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 cake will look like the picture above when you unwrap it after cooking, though that one might be a few minutes overcooked. The finished cake will usually have both marzipan icing and white icing or frosting.

This is definitely 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.

Notes on ingredients & US equivalents

  1. 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.
  2. Mixed spice is made from approx equal amounts of ground allspice, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. I am told that Pudding Spice is the closest thing in the USA, or you can make your own.
  3. Golden Syrup can be hard to find in some parts. If you can get it, great, if not then Corn Syrup or  Molasses will do, but neither are quite the thing.
  4. American butter is a good bit lower in fat and higher in water content than Irish butter. This matters for baking. Kerrygold Irish butter is available in some places in the USA, if you can find it use that. Otherwise Plugra is a good alternative. In any case, you want salted butter.


Ingredients are listed in the order in which you will use them to make the cake.

  • Imperial
  • Metric
  • 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 or pudding spice
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla essense
    grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
    grated zest & juice of 1 orange
    1 large or 2 small apples, finely grated
    3 oz slivered almonds
    1 tablespoon Golden syrup
    4 tablespoons Irish Whiskey

    10 oz Irish butter
    8 oz soft brown sugar
    5 eggs
    10 oz plain (all-purpose) flour
    2 oz ground almonds
    1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 450g sultanas
    225g raisins
    225g currants
    100g glacé (candied) cherries, halved or whole, not chopped
    50g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
    1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice or pudding spice
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla essense
    grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
    grated zest & juice of 1 orange
    1 large or 2 small apples, finely grated
    100g slivered almonds
    1 tablespoon Golden syrup
    4 tablespoons Irish Whiskey

    280g Irish butter
    225g soft brown sugar
    5 eggs
    280g plain (all-purpose) flour
    50g ground almonds
    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.

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. Lift the cover now and again just to relish the amazing smell!!

Do NOT be tempted to skip 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 or 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 – 280°F (140°C) – for fan ovens. You want a long slow cook, so that the fruit does not burn.

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.

Mix the flour, ground almonds and salt together and then fold into the butter/sugar/egg mix – don’t use a mixer for this. Add the fruit and mix everything up well – again by hand or with a wooden spoon, no mixer.

The resulting mixture will be thick and quite 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 even 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 completely in the tin. Leave it till the next day to remove.

Day 3

Carefully remove the cake from the tin by easing a palette knife between the cake tin and the lining paper. Then peel 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 about half a 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.

You will have to unwrap and then re-wrap each time you feed the cake which is a bit laborious but worth the effort.

Icing the Cake

Icing = frosting

You can leave the cake un-iced, some people prefer it that way, but traditionally it is iced with two layers: a marzipan layer first, followed by a layer of 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 use cake ornaments like Christmas trees, snowmen or Santa.

I go for a fairly simple approach, just icing, a ribbon and a few simple decorations on top.

Marzipan Icing

Christmas Marzipan Icing


This should be added about a week in advance of Christmas, though it can be done earlier. Shop bought marzipan is fine, but really it’s very simple to make and the home made version is much nicer. You can flavour it a little for one thing – I like a slight orangey tang – and pre-made icings tend to be made with far more (cheap) sugar than (expensive) almond.

If you are worried about using raw eggs, make a cooked marzipan, but the amount of sugar in the icing really makes the eggs quite safe.


300g castor caster sugar (golden if possible)
100g Icing sugar
500g ground almonds
2 medium or large eggs
One Orange
A few drops of almond essence (optional).
A little apricot jam


Making the icing is simple. Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Beat the eggs. Add the juice of the orange to the eggs. If you like your almond extra ‘almondy’, add the almond essence too.

Mix everything together. It should be very stiff and quite hard to bring together, but come into a firm ball with some effort. If it seems wet, add a little more icing sugar. If it seems dry add tiny bits of water or orange juice till it comes together.

Warm a little apricot jam and brush over the top of the cake so that the icing will stick to it.

Most instructions tell you to roll it out with a rolling pin. I never bother. I just pull of lumps of icing about the size of an egg, place them around the cake and then push them flat with my fingers to cover the top and sides. It’s a very pliable material to work with, not unlike play dough and it’s easy to merge the seams and make it fairly smooth. It does not have to be perfect.

