It’s not Christmas without Christmas Cake
My proud contribution to the office Christmas party this year was a traditional English Christmas cake. I must admit it went down an absolute treat – I ended up fighting to get a last piece!
The English version of a Christmas cake is a rich fruit cake – made with dried fruit soaked in brandy. It makes a fantastic centerpiece for a party or a Christmas gift as it can last for a month. For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without this king of festive bakes.
Being the only English person at the party, I felt compelled to do this wonderful cake justice and read up on its history – ready and willing to answer any question on its origin.
Interestingly, Christmas cake as we know it today was only really created at the beginning of the 19th century – before that people ate plum porridge. In the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe, and butter, wheat flour and eggs were added. These ingredients helped hold the mixture together and created a kind of plum cake - which was boiled as ovens were a rare occurence in a home at that time. By the 17th century dried fruit, spices and honey were added to the mixture, and so it morphed into a pudding.
This rich pudding gradually transformed into a cake: upper-class homes, which boasted ovens, started baking the mixture, instead of boiling it, creating what we know today as Christmas cake. Alcohol was added to help the preservation of the cake – once the cake is baked, in the run-up to Christmas, a small amount of brandy, sherry or whisky is poured into holes in the cake every week until Christmas. This process is called "feeding" the cake and helps the spices to meld perfectly giving tasty rich goodness in every slice!
As ovens became more common in middle-class homes during the nineteenth century, a baked Christmas cake became possible in almost every home. Christmas cakes also became a combination of all the best things from the pantry: dried fruit, exotic spices, well-aged spirits.
By baking a Christmas cake this year, you are continuing this legacy and paying homage to this grand tradition – so when you bite into it, be sure to savour its history as well as it’s wonderful taste!
Check out the Cook First Christmas cake recipe!