The UK became a nation of bakers during 2020. Many of us dusted off our bread makers and cupcake tins and spent our time creating showstoppers in our kitchens. At the height of lockdown, in April, the sale of baking goods increased by 49.3%.
If a surge in baking has given you the confidence to make your own cake this year for the festive dinner table, then read on to discover how to cook the perfect Christmas cake.
Dried fruit is the staple ingredient when making a Christmas cake, there are no strict rules as to which fruit to use, but sultanas, raisins and currants are commonly added.
To make the dried fruit plump and juicy, they should be soaked in alcohol. Sherry is the traditional tipple, but brandy or rum work equally as well. Baking queen Mary Berry recommends soaking the fruit overnight, and also offers a top tip if you are short of time: Heat everything in a microwave briefly, and the fruit will absorb the alcohol more quickly. Just be sure to let the fruit cool completely before adding to the cake mixture.
For a tee-total version, you can substitute the alcohol for apple or orange juice which works just as well for plumping up the dried fruit.
Secret seasonal ingredients
To give your cake a signature twist of your own, there are some special seasonal ingredients you can add to wow your guests.
Mary Berry adds glace cherries while Nigella Lawson prefers chestnut puree. Chopped figs, almonds, a large handful of candied peel, or a dollop of marmalade all add an extra festive flavour.
The perfect Christmas cake ingredients
For a cracking Christmas cake, Lakeland have come up trumps with an easy to follow recipe that gives impressive results. Here’s the ingredients you’ll need to add to your shopping list:
- 350g currants
- 350g sultanas
- 350g raisins
- 75g dried apricots chopped
- 200g glacé cherries, halved
- 100ml dark rum or brandy
- 150g butter
- 150g dark muscovado sugar
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 75g ground almonds
- 200g plain flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 3 tbsp dark rum or brandy
You’ll also need a 20cm cake tin and some baking paper to line it with.
Get busy with the decorations
Once you made your perfect cake and it has cooled completely, it’s time to for the fun part—the decorations. You don’t need to be an expert with a piping bag—here’s a few of tips and tricks to help you create a Christmas masterpiece.
If you don’t want to make your own marzipan, then buy a block that’s ready-to-roll instead. To make the marzipan stick, brush the cake with a layer of apricot jam. Roll the marzipan out thinly on a board dusted with icing sugar, then carefully drape over the cake and smooth over the surface.
There are two options for icing your cake: Fondant or royal icing. Fondant icing can be purchased ready made from the supermarket and added over the top of the marzipan layer for a quick way to prepare the surface of the cake for the decorations.
Traditionally, royal icing is used on a Christmas cake and it is well worth the effort if you have the time to make it from scratch. Make the royal icing recipe and then spread over your marzipan-covered cake using a palette knife. There is no need to be too neat, as royal icing is perfect for swirling or making peaks of icing, which creates a snowy-looking surface on which to add your decorations.
The easiest way to decorate your cake is to wrap a festive ribbon around its circumference and sprinkle with edible glitter and silver balls for a classic-looking cake.
Hobbycraft have a range of edible snowmen, Santa, Rudolf and penguin cake toppers that add a final, fun flourish to the cake. If you’re feeling creative – make your own winter wonderland decorations, complete with snowmen and snow drifts.
Other types of Christmas cake
We’re big fans of the traditional Christmas cake that is rich, dark and oozing with sherry-soaked dried fruit. But if you prefer a continental style cake then you could turn your hand to making panettone or stollen.
Panettone is derived from the Italian word ‘pane di tono’, or ‘luxury cake’ and is a fruit-filled sweetbread which originated in Milan. It’s a traditional dish that is served in Italian communities across the globe —although there are differing opinions as to whether it should be classed as a cake or a bread.
Today, panettone is considered a dessert. It makes the perfect accompaniment to a cup of strong coffee or a glass of wine. Because it has a dry texture, some people choose to top a slice of panettone with a generous spoonful of mascarpone cheese. If you’d like to bake a classic Italian panettone, here’s an easy recipe that guarantees tasty results.
Stollen is a stodgy delight which originated in Dresden, Germany. It’s rich texture and marzipan swirls make stollen taste like a delicious blend of a traditional Christmas cake and a hot cross bun!
There are very few rules when baking stollen, most people use a mix of dried fruit, some add nuts and lemon zest—but the key ingredient is a raising agent. Yeast is traditionally used, but for a quicker rise baking powder also works well. Great British Bake Off judge, Paul Hollywood has published his recipe for stollen cake, which is time-consuming, but well worth the effort for a seasonal treat.
Baking a cake is a satisfying way to spend a cold, grey December afternoon—and you’ll have the added bonus of a house filled with wonderfully festive aromas, in which to enjoy a glass of mulled wine after you’ve done the washing up!