Cakes & Tortes,  Christmas,  Sweets

How To Make A Christmas Cake, Part 1

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Boston we are stating to leave fall behind us. The days are becoming chilly, the nights are downright cold, and there isn’t a single leaf left on a tree anywhere. As the season turns from fall to winter I’ve started thinking about that most amazing of holidays that’s just around the corner: Christmas. 😍🎄

If you’re looking for How To Make A Christmas Cake, Part 2, click here!

OK, OK, OK. Before you leap from your laptops and announce that everyone starts to celebrate Christmas way too early bear with me: I am well aware that mentioning Christmas before Thanksgiving is sacrilege. I actually am 100% on board with this general rule. Growing up, Thanksgiving itself was permission to start talking bout Christmas, to listen to Bing Crosby singing about “sturdy trees” that don’t mind the snow, and to prepare for the thrill that was making it to the stores before 11am when the Black Friday sales would come to an end (remember those days, anyone?).

But there is one giant exception to my no-Christmas-before-Thanksgiving rule: A Christmas Cake. Because NOW is the perfect time to make one.

Brown paper packages tied up with strings (these are a few of my favorite things).

In case you don’t know what Christmas Cake is I’ll break it down for you: It’s fruitcake. The most delicious fruitcake you can imagine. Far more fruit than cake, it’s fed once a week for a month or so with alcohol; layered with apricot jam; covered with a thin layer of marzipan; frosted with royal icing, and decorated from there as you see fit.

Now, before you brush me off by saying “but I don’t like fruitcake” or “I thought the only way to get one of those was to have it shipped by my great-aunt,” hear me out: A real, homemade, fruitcake is delicious. It’s not at all hard to make (if you can toss fruit in alcohol you’re well on your way), and you’ll be taking part in a time-honored tradition leading up to the holidays.

“But why NOW?” You ask. “It seriously isn’t even Thanksgiving yet!” And this is true. But now is exactly the time to make your fruitcake. As anti-American as this sounds the cake needs some time to age. It won’t mold, I promise you. Fat and sugar are both natural, time-honored, preservatives and there are plenty of both in this cake. Moreover, you’ll keep the cake tightly wrapped and in a cool location (like your pantry or your basement) and you’ll “feed” it every week with with alcohol. The weekly dose of booze not only gives the cake a GLORIOUS old-world flavor, but it’s fun to do and it will ward off any harmful bacteria that could come along. Think of this practice as the delicious equivalent of an alcohol swab.

It may never top freezing in Boston today, but our paper whites are SO CLOSE to blooming.

If you’re really concerned abut aging your fruitcake and you want to push back against me on this one you could always make the cake the week of Christmas (when you’ll clearly have AMPLE TIME to bake a massive cake 🙄), but I don’t recommend it. The nice people of the UK have been making Christmas Cakes like this for generations and no one has ever fallen ill because of one. Google “Fruitcake poisoning” if you like. The only results you’ll find are a woman who put rat poison in her husband’s fruitcake (Merry Christmas?!?!) and several stories of people who have rushed their dog to the vet after the dog ate their fruitcake. Fair warning: boozy fruitcakes are, apparently, bad for dogs.

On the flip side, if you want to be REALLY traditional you’ll save a scrap of this year’s cake and use it in next year’s cake. I’m not kidding. That’s a thing. I won’t be doing this but again, if you want to be REALLY traditional, you could.

I repurposed our meat thermometer to get an accurate reading of the internal temperature of my cake. It takes a LONG TIME to bake one of these Christmas Cakes, and you’ll be tempted to pull it from the oven too soon, thinking that disaster awaits if you leave it in any longer. An instant read thermometer really takes the guesswork out of this process. If the cake hasn’t hit 200°F it’s just not done.

I cannot claim credit for the base of this recipe, I borrowed it from Felicity Cloake of the Guardian, Merry Berry of the Bake-Off, and Delia Smith, patron saint of British home cooks. It is not identical to any of these ladies’ recipes, but credit where credit is due, they were my direct inspiration.

