Christmas cake is a Great British tradition that originated as plum porridge. People used to eat the porridge on Christmas Eve, using it to line their stomach after a day of fasting. Soon dried fruit, spices and honey were added to the porridge mixture, and eventually it turned into Christmas pudding.
In the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe, and replaced with butter, wheat flour and eggs. These ingredients helped bind the mixture together to become a boiled plum cake. Richer families that had ovens began baking fruit cakes with marzipan, and almond sugar paste, for Easter. For Christmas, they made a similar cake using seasonal dried fruit and spices. The spices represented the exotic eastern spices brought by the Wise Men. This cake became known as "Christmas cake."
Christmas cakes are made many different ways, but generally they are variations on the classic fruitcake. They are made in many different shapes and styles; there is no golden rule, whether plain, with frosting, glazing, or a dusting of confectioner's sugar.
Baking a Christmas cake is fun to make, a brilliant talking point when entertaining, and so much better than the shop-bought alternative.
As Christmas is a time for sharing, here are Contemporary Cake Designs top ten tips on how to get the best out of your Christmas cake this year, taken from their blog.
1. Soak the dried fruit overnight in a little brandy. Use one dessert spoon for each pound of fruit
2. Take care when lining the tin. Fit the greaseproof into the corners carefully for a good shape
3. Bake your cake at a low temperature until knife comes out clean.
4. When the cake is cold sprinkle over more brandy
5. Wrap the cake in greaseproof paper and foil, and store in a cool dry place. If you like, feed again, a week later, with the brandy
6. Bake your Christmas cake 4 to 6 weeks beforehand (the earlier the better) this allows plenty of time for “feeding” – this is where you pour a small amount of brandy, sherry or whisky into holes in the cake every week until Christmas. It is advisable to keep the cake upside down in an airtight container during this process. The longer you are able to keep it after cooking the moister the cake will become.
7. Trim the top of the cake to become flat and turn it over before covering
8. Use boiled apricot jam to coat the cake and allow marzipan to stick well. This will also act as a good preservative for the cake
9. Royal icing is easier to cut, so beat icing until light and fluffy. Add one teaspoon of glycerine to each 1lb(500g) of icing. Use dried egg white-based powder if you want to avoid raw egg white.
10. Use roll out icing for a quicker easier cake covering. Roll out the icing on a scattering of sugar. Brush marzipanned cake with a little brandy, lay over the rolled out icing. Smooth the top and sides of the cake with your hands or a special smoother.
Contemporary Cake Designs Christmas cake made and demonstrated at Ellenborough Park, last month
If you are superstitious, do not cut the cake before dawn on Christmas Eve, during Victorian times it was considered unlucky!