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Traditional Irish Christmas Cake

There are hundreds of different recipes for Christmas Cake, all with slight variations on the same theme.

Irish Christmas Cake

Irish Christmas Cake

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.

Ingredients

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.

NOTES

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

Utensils/Equipment

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.

Day 1

Prepare the Fruit

The night before you intend to bake the cake, put all the ingredients down to and including the whiskey into a bowl and mix well.

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.

First line the tin carefully with the silicone paper or with greaseproof paper smeared with butter. Let the paper extend a little over the top of the cake tin.

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.

Day 2

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.

Sieve the flour and salt together and then fold into the butter/sugar/egg mix – don’t use the mixer for this. Add the fruit and mix everything up well – again by hand, no mixer.

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.

Day 3

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!

 

What Others Say

  1. Linda Dec 11, 2007 at 2:38 am

    Great recipe, thanks very much!

  2. Roy Sep 26, 2008 at 2:35 am

    Whisky sound nice a change from brandy I will try this one & post the results next year Roy C

  3. Matthias Sep 30, 2008 at 2:47 am

    I’m a german chef and pastry baker. This is the finest recipe I have read in my 12 years in ireland. Not only a well balanced recipe but also very good to understand to someone who likes to be a hobby baker.

    My congratulations and highest respect for the editor of this sweet feast.

    • Katherine Jan 7, 2009 at 9:50 pm

      Gosh. Thank you.

  4. Kay Oct 11, 2008 at 2:36 am

    MMM…looks delicous

  5. janeyd Nov 2, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Great recipe, well done. I had never used apples in a christmas cake before, we picked one from our garden, (in Ireland), so a truly Irish recipe. I used a cardboard box cut to size tied around the outside of the tin with string to stop the edges burning or cooking too quick, (a chef gave me that tip!)

  6. Jodie Nov 9, 2008 at 2:44 am

    Im Irish myself.My Mam makes this every year! I love it! Me Ma loves it too!!

  7. Furdinand Nov 22, 2008 at 2:36 am

    What a wonderful irish recipe me and my mum are making this cake this year it looks mouth watering and divne! 10/10 for you! :)

  8. Joan Nov 23, 2008 at 2:47 am

    To give Mammy a break and to double up as a Christmas present for a woman who has EVERYTHING I have just made her a Christmas cake and pudding! Thanks for the great recipe, its in the oven as we speak so I will keep you updated on its successfullness!!

  9. Eileen Harte Nov 28, 2008 at 2:42 am

    This is how my mother used to make our cake in Ireland. Perfect. Thanks again I couldnt find my recipe from other years and was so easy to find yours.

  10. martina Nov 29, 2008 at 2:43 am

    I thought the cake was very simple to make and follow. Excellent recipe. My daughter and I love to bake. thank you.

  11. Jackie Dec 4, 2008 at 2:37 am

    Back again for this recipe. I know we are later than we should be, but made this last year and it was fab! Thanks for the recipe!!

  12. Richard Gibson Dec 7, 2008 at 2:46 am

    Pretty good recipe, a variation on a standard theme. I throw a bunch of Port and Rum in mine (not Bacardi!!!…spiced west indies rum), you end up with a drunken, uppercrust toff irie kind of deal. Most liqour works, and I dont mean beer. Chuck in your favourite, its only a flavouring in the end.

    • Katherine Jan 7, 2009 at 9:52 pm

      I’ll have to differ with you there Richard, I think it does matter that you use whiskey. And rum? Well it just wouldn’t be Christmas cake to me then. Guess I’m just a traditionalist when it comes to things like this :)

  13. breda dineen Dec 11, 2008 at 2:49 am

    I have used this recipe for the last 2 years and have been asked for it by all my friends. Thank you for sharing it

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  15. Anne Thompson Jan 7, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Dear whoever you are (cannot find your name)

    Having baked my “reliable” christmas cake for 42 years and always got compliments (it was quite nice) I used your recipe for my cake and pudding this year (could not find my old reliable recipe folder) and do you know – I have never had so many compliments about the pudding and now the cake is also top of the list for taste, etc. 

    Well done – thank you.
    Won’t loose it next year – have it in a safe place!

    Anne

    • Katherine Jan 7, 2009 at 9:41 pm

      You’re welcome :) It’s my mother who should get the credit though, they’re both her recipes, with just a few very minor alterations. I’m pretty sure she got them from her mother, so we’ve been enjoying them in our family for a very long time!

  16. RC Jan 8, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Hi,

    I baked the cake following your recipe a few months ago and then fed it some whiskey over a few weeks. Very very tasty cake!! best i’ve had! Thanks a milion for the recipe,  i’ll be making this again!

  17. R Keller Nov 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Hi, i baked this cake last week & it turned out lovely. It’s alittle pale underneath is that ok? & was also wondering when i feed the cake with whiskey every week do i leave it upside down or does it matter?

  18. Brian Caulfield Dec 4, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    My daughter, Bridget, is using this recipe for her first grade  “Holidays Around the World” report.  We’re too late to start it for this Christmas but will give it a go next year.  Thanks!

  19. shane Feb 19, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    hey there
    this sounds great. I am looking for a nice recipe for a wedding cake i am making for a friend and with all the comments i think this is the one. I am going to make it this week for her wedding in June. They say it gets better with time.

