Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Christmas cake chronicals

The delicious smell of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and sherry are all beacons for the coming of Christmas. My tummy just grumbles at the thought!

Photo: Good Food BBC
Learning the joy of making Christmas cake, I would stand next to Mama and eagerly watch as the measured out quantities of sultanas, raisins, dates, glace cherries, glace apricots and an assortment of nuts.  She used to place them in individual bowls - ready and prepared for the magic of marrying so many ingredients together.

Just like we carefully choose a gift for someone we love, so would Mama choose only the best ingredients she could find to put into her famous Christmas cake.  I loved how the nuts would clatter against the side of the ceramic mixing bowls.  I loved the smell of the sherry soaked raisins and sultanas, drunk little plump gems bursting with naughtiness. I loved the sharp citrus fresh smell of lemon and orange zest and the deep pungent smell of cloves.

Mama would mix the butter and sugar in her (now) ancient Kenwood, add in the fresh farm eggs that I had collected myself and she would allow me to spoon in the flour with the same silver table spoon that now rests in my kitchen drawer.  I was in charge of rolling the marzipan balls, which added a surprise of delicious sweetness to her cake.

When everything was mixed and poured into a lined baking tin, I would proudly open the oven door for Mama for her to place the iconic symbol of Christmas on the middle shelf. And there it would morph from a sticky and gloopy dough into a dense, moist and sweet bringer of joy!

For the next three hours the house would fill with the heavily spiced scent of baking Christmas cake.  I would peer through the oven door, longingly wanting to get closer to the smell - as of taking a gulp of the scented air would satisfy my tummy rumbles.

At last the time would come and our cake was ready to greet the world!  Once cooled, we would carefully wrap it up in brown paper linings, after dousing it with a good bit of sherry - and tie it with string.  I always got to hold my finger over the knot so Mama would be able to make the bow.  Then in the pantry it would go to rest until a week had gone by and it needed a topping up of sherry. 

Each time we topped up the Sherry, Mama would greet the Christmas cake as if it was something with a heart and a soul. She would murmur how lovely it was and what a beautiful job it was doing at getting tastier each day.  A week before Christmas, we would decorate the cake and then there was no more pantry for it!  The cake was on display under a lace cover - demanding attention from any visitor popping over for a cup of tea.

When I make this recipe for my family now, the familiar smell of the deep earthy spices, citrus zest and cheeky sherry fills me with such warm memories.  I hope these smells bring a smile to your face too.

Mama's Christmas Cake

What you need:
  • 1 cup of:
    • raisins
    • golden sultanas
    • mixed fruit peel
    • halved glace cherries (green and red if you like)
    • chopped glace apricots
    • chopped dates
  • Zest and juice of one lemon and one orange
  • 100 grams roughly chopped walnuts
  • 100 grams roughly chopped brazel nuts
  • 150 grams ground almonds
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 t-spoon each of nutmeg, cinamon and cloves
  • 350 grams butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 150 grams flour
  • 1 t-spoon baking powder
  • 1 t-spoon soda bicarb
  • 1/2 t-spoon salt
  • A little boiling water
  • 150 grams marzipan
  • a few glugs of Sherry or brandy
How to make:
  • Soak the raisins and sultanas in the alcohol over night - use orange juice for an alcohol free version
  • An hour before you beging making your cake chop the dates into a bowl and sprinkle over the soda bicard.  Pour a little hot water over so that it bubbles and fizzes - this will turn the dates in to a sticky goo - which is what you want
  • Mix the butter and sugar together till soft and light
  • Add in 1 egg at a time - adding a little flour to stabilise if needs be
  • Add in all other ingredients (except for the marzipan balls) and mix until well combined
  • Grease and line a deep cake tin, pour in half of the batter
  • Scatter the marzipan balls on top of the batter and the scoop over the remaining batter
  • Tie a pleated sheet of baking paper over the top of the cake tin to prevent it burning and bake in the oven for around 3 hours on 150 degrees
  • When the cake has been in for 2 1/2 hours - remove the baking paper cover and put back into oven for the remainder of the time.
  • Allow to cool before turning out and dosing with sherry.  Only when completely cool, wrap in brown paper or baking paper and store in a cool dark place.
  • Dose once a week.
Next blog.... let's ice it!


  1. As always such a BEAUTIFUL and poignant post, I wish more people would come and read your blog, it is one of my favourites!

  2. That's a seriously beautiful and delectable cake for the holiday!