I had a few issues with their basic recipes though. A few things needed to be tweaked, some ratios needed to be adjusted, and both vanilla and salt needed to be added. Why the Brits refuse to put flavor enhancers into their baked good is beyond me. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Some of the ingredients that are readily available in the UK are not so readily available in the States, but there are very acceptable substitutions plus a few tips and tricks you can employ to mimic everything you can get across the pond. UK plain flour has less protein than American all-purpose flour, so we need to make a quick adjustment to our flour to even that out (this is done with cornstarch). And then there’s the alcohol. Felicity calls for whiskey; Mary and Delia both ask for Brandy; Lyndon prefers rum. As rum is incredibly cheap — and we happen to have a 1.5 liter bottle just sitting unused in the cupboard because honestly, who ever drinks rum? — I went with rum. Truth be told you could use any brown liquor you want: rum, bourbon, whiskey, scotch (if you really wanted to get fancy). It’s up to you. Just stick with one liquor once you’ve started the cake.

Prepping and baking the cake is a 2-day process, but it’s not overly difficult. It just requires a little planning. Gather and soak your dried fruits, weigh out your dry ingredients, and wash and line your cake tin the night before you bake. The next day preheat your oven, grease your cake tin, mix up your batter, and bake away. After that you’ll let the cake cool, feed it with alcohol, wrap it up, and put it away someplace dark and cool for a week. Each week you’ll unwrap the cake, feed it with some more alcohol, and wrap it back up again.

The cake will take a while to cool, but it will make your home smell INCREDIBLY GOOD while it does. 😀👍🏻
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How To Make A Christmas Cake, Part 1

  • Author: Matthew Smedal
  • Prep Time: Overnight
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Yield: One 9” Christmas Cake plus one bonus 6″ Mini Cake (for gifting) 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: English


The time to start your Christmas Cake is just before Thanksgiving. This allows the flavors of the cake a full month to develop. Prepping and baking the cake is a 2-day process, but it’s not overly difficult. It just requires a little planning. Gather and soak your dried fruits, weigh out your dry ingredients, and wash and line your cake tin the night before you bake. The next day preheat your oven, grease your cake tin, mix up your batter, and bake away. After that you’ll let the cake cool, feed it with alcohol, wrap it up, and put it away someplace dark and cool for a week. Each week you’ll unwrap the cake, feed it with some more alcohol, and wrap it back up again.

The recipe below will make a 9″ cake (and likely a 6″ bonus cake for gifting, too). If you want to make a 12″ cake (like the one pictured above) multiply the base recipe by 150%.

This recipe is inspired by Felicity Cloake’s “Perfect Christmas Cake,” originally published in The Guardian; Merry Berry’s “Classic Christmas Cake,” originally published by BBC Good Foods; and Delia Smith’s “Classic Christmas Cake,” originally published on her named website. 


  • 3 cups raisins (500 grams)
  • 3 cups golden raisins or currants (500 grams)
  • 1 1/4 cups dried figs, chopped (200 grams
  • 8 ounce container of glacé cherries, halved (227 grams)
  • 8 ounce container of mixed peel (227 grams
  • 1 cup rum (250 milliliters)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (240 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (15 grams)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup almond flour (100 grams)
  • 18 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp (250 grams
  • 1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar (250 grams)
  • 9 large eggs (570 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons molasses (40 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cup sliced almonds (100 grams)
  • 1/4 cup crystallised ginger, cut into small pieces (50 grams)

You will also need:

  • One 9” springform pan, or a tall-sided (3″ tall) 9″ cake tin
  • One 6” cake tin (or small pyrex bowl)
  • Parchment paper
  • Brown paper bags from the supermarket
  • String
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Plastic wrap
  • Aluminum foil
  • Extra rum, for weekly alcohol baths


Day 1:

Combine all the dried fruits into a bowl (raisins, golden raisins, figs, cherries, and mixed peel). Add the rum, stir, cover, and let sit overnight.

