Nigella Lawson's traditional Christmas cake recipe (2024)

Nigella Lawson's traditional Christmas cake recipe (1)

A slice of Christmas cake. Photograph: Tastyart Ltd / Rob White/Getty Images

Grateful though I am to Hazel Hook for giving me her foundation-stone recipe for a traditional Christmas cake, with its all-important table for weights, measures and tin sizes, so many Christmasses ago, I have departed somewhat from her strictures.

To be honest, I don't always get it together to make a traditional Christmas cake (which needs a bit of time to stand and mellow to be as good as it can be) so I tend to rustle up either the Incredibly Easy Chocolate or Gorgeously Golden Fruit Cake (or both) at the last minute. But a traditionally iced and comfortingly decorative Christmas cake is a lovely thing, and if efficiency allows, should be embraced.

This version builds on the Time-Honoured Christmas Cake of earlier books, but cuts down on varieties of dried fruits, augments alcohol (bourbon for preference, but brandy or sherry will also do), and adds ground almonds and chopped pecans. It bakes well, and can be iced beautifully, and is a satisfying way to get Christmas really going in the kitchen.

Small cake

Medium cake

Large cake

raisins 350g 700g 1kg
currants 150g 300g 500g
glacé cherries 50g 100g 150g
chopped pecans (or walnuts) 75g 150g 225g
bourbon (or brandy) 200ml 400ml 600ml
butter 150g 300g 450g
dark brown sugar 90g 180g 275g
lemon zest, grated 1 teaspoon 2 teaspoons 3 teaspoons
large eggs 2 4 6
black treacle or molasses 1 tablespoon 2 tablespoons 3 tablespoons
almond essence ½ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1½ teaspoons
plain flour 150g 300g 450g
ground almonds 75g 150g 225g
ground cloves ¼ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon
ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon 1 teaspoon 1½ teaspoons
ground ginger ¼ teaspoon ½ teaspoon ¾ teaspoon
tin: round 18cm 23cm 25.5cm
or square 15cm 20cm 23cm
temperature 150C/gas mark 2 150C/gas mark 2 150C/gas mark 2, reduce to 140C/gas mark 1 after 1 hour
cooking time 1¾ – 2¼ hours 2¾ – 3¼ hours 3¾ – 4¼ hours
yield approx. 12 slices approx. 16 slices approx. 20 slices

Place all the dried fruit in a saucepan, and add the bourbon or brandy. Bring to the boil, then take it off the heat, covering once cooled, and let it steep overnight, covered. And make sure you take your eggs and butter out of the fridge so that they will be at room temperature for the making of the cake tomorrow.

The next day, preheat your oven to 150C / gas mark 2, and prepare your tin, (see below). Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the grated lemon zest.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the black treacle and almond extract.

Sift the dry ingredients together, then mix the soaked fruit alternately with the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, combining thoroughly. Fold in the chopped pecans.

Put the cake mix into the prepared tin and bake in the oven, following the table opposite, or until a cake-tester or skewer inserted into the cake comes out cleanish.

When the cake is cooked, brush with a couple of extra tablespoons of bourbon or brandy or other liqueur of your choice. Wrap immediately in its tin – using a double-thickness of tin foil – as this will trap the heat and form steam, which in turn will keep the cake soft on top.

When it's completely cold, remove the cake from the tin and rewrap in foil, storing, preferably in an airtight tin or Tupperware, for at least 3 weeks to improve the flavour. And see the Make Ahead tip, too.

Preparing your tin

To prepare your tin, line the sides and bottom of a deep, round, loose-bottomed cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment. The paper should come up a good 10cm higher than the sides of the tin; think of a lining that's about twice as deep as the tin. Cut out 2 circles of paper, and 2 very long rectangles that will fit along the sides of the tin and rise up above it like a top hat. Before you put the 2 rectangular pieces in the tin, fold one long side of each piece in towards the centre by about 2cm, as if turning up a hem, then take some scissors and snip into this hem, at approx. 2cm intervals, as if making a rough frill.

Grease the tin, lay one paper circle on the bottom and get one of your long pieces and fit it down one side, with the frilly edge along the bottom, then press down that edge so it sits flat on the circle and holds it in place. Press the paper well into the sides, and repeat with the second rectangular piece. Now place the second circle on top of the 2 pressed down frilly edges, to help hold the pieces around the edge in place.

If you're making a big cake, it's worth wrapping the outside of the tin with a double layer of brown paper (also coming up about 10cm above the rim of the tin) but I don't bother if I'm making a normal-sized one (20cm–23cm).

Make ahead tip

Make the cake up to 6 weeks ahead and wrap in a double layer of greaseproof paper and then a double layer of foil. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. (You could add a bit more bourbon or brandy over this storage time to feed the cake and keep moist.)

Freeze ahead tip

Make the cake and wrap as above. Freeze for up to 1 year. To thaw, unwrap the cake and thaw overnight at room temperature. Rewrap and store as above until needed.

• This recipe is taken from Nigella Christmas by Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25). ©Nigella Lawson 2008. Order a copy for £17 from the Guardian bookshop (where all Nigella's books are on offer for Christmas 2011) or download the ebook

Nigella Lawson's traditional Christmas cake recipe (2024)


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