When to make your Christmas cake
Learn how to make a traditional Christmas cake, as well as the best time to prepare this festive classic
With its distinctive white icing, often decorated with festive vistas of snowmen or fir trees, a Christmas cake is a classic element of an old-fashioned British Christmas.
Due to its combination of ingredients, a Christmas cake can be prepared far more in advance than most other types of cake - which is great for ticking something off your festive to-do list before the December rush.
Read on for our guide to how and when to make your Christmas cake to ensure it's ready and looking its best in time to act as your festive table showstopper on Christmas Day. And if you're going the whole hog on a traditional Christmas desserts this year, don't miss our guide to making a Christmas pudding.
What's in a Christmas cake?
The earliest ancestor of Christmas cake is a medieval dish called plum porridge, which, as the name implies, was made with oats and eaten as a traditional meal on Christmas Eve. In the Tudor period, oatmeal was replaced with butter, eggs and flour and the mixture was boiled to form a pudding. Even now, the ingredients of a traditional Christmas cake still reflect the most indulgent items that would have been available to British cooks at the time - dried fruits, spices, and honey (now usually replaced with sugar).
But like many other British Christmas staples, it was during the Victorian era that the Christmas cake developed in the form we know it today, oven-baked and topped with marzipan and icing.
We have a fabulous recipe for a traditional Christmas cake here if you want to try it out at home.
In addition to the usual ingredients, as with Christmas pudding, it was once customary to put a lucky charm into the batter which would bring good luck to the finder. This was usually a silver sixpence. If you want to try out the tradition, we recommend inserting the coin into base of the cooked cake just prior to serving. Just remember to wash it thoroughly first, and make sure to warn your guests before they sink their teeth into their slice!
When should you make your Christmas cake?
Most recipes call for you cook your Christmas cake and then 'feed' it with regular doses of brandy or your spirit of choice several times in the run-up to the big day, over a period of weeks. This also gives the rich flavours of the sweet dried fruit time to fully develop.
Around five weeks of maturing is ideal, adding a couple of tablespoons of brandy or other spirit every couple of weeks. However, as long as you store the cake properly - tightly wrapped in cling film or parchment paper and foil, and left in a dark, cold place inside an airtight container - it should comfortably last for three months or longer.
More like this
The final Sunday before Advent, known as Stir-Up Sunday, was historically the traditional day for preparing a Christmas pudding - and you can read more about Stir-Up Sunday and other Christmas pudding traditions here - but it's also a perfect time to prepare your Christmas cake.
Once your cake is 'fed', you can apply your marzipan anytime within a fortnight of Christmas Day. Just make sure not to add any more liquid for at least few days beforehand, so the surface of the cake is dry. You can top with your royal or fondant icing straight away if you like, but most experts advise waiting a few days to let the oily marzipan dry out.
How long will leftover Christmas cake keep?
Store your leftover Christmas cake as you would any cake - in the fridge, wrapped in clingfilm and/or in an airtight container - and eat within two weeks. There are plenty of recipes for using up Christmas cake if you want to get creative - from Christmas cake soufflés to festive baked Alaska.
Can you freeze Christmas cake?
Yes! The easiest approach is to cut your leftover cake into slices and wrap each piece individually in clingfilm, then store in a resealable freezer bag and eat within three months.
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