In the United Kingdom and Ireland, it is tradition to bake your Christmas cake very early in advance. Indeed, the cake contains alcohol and needs several weeks to mature and for all the different ingredients to blend. By the end of November, most families have their Christmas cakes ready; they just need to add marzipan and icing and decorate them. Some people even start making Christmas cakes in January for the following Christmas! In some cultures where you prepare food and eat it immediately, keeping a cake in a tin for so long seems crazy – but let’s see what an English Christmas cake really is.
A traditional Christmas cake is a type of fruitcake with a layer of marzipan and icing on top. If there are children in the family, they will often decorate the top of the cake themselves. For instance, in my family, we used to add a bump on the top of the cake; it was made of marzipan and covered in icing, and we had a small plastic Santa on skis we would put on the slope. We also had plastic reindeers, Christmas trees, and sugar balls to decorate the top of the cake. And even now we seem much too old to care about such things, we still fight over who gets to decorate the cake!
You will find several recipes for Christmas cakes on the internet, especially as everyone has their idea of the perfect cake, its colour, its moistness…. I would recommend the recipe from the BBC, but there are many other good ones. Once you have baked the cake, you need to let it cool down. Make some small holes in the cake and pour brandy into them. You then need to keep it in a container until Christmas, when you can finally eat it. If you want to make it extra-moist (which I think is nicer), you can add brandy regularly in the weeks before you eat it.
I really love Christmas cake, and even if I celebrate Christmas in France now, we always have a real British Christmas cake (otherwise it wouldn’t really feel like Christmas). Do you have a special cake for Christmas in your country? What is it like?