  20. RC Nov 19, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Hello,
    I posted a note on Jan 8, 2009 at 7:47 pm above. Just wanted to let you know I’m still using this recipe and it’s still the best tasting Christmas Cake I’ve tried. Just made up two batches there now, can’t wait to get them in the oven!
     
    Thanks again.

    • Katherine Nov 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      I’m making mine too at the moment, put one in the oven about an hour ago. The smell from the kitchen is so fantastic!

      Glad you enjoy it too. 

  21. Nancy Nov 19, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    mine taste lovely but fell apart on cutting :-(, any idea what went wrong

  22. Patricia Jan 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I made this cake in November.I must say this is the best recipie I have tried.The cake was moist and full of flavour,  I will make this again !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks

  23. Patricia Keeley Jun 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I’m a recovering alcoholic.  Can I make Christmas Cake with out alcohol?  Yes, Yes, I know it won’t be the same.  But I would like to have a piece of it too!

    Thank you,
    Patricia Keeley
     

    • Katherine Jan 23, 2013 at 7:54 pm

      @patricia Yes! Of course you can, and it will still taste great. I might add a little extra orange juice and grated apple, just for moistness.

  24. Michael Nov 11, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Just baked this cake today and have to say house smells like christmas and it looks mouth watering great recipe i left out the mixed peel but added extra fruit!!

  25. Edel Nov 24, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    I made this cake last year as a first-timer. Really enjoyed making it (even though the ingredients are so exoensive, aren’t they?!)
    Everyone loved the cake, and I’m back again to make it this year. I’m making half the cake I made last year, because it was too big last year - should I still cook it for the same amount of time? 

  26. Yvonne Madden Nov 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks for the recipe and tips!I didn’t use the exact recipe but tailored my own to this.The finished product is looking and smelling divine!

    Happy Christmas to you :)

    From Yvonne in Cork :) Xx 

  27. Terri Dec 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks for a trip down memory lane my daddy used to make a cake like this for Christmas every year the last one he made we ate at my mammys wake it kept for a long time.  My daddy always used black bushmills for feeding and he always left the fruit and nuts with the bush before making the cake I still remember the smell.  Will be making this to smell it again 

  28. Terri Dec 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks for a trip down memory lane my daddy used to make a cake like this for Christmas every year the last one he made we ate at my mammys wake it kept for a long time.  My daddy always used black bushmills for feeding and he always left the fruit and nuts with the bush before making the cake I still remember the smell.  Will be making this to smell it again 

  29. Anne Dec 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    What a fantastic recipe this is. I made it last year and again this year, so easy to follow.
    I am in the process of feeding it at the moment and it smells amazing. My mother in law always made Christmas cake and she said to always put in an apple as it keeps the cake lovely and moist.
    Thank you so much for going to the trouble of writing it all out so well and for sharing it with everyone. 

  30. Patricia Dec 10, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    My Husband is from Ireland and I buy a Christmas Cake every year from our local brttish import store. It costs a fortune! I would love to try and make him a Christmas cake from scratch. Do you think it is too late to start one today?

     

    • Rose Dec 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      This is certainly not too late. Of course it is recommended that you make it earlier but in the real world life gets  in the way sometimes. I have made a cake every  Christmas for the last 25 years, usually in the first week of December but  often later  (once  on the day before Christmas eve ) and they have all turned out fine .I put my fruit soaking on Monday and lined my tin this eve so I’m hoping to get this year’s cake into the oven tomorrow, Thursday.:-)  Good Luck
       

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  32. Maisiew Egger Dec 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    This “Irish Christmas Cake” recipe sounds just like the ones made in Scotland for weddings.  Each guest unable to attend would have a piece mailed in a small decorated in  a wedding theme box, lined with waxed paper, the outside of which had room for the mailing address and stamp.  The story went that if you were unmarried, you placed the cake in the box under your pillow with the hope that you would dream of your intended.  The wedding cake had a thick layer of marzipan, topped with Royal boiled icing which kept the cake moist, but it had to be kept well-covered, otherwise the icing would harden and not be too palatable.

  33. sharon May 5, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    If anyone is ever looking for real Irish fruit cakes or wedding cakes you have to try a cake by All About Caca Milis, oh my god…fruit cake has never tasted so good (coming from someone who doesn’t even like fruitcake). I’m sure they could send to the states and they are on facebook/irishcakes

  34. Wayne kenny Oct 11, 2013 at 10:26 am

    justAdjust on my second one this week and another one to go the smells great. Will be a nice gift for the mother,cant wait to took into my cake at Christmas

  35. Geraldine Greaney Nov 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    New at this ‘christmas cake making’ so gave your recipe a go last week.  Everything went to plan but I was too eager to admire it and I took the cake from the tin too soon and it became a ‘christmas pudding’.  It tastes absolutely delicious and I shall be attempting again this week.  

  36. Inge Dec 3, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    This cake is divine!  Any idea where I might find the pretty band (ribbon) as shown in the picture above?  I made the cake early November and the anticipation of cutting into it on Christmas day is very high!  I live in the United States, so maybe cannot find the band here.  Thank you for the recipe!

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