A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (2024)

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Elaine Lemm

A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (1)

Elaine Lemm

Elaine Lemm is a renowned British food writer, classically trained chef, teacher, and author with over 25 years of experience writing about British food and cooking.

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Updated on 03/7/24

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Diana Rattray

A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (2)

Tested byDiana Rattray

Southern-cuisine expert and cookbook author Diana Rattray has created more than 5,000 recipes and articles in her 20 years as a food writer.

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Prep: 45 mins

Cook: 4 hrs 30 mins

Cool Time: 60 mins

Total: 6 hrs 15 mins

Servings: 12to 16 servings

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There are some parts of a Christmas celebration in Britain which just don't change, especially the traditional Christmas cake. A British Christmas isn't complete without this classic treat on the table. At first glance, making this cake may look complicated because it seems like a lot of ingredients, but it's actually very easy. The secret is to prepare and weigh all the ingredients, and line the tin before you start any mixing. The assembly is straightforward.The rest is an exercise in patience; the wait begins.

The cake needs a long, slow bake and a little TLC. It is packed with sugars, fruits, and brandy, and if the temperature is any higher, the outside of the cake will burn and the inside will be undercooked. Additionally, the cake benefits greatly from resting on a layer of newspaper while it's in the oven; this helps insulate and protect the cake so it cooks evenly. While it's baking, avoid opening the oven door too often, as this may cause the cake to collapse.

Ideally, Christmas cake shouldbe made at least two months before Christmas, which allows ample time for the cake to be fed at regular intervals with brandy, which, in turn, helps to mature the cake. However, if you are making it closer to the holiday, you can be assured the cake will still taste as good, though it may not store as long as a mature one (the brandy helps keep it moist).

If you have time, you can also soak the dried mixed fruits the night before in a little extra brandy and proceed with the recipe the next day, which creates an even more moist cake.

A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (3)

What You'll Need to Make This British Christmas Cake Recipe

A Handy Dandy Microplane
A Great Cake Pan
A Roll of Parchment Paper

"This cake was excellent. My 9-inch cake pan was not deep, so I used a 9-inch springform pan, which was the perfect size and worked well. Wrapping the pan with parchment was a little tricky, but paper clips helped hold the paper while I tied the twine. It was perfectly baked in 4 hours." —Diana Rattray

A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (7)

A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 3 1/2 cups (525 grams) currants

  • 1 1/2cups (225 grams) golden raisins/sultanas

  • 1 1/2cups (225 grams)raisins

  • 3/4 cup (110 grams) mixed candied peel, finely chopped

  • 1 cup glace (candied) cherries, halved

  • 2 1/3cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour

  • Pinch salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

  • 10 ounces (300 grams)butter, slightly softened

  • 1 1/3cups (300 grams) soft brown sugar

  • 1/2 lemon, zested

  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 3 tablespoons brandy, plus extra for feeding

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (8)

  2. Heat the oven to 300 F/150 C/Gas 2.

  3. Line a deep 9-inch cake pan with 2 thicknesses of parchment or greaseproof paper. Tie a double band of brown or newspaper paper around the outside. This acts as an insulator and helps prevent the cake from burning on the outside.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (9)

  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the currants, sultanas, raisins, candied peel, and cherries with the flour, salt, and spices.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (10)

  5. In another large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the lemon zest. Add the beaten egg to the butter mixture slowly a little bit at a time, beating well after each addition; otherwise, the mixture could curdle. If it does, simply add a tablespoonof flour and mix to bring it back together. If it doesn't, don't fret; the cake will still be delicious.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (11)

  6. Carefully fold in half the flour and fruit into the egg and butter mixture, and repeat until fully incorporated. Add the brandy.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (12)

  7. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin, making sure there are no air pockets. Smooth the surface with the back of a spoon and make a slight dip in the center—this will rise again during baking to create a smooth surface for icing the cake.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (13)

  8. Use a paper towel to clean up any smears of cake batter on the parchment so they don't burn. (It won't affect the cake; it just doesn't smell good.)

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  9. Stand the tin on a double layer of newspaper in the lower part of the oven. Ifyou have a gas oven, ensure the paper is well away from any flame. Bake in preheated oven for 4 1/2 hours. If the cake is browning too rapidly, cover the tin with a double layer of parchment paper after 2 1/2 hours.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (15)

  10. Check the cake after 4 1/2hours. It should rise well and be a deep brown all over. Insert a skewer or fine knife into the center of the cake; it should be clean when you pull it out. If the dough sticks when you pull it, return the cake to the oven for a little longer.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (16)

  11. Cool the cake on a wire rack for an hour, then remove it from the pan to cool completely. Then, prick the surface of the cake with a toothpick or skewer and slowly pour over 2 to 3 tablespoonsbrandy. Repeat this feeding every two weeks up until Christmas.

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (17)

  12. Store the cake wrapped in greaseproof or parchment paper in an airtight tin, until ready to serve. Enjoy!

    A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (18)


  • The cake is lovely with aglass of port.In northern England, Christmas cake is often served with a slice of cheese, preferably Wensleydale or a crumbly cheddar.
  • If mixed spice isn't available or you don't have the ingredients to make your own, you can use pumpkin pie spice mix instead. They're very similar.
  • The difference between raisins and sultanasis important to theChristmas cake, as each brings something different to the cake.
  • Christmas cake is often made with brandy, but rum, whiskey, and sherry are common, too.
  • If you don't have a deep 9-inch round pan, you may use a 9-by-3-inch springform pan.

Recipe Variations

  • Replace the lemon zest with the finely grated zest of a large orange.
  • Add about 3/4 to 1 cup of finely chopped almonds (about 75 grams).
  • For an alcohol-free cake, replace the brandy with apple juice or fresh orange juice.

Can You Freeze Christmas Cake?

  • Whether making the cake well ahead of the holidays or preserving leftovers, Christmas cake freezes beautifully. Wrap it well in plastic wrap and then wrap it in heavy-duty foil. Place the frozen cake (or slices) in zip-close freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • If the Christmas cake is iced, freeze the cake or slices first and then wrap.
  • Defrost frozen wrapped Christmas cake at room temperature for at least 4 hours or overnight.

What's the Difference Between Fruitcake and Christmas Cake?

The recipes for these two traditional holiday baked goods can be very similar. (And then there's Christmas pudding, which confuses, too.) Christmas cake and fruitcake often refer to the same thing: a cake with lots of candied dried fruits in them, a spicy-sweet flavor profile, and the presence of an alcohol such as rum. However, the American version of fruitcake often differs significantly from British Christmas cake, which is typically a moist, dense fruitcake draped in fondant and often decorated festively for the holiday season. American fruitcake is often maligned because it's often associated with the mass-produced types that line grocery store shelves; homemade fruitcake is far superior.

Fruitcake Recipes and Tips

  • British Desserts
  • Cakes
  • Fruit Recipes
  • Christmas Desserts
  • British Food
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
17g Fat
107g Carbs
7g Protein


Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12to 16
Amount per serving
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g21%
Saturated Fat 10g49%
Cholesterol 108mg36%
Sodium 168mg7%
Total Carbohydrate 107g39%
Dietary Fiber 4g14%
Total Sugars 75g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 2mg12%
Calcium 74mg6%
Iron 3mg17%
Potassium 571mg12%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Recipe Tags:

  • cake
  • christmas cake
  • dessert
  • british

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A Time-Tested Recipe to Make the Perfect Christmas Cake (2024)
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