list I have found is this one.
Ingredients are listed in the order in which you will use them to make the cake.
My understanding is that candied peel is hard to get in the USA – just leave it out if you like. I generally do anyway as I don’t much like it.
Mixed spice is made from approx equal amounts of ground allspice, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
American butter is lower in fat and higher in water content than Irish butter. Kerrygold Irish butter is available in some places in the USA, if you can find it use that. Otherwise Plugra is a good alternative.
- 1 lb sultanas
- 1/2 lb raisins
- 1/2 lb currants
- 4 oz glacé [candied] cherries, halved or whole, not chopped.
- 2 oz mixed candied peel, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice [pudding spice]
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essense
- grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
- grated zest & juice of 1 orange
- 1 apple, finely grated
- 3 oz slivered almonds
- 2 oz ground almonds
- 1 tablespoon treacle or Golden syrup
- 4 tablespoons Irish Whiskey
- 10 oz Irish butter
- 8 oz soft brown sugar
- 5 eggs
- 10 oz plain [all-purpose] flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large mixing bowls, an eclectic mixer (eg a kenwood or similar), an 9″ round or 8″ square cake tin [cake pan], with straight sides – this sort of one is ideal. You also need silicone or greaseproof paper, brown paper and string.
Prepare the Fruit
Cover and leave the fruit to soak in the whiskey and fruit juice overnight.
It’s important to do this pre-soaking as it adds immensely to the moistness of the finished cake.
Prepare the cake tin
You could prepare the cake tin at the same time, or do it the following day. It is quite hard to describe this procedure – but here goes.
Then fold a length of brown paper so that you have a rectangle of paper several layers thick. Wrap this paper around the outside of the tin and tie it securely in place with string.
Your tin should now be almost invisible – sandwiched between a layer of brown paper on the outside and the silicone paper layer inside.
Cut an extra piece of silicone paper, fold in two, and cut a square or circle about the size of your cake tin. In the centre of this double sheet make 2 cuts about 2″ long in the shape of a cross. Set this and the tin aside for the next day.
Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). A bit lower for fan ovens.
Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and whisk with the mixer until it turns a pale colour. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing each one in very well before adding the next, as the mixture can easily curdle at this stage. If it does curdle – don’t panic, just add a dessert spoonful or two of flour, mix that in and then add a spoonful of flour with each subsequent egg.
The resulting mixture will be thick and a little sticky.
That’s it – spoon the mix into the lined cake tin, smoothing it out as you go. When it is all in, smooth the surface using a large metal spoon dipped in cold water, so that the mix is slightly higher around the edges of the tin than it is in the centre.
Tuck the square of silicone paper with the cross shaped cut in it loosely over the top of the cake – this will stop the top from browning too much.
Put the cake into the oven and ignore it for 31/2 hours. Don’t be tempted to peek – just leave it there and savour the fabulous aroma that will fill the house!
After the 31/2 hours, take the cake from the oven to check if it is cooked. Do this by inserting a metal skewer or probe into the centre of the cake – if it emerges dry the cake is done, if not, put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.
It can take up to 41/2 hours – it is very variable even with the same oven.
When the cake is done, set it aside to cool in the tin. Leave it till the next day to remove preferably.
Carefully remove the cake from the tin by easing a palette knife between the cake tin and the lining paper. Then peal the lining paper off the cake.
Feeding the Cake
Now it is time to give the cake it’s first ‘feed’ – of whiskey! Turn it upside down and pierce it in 5-6 places with a thick skewer. Pour a half teaspoon of whiskey into each hole – it won’t be very accurate, but don’t worry about it, it’ll soak in anyway.
You will repeat this feeding process every week to 10 days in the run up to Christmas – maybe 4-6 feeds in all.
Storing the Cake
Christmas cake keeps for ages, certainly months, if wrapped and stored properly.
Wrap the cake completely and fairly tightly with silicone or greaseproof paper held in place with string or an elastic band. Then wrap this in tinfoil or put into an air tight tin, a biscuit tin or similar.
You will have to unwrap and then re-wrap each time you feed the cake, it’s a bit laborious, but worth the effort.
Icing the Cake
Icing = frosting
You can leave the cake un-iced, but traditionally it is iced with two layers – a marzipan layer on the top of the cake covered with white royal icing. This can be done in the last week or so before Christmas.
It is then decorated in one of many possible ways – families tend to each have their favourite. Some pipe icing decorations onto the cake, or write “Happy Christmas” on it, some make coloured marzipan holly leaves and berries, others used cake ornaments like Christmas trees, snowmen or Santa.
Details of this will follow when I get around to icing my own cake!