Leave to dry for at least 2 days before adding the final layer of icing.

Published: October 16, 2008 | Updated: March 31, 2017 | Image Credits

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  • Inge says:

    This is my sixth year in a row making this fabulous Christmas Cake. The step of letting the spices, nuts and fruit meld overnight is key and it smells so wonderful! I wrap it in tea towels, baste it with whiskey once a week and keep it well wrapped until decorating time. Each year we vary the decorations. I found the band at a florist shop that carries a variety of splendid ribbons at this time of year. Making this cake puts us in the mood for the next few wonderful weeks of Christmas music, snow on the ground, and a festive mood throughout.

  • Inge says:

    This is my sixth year in a row making this fabulous Christmas Cake. The step of letting the fruit, nuts and fruit meld overnight is key and it smells so wonderful! I wrap it in tea towels, baste it with whiskey once a week and keep it well wrapped until decorating time. Each year we vary the decorations. I found the band at a florist shop that carries a variety of splendid ribbons at this time of year. Making this cake puts us in the mood for the next few wonderful weeks of Christmas music, snow on the ground, and a festive mood throughout.

  • Edel says:

    This is my 8th year making Christmas cake using this recipe! I commented already in 2012!
    Great to still be making it. A fab recipe. I tend to add whole almonds and tweak it a bit. Always tastes lovely!
    Edel, Kildare, Ireland

  • says:

    Thanks for such a nice recipe for Christmas cake. It’s really nice and great in taste. Really amazing

  • Patricia says:

    I made theasy cake I don’t understand the time 31 /2 I don’t know what that means

  • Natalie says:

    I have a recipe from a man in Dun Laoghaire and was told that the cakes are traditionally baked on September 8th the Blessed Mothers Feast Day. He said to put Rum in the cake batter when baking and then to pore a 1 cup of Whiskey over the top of the cake immediately after removing it from the oven. He told me they must be left to sit in a dark and cold place until Christmas. That is 15 weeks of feeding it Whiskey. I think he may have like his cake a little boozier than most. Thanks for the new recipe. Cheers. :^)

  • Roisin Kane says:

    I used dark rum as I’m not a lover of whiskey but the results are great, 3 cakes made. The recipe is so easy to follow, thank you.

  • Annmarie Kenny says:

    Hi Katherine this sounds devine I’ve never made a “real” Christmas cake before have always done biscuit cake and covered it ! But this year I really want to try this one I’ve an 8″ &’10” round cake tin which should I use for your recipe and what brown paper do I use ? Can I use parchememt paper or does it need to be brown ? Thanks a mil Ann Marie

  • Emma Callaghan says:

    I made this cake for the ladies in the community house i work in .put it in the oven at 280 at it burn’t the ehole top of it .devasted as we took loads of pic’s while doing the prep. By the reviews it must be a mistake i made . Im going to let it finish cooking as its only on an hour .i wonder what the best thing would be to do ? Could i just cut the top off after ?

  • Just starting our cake today – a bit late – but looking forward to a new recipe. My husband is from Ireland, and we always have our Christmas cake. The last few years, the cake has been dry, so we are hoping you have answered our prayers with this one!
    Will let you know how it comes out.

  • Alison says:

    I am looking for an alternative recipe as the Christmas cake I made last year was very crumbly and fell apart when cut. Does this cake slice well? Thank you.

  • Inge says:

    This will be my fourth year in a row making this fabulous cake. I love your updated page this year. Last year I doubled the recipe and made two cakes as the family could not get enough! Divine.

  • Anna-Lena says:

    So, I followed your wonderful recipe making three beautiful Christmas cakes about 3 weeks ago. They look and smell amazing! I want to cover my cakes with marzipan and fondant. My question is how soon should I start doing this and more importantly how should I store it once it’s covered with fondant?

    Your help would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you =)

  • Maura Whelan says:

    Hi I have made the cake for the 1st time it looks and smells wonderful but whilst cutting it its crumbling any reason why this has happened? Thank you

    • Katherine says:

      Mmm. I’m not sure. Did you cut it soon after cooking it? It’s not really intended to be cut for weeks so it might crumble when too fresh.

  • Alexandra says:

    Really looking forward to making a cake just like Granny’s!

