The Washington Post

Christmas Cake

Christmas Cake 10.000

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

Oct 9, 2016

Fans of “The Great British Baking Show” will feel confident that any recipe by five-time star baker Richard Burr has to be a winner, and this Christmas Cake is his version of a true holiday classic. For Americans, the four-hour baking time will seem like a misprint, but because the cake is baked in parchment paper, it ends up steaming in the oven. The result is not dissimilar to a plum pudding, and the firm texture is well suited to soak up plenty of liquor. To make it truly authentic, have everyone in the family give the batter a stir for good luck.

Many British fruitcake recipes use natural glacé cherries (made without food coloring), which are difficult to find in the United States, so you can opt for the dyed glacé cherries or substitute amarena cherries, which are often found in Italian or gourmet food stores.

Burr’s recipe calls for “mixed spice,” a traditional blend of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, coriander and ginger found in the U.K. You can make your own version, or you can substitute pumpkin pie spice, which is similar. You'll need an 8-inch square baking pan.

If you don’t want to top the cake with marzipan and royal icing, Burr suggests using toasted almonds, walnuts or pecans. Here, the tester used extra marzipan and some natural food coloring to make marzipan trees.

Make Ahead: The fruit needs to soak in liquor overnight. The wrapped marzipan can be refrigerated a day or two in advance; let it come to room temperature before rolling. The plain baked cake can be wrapped tightly in aluminum foil and kept in a cool, dark space for up to several weeks. The cake can be assembled a day before it is served.

10 - 12

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 10-12 servings

  • For the cake
  • 1/4 cup packed glacé cherries
  • 1 cup packed currants
  • 1 cup packed dark raisins
  • 1 cup packed golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup packed candied mixed citrus peel
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon, preferably organic
  • 1/4 cup brandy, plus more to feed the cake
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup flour, or more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice (see headnote)
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped
  • Scant 1/2 cup apricot jam
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • For the marzipan
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Cornstarch, for dusting
  • For the royal icing
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar


For the cake: Cut the glacé cherries into eighths and mix in a bowl with the currants, dark raisins, golden raisins, citrus peel, and lemon and orange zests. Pour the 1/4 cup of brandy over the fruit and mix well, making sure all the fruit is coated in the brandy. Cover and let soak overnight.

When you’re ready to make the cake and have a few hours to bake it, prepare an 8-inch square pan by by lining it with double layers of parchment paper that overhang the rim of the pan by 2 inches.

Preheat the oven to 320 degrees.

Combine the butter, vanilla bean paste and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer on medium speed for several minutes, until smooth and light in color. Stop to scrape down the bowl. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition. If the mixture starts to look as if it's separating or curdling, beat in a tablespoon of flour to bring it back together.

Sift together the cup of flour, the nutmeg and mixed spice on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, then gently fold that mixture into the batter until fully incorporated. Fold in the soaked fruit mixture and almonds until evenly distributed. Carefully spoon the batter into the parchment-lined pan and smooth the surface with an offset spatula.

Cut out two 8-inch-square pieces of parchment paper and cut a small hole in the center of each one. Place them directly on top of the batter. Bake (middle rack) for 4 to 4 1/2 hours. After 4 hours, test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake; once it comes out clean, transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool (in its pan) for 1 hour.

Once the cake is cool enough to handle, remove from the pan and put on the rack to cool completely. Poke several holes in the top of the cake with a toothpick or wooden skewer, then wrap in aluminum foil and put in an airtight container. Sprinkle a few teaspoons of brandy over the surface of the cake every few days for several weeks, wrapping it up again in foil each time.

For the marzipan: Combine the ground almonds and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor and mix thoroughly. Add the egg white and almond extract and mix until the ingredients form a dough; if they do not come together, add more ground almonds, a teaspoon at a time, until they do. Pat into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

When ready to assemble the cake, make the royal icing: Combine the egg whites and lemon juice in the bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment) or a handheld electric mixer. Beat on low speed, adding the confectioners' sugar a few spoonfuls at a time. Once all the sugar has been added, increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture thickens to snowy peaks.

Warm the apricot jam and water over low heat, stirring until combined.

Unwrap the cake and set it on a serving platter; use a pastry brush to paint a thick layer of the jam mixture all over the cake.

Roll the marzipan into a 14-inch square, sprinkling the surface with cornstarch as necessary to prevent sticking.

Lay the marzipan sheet evenly over the top of the cake and down the sides. Working as quickly as you can, press the marzipan onto the bottom edges of the cake so it covers the whole thing closely, being careful to avoid tearing it at the corners. (If tears occur, patch with some leftover marzipan bits.) Smooth it all over, then trim off any excess marzipan from around the bottom.

Use an offset spatula to liberally spread the icing all over. Use the back of a spoon to pull it into snowy peaks. Let it set before serving.

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Recipe Source

Adapted from “BIY: Bake It Yourself: A Manual for Everyday Baking,” by Richard Burr (Quadrille, 2015).

Tested by Kristen Hartke.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving (based on 12): 640

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 23g 35%

Saturated Fat: 11g 55%

Cholesterol: 105mg 35%

Sodium: 55mg 2%

Total Carbohydrates: 105g 35%

Dietary Fiber: 3g 12%

Sugar: 81g

Protein: 8g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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