This simple recipe (they can get a whole lot more complicated) is from my own book, The Pleasures of Afternoon Tea. It was a best-seller in the late 1980s and is now out of print but used copies are easily found on Ebay and Amazon.
English Christmas Cake
2 and ½ cups all-purpose flour½ teaspoon baking poder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups dark raisins
2 cups currants
1 cup candied cherries, chopped
½ cup chopped mixed candied peel
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (about ¼ cup)
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon molasses
3 tablespoons brandy or dark rum
Milk, if needed
Preheat oven to 300F (150C). Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Line the pan with a double thickness of parchment paper; grease paper. Set aside.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add raisins, currants, candied cherries, and candied peel; toss until fruits are well coated with flour. Add almonds. Set aside.
In another large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually fold in flour and fruit mixture. Add lemon juice, lemon peel, molasses, and brandy. Mix to make a batter that is soft enough to drop from a spoon but too thick to pour. If batter is too stiff, add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Spoon into baking pan and smooth top. Bake 1 hour. Reduce oven temperature to 275F (135C) and continue to bake 3 to 3 and ½ hours longer or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack. When cold, turn out of the pan and peel off paper.
You can make this ahead and keep it for a couple of weeks wrapped securely in parchment paper in an airtight tin. You can “top off” the cake by poking holes in the top with a toothpick and pouring a few additional spoonsful of brandy or rum over it in the tin.
You can, of course, eat this cake just as it is. If you decide not to ice it, you can add a ring of blanched almonds around the top before baking.
But a real traditional English Christmas cake will be iced first with marzipan and then with royal icing.
It’s hardly worth going to the trouble and expense (it requires ground almonds) of making marzipan as you can buy it readymade at grocery stores or by mail order. Here’s how to apply it: very light coat the top and sides of your Christmas cake with a jelly: apricot is good. Roll out the marzipan thinly and drape over the cake. Pat it down to make it smooth and trim of the excess. Leave it for 2 to 3 days uncovered in a cool dry place before coating with icing.
3 eggs whites, room temperature (if you don’t like the idea of using raw eggs, it’s okay to use the equivalent amount of pasteurized egg white available by the carton in stores but it might not whip quite as stiffly)6 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
In a large bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Gradually add sugar and beat until icing holds soft peaks. Quickly beat in lemon juice. (If your kitchen is hot, icing may start to harden as you are working with it. To prevent this, dampen a kitchen towel in cold water, wring out, and drape over bowl.
Tip: This will give you that “hard as a frozen pond” icing that I talked about in my original post. If you prefer a softer icing, add a tablespoon of pure vegetable glycerin at the same time as the lemon juice.
Working out from the center and using a straight-sided knife or spatula, spread icing evenly over the marzipan. If you want a coating that looks like snow, rough up the texture with the knife. If you like, you can put any excess icing into a pastry bag fitted with a decorating tip and pipe edging or a design on the cake. Bedeck with small Christmas ornaments.
I use this little group of caroling mice that I’ve had since childhood.
Enjoy with a nice cup of tea on boxing day.