The Cottage Smallholder

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Last minute Christmas cake recipe

angel decorationOver the years we have tried various Christmas cake recipes but the best by far was the one that we made last year, a week before Christmas. We wanted a cake packed with fruit but not a dark heavy traditional type of Christmas cake. We’d had to force down too many slices of these in the past.

My Mother used to make us these and bring one each Christmas. Then she decided to buy them. These were worse and not disguised by being fed with lashings of brandy. We’d cut a few slices at Christmas, give her half the cake to take home at the end of her stay and the rest would linger in the larder for weeks and eventually been tossed out with the rubbish. We tried feeding one particularly disappointing one to the birds one year, and even they turned their beaks up at it.

“Make a Christmas cake if you want. But I won’t be eating it,” said Danny, settling in a large armchair to watch the rugby. Faced with this challenge I was determined to bake a cake that even D couldn’t resist.

I skimmed though all our books and found a recipe for a Christmas cake that sounded lighter than usual and tinkered with the ingredients. I replaced the darker ingredients, molasses, stout and muscavado sugar with lighter alternatives. We didn’t cut it until Boxing Day, when I spotted Danny sneaking into the kitchen for a second slice. Slightly paler than a traditional cake, it was packed with fruit, tasted wonderful and kept well. The last slice was tucked into my lunchbox at the end of January.

If you fancy trying a more traditional recipe, here are two links to sites with Christmas cake recipes that look good:
There is a Mary Berry recipe here
Delia Smith has a range of recipes here

Last minute Christmas cake recipe:


8″ round cake tin (4″ deep), baking parchment.


  • 450g raisins
  • 285g sultanas
  • 110g currants
  • 180g glacé cherries (halved)
  • 110g ground almonds
  • 225g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 225g soft brown sugar (pale)
  • 285g plain flour (sieved)
  • zest of a lemon
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tsp of mixed spice
  • 2 tbsp of pale runny honey
  • 200 ml of beer (I used Speckled Hen)
  • 4 tbsp of Irish Whiskey/Whisky/ Brandy – when the baked cake has cooled


  1. Preheat oven to 160c (140 fan)
  2. Line the base and sides of the 8″ cake tin with a double thickness of baking parchment. Cut the paper an inch deeper than the tin so that it is sticking above the top rim.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (I use an electric mixer for this).
  4. Beat the eggs well and add them gradually to the mixture, a little at a time, beating them well. If the mixture curdles beat in a teaspoon of the flour before continuing.
  5. Using a tablespoon, gently fold in the flour, lemon zest and spices.
  6. Fold in the beer and honey and stir gently.
  7. Add the fruit and ground almonds and stir gently.
  8. Transfer the mixture to the cake tin and make a hollow in the centre of the mixture (roughly 2″ wide and 1″ deep).
  9. Bake in the centre of a preheated oven for about 2.5 hours depending on your oven, it may need a little longer. Check that it is cooked by inserting a skewer into the middle – this should be clean when removed. The centre should feel firm and springy if touched.
  10. Turn out onto a wire rack. When it is cold, make a few holes in the top and bottom of the cake (using a skewer) and feed the cake with the Irish whiskey (brandy would be fine as an alternative).
  11. Wrap the cake in baking parchment and store in a tin or cover with foil until you need it.
  12. If you would like to make your own marzipan – it’s very easy and so much better than bought. My recipe is here

Tips and tricks:

  • If you are going to cover the cake with marzipan and ice it, put the marzipan on a few days before it is iced so the surface of the marzipan can dry. Otherwise the marzipan can bleed through and stain the icing.
  • I sliced off the top of my cake before putting on the marzipan so the top would be flat. Or use the base as the top.

  Leave a reply


  1. Veronica

    Hi Fiona

    Hope all is well with you … just made this for the first time, and it’s smelling gorgeous!

    • Sharon Kerrigan

      Been using this recipe for over a year now and it’s become my go to fruit cake recipe. I even used it for a relative’s wedding cake. Gets rave reviews. Not being a fruit cake person I relied on other’s opinion – believe me, Mum is brutally honest – but I love this when warm.
      Thank you for sharing.

  2. Catherine

    I make your cake every year, thank you!

  3. betsy mutton

    made this cake last year for the first time , doing it again this year. best ever.

  4. Katherine Foster

    How soon in advance can I make this cake soaking in brandy

  5. Second year running I am using this recipe, used strong beer ( no speckled hen in Istanbul) and soaked with JD! Excellent recipe

  6. Caron Hirst

    Wow, I needed a celebration cakes ASAP, I stumbled upon your recipe. I need to make a 4 inch ,7inch, 11 inch round cakes, I worked out what I needed, so those that need a different size this is what I did.
    4 inch round tin 1/4, (quarter) of ingredients cook 140 for 1hour 30 mins
    7inch round tin 3/4 (three quarters) 140 for 2 hours
    9inch round tin 1 1/4 ( one and one quarter) 140 for2 hour 15 minsIf not ready check every 15 mins. I do put 2 layers of brown paper tied with string, and baking paper over the top so it doesn’t burn as you cook slowly.
    I hope this helps someone. I was worried about it being pale in colour , but who cares if it taste great????

    • Caron Hirst

      The biggest cake took 3 hours to cook, so keep checking

    • Margaret Rose

      Thank you for the advice. I ve got 2 small cakes of this recipe in the oven right now. Following your advice.

  7. Charlotte Revely

    Made this cake a few weeks ago in my unpredictable oven. The top was burnt after 90mins at 160 degrees. I sliced off the top and we ate it – was delicious! Made it again and this time reduced the temp to 140 degrees C and it came out perfect. I made it a few days before Christmas, tipped a couple of spoonfuls of cherry brandy over it and a little brandy and it is just gorgeous. I’ve never made fruitcake before so really pleased with this recipe.

  8. Also how would you minimise the ingredients?!

  9. Hi
    I have made your cake for years and love it! This year I need to make a smaller 6″ one and wondered how long to cook it for?
    I have never added the branded or whiskey and don’t notice it!

  10. Felicia Wake

    This is my 5th year running when I’m baking the Christmas cake using this recipe. It became a tradition in our household. So much so that I only use Speckled Hen over any other ales and if one supermarket doesn’t have it, we go and buy it in another. Must say Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it. Thank you a million 🙂

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