    Is your 10 oz of flour measured by weight or volume?


  • Anna-Lena says:

    The first time I came across an Irish Christmas Cake was when I moved to Ireland for a year in 2012 (I’m actually German). Ever since I wanted to make this special cake for my family for Christmas but never found the time.. this year I’m finally putting my plan into action and while looking for a good recipe stumbled across this one. This recipe calls for “Irish Whiskey” and I was wondering which one would work best. I do have a Kilbeggan Whiskey but I’m not sure if that will work..

  • Olivia says:

    I just happened to stumble on this website while looking for a rich Irish Christmas cake recipie; it takes me back to my childhood when my grandmother baked Christmas cake, the pictures remind me exactly of what I remember year on year, I can almost smell it now! Thank you for sharing this recipie, it’s my first attempt so fingers crossed.

  • I was wondering if you used any rising agent eg bicarb of soda or baking powder??

  • Teresa says:

    Could I double up on the ingredients for a bigger cake? I want to make a really big square cake- would that work?

    • Katherine says:

      You could in theory, but I have no idea how long that would take to cook or the best temp to cook it at. I’d be a bit concerned it’d end up burnt on the outside and undercooked inside.

  • Ana says:

    This Christmas cake sounds just like the one I grew up eating. I have a question what is included in a pudding spice. I have not been able to find it.
    Thank you so much!

  • Michelle says:

    This was a beautiful recipe. I made it 4 weeks before Christmas and iced it a couple of days before Christmas. It was gorgeous and everyone complimented it. It was so moist and rich. I will definitely  be using this recipe from now on. It would make a beautiful wedding cake too.
    Thank you for the recipe.

  • Catherine says:

    Thanks so much for this!  I lost my beautiful, sweet, wee Irish Mommy 2 years agin, and want to make her Christmas Cake.  I’m in the Midwest US and finally found her recipe book.  So many questions on techniques that I can’t ask her.  So glad I found your post.  I know Mom would say its too late for this Christmas, but if I remember correctly she always waited too late as well, and it was still always delicious.  We were always trying to explain to our American family and friends that this was not the fruit cake with which they were familiar and which they despised!  Marzipan was always my favorite part.  My Mom, after it was cut on Christmas, would store it in a tin with a cut apple to keep it moist.  How I miss her.  Thanks again.

  • Inge says:

    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!

  • Geraldine Greaney says:

    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.  

  • Wayne kenny says:

    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

  • sharon says:

    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

  • Maisiew Egger says:

    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.

    • Irene conroy says:

      We do the same thing in Ireland with the Wedding cake under the pillow. Usually someone brings a piece home from the wedding for the young women of the household.

  • […] a day of firsts.  We got our first Christmas card in the mail today along with our first gift. A traditional Irish Whiskey Christmas Cake from our friends from the very traditionally Irish land of Honduras. This one’s been […]

  • Patricia says:

    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 says:

      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

  • Anne says:

    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. 

  • Terri says:

    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 

  • Terri says:

    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 

  • 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 

  • Edel says:

    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? 

  • Michael says:

    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!!

  • Patricia Keeley says:

    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

  • Patricia says:

    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

  • Nancy says:

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

  • RC says:

    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 says:

      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. 

  • shane says:

    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.

  • Brian Caulfield says:

    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!

  • R Keller says:

    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?

  • RC says:


    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!

  • Anne Thompson says:

    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!


    • Katherine says:

      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!

  • […] If you’d like to make your own version, see our Irish Christmas Cake Recipe. […]

  • breda dineen says:

    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

  • Richard Gibson says:

    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 says:

      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 🙂

    • Pat (Dublin) says:

      I make my Xmas cake every year using a very similar recipe, and have used both Whisky AND Brandy (not both at the same time!) and both are delicious, though the brandy is a little more aromatic, but honestly i have not found them to be terribly different.

  • Jackie says:

    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!!

  • martina says:

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

  • Eileen Harte says:

    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.

  • Joan says:

    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!!

  • Furdinand says:

    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! 🙂

  • Jodie says:

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

  • janeyd says:

    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!)

  • Kay says:

    MMM…looks delicous

  • Matthias says:

    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.

  • Roy says:

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

  • Linda says:

    Great recipe, thanks very much!

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