Traditional Christmas Cake
This post covers everything you need to know about baking a traditional British Christmas Cake. Scroll down to find out more.
Classic spiced fruit cake
Christmas would not be complete without a Christmas Cake. Fact.
Everyone’s Granny has their own recipe, yet more often than not people buy a shop bought cake. Even those members of my family who decorate their own cakes buy the fruitcake from a supermarket first. Considering my Mum and Dad were famous for their Christmas Cakes before they had children, I couldn’t understand why everyone avoided making their own. If my parents could make one every year without fail…why couldn’t everyone else?
After being given a near-illegible copy of my parents old Christmas Cake recipe I decided to dedicate a whole post to baking the perfect Christmas cake, covering it with marzipan and then icing it.
With this fool-proof guide to make a traditional British Christmas Cake you will be able to wow your family and friends year after year!
- A day or two before you intend to make the cake, put all of the fruit into a bowl and pour over the brandy.
- Cover with clingfilm and leave the fruit to re-hydrate.
- The day you wish to bake your cake, begin by beating the butter and sugar until creamy.
- Slowly add the eggs to the mixture one at a time ensuring they are fully combined before adding the next one.
- Next, fold in the flour, chopped almonds, cinnamon and then fruit (with any juices left in the bowl) and treacle.
- Line a cake tin (roughly 9” x 3 ½”), pour the batter into the lined tin and bake for 4hrs and 45 mins on Gas Mark 1.
- Leave to cool before removing from the tin.
- Over the next few days push a skewer into the cake and drizzle a tbsp of brandy over it each day.
- Roll out the marzipan until it is large enough to cover the whole cake.
- Mix a spoon of jam with boiling water and brush over the cake.
- Lay the marzipan over the cake and smooth down.
- Leave this to dry for a day.
- The next day, roll the royal icing out until it is large enough to cover the whole cake.
- Brush the marzipan with hot water.
- Lay the royal icing over the cake and smooth down.
- It is now ready to decorate as you wish!
How to decorate a Christmas cake
Once you’ve made this ENORMOUS cake of course you have to decorate it and you have a couple of options. The simplest option is for a naked Christmas cake that is topped with fruit and nuts then covered in a shiny apricot glaze. You can read all about this minimal Christmas cake design here.
The most classic way to decorate a Christmas cake is with a layer of marzipan followed by royal icing. The marzipan traps in all of the moisture and stops the cake going stale. The royal icing sets firm on top of the marzipan, the result being a cake that can last for weeks! (Presuming you don’t eat it of course…)
How to cover a cake with marzipan
You can buy marzipan (and fondant icing for that matter) which is already rolled. These are usually large enough to cover a 7 inch round cake so check the description first. I recommend buying a block of marzipan and rolling it out yourself. Here’s what you need to know before you begin.
- Knead the marzipan until it’s soft and pliable and shaped into a round, even ball.
- Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with icing sugar.
- Begin rolling the marzipan out on to the work surface, being sure to keep rotating the marzipan so that it rolls out in an even circle and doesn’t stick to the work surface.
- Once the marzipan has been rolled out large enough, drape it over your rolling pin.
- Carefully lift the marzipan and place it on to your cake.
- With one hand, carefully lift up any pleats or folds that are forming, with the other hand smooth the marzipan so that it sits flat against the cake top and sides.
- You can use your hands or flat icing smoothers to make sure the marzipan is really flat and any edges are crisp.
- Once you are happy, use a sharp knife to trim any excess marzipan.
- It is important that you let the marzipan firm up and set before you move on to icing the cake.
Top tip: any excess marzipan can be used to make marzipan fruits!
How to cover a cake with royal icing
Royal icing is the most traditional icing used to cover a fruit cake. It is normally made with icing sugar, egg whites and glycerine but I’ve found a way to make royal icing without egg! You can read how to make vegan friendly royal icing here. Whichever type of royal icing you use, it can be a slightly strange way of icing a cake! The method is very similar to icing a cake with buttercream but it sets firm like fondant icing. Here’s how to ice a cake with royal icing like a real pro!
Top tip: if you have a cake turntable now is the time to use it! Place the cake on the turntable before you begin. If you don’t own a turntable, turn a bowl upside down and place the cake on top. You can carefully spin the cake as you ice.
- Place a large spoonful of icing directly on to the top of the cake (which should already be covered in marzipan).
- Using a spatula, spread the icing evenly and thinly across the top of the cake and down the sides.
- Once the whole cake has been covered in one very thin layer scrape off any excess.
- Repeat the process so that the cake is covered with a thick even layer of icing.
- To create flat, even sides, take a cake scraper or a ruler and place it flat on the cake board/turntable. Carefully rotate the cake as you drag the cake scraper / rule along the side of the cake creating a flat side.
- To create a sharp corner with the top of the cake, use a spatula to drag any excess icing from the edges to the centre of the top of the cake.
- Once the icing is smooth leave to set before adding any extra decoration.
Top tip: if you’re worried about getting your royal icing really smooth, retro Christmas cakes used to create rough textures and little icing peaks so that the cake resembles a snowy landscape. This is a quick and easy way of covering a cake in royal icing that doesn’t require precision or a lot of skill.
Pro tip: If you’re confident with a piping bag, why not use some any leftover royal icing to pipe a festive design on top of your cake.
How to cover a cake with fondant icing
The process for covering a cake with fondant is very similar to that for covering a cake with marzipan. The only difference is the fondant layer needs to be perfect! (Or else you will have to hide your mistakes with extra decoration.)
Top tip: if you’re not sure how large you need to roll out your fondant icing, you can check by measuring the top and sides of the cake with a piece of string!
- Make sure your work surface is completely clean and free of any crumbs or other dirt.
- Dust your work surface and rolling pin liberally with a mixture of cornflour and icing sugar.
- Knead the fondant icing for a coupe of minutes until it is soft and pliable and can be shaped into a round ball.
- Roll out the fondant icing on your work surface. Rotate the fondant regularly so that it rolls out in an even circle and doesn’t stick to the work surface.
- Once it has been rolled out large enough, drape it over your rolling pin.
- Carefully lift the fondant and place it on to your cake.
- With one hand, carefully life up any pleats or folds that are forming, with the other hand smooth the fondant so that it sits flat against the cake top and sides.
- You can use your hands or flat icing smoothers to make sure the fondant is really flat and any edges are crisp.
- Once you are happy, use a sharp knife to trim any excess.
Top tip: any excess fondant icing can be used for decoration!
Pro tip: you can even colour these off cuts with gel food colouring to add a splash of colour!
Christmas Cake Gallery
These are the Christmas cakes of years gone by. You can see how much my icing skills have improved!