32. New Zealand – Christmas Cake

Christmas cake

Festive cakes have apparently been made for over 2000 years, however today’s Christmas cake as we know it came about in the 17th century. It was a bread-like cake made with expensive dried fruit, nuts, candied peel and wine and was part of Twelth Night celebrations. The legendary Mrs Beeton printed the first Christmas cake recipe in the 1800’s, but her cake was similar to gingerbread.

Our family Christmas cake recipe isn’t quite that old, but my Aunties tell me that it is over 100 years old. It comes from one of my Aunt’s mother-in-law (Nana Littlejohn) and has been passed through the family.  I have fond memories of sitting on the bench as a child helping my Mum to make the cake, and the amazing smell that would permeate through the house as it was baking. We always had our cake on the 28th of December as it doubled as my brother’s birthday cake, and would take it away on camping holidays with us to have a piece most days for morning tea. We’ve also used it for other celebrations in the family, first communion, wedding cakes and one of the more recent ones I made was for my daughter Sophie’s baptism. I got lots of compliments for that particular one, my Aunt and Mum saying it was one of the best versions of the cake they had ever tasted, so I was pretty chuffed 🙂 We all make it in a slightly different way too, my Mum swears by having the oven only on bake whereas I fan bake mine.

So I’m sitting here typing this out while I’ve got this year’s cake in the oven, and that smell is amazing. This year the cake is going to serve a dual purpose – my son Jack is getting baptised in early December so we’re going to have it as his baptism cake and an early Christmas cake. Two year old Sophie helped me this morning while I was making it, sitting on the bench stirring it as I must have all those years ago. Maybe Jack will be there next year too and I hope that one day they take the recipe and make it for their family too 🙂

Christmas cake

450g butter
450g brown sugar
9 eggs
450g flour
1 tsp baking powder
400g sultanas or raisins
400g currants
2 packets glace cherries (3 oz each)
1 packet mixed peel (8 oz)
1 tsp vanilla, lemon or almond essence
1 Tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
3 oz blanched almonds to decorate the top of the cake (optional)

1. Prepare the tin (see notes below) and heat oven to 125 degrees fan bake.

2.  Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs 3 at a time. Mix well then add golden syrup, flour, baking powder and spices. Mix well.

Christmas cake

3. Next add fruit and essence and combine well.

4. Put into the tin and bake for approximately 4 to 4.5 hours. If you are not going to ice the cake, then you can add a pattern to the top with blanched almonds if wished.

Christmas cake

5. When cooked take out and sprinkle the top with brandy. Let the cake cool completely in the tin, then stand upside down for a day or so on a cake rack.

Keep feeding the cake brandy until Christmas! I always try and make this cake at least a month out. To store, wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Preparing the tin

I have cooked this cake in both a square and round 9″ tin. Grease the tin, then line bottom and sides with 1 layer of newspaper, 2 layers of brown paper and 1 layer of baking paper. This helps to prevent the cake from burning. The ‘collar’ should be at least 3 inches high. Here’s a picture of Obama and Mitt Romney lining my cake 😉

Christmas cake

The key to making this cake is get organised, have everything ready to go and measured before you start. You need a really big bowl too, I use a cheap wok to fit it all in!

Christmas cake


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