We don’t normally do these articles quite so close together, but after talking about Christmas Dinner, we figured we couldn’t very well leave things off without saying a few words about Christmas Cake. Of course, the thing about Christmas Cake is that it’s even less definitively defined then Christmas Dinner itself is, even within the UK alone.
It can take the form of a full sized cake in either square or circular shapes, cupcakes, petit fours; it can have a spongy consistency, a heavy one, a moist and crumbly one, or a wet and sticky one; it can be glazed with Marzipan, Icing, simply dusted with Icing Sugar, or left without a glazed layer. The only real consistency lies in the makeup of the cake mix itself, in that a Christmas Cake will almost always contain fruit, and the resulting fruit selection will almost always include Raisins and Currents.
One of the most popular variations- and one which actually has an agreed upon recipe- is the Whisky Dundee. As the name implies, it originated in Dundee and contains Scottish Whisky as an ingredient. It’s typically light and crumbly in consistency, and very light on fruit- traditional Whisky Dundee recipes call only for Raisins, Currents, Sultanas, and Cherries.
One of the only other consistencies among Christmas Cakes are that, when they’re glazed using Icing or Marzipan, they will be decorated in a more extravagant manner. Typical decorations include Santa, Fir Trees, or models of Houses and Presents. An old time tradition that has fallen out of favour in recent decades was including actual coins with the cake, as a good luck touch piece. The coins would often be wrapped in greaseproof paper, and threepence or sixpence pieces were often the coins of choice for the practise.
Then, there’s the Christmas Pudding, technically a distinct treat from the Christmas Cake. It’s a variation on another form of the latter, however- the Mincemeat Christmas Cake- which calls for any traditional minced meat to be mixed into a otherwise standard cake mix. Inkeeping with tradition, a specific recipe of origin doesn’t exist, and many families and households have put their own spin on what goes into a Christmas Pudding, but there some consistencies; it will likely include Suet in the production of the cake mixture, will include darker treacle or sugars, will often be flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, or any combination of the four, and it will be moistened with the addition of alcohols such as Brandy, or citrus juices as an alternative.
The cake is prepared a varying amount of time before the Christmas season- again, how long exactly is going to depend on the household, but it can be anywhere from a month, several months, to even a full year in advance. The high alcohol content contained within the mixture will keep the cake from spoiling in that timeframe. The pudding is usually steamed for a number of hours in advance to thoroughly cook it, before being steamed again later to reheat when it’s about to be served; it is further dressed with Brandy after it’s finished reheating, which is then set alight before being served, with either Ice Cream, Custard, sweetened Béchamel sauce, or either Brandy or Rum Butter on the side. It’s not really that surprising that it’s so popular in retrospect, right?