Wrap your baking tin with strips of folded paper bag (you are insulating the tin) and secure them with some kitchen string. Cut 4 circles of parchment paper the diameter of the tin and use the first 2 to line the bottom (save the 3rd and the 4th for later). Cut 2 long strips of parchment paper, fold them half and line the sides of the tin (see the first photo in the post for clarification, all you’re really doing is covering every bit of metal with double-strength parchment paper).

Combine your flour, baking powder, spices (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, mace, cloves) ground almonds and salt in a bowl. Cover and let sit until ready to use.

Day 2:

Preheat your oven to 300°F. Remove the all the parchment from your baking tin, spray the tin with nonstick cooking spray and put the parchment back in. It will stick to the pan quite well now. Spray the parchment with more nonstick cooking spray and toss a handful of flour into the pan. Shake the pan until the flour coats the bottom and sides of the parchment, then dump out any excess. 

Give your soaked fruits a good stir to evenly distribute and accumulated juices.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one by one and beat until incorporated. Add the molasses and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add the lemon zest and orange zest and beat until incorporated. Add your flour mixture to the butter and eggs in three batches, beating after each addition, until just combined. At this point your batter will smell like an amazing cross between a pumpkin spiced latte from Starbucks, and gingerbread.

Add every remaining ingredient (soaked fruits, sliced almonds, and crystallized ginger) and stir to combine.* The batter may look slightly curdled, that’s OK, just bake away.

*You’re going to have a lot of batter. To be honest, it overloads my Kitchen Aid at this point, so I dump the cake batter into the bowl of soaked fruit, add the ginger and sliced almonds, and stir by hand. 💪🏻

Pour the batter into your prepared cake tin and bake for about an hour. After the first hour (ish), the top of the cake will start to set. When this happens, place your 3rd parchment circle (remember your 3rd parchment circle?) over the top of the cake to prevent excess browning and bake for another 30 to 60 minutes until done. I can’t stress this enough: this cake is simply done when it’s done and it could take a while. When done the center of the cake will temp at 200-205°F, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean. If you notice that the parchment circle stops the middle of the cake from browning remove it, cut out a hole from the center (your circle will now look like a donut) and place the parchment back onto the top of the baking cake. The smaller cake (if you made one) will — of course — finish baking before the larger cake does.

When the center of the cake temps at 200-205°F remove it to a cooling rack and let it cool. This will literally take several hours. I repeat: several hours. Everything. About. This. Cake. Is. Olde. School. 

Once the cake has cooled take a skewer and punch about 16 holes into the cake, making sure the skewer goes all the way to the bottom (these holes will help distribute the alcohol evenly). Slowly drizzle about 3-4 tablespoons of rum over the cake, using a pastry brush to guide the alcohol to an even distribution. Leaving the cake in the tin, cover it with your 4rd round of parchment, then wrap the top of the tin with plastic wrap, then wrap the entire tin with aluminum foil. The smaller cake gets fewer holes, and less rum (about 1 tablespoons should do it).

Place the cake somewhere cool and dark (like your pantry or the basement).

Every week, unwrap the cake, feed it another 3 tablespoons or so of rum, and then re-wrap the cake. Do the same with the smaller cake, but feed it only about 1 tablespoon or so of rum. You can think of this activity as a sort of adults-only Advent calendar that really has nothing to do at all with the 4 weeks of Advent. 

The week before Christmas you can move on to How To Make A Christmas Cake, Part 2. 


This recipe make a lot of batter, which is why it’s essential you use a 3″ tall pan. Even still, you won’t be able to fit all of it into your cake tin (and remember, the cake will rise a bit — not a huge amount, but a bit). Spray and flour a small pyrex bowl, or 6″ cake tin, and bake a bonus cake with the extra batter. Wrap, feed, and gift this smaller cake when Christmas rolls around. 

Keywords: Christmas cake fruitcake


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